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Sexual Attraction Among Humans

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Biology 103
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Sexual Attraction Among Humans

Diana Fernandez

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"



Continuing conversation
(to contribute your own observations/thoughts, post a comment below)

08/11/2005, from a Reader on the Web

awesome paper with a lot of great information! thank you, its a wonderful resource, i'm doing a speech on body chemistry and its a great help!


Additional comments made prior to 2007
kind of funny with the whole evolutionay thing. while everyone has seemingly been programmed through evolution to desire the most wonderful traits, so few of us are born with them all relative to those born unattractive. are the unattractive expected to remain chaste? how about sexual socialism to create a neutral appearance for everyone ... Jeff, 7 March 2006



Hi, informative and logical paper I am in my hunt for convincing a friend of mine about the natural requirement of procreation. Can you help me in the same, getting a good lot of resources to support the same.




Any support is appreciated Diana ... Teji, 6 April 2006



I find this stuff fascinating. If attraction is somewhat based on an instinctual desire to reproduce, I'm a little curios about why it seems homosexuals are not affected by this "inherent biological trait", It seems odd. Is/are there any known reasons or explanations for this? ... Lachlan, 22 September 2007



I dont agree with your views. I think human beings are above animals and tend to fall in love with one other person than just the physical characteristics and ability to provide ... Tobby, 29 September 2007



some of the people i know agree with the fact that men should behave as if they "don't give a damn" or "don't care" when they are with women.... because this would make them probably more misterious or independent (the men) ...and you know what? ...this really works!!! ....why is this? there are women who find this behaviour attractive ....if not all of them ...please explain this to me really does happen in real life ... Mirel, 29 December 2007


Serendip Visitor's picture

subconcious attraction

I recently met a woman through mutual friends. We spoke for about and hour and a half, in the company of those friends - on a topic which had nothing to do with dating/mating. However, I came away "unglued" and not understanding how I could be SO attracted to a woman in such a brief time!
I am pursuing the answer ...

anonymous coward's picture

People are sad. You would

People are sad. You would have thought we stopped mating when the first human realized how bad existence is. Wtf

Sathi.Krishna Reddy's picture



Serendip Visitor's picture

Interesting article, and I

Interesting article, and I agree with the bulk of it. In regards to your male friend's lying about his career, not only is lying a really unattractive quality in either gender, it does not work well when you attempt to lie to someone who happens to be an investment banker, doctor or like me a lawyer. Not only do you get discovered pretty quickly, but you come off looking really foolish and immature. For most people deception is definitely unattractive.

Serendip Visitor's picture

i think say that there's what

i think say that there's what they called chemicals being secretes in human's body that's why he/she feel something. a chemical that flows into your brain that will tell you how would you react with the changes within your body. This then result to feeling of attraction that is not a product of anything that can be seen. That's why they say, that they wanted to date someone and lets just see if you could take this feeling of attraction towards opposite/similar sex.

Or maybe, we could say that we are visual human being, and if we like what we see, we tend to make moves to get what we want. Like barbarians do. However, with the advancement of science, aesthetic clinics ( , enhance and improves human physical attributes making more difficult for someone to decide, which of which he/she pursued.

Joseph Danrock's picture

all theories miss one question

All these theories seem to miss one important question – what is the relevance of each factor?

Money, scent, beauty – all valid hypothesis, but which factor decides? Or are they all equal, so the woman just assigns points to each category, and than makes up her mind:
„Mr. Smith got 8 points in the wealth category but only 1 point in physical attractiveness, and 3 in scent, so his total is 12 points on 30 point scale” ??

„Why does my head whip around when I see a man in a Porsche?”
You mean you find every man in a Porsche sexually attractive? Of course not!

There is still chaos in the rules of sexual attraction. None of them seem to be absolute. We are always able to find exceptions.

Until today... I dare to say that there are absolutely no exceptions to what I call “The No Such Couple Paradox” ...


