Category Archives: science

Are hot women more likely to be straight? Doubtful…

A study recently presented to the American Sociological Association has argued that “hot” women are more likely to be straight than bisexual or gay. If that has made you do a double take, you’re not alone.

The study, conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Aura McClintock of the University of Notre Dame, tracked 5,018 women and 4,191 men from 1994 onwards and checked in with them at ages 16, 22 and 28 to ask what their self-reported sexual identity was.

Dr McClintock found that women were more likely to report being sexually fluid, and were more than three times as likely to change their sexual identity between the ages of 22 and 28.

So far, so normal — other studies have found that women are more likely to experiment with same-sex attraction, and are more willing to admit to it even if their sexual experiences have been exclusively heterosexual.

The McClintock study gets into a minefield once it tried to align physical attractiveness with sexual identity. McClintock claims that women who were attractive were more likely to be straight, but that there was no link between a man’s looks and his sexual identity.

The study suggests that women who are not attractive may feel less pressure to conform to heterosexual norms and therefore are freer to explore same-sex attractions. There are a number of problems with this conclusion. Let’s have a look at them.

First off, there is no objective standard for who is hot, and who is not. What one person finds attractive another may not. Chris Hemsworth was voted sexiest man alive last November, but nope, I don’t see it — and I love men with long blond hair. In this study, it was the researchers who decided which participants qualified as physically attractive or not, but the cliché puts it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Secondly, beauty standards vary across time and culture. For example, the actresses Lucy Liu, Bai Ling, and Ming-Na Wen are all regarded as attractive in the West, but apparently the average Chinese person would disagree.

Thirdly, what is regarded as attractive in women is what straight men find attractive. A woman with long hair and wearing a dress is more likely to seen as attractive than a woman with a buzz cut wearing combats — by straight men. Plenty of lesbians would disagree.

Fourthly, women from conservative or religious backgrounds are more likely to accept gender roles as natural instead of cultural. They are therefore more likely to adhere to conventional standards of proper femininity in their self-presentation. They are also more likely to repress their experiences of same sex attraction and self report as heterosexual. That’s because in conservative social circles there are greater costs associated with defying gender roles and or being anything less than 100 percent straight.

Finally, beauty is often as much the result of effort as it is of good genes. Yes, there are features and physical characteristics that are generally regarded as attractive, and these can cross many different cultures, but while some of these are innate, a huge amount of them are the result of grooming.

Hair can be grown, styled, coloured; teeth can be straightened and whitened; diet and exercise can give your a fitter body; a dermatologist and a good skin care routine can make a helluva difference to your skin; and lipstick and a decent bra and give the impression of fuller lips and fuller breasts. Sure, genes and age means there are limitations as to what can be achieved, but most women can look better if they have the time, inclination and money to do so.

This is important — only heterosexual women have the inclination to make themselves attractive to men. So yes, heterosexual woman are more likely to adhere to cultural beauty norms. The more attractive to men you are, the more men you have to choose from.

Straight and gay women look for mates in different contexts, and therefore they use different physical cues to attract sexual partners. If you are not attracted to men, you have little or no motivation to be “pretty” in the ways men like. If anything, you may choose to present yourself in a manner which is off putting to straight men, but attractive to other women. As this clip from the wonderful Cameron Esposito explains, her look — masculine clothes. side mullet — are purposely chosen not to attract men but women.

The conclusion of the study — that less physically attractive women are less likely to be able to snag a man and therefore gravitate towards women — is not only insulting, it’s bad science.

Do heels make a women sexier?

Once back in the mists of time — well, truthfully, last year — I went on an OKCupid date with a man who had more than a passing interest in my shoes. Before the date he emailed me to ask how tall I was. I had neglected to include this nugget of information in my personal info for two reasons: firstly, I don’t care about height, either my own or a man’s; and secondly, I can never remember. Seriously, I know I’m “average” and somewhere over 160cm — hold on, I’ll check! I have just measured myself and it appears I am just over 164cm or around 5’4”, which is pretty average for women in Ireland — and taller than I thought!

You’d think I might have remembered this because I measured myself last year and sent the information to my date. He was French, and I’ll call him Pierre. Pierre expressed relief. He was on the short side, he told me, but taller than me. “Fantastic! You can wear high heels!” he joyfully informed me. I was less than thrilled by this, since I hate high heels and only wear them when I absolutely have to.

On the evening of the date I considered wearing heels, but it was a cold and miserable day. We were meeting for a drink, and personally I don’t see the point in getting dolled up to the nines for the pub — or for a man I didn’t know, for that matter. Heels would also have required a taxi, as the pub was more than ten blocks from my bus stop. I didn’t fancy either wet or painful feet, or worse, both. Taking all of this into consideration, I decided to wear boots. Pretty cool boots, even if I say so myself, and sexy in a Nancy Sinatra “these boots are made for walking” way, but definitely flat.

For the next few hours, Pierre quizzed me about my shoe choice. How often did I wear heels? How many pairs did I own? Were any of my shoes designer? Would I wear heels if we went out a second time?

