Sexual Attraction Among Humans
Being a heterosexual female, in the twenty first century, I pride myself on the fact that I take people at more than face value, that I appreciate human beings for their character rather than for their looks. I scoff at women who proclaim that they will not date a guy unless he has substantial material assets, a broad back, and good breeding. Yet why do I find myself making conversation with physically attractive males while blowing the off more unattractive ones? Why does my head whip around when I see a man in a Porsche? Why do my male friends all have the same prerequisites for the perfect female despite race and ethnicity: perky breasts, slim waist, and full lips? Despite most people’s lofty notions of equality, and beauty being in the eye of the beholder, we are all susceptible to certain physical, and material traits that make some humans more desirable than others. Perhaps we cannot punish ourselves for our weakness when we see beautiful and successful people, part of the answer lies in the biology and evolution of humans. Males and females have different standards for a desirable mate, and we share many of these characteristics with other animals in the animal kingdom, yet these instincts are inherent for a reason: reproduction.
“As unromantic and pragmatic as it may seem, nature’s programming of our brains to select out and respond to stimuli as sexually compelling or repelling simply makes good reproductive sense”(1) . Recent studies have indicated that certain physical characteristics stimulate a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is followed by sensations such as elevated heart rate, perspiration, and a general feeling of sexual arousal. So what visual queues instigate these feelings of sexual arousal in men? How does it differ from what women find attractive? “A preference for youth, however, is merely the most obviously of men’s preferences linked to a woman’s reproductive capacity”(2). The younger the female the better the capacity for reproduction, hence attributes that males find attractive and contingent on signs of youthfulness. “Our ancestors had access to two types of observable evidence of a woman’s health and youth: features of physical appearance, such as full lips, clear skin, smooth skin, clear eyes, lustrous hair, and good muscle tone, and features of behavior, such as a bouncy, youthful gait, and animated facial expressions”(2) . Cross-cultural studies have found that men, despite coming from different countries find similar traits attractive in females. Men’s preferences are biologically and evolutionarily hardwired to find signs of youth and health attractive in women in order to determine which females are best suited to carry on their gene, and legacy. Healthier and more youthful women are more likely to reproduce, and be able to take care of the children after birth, hence ensuring a perpetuation of the male’s gene.
Scientist’s have also been establishing that scent plays an important role in deeming females attractive. At certain points during their menstrual cycle women produce more or less estrogen accordingly. During certain times thought the menstrual cycle their sent can be more or less appealing to males. “A research team reports in the Aug. 30 NEURON that the brains of men and women respond differently to two putative pheromones, compounds related to the hormones testosterone and estrogen. When smelled, an estrogen like compound triggers blood flow to the hypothalamus in men’s brains but not women’s, reports Ivanka Savic of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm”(3) .
Men are not the only ones subject to biological predispositions in deeming attraction. “Women are judicious, prudent, and discerning about the men they consent to mate with because they have so many valuable reproductive resources to offer”(2) . Men produce sperm by the thousands, yet women produce about 400 eggs in their lifetime, and the trials of pregnancy and child rearing are long and arduous, hence their preferences and what they find sexually attractive in a male are based more on security and longevity of relationships. Athletic prowess is an important attribute to most women that hearkens back to the beginning of man. An athletic and well-muscled male is more likely to be a good hunter hence provide for a family. Large and athletic male can also provide physical protection from other males.
I was speaking to one of my male friends the other day when he mentioned that when he was in a bar speaking to an attractive girl, he always lied about his profession, telling them he was either a lawyer, doctor, or investment banker. What do all of these professions have in common? Money. Women are attracted to a successful male because this is indicative of his ability to provide for a family. This is a desirable trait that is shared by females thought the animal kingdom. “When biologist Reuven Yosef arbitrarily removed portions of some males’ (Gray shrike, a bird that lives in the desert of Israel) caches and added edible objects to others, females shifted to the males with the larger bounties”(2) . Yet a man has had more than just the resources to attract a female, he also has to be willing to share them. Women tend to be attracted to more generous men because this is indicative of how they will treat them in the future, a man cannot withhold his resources from a female and their offspring.
Sexual attraction does have biological and evolutionary traits. Yet humans do have the ability to transgress the standardization of what is attractive. The topics that I touched upon can vary from person to person, yet are all inherently a part of the human species. We are not fully beyond the basic drives of our biological and evolutionary makeup, yet not all of our desires for a sexual mate are purely physical and material, there is always the mysterious capacity to fall in love and maintain a lasting relationship with one other person.
1. The evolutionary Theory of Sexual Attraction, a site posted by the university of Missouri, Kansas city.
2. Buss. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
3. Brain Scans Reveal Human Pheromones, a news source found by encyclopedia brittanica when entered the search key word, “sexual attraction”
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