Women want brawn for now, brains for good?

A new study looks at what physical characteristics women find sexually attractive.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
July 10, 2007 6:00PM (UTC)
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In the end, the nice guy -- or at least the guy who seems nicer -- gets the girl, if you're to trust a new study on women's physical attraction. The study out of UCLA found that women are more likely to turn to musclemen for trysts and Average Joes for long-term relationships; researchers said women tend to view muscle-bound men as dominant and unpredictable, and less beefy boys as trustworthy and dependable. "On the one hand, [muscles] makes them more sexy to women. On the other hand, it makes women more suspicious about their romantic intentions," David Frederick, the study's author, told Reuters.

The study, which will be published in next month's Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that 61 percent of women said their "short-term partners were more muscular than their long-term partners," reports USA Today. Also, researchers found that muscular men were two times as likely to have slept with more than three women; they were also twice as likely to have had one-night stands. Martie Haselton, the study's co-author and an associate professor at UCLA, summed up the findings like so: "This shows women are putting a premium on attractiveness. Women care about muscularity when they choose sex partners."


Well, you know the trouble with generalizations, particularly generalizations drawn from six separate (but topically related) surveys of a total of 788 college students. Also, it's good to keep in mind that much of the research -- like, the number of women each subject had slept with -- was based on self-reporting.

That being said, researchers say there's a very real biological basis for a sexual preference for muscles; they compare men pumping iron at the gym to male peacocks' ornate tail feather displays. "Evolutionary scientists have long maintained that exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics -- such as large muscles in men -- are cues to genes that increase the viability of offspring or their reproductive success," Haselton told Physorg.com. "In an age when medical advancements play such a large role in the survival and health of children and so many people use contraceptives, it's not clear whether these genes continue to offer reproductive benefits. But women today are still attracted to muscular men, just as their ancestors would have been, because that's how we've evolved."

But maybe more surprising than the study's findings is that scant research has been done on what physical characteristics women find sexually attractive. "Most research is focused on what men find physically attractive in women and the career traits women find attractive in men," Frederick said. That's a nice example of how stereotypes can guide science ... and science can then reinforce stereotypes.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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