You know my hips don’t lie. And I’m starting to feel it’s right. BUT…let’s check your IIEF-5 score and our PVI frequency baby. Oh yeah~

Woman's Waist Tape Measure(Source: by Janine, Flickr)

Kramare and Treichler (1996): “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

Geher (2009): “Evolutionary psychology is the radical notion that human behavior is part of the natural world.”

There is no reason on earth to believe that these two “radical” notions are irreconcilable.

(Feminist Evolutionary Psychology Society)

Yet evolutionary psychology still has such a bad reputation among feminists.

Partially, that’s because many feminist criticisms of the discipline and its researchers — and vice-versa — are really just based on strawmen and stereotypes.

That said, it’s also true that evolutionary psychologists can indeed sometimes make outlandish, sexist claims based on little to no evidence.

Or at least, they can seem to. More often than not, it’s actually journalists that are doing that for them, who rarely have time for their caveats and qualifications. Also, journalists can sometimes simply make mistakes and/or misunderstand too, or evolutionary psychologists fail to clearly explain the purpose, methodology, and conclusions of their research.

evolutionary psychology bingo(Source)

These maxims are worth repeating, especially when you read a headline that brings an instant, smug satisfaction of being proven right. In this case, with “Why Dating Women With Slim Waists Lowers Men’s Risk for Erectile Dysfunction” by Christine Hsu in Medical Daily, which not only makes sense given everything else I’ve read about women with hourglass figures — that they’re significantly more fertile than those with other body types, which likely plays a strong role in why that one is so popular amongst heterosexual men (to the extent that even congenitally blind men prefer them) — but, sharing that preference, also reminds me that I’ve got great taste in women too.

Just taking Hsu’s word for it though, would be nothing more than confirmation bias. So, starting with her introduction (my emphasis):

Body Shapes Types Sketch(Source)

Possessing a ‘figure 8′ body has long been a trademark of feminine beauty, and now new research has revealed the reason why men tend to prefer women with a waspish waist.

The study also linked the middle proportion of a woman’s body to the likelihood of satisfaction and erectile dysfunction in her partner.

Researchers found that the slimmer a woman’s waist, the more satisfied her partner and the less likely he is to suffer impotence in the bedroom, according to the study published in the [December 2012 issue of the] journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

That study is “Slimmer Women’s Waist is Associated with Better Erectile Function in Men Independent of Age” by Stuart Brody and Petr Weiss, and I’ve highlighted that last section because — admittedly in hindsight — it should already raise alarm bells: sexual satisfaction isn’t actually mentioned in the title of the article, nor the original study. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not there, but the combination of the titles and the highlighted part does strongly imply that, somewhere within, the study will mention that female participants’ waists were measured and the sexual satisfaction and levels of impotence of their male partners.

At first glance, it appears to be done so in the abstract, (my emphasis; source, right):

Hourglass figure means more babies….To assess the association of women’s waist size with a more tangible measure of perceived sexual attractiveness (as well as reward value for both sexes), we examined the association of women’s age and waist circumference with an index of men’s erectile function (IIEF-5 scores), frequency of penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI), and sexual satisfaction in a representative sample of Czechs (699 men and 715 women) aged 35–65 years. Multivariate analyses indicated that better erectile function scores were independently associated with younger age of self and partner and women’s slimmer waist. PVI frequency was independently associated with women’s younger age and women’s slimmer waist. Sexual satisfaction was independently associated with men’s younger age and slimmer waist for both sexes. Better erectile function, greater PVI frequency, and greater sexual satisfaction were associated with women’s slimmer waist, independently of both sexes’ ages….

But then I moved on to the methodology (the first 2 pages are available at the above link), which ends the section on how the participants were chosen with (my emphasis):

The rationale for using participants who were not both members of the same couple includes prioritizing a representative sample and decreasing risk of a couple comparing responses (Weiss & Brody, 2011). The 649 women who provided complete data had a mean (SD) age of 48.1 (8.6) years, and the 685men who provided complete data had a mean (SD) age of 49.6 (8.7) years.

