Field of Science

Men interested in immediate sex place higher priority on a woman's body than the average. Go fig.

ResearchBlogging.orgInstead of blogging about poop I decided to blog about sex today. I'm terribly sorry for those of you who may have been expecting fecal matters. Anyway, from the File of Terribly Obvious Stuff, today I bring you a study that states that men who are looking for long-term partners pay more attention to a woman's face, whereas men looking for short-term partners pay more attention to a woman's body. I know, I know, your mind is blown, right?

Okay, so let's think about this. Why is this answer not surprising to us? Men interested in short term relationships are more likely to put a high priority on immediate sexual gratification, in which case he is going to be more interested in assessing a woman's body. The body gives a lot of clues as to a woman's immediate fertility status, which is historically how men determined a woman's attractiveness, even if reproduction isn't a main concern in choosing sexual partners in modern times. Body shape (you know... T&A), in particular waist-to-hip ratio, can tell a man if a woman is already pregnant (effectively reducing her fertility potential to zero, since she is unable to conceive with him at the moment), and can otherwise give clues as to whether or not she is sexually receptive, how healthy she is, and how easily her body could provide for and handle the stress of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Mathematically speaking, more men are interested in Sarah Shahi's face than her body. I was surprised.

Men looking for long-term partners, however, are going to be somewhat less concerned with a woman's immediate fertility and more concerned by her future reproductive potential. How many children is she going to be able to bear from now to menopause or death (whichever comes first)? Is it likely that she will die before menopause? At what age is she expected to go through menopause? How long is that from how old she is now? This is generally determined by age and overall health, which the authors argue is more readily determined by facial characteristics. High estrogen levels result in more feminine facial features, or "softness" of features, and youthfulness and health provide firm, clear skin. The authors choose to look at only biological factors here (and rightfully so), but I think there's also something to be said about long-term compatibility being more easily determined from the face, which more clearly expresses personality traits than body figure.

Granted, a lot of this stuff is just as easily if not more easily determined by chemosensory cues, but let's assume we're locking eyes across a crowded room, here. Do you approach or not? That decision is made before you ever get a chance to sniff the lady. There's also a lot of overlap between what you can determine from the face and from the body. The authors of this study tentatively decide that you can tell more about a woman's future reproductive value from the face and more about her immediate fertility from the body. I don't know that I 100% agree with that, but I'm willing to humor them. Let's look at the numbers, shall we?

"Frequency distribution of [face or body] choice by mating context and sex. Expected frequencies of box choice, based on average frequencies by sex, are indicated with dashed lines." [Modified from Confer et al, 2010.]

Men looking for short-term relationships were pretty evenly split in their preference to see a woman's face or body, whereas men looking for long-term relationships were more interested in a woman's face 75% of the time. I am surprised that the former group wasn't more heavily skewed towards the woman's body, however the definition of 'short-term' is not very clearly defined, and can mean very different things to different people. I have a feeling that if they added a 'one night stand' category it would paint a clearer picture. It should also be noted that the average age of participants in this study was right around 18 years old, which I would argue is an awfully early age to be asking people to determine the long-term relationship potential of a stranger.

You might be asking, "But Michelle, what about the ladies? What do they want in a partner?" If I could tell you what women want in a partner I'd be a very rich lady indeed. From the empirical evidence in this study, however, I can tell you that 18-year-old woman tend to prefer faces over bodies regardless of what type of relationship they are seeking. So drop that dumbbell and get your ass to plastic surgery! Okay, no, I'm joking, please don't do that. I can't stress enough the importance of a good moisturizer, though.

Confer, J., Perilloux, C., & Buss, D. (2010). More than just a pretty face: men's priority shifts toward bodily attractiveness in short-term versus long-term mating contexts Evolution and Human Behavior, 31 (5), 348-353 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.04.002


  1. Oh shit, that reminds me. I meant to include a provocative image of Sarah Shahi.

  2. A lot of these issues, including what ladies want, is reviewed in Matt Ridley's The Red Queen. I highly recommend it, although there is much in it I found doubtful or at least too much of a just-so story. Regardless, Ridley summarizes numerous ideas quite well.

  3. Well, I'm an old guy (53). So make of this what you will. Would you think an older man would be more interested in the quick fix, or in the 'real thing'? For whatever it's worth, as I have gotten older, I have noticed that what is attractive to me about women has shifted. When I was younger, I looked for a hot body AND a great face. As I have aged, the face has definitely taken preeminence, while the body, short of morbid obesity, has become almost irrelevent. 'Almost', meaning I'm still not quite dead yet. But I want to tell you something more interesting. I have noticed that the 'faces' attract me has come to have much more to do with an ineffably subjective combination of what I might call 'character/intelligence' than with what could be considered idealized youthful classical beauty. So much so that, while I still readily see the latter as more 'beatiful', the former is simply much more attractive to me. This effect applies to older as well as younger women, so that women of any age are simply more attractive to me if they have this 'character/intelligence' look to them. Meanwhile, quite beautiful 'babes' do not necessarily 'turn me on', if they are lacking the 'character/intelligence' quality.

    I have no idea whether this kind of shift might be general among aging men or not. Just speaking for myself.

  4. Very funny, Jason. :P

    Joe, I would expect that an older man would be basing his choices more on relationship longevity than sex. The less important sex is (let's face it, it is ALWAYS important, but it becomes less and less integral to the relationship over times as other things grow in importance) the more the attention shifts to a pretty face than a rockin' bod.

  5. Speaking of what men, mathematically, are interested in, I read of a study years ago that looked at what people concentrate on when looking at lingerie ads. Apparently, men (and women) spent more time looking at the models' faces than anything else.

    It was suggested that ad-makers should combat this unfortunate tendency by using photographs that simply do not show the face, forcing people to concentrate on the T&A (with coverings).

  6. Isn't it odd that women whose faces are, let's say, not conventionally attractive, very rarely have smashing bodies. Whereas, there are many women with beautiful faces but unexceptional bods. By the way, adding hot pics of ladies shd be compulsory in all blog posts.

  7. "The body gives a lot of clues as to a woman's immediate fertility status, which is historically how men determined a woman's attractiveness,"

    Apart from the fact that what body shape is "attractive" has changed dramatically throughout different periods in History...

    Generally I think women are probably fairly similar to men in what they look for; body for a one night stand (after all, you're hardly going to spend most of the time gazing into each other eyes...) and a more complete picture for the longer-term relationship.

    Also keep in mind that people looking for a longer term relationship will be wanting to talk to their prospective partner more, so might spend longer concentrating on the face to look for potential clues that they are saying something stupid and spoiling things.

    I'm gonna ignoreReprobus so as not to turn your blog into a feminist rant-fest :p

  8. It would be interesting to see if there is any structure in the data. For example, do we get get any clusters?

    For example, I suspect a person's preferences will be influenced by their own body type. Would be interesting to check their data for that. (Although I'd be surprised if their recorded that kind of data.)

  9. No, there isn't any data on that in this study. I found a related study that says that men who are more attractive than average put more value on a woman's face than the average when judging short term partners, but I'll be damned if I know what that means (if anything).


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