The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

The Myth of Male Attraction

This week, I fell in love with a Guardian columnist. No, actually, not Julie Burchill. Martin Robbins. His porn panic column was a great first date, but the clincher was this column on FHM and the ‘mainstream’ view of female attractiveness. Or rather, what we’re told men find attractive in women.

(A little side-note. This post is about what men find attractive in women. I think it’s a topic worth discussing. So complaining that the topic is ‘what men find attractive in women’ will largely be a waste of time for all of us, okay? Also, yes, this post will be remarkably heterocentric. I see it, it’s okay.)

My new darling’s point was basically this:

 Nobody I’ve ever seen really looks like Cheryl Cole, and that includes Cheryl Cole. Yet almost everybody in FHM’s list looks a bit like Cheryl Cole, with only minor variations allowed in age, breast size, body shape or even skin colour: it seems Beyonce marks the acceptable limit of darkness for black people.

here’s an experiment you can try at home: go to any porn site that ranks its most popular clips, and have a look at the top 100 clips that people actually pay for – the range of outfits, body types, situations, ages and skin colours far exceeds anything you’ll find in FHM’s list. When it comes to what people find sexy, there’s a truth in porn considerably purer than the sterile, manufactured consent of glossy magazines.

Basically: what the media (in the broad sense) present to us as the range of attractive women bears absolutely no relation to what actual men find attractive. (Martin doesn’t seem to have considered that around a third of that porn is actually downloaded by women, but that’s okay. We can sort it over dinner.) And this disconnect is intensely damaging to both men and women.

It’s damaging to men because if the kind of women who turn him on physically aren’t of the accepted mainstream type, he may see his desires as aberrant and sick, or conceal them so he isn’t mocked by his peers. Who wants to be branded a “chubby chaser”?

And it’s obviously damaging to women because many (not all, this is not universal) feel  pressure to try to conform to the outlines of that ‘attractive woman’. They will use up acres of time and money and potential happiness doing things to their bodies that men, generally, never even fucking notice.

So yes, I think it is well worth taking the time to point out that this Universally Attractive Woman is a lie. Men, being different, like different things. Also, during any man’s lifetime, the fashion in what’s supposedly attractive in women is going to change. His taste in women is not going to change to suit. I was at my ideal boinking age in the 90s, when heroin chic was in. None of the men I knew suddenly starting finding protruding hip-bones a real turn-on.

And that’s one of the two great tools I had for understanding that ‘more conventionally attractive’ didn’t mean ‘more attractive’. For a start, there was my bi-ness. When you find women sexually attractive, it helps you understand the breadth of female attractiveness. Yeah, I have a type, but I’ve fancied and crushed and loved outside that type many times. Why? Because of a lot of the things Girl on the Net talks about in this post: confidence, intelligence, humour, presentation.

The most important thing, though, that kept me from buying into the myths about What Men Want was having lots of male friends. Seriously, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Have a variety of men that you’re close enough to to talk about attraction, about sex, about what they like and want, and what they don’t. Eventually the realisation you come to is that men are, and I cannot emphasise this enough, no fucking different from women.

That was part of what gave me the confidence to weather the fashion for skinny over-plucked eyebrows. Now suddenly the fashion has changed. Heavy, strong brows are just obviously the sexiest. Just like they weren’t last year. My actual sexual attractiveness hasn’t changed at all.

With the exception of symmetry, which seems to have a sound biological basis, every indicator of attractiveness is simply a matter of fashion. Tall, short, plump, slim, tan, pale, hair, no hair: they’ve all been the height of “conventionally attractive” at some point. And it’s all bullshit.

When I was talking about our sex-pos utopia, I said we needed to change the way we thought about masculinity, and male sexuality. This is part of that. The myths about straight male sexuality aren’t even consistent. Either men are total horndogs who want all the sex all the time, or they’re so incredibly picky they’ll only fuck you if you’re really attractive. They can’t be both. We need more straight men talking openly and honestly about sex.

Me, I like women (and men) with really sexy brains. And I’m not the only one.

9 responses to “The Myth of Male Attraction

  1. annanonymous May 18, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Exceptionally good post. I suspect (not having any evidence) that what men find attractive changes quite a bit with age – both because we all get a bit more aware of the way media lead our desires as we grow older, but because things like companionship can start to matter more. It’s not that sexuality matters less, but it broadens to encompass more traits, maybe.

