I'll never forget the time in high school a guy came to pick my up and my mother almost slammed the door in his face. Later, when I asked her why she was so appallingly rude, she replied, "What? He couldn't have shaved?"
Now, thanks to the intrepid psychologists of Northumbria, I understand why. She was threatened by his obvious sexual maturity (and what it might mean for her teenage daughter).
According to this study, carried out on British females 18-44, women are overwhelmingly more attracted to men with facial stubble, and tend to rate their potential for short-term flings and long-term relationships consistently higher than that of clean-shaven men or men with full beards.
The reasons for this are open to interpretation, and the psychologists involved in the study conclude thus:
"Facial hair, or beardedness, is a powerful sociosexual signal, and an obvious marker of sexual maturity ... A female preference for male faces with stubble or light beard was found ... This indicates that females are not selecting faces displaying relatively high or low masculinity, but are rather preferring males who are clearly mature, but not too masculinized."
As a journalist, I should say something very clever about how the biological imperative interacts with and counteracts received ideas of gender, but as a woman (and as the wife of a permanently stubbled man) I have to say ... um, yeah. I'm not made of wood. Obviously, one can't judge a book by its cover (or a man by his stubble), but based on immediate perception, a light beard or stubble seems like you've got someone who isn't trying too hard, either way -- and that's sexy, even if said stubble was meticulously coaxed into being by one of those specialty stubble razors and a slew of other "manscaping" products.
Of course, the great thing about beards of any kind is that guys can shave them off and grow them back at whim. After all, the stubble doesn't make the man -- the man makes the stubble.
Now we just have to wait for the study proving that men are really most attracted to women with stubble -- particularly of the armpit and leg varieties. Then we'll really be in business.