Hunks Get More Sex, BUT…

Everybody Has Secrets 2004 누구나 비밀은 있다

If you’re a long time reader of this blog, then you’ll be aware that I’m a big advocate of people’s preferences in the opposite sex being very much biologically determined. For instance, the almost universal appeal of an hourglass figure to men is undoubtedly a reflection of the fact that women blessed with both large breasts and a relatively low waist to hip-ratio are by far the most likely to get pregnant, as they have 30 per cent higher levels of the female reproductive hormone estradiol than women with other combinations of body shapes (see here and here). Similarly, for men high levels of testosterone can result in them having a well-defined “masculine” jaw, but the flip-side is that testosterone also compromises the immune system, and so therefore a man with such a jaw that has survived to adulthood – say, Harrison Ford – must have particularly high resistance to disease, a valuable survival trait for mothers to pass on to their children.

But of course, cultural factors and one’s upbringing play a huge role in one’s preferences too, as is the fact that the vast majority of sexual encounters are no longer for the purposes of reproduction (were they ever?). In addition, friends of mine have justifiably argued that if certain body and face shapes confer such huge reproductive advantages, then why don’t all men have large muscles and well-defined jaws and all women have large breasts and hourglass figures (and so on), and my answer that there is always natural variation and that, once evolved, advantageous traits take a long time to become standard in a population, felt somewhat unsatisfying even to me, despite both being true.

Lucky Lee Jae-yoon Men's HealthHence I should have paid much more attention to this study when it came out last month, which found that while beefier men tended to both lose their virginity at an earlier age and have more sexual partners than their skinnier counterparts, on the other hand those muscles both increased their appetites and meant they tended to produce fewer infection-fighting white blood cells. In a nutshell, this means that for the over 99% of human’s evolutionary history that occurred before the advent of modern medicine and an (over)abundance of food, beefier guys often either starved to death or died from an infection before having children, or alternatively before helping in raising them. So, I don’t think it’s presuming too much of women to say that in fact skinnier men could sometimes have been more of a turn-on for them(!), particularly in times of scarcity.

I’d image that other traits that are advantageous in modern times similarly had their downsides in the past, and perhaps still do: hence the variation. I’ll be very interested in finding them out, and if any readers do know of any parallels then please pass them on.

(First image from the 2004 Korean film “Everybody Has Secrets” {누구나 비밀은 있다}: see here for a review)

19 thoughts on “Hunks Get More Sex, BUT…

  1. Here’s a variation – In Japan (and I’ve noticed, to a certain degree, in Korea as well) men tend to “prefer” (no statistics on this, just hearsay and first-hand experience) bone-skinny women, while in the West (and I’ve noticed a little bit more in Korea than Japan) men prefer women that don’t look to be on the verge of starving to death. You can clearly see where my own preference lies in my choice of words.

    Here’s a chart on underweight females by country on percentage (Y) and GDP (X):
    http://www.japannewbie.com/2006/11/26/skinny-girls/

    And I translated a few more of the country names as space permitted:

    If bone-skinny girls are less likely to be able to bear healthy babies, then it would seem that from a biological perspective it isn’t a natural attraction, but actually just part of a wave-trend of standards or perceptions of beauty that exist not only on an individual level, but on a social level. There was also an interesting post I read a while ago about the trend of “high noses” being a beautiful feature in Japan, and it was linked to exposure of Westerners. I can’t find a link, and I think I may have actually seen it on a Japanese quiz show a couple of years ago.

  2. In previous posts, you’ve referenced studies showing that women in particular show difference physical preferences according to whether they are seeking a short-term versus long-term relationship. Men with more masculine features are favored for casual relationships while men with more feminine faces are preferred as committed partners.

    As for an evolutionary trend towards men with high testosterone and women with hourglass figures, evolution doesn’t quite work that way. Having a weak jaw isn’t the same as carrying a gene for hemophilia. People with less than optimal features can still live long enough to reproduce and raise their young out of childhood. A great quote I once read goes something like “Remember that every single one of your direct ancestors found someone willing to mate with them.”

    Secondly, some less desirable genes have hidden benefits. If you haven’t read Survival of the Sickest, I highly recommend you do so. This fascinating book explains how genetically acquired diseases like sickle cell anemia and type II diabetes conferred health benefits, the former protecting against malaria, the latter lowering the freezing point of blood by raising the blood glucose concentration, thus reducing the risk of frostbite and freezing to death for people in northern Europe, thought to have experienced a mini-ice age in the 1500s owing to a sudden change in the temperature and direction of the North Atlantic current.

    • Whatsonthemenu–I have indeed mentioned those in previous posts, and I was thinking of mentioning them again in passing in the post but decided not to for reasons of brevity (yes, that’s the edited version!) and because I didn’t think that they really detracted from my main point.