Christina Hendricks Marilyn MonroeWhich begged the question of how on Earth, if data on the waist sizes and sexual satisfaction of both partners in a couple was not gathered (and erectile function of the male partner), it was determined that “the slimmer a woman’s waist, the more [sexually] satisfied her partner and the less likely he is to suffer impotence in the bedroom.” This in turn spawned an interesting all-day conversation on The Grand Narrative Facebook page, and ultimately led — thank you! — to my getting my hands on the full study itself.

As it’s only 8 pages long, I highly recommend that you read it for yourselves (please email me or let me know in the comments if you would like a copy) so let me just sum it up here. As it turns out, Hsu did indeed make some mistakes (source, right).

First, the methodology:

  • Page 3, paragraph 1, mentions that “The same wording for the IIEF-5″ — the test of erectile function — “was used for both sexes with the added instruction that the woman should complete it on behalf of her partner.” Earlier, it also mentions that the test is very reliable, with men’s and their female partners’ assessment of the men’s erectile function being very similar (obviously, their female partners would know!).
  • Page 3, paragraph 2, mentions that only participants completed the survey on sexual satisfaction;  and page 3, paragraph 3, that participants measured only their own waists. In short, it’s these points that already prove the error of Hsu’s link between male sexual satisfaction and female waist size that I highlighted in the introduction.

male waist sizesNext, the results (source, right):

  • The younger the men and women, the less problems with erectile dysfunction the men (or the women’s male partners) had.
  • The slimmer the women’s waists, the less problems their male partners had with erectile dysfunction.
  • The slimmer the women’s waists, or the younger the women, the more often they had sexual intercourse.
  • The slimmer both sexes were, the more likely they were to have satisfying sex lives. The younger the men were (not the women) the more likely they were to have satisfying sex lives.
  • The more often men and women had sex, the less problems with erectile dysfunction they (or the women’s male partners) had; and the younger the men (not the women), the more likely they were to have satisfying sex lives.
  • Women with slimmer waists tended to have sex more often; their male partners had less problems with erectile dysfunction; and they (the women) were more likely to have satisfying sex lives.
  • And finally, crucially, “It was noteworthy that the association of women’s slimmer waist with all measures of sexual function was independent of both partners’ age” (from the end of page 6).
No cute clothes for fatties(Source: ~PinkieNekoGirl)

That’s a lot to take in, many points seem obvious and to follow naturally from each other, and there’s certainly the possibility that I’ve misunderstood and/or misrepresented some of them myself — if you think so, by all means please correct me. Also, I don’t mean to harshly criticize a reporter who undoubtedly had less time to spend on the study than the 3 days of my semester break(!) that I ultimately did. But, although it’s very very easy to take away the message that “the slimmer a woman’s waist, the more satisfied her partner” from it, with the conclusion stating —

The findings were generally in accord with evolutionary perspectives. Men’s erectile function scores were independently associated with younger age of self and partner, and women’s slimmer waist (all factors generally associated with greater reproductive fitness). Similarly, PVI frequency was independently associated with women’s younger age and women’s slimmer waist. Sexual satisfaction was independently associated with men’s younger age, and slimmer waist for both sexes. Better erectile function, greater PVI frequency, and greater sexual satisfaction were associated with women’s slimmer waist, independently of both sexes’ ages. Thus, capacity for potentially reproductive sexual behavior, frequency thereof, and a psychological response that might support pair-bonding were all linked to women’s slimmer waist.

— for instance, Hsu does appear to have misunderstood it, also mentioning that “researchers also recorded how often the 699 study participants — Czech men between the ages of 35 and 65 years old — had sexual intercourse,” whereas actually (page 2, paragraph 5) 699 men and 715 women were surveyed, and of those 685 men and 649 women provided complete data.

Either way, I can just imagine what many journalists and advertisers would — and probably will? — make of a study which seems to say that men with slimmer wives and partners have more satisfying sex lives!

