Monday, November 21, 2005

What Turns Men On

In looking at the photo of the young woman I wrote about recently, I’m reminded of the fact that I’ve long wondered why most men seem to feel the most physically attracted to the same kinds of women—women with bigger eyes, smoother skin, fuller lips, and other so-called “feminine” features. What is it about these features that are so universally attractive to men? Well, this article reports that Scottish researchers have linked the phenomenon to estrogen and fertility. That is, men are attracted to women with these physical features because these women generally have the highest estrogen levels and are therefore the most fertile.

I’ve read about other studies that link our perceptions of physical beauty with symmetricality—i.e., both sides of the face and body being equally proportioned—but the Scottish study is not addressing beauty per se but female sexual attractiveness. I suppose it’s possible to rate high on the beauty—symmetrical—scale but not so high in sexual attractiveness. In fact, I seldom feel particularly attracted to “beautiful” women. I tend to go for the cutely sexy ones.

Of course, many women do not have high estrogen and fertility levels and don’t naturally look as though they do, but they can often get around this by judiciously applying make-up that fools males into thinking they’re more fertile than they are. Furthermore, there is more to overall attraction than physical attractiveness, especially in terms of long term relationships. There are psychological dimensions, as the online dating service eHarmony emphasizes. But speaking strictly of sexual attractiveness, the physical indicatiors of high estrogen and fertility are very compelling. Women are acting naturally when they do their best to highlight these features, and men, of all ages, are acting naturally when they respond positively to them.

However, I wonder what it is in males that is most sexually attractive to females, in females that is most sexually attractive to other females, and in males that is most sexually attractive to other males. Are more complex variables involved in these attractions? Studies have shown that females are not necessarily physically drawn to the most overtly virile looking males. The explanation is that females are programmed by their biology to seek men who can not only impregnate them with good genes but who will also be good providers and protectors for them and their offspring, whereas men are biologically programmed to be more narrowly focused on propagating their genes via as many fertile women as possible.

It’s fascinating to contemplate the connections between biological drives and other factors in our sexual and romantic attractions and behaviors, and also the relative degrees to which these various factors should govern our sexual and romantic behaviors. I feel frequent tension between what I think I, as a married man, should feel and do and what I actually feel and want to do. I want to copulate with every pretty woman, especially if she’s Asian, in sight, but I love my wife and feel committed to her. But what would I REALLY do if the Asian equivalent of Jessica Alba came on to me? Would it be as easy as I’d like to think it would be to say “No” to her? Fortunately, this seems as academic a question as the one of what I’d do if I could go back in time knowing what I do now. Unless I ever end up taking an unsupervised trip to Asia, that is.

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