      While it’s true that I don’t make a distinction between how different body types have more or less appeal depending on the form of relationship sought, that’s because the appeal of men with more masculine features for flings are still very much due to evolutionary factors: both because those features are signs of high immunity like I said, and in particular because any male child resulting from such a pairing would in turn be likely to have all the sexual success of his father, and hence give the woman’s own genes a greater chance of being passed on. In lean times though, someone who might father a male child that ate more than others and would possibly be more susceptible to childhood diseases, let alone possibly being an absent, straying father himself, doesn’t sound like a great guy to accidentally get pregnant with. In more abundant times though, sure, and recall the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, which results in more male than female children being born.

      In the post I mention that sex is overwhelmingly for pleasure rather than for reproduction, but I shouldn’t really, as despite that I can still see no other explanation why, the world over, women’s preferred short-term sex partners are overwhelmingly well-muscled and/or with very masculine features, and (by definition) very successful at getting women into bed. Apparently the same evolutionary logic remains regardless of how much a woman may explicitly not want to get pregnant.

      I disagree completely that “evolution doesn’t work that way,” as you put it in your second paragraph. I never claimed that non-reproductively optimal people (so to speak) can’t successfully reproduce, but if women with hourglass figures are 3 times more likely than other women to get pregnant if they have a sexual encounter, and men with masculine features have sex from an earlier age and more partners, then both are more likely to have more offspring (with the same traits as them) than other body types. All other things being equal, this makes them ideal mates, and that their greater numbers of their offspring will eventually dominate the species. Of course genetic rejects(!) can mate with each other an have children in the meantime, but they won’t have as many, and subsequent generations will ultimately lose the fertility battle.

      But like I said, all things are not equal, and the food supply can go up and down, so well-muscled men (in this instance) were not always the best choice of sexual partner for women, either in the long-term or for just a fling.

      Other than that, excellent additional examples of hidden advantages of some only relatively recently largely negative traits, thank you.

      Will reply to the other comments tomorrow sorry.

  3. Don’t underestimate the confidence factor too. Have you ever noticed that the ‘bad’ boys seem to get all the girls too – even when it seems that the girls who are attracted to men that are bad for them readily admit this weakness. I have read that biologically, girls are attracted to these types because they are leadership material, and would naturally survive better (as would their children) with someone who was at the head of their ‘tribe’. Highly confident individuals are definitely considered leaders than men with little or no confidence. I have found that guys who insisted they were right could dominate a meeting even when you knew they were wrong (but were too timid to correct them – and they sounded so confident, you questioned yourself that maybe you were wrong). Thus being considered a leader.

    Men like myself (unfortunately) realized this way too late and never seemed to ‘get the girl’….even though I was a ‘nice guy’ (words that were the kiss of death to me). Apparently, I was not confident, and as a result, would never be a leader. So therefore could not protect my woman as well as my nastier counterparts.

    Look at today’s politicians – for example the US Senator from South Carolina who you would never mistake for a ‘hunk’ – yet he attracted a lovely woman from South America – why? Could it have helped that he was a leader?

    Now there might be a parallel that leaders also tend to be better looking – I know plenty of women here in the US who vote for someone, based on their looks alone. It would be interesting to carry this further to see if good looking men (if you can easily define that) as a percentage are in leadership positions than more than average or below average looking men. It appears that way to me, but statistically, I have no proof of this.

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  5. Masculine men may confer high immunity, but they are also more likely to be unfaithful. Women need not only good genes but parental investment. That is why less masculine men are favored as long-term partners.

    Women with hourglass figures are not “three times more likely to get pregnant” after one sexual encounter. They are 30% more likely. Huge difference. Factoring in the frequency of sex between couples and the 9-month pregnancy period, I suspect the actual number of children borne by women with hourglass figures wasn’t much higher than for women of other shapes prior to the development of safe and effective birth control.

    Consider, too, the high risk of maternal injury and death for repeated pregnancies prior to modern medicine. Popping out sprogs one after the other is healthy for neither mother nor children. A birth spacing of at least three years is ideal. I don’t have a link, but I recall reading a few years ago of a study demonstrating that in pairs of boys born one year apart, the older brother was almost always a few inches taller than the younger brother.

    Given the higher fertility of women with hourglass figures, I can see why men would seek them out, even if there is no conscious desire to fertilize an egg. However, taking into account repeated opportunities to get pregnant, the long gestation period, and the evolutionary advantages of longer birth spacing, I don’t see how hourglass women could outbreed other body types.