Curry Sex Life(Source)

Update — For those who *cough* don’t understand the title of the post:

10 thoughts on “You know my hips don’t lie. And I’m starting to feel it’s right. BUT…let’s check your IIEF-5 score and our PVI frequency baby. Oh yeah~

  1. I’d like to point out that while feminists in general are often critical of evolutionary psychology, so too are anthropologists, biologists, and psychologists. As a matter of fact, while feminists have been highly visible public critics of problematic reporting on the science, actual social and biological scientists are more important and more active as critics of the science itself.

    • I guess I should point out myself that I’m not so enamoured with evolutionary psychology that I can’t acknowledge that those criticisms often prove to be correct, whoever they’re coming from. And we both know that feminists (or any group you mention above) aren’t remotely as monolithic as they’re usually portrayed. But, although that means I should be very wary of generalizations, and although it may sound like I’m disagreeing with any of your comment with this next (I’m not), I’m still genuinely surprised with and confounded at how evolutionary psychology has become such a bug bear on so many of the feminist websites I follow, and how dogmatic and uncritical attacks on it have been on those. Certainly, it is my strong impression then, that it’s just as valid to say that “feminists have been highly visible public critics of the science based on the problematic reporting on the science” as it is they “have been highly visible public critics of problematic reporting on the science.”

      I admit I’m not sure what my main point is here sorry, despite — yes, really! — spending over an hour on this reply. Perhaps, to explain that that’s where I was coming from when I made those points in the introduction? :)

      • ROFL, no I get your point, and I was being much too precise – your stating that feminists also attack the science is also correct, and that many of these attacks are based on both the reporting and the kneejerk, “Someone who calls themselves an evolutionary psychologist has said something. It must be wrong” response.
        I should probably read the article but I will say that my own social science background finds their evolutionary hypothesis . . . well, bad. I don’t disagree with their findings, per say, but it’s hardly an adequate explanatory system in this case.

  2. Hello, I’d quite like to see it, if the offer is still open. I’m a bit curious about the stats. I’m not quite sure why they used a broad age range or the mean and sd for the ages.

    • The short, early, blunt version:
      Fat old women are more likely to have partners who can’t keep it up. But fat old women are also more likely to have fat old partners (as borne out in the paper) and this seems more likely to have something to do with it than their own weight.
      They found a correlation, but there are obviously so many obvious confounding variables that causation is a long shot. The aims of the study and limitations should have been better defined, but as it is the discussion section reads a bit like this: http://xkcd.com/904/
      Many of the men in the study have serious erectile dysfunction such that they are not confident of being able to maintain an erection at all. It seems unlikely in these cases that their partners have much to do with it.
      The ages are not in the fertile range, but the paper suggests direct sexual selection by the man for genetic inheritance. This would be done at an earlier stage, when the weight of the woman would typically be different.
      The cynic in me would suggest Eli Lilly might be trying to market a diet pill, but the skeptic in me would need evidence.

  3. If they only measured their waists the women would just as easily be pears instead of hourglasses. A slim pear shape is basically an hourglass with a smaller bust and slimmer arms. So I can’t really agree that these particular results prove your point.

    • Just typing this as I go to bed sorry, but you’re quite right, and the extrapolation to hourglass figures specifically is a bit of literary license on my part, for the sake of getting the story/post going. Having said that, the researchers did provide a lot of background on the preexisting evidence for and subsequent theories as to why there are strong heterosexual male preferences for slim waists (I can reread the study to be more specific and/or pass it on if you are further interested), which — in addition to the results of this study — I think provides indirect evidence at least for a preference for hourglass figures given all the additional, more direct evidence (I link to some examples) for that preference, but none at all (as far as I know) for pear-shape figures. I admit that that interpretation may be too vague and self-serving though, and so think that the researchers should definitely have asked the female participants to measure their busts and thighs in addition to their waists, killing two birds with one stone so to speak. Frankly, I’m a bit confused and frustrated that they didn’t.

  4. I read this rather quickly so forgive me for not understanding, however I do not understand the correlation between an hourglass figure and having a smaller waist. Christina Hendricks for example is an hour glass figure however her waist is not small compared to others. What if the girl is rectangle shaped but has a smaller waist compared to a girl with a larger waist with bigger bust and hips?

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