    • Moz May 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Also, once you hit 40 staying up all night having sex starts to lose its lustre. But lots of hawt young thangs get right into that. Banging on the wall doesn’t make them stop, either. Ahem. And get off my lawn.

      • Emma May 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm

        You know I just turned forty in February, right?

        I’ve consistently always mostly fancied people my own age, so in that sense my tastes have changed as I’ve got older. Also I think as you get older you get a bit pickier about the people you have in your life in general, so my palette of choice is more biased towards interesting, thinking people.

        • Moz May 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm

          No, but congratulations 🙂

          My tastes have also changed. When I was in my early 20’s I had 3 or 4 girlfriends who were 19 when I started dating them. I’ve always had mostly younger friends and partners, but apparently I look younger than I am (that’s my excuse, I’m sticking to it). My experience of older partners was that they tend to get tired easily. Now that I’m 40 I sympathise with them more than I used to. I’m still the oldest person in my share house by about 10 years.

          FWIW my mother has done much the same, her current husband is ~5 years younger than her. On that note, I do appreciate people who get married, give birth and so on on or near their decade birthdays. It makes things much easier for us date-forgetting people. My mother had her last child at age 30 then got married 10 years later (+/- 2 months). So the dates all stack up nicely.

  2. Moz May 18, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Completely coincidentally I was thinking about this as I rode home last night, specifically (in my geeky way) that it’s the LIE product that counts: looks, intelligence, ethics. I was angsting about having looks first and trying to come up with a better synonym / acronym, but you know, the main thing is the idea. And the pun.

    Subtly different take: strangely, many women who are theoretically unattractive seem to be able to find partners. Almost as if there was a bit of a flaw in the FHM beauty standard…

    Also, there was an amusing post yesterday about the christian wrong in the US getting confused. Are feminists ugly man-hating dykes, or sexy sluts that “our” boys might accidentally shag without realising they’re really feminists? Ooops.

    • annanonymous May 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      I’m not forty yet, and there’s nothing I could be arsed to stay up all night doing. Interesting that your list includes ethics, because it’s very high on mine. I see it as a strength of character thing, and it’s always mattered to me, even as a young’un – but of course, it wasn’t fashionable to admit it when I was a young’un.

      • Emma May 18, 2012 at 1:47 pm

        With the ethics thing, I find I’m more interested in people who are interested in ethics, and in politics, even if theirs don’t agree with mine, than people who never think about that stuff but who might happen to hold the same positions I do.

  3. Hugh May 18, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    ” Either men are total horndogs who want all the sex all the time, or they’re so incredibly picky they’ll only fuck you if you’re really attractive.”

    I think the narrative is actually men are horndogs who will fuck anything, but if you want something more than just meaningless, unsatisfying sex, you need to be super Hollywood attractive so that you’ll be able to hypnotise/emasculinate them with your sexiness and they’ll follow you around like zombies with boners.

    It’s actually quite a complicated narrative, although at the same time, not very subtle.

  4. Psycho Milt May 20, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Disclaimer, views my own, unauthorised to speak for male sex etc…

    That biological basis to the desire for symmetry isn’t open to persuasion in my experience. You can mentally berate yourself for the way things like “legs too short proportional to body” or “breasts too small” are the first thing that your brain deigns to notice about a woman you see, but you calling yourself a cunt doesn’t stop it happening.

    I’ve been with the same woman since I was 18, so don’t exactly have experience of a wide range of sex partners to draw on, but marriage doesn’t interfere with finding other people sexually attractive or not. When I consider the women I’ve known who could have presented a genuine risk of infidelity for me if they’d wanted to over the last 30 years, they aren’t the most conventionally attractive ones, they’re the ones with the “sexy brains,” as you put it. None of them (hey, it’s not as big a group as it sounds, ok?) are/were physically similar to my wife, and certainly none of them looked like FHM models.

    One interesting thing is the difference between who/what men will admit to finding attractive in a group context with untrusted acquaintances and what they’ll find attractive among close friends or one-or-one. This used to confuse the hell out of me at high school until I released how much bullshit is involved.

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