  6. I’m in the middle of the next post Whatsonthemenu sorry, but just in case you’re still there I was just quickly scanning your comment and noticed your point about the 30% and 3 times greater chance thing. I got it from the original article, which does say that 30% extra hormones works out to a 3 times greater likelihood of getting pregnant, although I confess I don’t know quite how.

    Back soon!

  7. I went back and looked at the study just now and caught that error. My conclusion still stands. Repeated opportunities for sex combined with a long gestation, recovery time between pregnancies, and increasing risk as the mother ages all make the higher fertility of hourglass women less advantageous than it seems.

  8. I just thought of something else, James. By discussing whether women with hourglass figures would eventually dominate, we seem to be assuming that this figure is a trait handed down directly from mother to daughter as if the father’s genes have no influence. That is obviously not true. My maternal grandmother was tall with a relatively thick waist, slim hips, and small behind. She bore eleven children, ten of whom are still alive. Among the eight female children, the body shapes and sizes vary tremendously. Some are tall like my grandmother while others are short like my grandfather. My mother is a super pear with a bottom half several inches larger than her top half. I have a modest hourglass figure with a small waist and hips one inch larger than my chest. Among my mother’s seven sisters, five are pears like her although none to the extreme that she is, while two are apples like my grandmother. They were all raised on a farm and fed the same diet. Among the sisters, two are fraternal twins, one an apple and one a pear. In plain English, another reason why hourglass women have not conquered the earth is that they do not consistently pass on their figures to their daughters.

  9. Evolution is a tricky thing to understand. It can be best summed up as those most fit for an environment depends on the environment. And there is no way to know beforehand (ex-ante) who is deemed the most fit. Only after it’s been settled (ex-post) will one know who actually possesses the best adaptations in the environment. In other words, it’s not survival of the fittest, but survival of the luckiest. Survivorship does not connote future survival, only past success, though the future is subject to uncertainty.

  10. I am curious ,is there study comparing East asian and Cacuasian women’s hip width ?

    Are Asian women really less curvy than others ?
    Because some people claim that White women are found universally attractive by most of world .Which i dispute !!!

    Iam interested in your opinion James .

    • You’ll have to be more specific than “Asian” Mike, and I doubt that any credible source claims that White women are found universally attractive. Which is not to say that, with their connotations of status and class and all, they don’t drive beauty standards though.

      Sorry everyone, I’m going to have to give up making promises about when I’ll reply to comments. I have a good excuse though: I’m teaching the same students for 4 hours a day 5 days a week at the moment, and literally everyday I seem to wake up, grab a coffee and do some quick editing and responding to easy comments on other posts, then think about breakfast…and then realize all of a sudden it’s time to prepare their classes, which start just after lunch! Sigh.

      They’re a good bunch though, very dedicated and all in their mid to late-20s and paying a lot of money to study English 40 hours a week for a chance of working in Australia in February, so I don’t need to think twice about whom to prioritize I’m afraid! :)

  11. @Islets – I doubt the validity of the claim that White women are found universally attractive. My wife and I have another theory about why we (she’s Korean and I’m German-blooded American) are attracted to each others differences, and it’s biological but perhaps not in the same sense that James is presenting here. Instead, our DNA is so far apart (and we are therefore perceived as “exotically intriguing”) that the chances for our children to come out on top are potentially higher than if our DNA were closer. Perhaps that’s why “mixed children” end up with a higher tendency of being considered attractive?

    Then again, this opinion of ours is highly biased and I’m sure it’s easily refutable.

  12. Feminine Beauty dot com or dot org claims that certain beauty traits that are found in white women are universally attractive or something like that .

    and some other websites too , but they are supremisist sites .
    i hope i am specific enough .?

    Cheers !!!

  13. Feminine Beauty dot com shows the racial bias of its white owner. There are certain universal or near universal beauty ideals like an hourglass figure, long legs, clear skin, oval or heart-shaped face, large eyes, small nose, full lips, and youthful appearance. However, no one ethnic group or cluster of related ethnic groups tend to have most of these features.

    Moreover, individual preferences also determine sexual attractiveness. I like the taller, broad-shouldered, long-limbed bodies of White and Black men yet prefer the skin tone and hairlessness of Asian men.

  14. I think that, currently, the cultural power of the US means that US standards of beauty are the most influential. In most places it has at least started to influence local traditional ideas of beauty.

    I find it extremely ironic and bizarre that the ‘average’ person in the US is from another planet when compared to what is seen in US culture. And the gap is only increasing, fast.

  15. Here’s another interpretation as per the above comments. Economic development is path dependent (that is history matters). Therefore those who have developed their economies further are able to dictate the terms of market exchange of ideas and standards, implcitly, explicityly, or symbolically. Just imagine if the standards may or may not be inverted had history played out differently.

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