Christopher PUA's picture

great article

I agree that attraction is still primarily based on evolutionary drives. I've done research and have read books such as Sperm Wars, The Selfish Gene and have researched natural selection, The Triune Brain and The Sexy Son's Hypothesis.

The explanation of modern emotional drives for "Love" is explained through The Triune Brain. But seeking love is just another way to align with another (Social Homeostasis or Pair Bonding Homeostasis).

There is also another theory that explains that people tend to pair bond with others who are equal to their "perceived" social values, but the name currently escapes me.

People tend to believe that human behavior is not mappable, but it is. Pick up artist use various theories on attraction and it works.

Back in the day if you were ugly and falling didn't reproduce and your genes were weeded out of existence. Today, people get needy and grab for what ever they can get...thus ugly people with ugly people (To be put pretty bluntly).

But today if you can be attractive to the female via her emotions (Make her feel safe, desired and happy around you), her logical side (Your ambitions, goals, values and beliefs) and her Reptilian complex (High status behavior and alpha male traits) then you will have created attraction. There is no choice. A man can feel attraction for a woman in less than 3 seconds, a woman takes longer because of her alignment seeking for protection and shelter.

Attraction is not a choice

David DeAngelo: Double Your Dating
Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene
Mystery: Venusian Arts
Sperm Wars
and many many more

SarahBean's picture

Women actually only take one

Women actually only take one second to assess the attractiveness of a male. They are highly visual, and looks will be the first thing to attract them to a male.
Women look for the youngest, most fit and attractive male who has reached adulthood first. The age of a male matters when it comes to producing children - and males over 35 have increasingly diminished quality of sperm.
If you want to know what kind of male young girls are looking at the most - then look for the most popular youtube video - which is one of Justin Beiber's. Yep, they're going crazy for young, girlish, smooth-faced Justin Beiber.

Please don't quote David DeAngelo as an expert. He's just selling dreams to desperate men.

TL's picture

Interesting subject for a biology paper for 103 level

Sorry to mention the failings of your research but in England they found that many men are actually raising children who are not biologically theirs. Many women are attracted to healthy, strong males but for reproductive purposes only and though this may be true for reproductive they also prefer to stay and have a lesser male raise said progeny as they represent a more stable and steady provider. Most of your research is correct in its entirety but in totality. Good work and continued success.!

Jannete's picture

Hi, You also forgot to add


You also forgot to add that women find health attractive in men. Its not only resources. You have to include health, as it is important to produce a healthy offspring. So women find health cues, such as square jaw, v shape torso, masculine faces as sexually attractive. This is evolutionary, when women were in ovulation, they were more attracted to a male with more masculine traits, such as the square jaw, v shaped torso and also symmetrical faces and body's. These are health cues. So women find health cues sexually attractive, and not only resources.

Its built in humans (men and women)to want the most healthy offspring and for the offspring to survive, so women would choose a healthier looking male to mate with for his good genes to pass to their offspring, but also the resources is important.

If you want, you may add that to the above, as i seen this in a article by Dr. David Buss.


Brian Broderick's picture

Instilling a Sense of Security

It's interesting how lawyers, doctors and investment bankers have become the image of the 'male hunter' in our modern culture (though these days, your friend might want to stop using the 'investment banker' line). You're right though. I think it all boils down to providing a sense of security through their income. Much like how some women seem to feel inexplicably drawn to 'men in uniform' for their supposed ability to dominate through physical strength.

Personally, I believe that it really is all about mentality. Yes, certain professions are more lucrative or tend to be filled with more physically fit individuals, but I don't think you need money or physical strength to be an attractive man in our culture. I think it is possible to carry yourself with an attitude that commands respect and still create that sense of security. After all, that feeling of security can be created through many different methods, money and strength just being two ways.

Great observations, though!

AdamC's picture

Re: Instilling a Sense of Security

Great response. I totally agree. You don't need money or physical strength to be an attractive man in our culture. From what I have seen it is mostly about creating comfort, attraction and evoking feeling in the girl. The sense of security from having money gives the man confidence to create the actually important aspects of attraction.

lara's picture

so nice~! well said.

so nice~! well said.

