Women can boost their fertility by having "a core of five best friends”, according to Oxford professor Robin Dunbar. The anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, who has also published a study asserting that going down the pub is good for you, and another saying that no one can “know” more than 150 people, has recently limited female friend choices to five. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha and Wanda the Fertility Priestess are now your core squad, and everyone else you know can sod off until you successfully conceive.
“The stresses you incur destabilise the menstrual system endocrinology and very quickly lead to infertility,” Dunbar explained. "What primates have had to do is develop these very intense small-scale coalitions that sit at the base of all their social systems, which effectively buffer you against social stresses.”
The idea is that your core friends – your proper, bottle-of-wine-while-standing-up-complaining-in-the-kitchen friends – protect you from the bullshit that might increase your stress levels. Stress can be a factor in infertility, so this isn’t the most radical idea in the world. It’s actually kind of nice. I like the idea that, if I were trying for a baby, I could help matters by watching Dragons' Den reruns with my best mate. “She’s protecting me!” I could screech. “From societal stress!”
But, as with all advice regarding fertility and how women should behave, it quickly turns into a weird prescriptive idea of how women should hang out. “A core of five best friends are crucial in buffering you against the stress of other people. If you do not have these friends, you are more likely to have your menstrual cycle and endocrinology disrupted.”
Oh, for Christ’s sake, Dunbar, you’re really breaking my balls over here. Couldn’t you just leave it with “your mates are good for your fertility”? Was that too… cheerful? Can we ever have a fertility study that’s a bit jolly? If it’s not “have a certain number of friends”, it’s “don’t do shift work” or “don’t be a vegetarian”. Invariably, the thing you have to change is something you cannot or will not change, because you like your friends and your meat-free diet and your regular pay.
Let’s face it, no one remembers these studies past their day of publication and the only thing they really achieve is that they add to the constant low-level stress that everything you do is limiting your chances of a future child.