Sexual attraction

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Sexual attraction is an attraction to others for sexual or erotic activity.


Common elements of sexual attraction in humans

Certain aspects of what is sexually attractive to humans are generally agreed upon across the species, but may differ amongst particular cultures or regions. Other factors may be determined more locally among sub-cultures or simply by the preferences of the individual. These preferences come about as a result of a variety of genetic, psychological and cultural factors. Sexual attractiveness of one person to another depends on both people.

Much of human sexual attractiveness is governed by physical attractiveness. This involves the impact that one's appearance has on the senses, especially in the beginning of a relationship:

  • Visual perception (the other's size, grace, looks, or movement).
  • Olfaction (how the other smells, naturally or artificially; the wrong smell may be repulsive). Women are reported to be more influenced by this than are men.
  • Audition (how the other's voice and/or movements sound). Lower male voices are measurably more attractive to women at certain times of the month, regardless of appearance. Men agree that some women's voices are more attractive than others, but no single characteristic such as pitch has been identified.

Some studies suggest that one source of the physical attractiveness of a female for a male depends on the proportion between the width of the hips and the width of the waist (aka waist-hip ratio); it is cross-culturally about 0.7. Men with broad shoulders and relatively narrow waists seem to be attractive to women.

As with other animals, pheromones may also enter into the picture, though less significantly. Theoretically, the "wrong" pheromone may cause someone to be disliked, even when they would otherwise appear attractive. Frequently a pleasant smelling perfume is used to encourage the member of the opposite sex to more deeply inhale the air surrounding its wearer, increasing the probability that pheromones (if any) from the individual will also be inhaled. The importance of pheromones in human relationships is probably limited and widely disputed, although it appears to have some experimentally demonstrated basis.

A sexually attractive visual appearance in humans generally involves:

  • a general body shape and appearance sanctioned by the local culture.
  • a lack of visible disease or deformity.
  • a high degree of mirror symmetry between the left and right sides of the body, particularly of the face.
  • pleasing bodily posture.

However, these factors are complicated by many others. There may sometimes be a focus on particular features of the body, such as breasts, legs, hair, or musculature. Particular attention to specific areas often seems to be cultural; modern Western emphasis on slenderness in females contrasts sharply with the softer contours most attractive only a few hundred years ago (as, famously, in the paintings of Rubens or Titian).

In Western societies, various cultural features may reflect the preference for neotenic female partners, or females that, although adults, still retain many qualities of a juvenile (in other words, they still look young even if they're old); many have been reported since antiquity. These include depilatory practices (acomoclitism) such as intentional hair removal for visual and other effects [1].

A strong aspect to sexual attraction is proportion. It is common for a plastic surgeon to correct a perceived error of proportion, such as reshaping a nose via rhinoplasty, or making breasts larger via breast implants. However, plastic surgery can also accidentally or intentionally produce disproportionate features as well, such as the oversized breast implants of some exotic dancers.

In regard to the female genitalia, the aesthetic consensus stresses the roundness and largeness of the labia majora, and the symmetry of the labia minora. Vulval aesthetics are relatively new in being observed, as previously the female genitalia was regarded as either repulsive, uninteresting, nonexistent, or taboo in Western culture. The realization to the contrary following the feminist movement, sexual revolution and the expansion of pornography has brought about a new realm of plastic surgery and so-called "designer vaginas".

The appearance of health also plays a part in physical attraction. Often, women with long hair are thought to appear more beautiful, as the ability to grow long, healthy-looking hair is an indication of the continuous health of an individual. Another indication of the health of an individual is the ability to grow long, strong, healthy-looking fingernails. The preference for this effect has resulted in the fact that artificial nails and manicures have grown extensively popular for women beginning in the 20th century. Toenails also feature as a component of sexual attractiveness to some degree. Healthy-looking skin is also considered a trait of beauty.

Weight, whether tending toward thinner or heavier, is also a very significant physical factor governing attractiveness of both genders. In general, individuals with excessive or above average visible fat are considered less attractive than those without as much fat. However, in certain societies an above average amount of fat is widely seen as sexually attractive. The reasons for this are debated. One theory is that certain limited amounts of visible fat can be a sign of healthy retention of essential nutrition, helpful in times of famine, or when nurturing a fetus. Another theory is that the fat may be a result of a large, rich diet, provided by that individual’s wealth, and thus social desirability. Obesity, however, is rarely, if ever seen as attractive, and even when overweight individuals are considered attractive it is usually because they still retain other factors seen as attractive, such as good looks and a well defined figure.

The age of the prospective candidate also plays a role. This may be a personal preference or culturally defined.

Factors determining sexual attraction to human males

The initial attraction usually begins with the physical features of the human form and attire, and by a positive expression of the face and body.

For heterosexual and bisexual females as well as homosexual and bisexual males across the world, regardless of culture, the one near-universal trait of attractiveness for a man to have is a V-shaped torso: a relatively narrow waist offset with broad shoulders. While some cultures prefer their males huskier and others leaner, the rule of a V-shaped torso generally holds true.

Studies have found that women prefer more masculine men during the fertile period of the menstrual cycle and more feminine men during other parts of the cycle. Masculine facial features are characterized by a strong brow and a broad jaw while feminine features are less pronounced.

It is thought that sexual attractiveness of a man to some women is somewhat determined by the height of the man. In modern culture, it is usually important that the male be at least slightly taller than the female for a long term relationship to form. Some women prefer that the man be at least a little above the average in height in the given population of males because it unconsciously seems to them as a sign of dominance and masculinity. Although height is one aspect of male to male dominance as men mature this aspect becomes less so. Height says very little about one's health and fitness in most cases in areas of the world where the vast majority of people reach their genetic growth potential.

Those who believe that the muscular contour of a male is attractive will choose males with well-defined muscles. Males who make use of their hormone testosterone through exercise or bodybuilding techniques typically find themselves more attractive as their muscles take shape.

At various times in history and throughout various cultures and sub-cultures the growth, maintenance and display of facial or body hair produced as a by-product of testosterone activity within male bodies has been considered a primary characteristic of sexual attractiveness, and of a display of masculinity in general. Cultural development seems to oscillate through multi-generational cycles from one pole to another: extreme hair growth, especially of facial hair accompanied by elaborate grooming rituals is often followed within a couple of generations by a widespread antipathy to body hair and the widespread adoption of depilatory practices.

The causal mechanism for this oscillation has not been established but differences in the simultaneous characterization of body hair attractiveness within a culture between different social classes may indicate that the dynamic force driving the diffusion of differing male body hair social practices is in fact mate selection by females.

Other aspects

Many people exhibit high levels of sexual fetishism, and are sexually aroused by other stimuli not normally associated with sexual arousal. The degree to which such fetishism exists or has existed in different cultures is controversial.

Often the result of a sexual attraction is sexual arousal.

See also


External links

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