Anonymous's picture

Ignoring the Obvious

I noticed that in most of these articles, the author states that males are attracted the young females, generally, the younger the better. However, they fail to compensate for the lifespans of early humans. It would make sense to me that the females that they are referring to did not look like females of the same age today. Also, females who have just reached puberty rarely have regular cycles making them less likely to conceive, and if they did conceive, they may not survive the pregnancy and birth. I'd figure males would be more attracted to females who have cycled a couple of times. That's where scent plays a part in it. Women with regular cycles are more likely to have attractive scents. Also, weight doesn't seem to be an indicator of attractiveness. I'd figure that it'd at least play a small role because females must be physically fit to avoid predators and injuries, except in harsh environments where food is scarce. Last, I'm wondering if we're being "reprogrammed" in what we find attractive because we don't have sex primarily for reproduction now.

Mel Chick's picture

nothing is 100%...

"Ashliegh" -

You think that just because you've seen a few people with "unattractive" people, that has to mean this woman's opinion is wrong?? Nothing is 100%, Hon. I think she's trying to say that MOST people are physically attracted to those who look "physically attractive" or "healthy" in appearance (i.e. symmetrical face, good skin, has all their limbs, has muscle tone, big white teeth.. if it's a man, a strong jaw line, muscles, a tan, full head of hair...etc. If it's a woman... big/perky breasts, round butt, thin waist.. good skin, hair, teeth, even bone structure... :)

MGV's picture

you know...

the idea of the modern man of the perfect woman is because of the trend and way we are tought up. in the renesance erra large women were considered beutiful [and still are in some parts of the world] cuz fat = social status, rich enought to eat. but in general the preferred social status at the moment is "perky breasts, slim waist, and full lips"

Anonymous's picture

I'm sorry but I do have to

I'm sorry but I do have to disagree with you. While "in general" there are common traits that can be applied to men's interests (women's also but your article referenced men so I will, too) I think each person is an individual and has his own "thing." Some guys like legs, some tits, some asses, and none of these things are universal. Some men prefer small women, some prefer bigger. And if the internet has taught us anything its that there are a bunch of different sexual interests out there. Look at all the different sites out there being catered to, which means that they at least have a large enough audience for the interest to be catered to.

Collette 's picture

Lowering of standards

Is physical beauty 'really' so subjective? Are status requirements?

I believe that people have to lower their standards to ensure they find a mate. If an individual feels insecure about their chances of finding a compatible mate, for whatever reason, i.e, they don't feel attractive to the opposite sex, or that they feel insecure about their social status, what do they do? They are programmed to reproduce, and so as a compensatory vehicle, they seek lower standards. Its an unconscious characteristic too. People adopting this inclination wouldn't necessarily be aware of this as their reason for preferring less socially revered aesthetics (or level of status), and they may defend their choice of preference as something they are merely attracted to. Those that go for larger, less symmetrical, socially 'less attractive' partners, are only doing so because this is their best chance of mating.

Anonymous's picture


Every person is different and does have different preferences, but universally, is a different topic. Its a cultural blanket that lies over everyone's individual preferences and creates the "universal" cultural interests.

Anonymousdan's picture

Male and female scents

I have just noticed that my wife of 39 years gets a pleasure from from sweat

smells my body and armpits produce, I get the strong feeling that she
is not aware of it, she has always know nthat I get turned from her
female smell . is this a normal thing in life?

Charlie's picture

Sexual attraction stimulating blood flow into brain and the rest

I am a potentially "heterosexual" person (single) biologically (in particular psychologically), because I feel the massive blood flow into my brain and male organ, when I watch a photo of pretty nude young girls, but not when I watch a similar photo of any men.

So I wonder how this specific "visual" stimulus in eyes activates the brain to
let the blood flow into the particular area(s) of our body, without female (or male) pheromone(s) and any (personal or social) background knowledge about people in the photo. I am not talking about either courtship or falling in love, but a simple "biological" (but probably "educated") reaction.