Perhaps Pierre had a shoe fetish, or perhaps, like his countrymen, he just found high heels a lot sexier than flats. A study conducted by the French social scientist Nicholas Gueguen found that men are more likely to respond positively to a woman if she is wearing heels.

Gueguen conducted an experiment with a young woman dressed soberly in a black suit and white shirt. She approached various men asking them to take part in a survey. When she was wearing heels, 83% of the men she approached said yes; when she was wearing flat shoes the number of willing men dropped down to 47%.

Gueguen was also interested in whether or not this preference would be noticeable in “mate selection” and he wasn’t disappointed. It took men on average 7.49 minutes to approach women wearing high heels in a bar. For those wearing flat shoes, it took 13.54 minutes.

Gueguen hypothesis seems to correct — most men prefer women in heels. But meh — so what? I prefer to walk in comfort, and not risk bunions, hammer toes, nerve damage, stress fractures and ankle sprains. I don’t care that only 47% of the men I might encounter would respond to a request for help, or that it would take me a whole six extra minutes to find a dude in a pub if I was so inclined. Men may prefer high heels, but lots don’t care that much — and those are the men I prefer.

It won’t be much of a surprise when I tell you I never saw Pierre again, which was just as well. He was quite entitled to his preferences as I am to mine, Either way, we were not a good match. He hated my favourite boots; I hated being quizzed about my sartorial choices, especially by a man whose hair could have done with a wash… I don’t care about shoes, or height, but basic grooming? That’s just good manners.

Global Atlas of Sexuality

Oh this is a clever idea! France’s National Centre for Scientific Research has put together a global atlas mapping sexual behaviour and habits around the world. The atlas looks at various aspects of sexuality, such as satisfaction, frequency, infidelity, porn and sex-toy usage. “Sexuality is everywhere on our city walls and on our screens, in lighter news or in darker events,” said Nadine Cattan, the geography research director at the Centre for Scientific Research. “We wanted to cover all this worldwide to try and understand it a bit better.”

Seeing red

It is a myth that red angers bulls, but it appears it does attract men. A study has found that if a woman is wearing red, men are more likely to think she’s interested in a little something something. What’s more, it doesn’t have to be a slinky number – even a red t-shirt should do the trick. Apparently men interpret a red outfit as signalling an interest in sex, but this can be a double-edged sword for women who may be unintentionally sending out come hither signals and attracting unwanted attention.

The Sports Sex Connection

It wasn’t the happiest of occasions – we were sitting in the pub watching South Africa get thrashed by Uruguay. My passport may be Irish, but having spent my formative years in SA I support Bafana Bafana (not to mention the Boks and the Proteas). As the crowds thinned out quickly after a disastrous game from the World Cup hosts I realised something: this was the first time I’d been in this particular establishment and had not gotten hit on by a random sports fan.

Hold on a moment before you call me vain. I’m not. I never believed that this had anything to do with my personal attractions. Rather, I had always assumed that it was because in sports bars men tend to outnumber women by about five to one, and for the most part, these men have been drinking beer and lots of it too. Under such circumstances a woman with boils, an eye patch and pungent body odour could probably take her pick.

Well, not this evening. The team hadn’t managed to score and neither had I. Not that I had been planning to, it was a week night after all.

I was pondering this when a friend directed me to a study conducted by the University of Utah. The boffins had posited that since committed fans tend to strongly identify with their team (“We won!”), spectators might experience a physiological reaction depending on the outcome of a game.

Turns out the boffins were correct. They found that male fans experience about a twenty percent increase in testosterone if their team wins and a similar decrease if their boyos lose.

That certainly was one explanation. Being a bar dedicated to the glories of the southern hemisphere, the Uruguay supporters left almost immediately; and having lost quite comprehensively, the South African fans had headed home with their vuvuzelas between their legs.

Probably more pertinent was the fact that I was in the pub with my brother and a friend, and seeing as they are both big and beardy and thus likely to scare off potential suitors, flirting conditions were hardly optimal.

Anyway, blah blah blah… what I want to know is:

1. If you are a woman, have you also noticed that sports bars can be a hotbed of sexual intrigue?
2. If you are a man, do you feel more in the mood for sex if your team has won?

Can Science Predict Love?

A couple of weeks ago I took part in the Leviathan Science Cabaret discussing the science behind sex and attraction. I am not a scientist of course, so I was there to give a “real world” point of view. It’s a pretty interesting discussion and here it is…

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/GI3NbovmS88" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Better immune system = more sexual partners

Hmmm… interesting. Girls with a greater genetic diversity in their immune systems have more sexual partners, at least that’s according to a study done by the University of Western Australia in Perth.

From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense – the better the immune system, the more likely it is that you’ll have healthy children. But I wouldn’t be ditching the lipstick just yet…

Leviathan Science Cabaret: Can Science Predict Love?

Is love all just hormones? Perhaps its a culturally induced self-delusion?

Next Friday, Leviathan (the people who brought you the Political Cabaret) are asking and trying to answer these questions. In a moment of self-deluded self-confidence I agreed to take part (public speaking, scary!). It should be a fun and informative evening though. You can read all about it here.