It would be of great interest to track down the specific area of our brain which is activated by such a visual stimulus, and find any detectable difference between hetero-sexual person (men and women) and homo-sexual counterpart, if this still remains in "unknown" territory.

philip john 's picture

left handedness in women

Hi. I seem to find that left handedness in women makes them even more sexy and watchable, although it doesn't make any difference if i don't find them attractive. Am I a freak ? and is there a name for this>

caveman's picture

Move forward from here

Diana youve probably have read all the opninions and comments from different angles and they are from the windows that you have not looked into.Absorb,think and moved forward from here.Your paper is not complete if you have not been tested on all sides.good job.

Ashleigh's picture

Uhm . . .

If this is true, then why do people fall in love with someone that is not of good physical shape? How can you explain those who are friends with someone who they don't find physically attractive in their view and eventually love them? It doesn't make sense. I think it's based not only on some preferred looks and aspects, but personality has a lot to do with it.

Annette User's picture

Ignoring the incomplete

Ignoring the incomplete references, my problem with this discussion is its lack of acknowledgement of major theorists in this area. What happened to Darwin, Trivers, Dawkins et al? The ideas are there (in basic form) but there is so much more depth to this fascinating topic. I feel that this mere introduction does a disservice to the readers, who are seemingly forming their opinions of this important theory on this incomplete amble.

howard's picture

diana's paper on human sexual attraction

we should keep in mind that Diana's paper was apparently written for a low level (bio 103)course. It is up to the readers to recognize this fact and pursue the subject further. I have a hard time imagining even the most egotistical professor judging her effort this harshly. Was someone in your life really hard on you? If so, I am sorry.I say first have compassion for all of us on the path of life; offer support rather than criticism.
I am not a wealthy, tall, broad backed alpha male. And I am independent and a little self centered. And while people seem to like me, women don't generally swoon in my presence. So there is much in the article that seems threatening to my prospects for sexual conquest and female admiration.
Sex feels good and I'd like to have it all the time. What is always available to me is the opportunity to see others with love. When I can manage a little of that kind of grace, I feel really good. My soul wants love, my body craves sexual satisfaction.
This world is a harsh place sometimes, and I suspect that I don't know how bad it can really get.
Having the time and material resources to be here writing like this reminds me of a phrase that I heard a Buddhist teacher offer in a talk to a group in Sonoma County CA about suffering, he said: "You people have jacuzzi suffering"
Love to you all.

Anonymous's picture

First a quick comment on the

First a quick comment on the above response. Dawkins was not a major theorist, he was a popularizer. Most of the major ideas presented in The Selfish Gene were merely the repackaged theories of Hamilton. If she ignored anyone, it was E.O. Wilson. As far as the essay goes, was this intended to be a complete synthesis of sexual mating strategy? If so, it failed miserable. However, my general impression was that it was mean to just be something to pique a layperson's interest, in which case it was probably mildly successful.

As to the content the only thing I would comment on are the speculations that we can transcend of "baser" animalistic drives and do things like "fall in love and form a lasting relationship" is absurd and shows a loose grasp of the concepts themselves. First, the staggering degree of divorces and extra-martial affairs (and more importantly, the predictability of said affairs in the behavior they exhibit), suggest that this is generally not the case. Second, why would love and lasting relationships be out of the constraints of evolutionary biology? There is a dearth of literature that is being flatly ignored here.

irish tan's picture

nice topic!

hi diana! youve picked a really nice topic. I have learned a lot somehow while I was reading it. I actually admire it, and I agree with you in terms of attraction. It is so funny how sometimes people brag to other people that they would never despise any unattractive individual and is actually welcome in terms of negotiating about courtship when in fact, they can't even afford to imagine themselves going with those unattractive ones.

Anonymous's picture

Toby, you just proved

Toby, you just proved there's always one!