I often have people ask me what I find attractive. Actually, I should be more specific. I often have men ask me what I find attractive.
It’s not really something women ask me (because I think they understand that it’s complicated.)
I was thinking about this while I was swimming the other day, and I want to break it down in terms of science, and then relate it to me.
I know this isn’t exactly about kink, but everyone wonders about how attraction works, regardless of if they are kinky or not.
To start, men are very simple.
They are attracted to the way that someone looks. This is because men are visual creatures, and the majority of their attraction is to appearance. Sometimes they try to consciously look for non-visual characteristics in a mate (Example: A man might look for a woman who does not have thousands in credit card debt or who does not have children.)
However, they all admit that if a very hot woman who didn’t fit their desired parameters at all was willing to have sex with them, they would do it in a heartbeat.
What this means is that for men, the sexual desire that they feel is based pretty much entirely on looks.
Interestingly, their conscious brains have very little to do with it. According to recent studies, men are doing calculations each time they look at a woman without even realizing it. Are her hips wide enough? Is her face symmetrical? Are her features balanced?
This makes sense, from the perspective of evolution. They are driven to mate with women who look like they have good genes. The only cues they have the ability to assess are the physical. So, they go off physical cues.
It’s very straight-forward.
On the other hand, women are not instinctively looking for visual cues. We’ll talk about conscious preferences in a minute, but first we need to look at what happens in a women’s lizard brain (which is the loving nickname for the mid-brain; the most primitive part of us where instincts originate from.)
Women are not consciously aware that they can smell genetic compatibility. However, in studies involving white T-shirts worn by various men, women were able to pick the shirt worn by the most compatible mate more than 80% of the time. In other words: they could smell the best man to make babies with.
Note: They were not smelling the most genetically superior man. This is a popular misconception. It’s so much more interesting than that. Women in the studies were able to pick the man whose genes were most compatible with her own genes. This means that somewhere in a women’s lizard brain, she is aware of her own genes. She is able to determine through smell what genes a man has, and she is then able to calculate a mate who is compatible.
This calculation of genetic compatibility is complex, and something that computers and software were only recently able to do. Yet somehow (probably through smelling various protein markers) a woman’s mid-brain can do this calculation with startling accuracy.
Now, this does not mean that a woman does not also have physical preferences. For example, I love long hair on men. It’s devastatingly sexy. I like to play with it, run my fingers through it, and to feel it on my skin when I am having sex. I love everything about long hair. So that is an example of a physical preference.
If women only paid attention to these, all my partners would have had long hair, right? But they didn’t.
Another thing to note is that women are more likely to take other factors into account, such as how successful a man is. In my case, I prefer for them to be less successful so they don’t get all fussy about trying to tell me what to do. I prefer for no one to have power over me, and I am notorious for bringing long-haired homeless boys home with me. However, many women prefer a man who is more successful because they want to breed, and they would feel safer making a human if they knew that human was likely to be cared for.
To sum up: Women are consciously considering cues like how a man looks and how successful he is. This does not happen on an instinctual level like it does for a man, meaning that on these things, you can probably change her mind. If you are charming enough or emotionally compatible enough, she will probably be willing to consider you even if you are not “her type.”
However, there is an added dimension which has only recently been explained by science. For thousands of years we as a species have baffled over the cases where a woman runs off with a man who is objectively not attractive, and who has no money or position in life. By the same token, we as a species have been puzzled by the women who sees a man with all the things she states as desires, (such as money and beauty and kindness;) but she simply can’t make herself love him.
We finally understand that in these cases, it is a matter of genetic compatibility.
It turns out that sometimes a woman runs across a man who has a very high degree of genetic compatibility, and she cannot resist him. He may be the opposite of everything she dreamed of and in no position to support children, but she will be drawn to have sex with him because his genes compliment hers perfectly.
Twice in my life I have felt this animal attraction for someone where I felt unwilling to fight it.
To give you an idea of how intense attraction can be: I was working at a job I loved. I was in a relationship with someone I cared about. My friend and I were running a local music magazine and it was going really well. Everything in my life was just about prefect.
One night, I went to Goth Night at a local club. I was there to sell tickets for an upcoming show. As I was walking around talking to people, a sweaty young man walked up to the bar passing within less than in inch of me.
I found myself turning around and finding an excuse to talk to him. He asked me to dance. Now, I don’t dance. It’s not my thing, and I am not very good at it. And yet, I found myself out on the dance floor, grinding against a boy who had short hair, a sort of a goofy face, and a Texas accent that made him sound like a complete idiot. There was nothing at all about him that was “my type,” and yet I was drawn to him like a pregnant woman to a pickle.
Within a week of meeting this dumb, uninteresting Texan, I was begging my friend if we could borrow her bathroom to have sex. Within a month of meeting him, I ran away with the Renaissance Festival.
The sex wasn’t even good.
At the time, I really couldn’t explain myself. I told myself that I must have been bored with my life. I must have been unhappy, right? It’s so hard to explain your behavior when you really don’t have any idea why you did something. People are programmed to make up a narrative to explain the world to themselves, and I did try. But all the narratives about being bored or unhappy felt hollow, because I had actually had a pretty great life.
Of course, now I know better. I know that me and that dumbass Texan just happened to have genes that fit unusually well together. I couldn’t smell it consciously, but my lizard brain knew all along.
Typically this sort of thing only happens once in a lifetime. After all, most of the time we are all well-showered and wearing scents that cover up our natural smells. In addition, most people don’t go around rubbing up against others all the time. In fact, your average person keeps a reasonable distance from others most of the time.
The thing is; I was a promoter. I spent a lot of time in mosh pits, and clubs, and in close quarters. Therefore, I definitely increased my odds of being able to smell genetic compatibility because of my lifestyle.
However, the second time wasn’t because of that.
My boyfriend was this glamorous Goth boy with beautiful long hair and cherry red lips. He was so pale that he looked dead every time he fell asleep. He was good in bed, had a nice size penis, and made me laugh. I really liked him.
One night he was busy, and he asked his friend to give me a ride home from the bar. This was my boyfriend’s best friend, so I had been around him plenty of times before. However, he was usually fastidious about cleaning himself and wearing cologne. It just so happened that this night, he had been asleep and sweating before my boyfriend woke him up to go get me.
As soon as I got in the car, I was overtaken with a desire to kiss him. He knew it too. I could see it on his face. He looks surprised and pleased. It made me so mad.
I should note that my boyfriend was the hot one, and his friend was the dud. He was prematurely bald, chubby, and had a face with unbalances features. He was not attractive. In fact, I had always felt sort of sorry for him because he was so ugly, and standing next to my boyfriend made him look even worse. And yet that one night, I looked at his crooked teeth and his oddly placed eyes, and I wanted to kiss him.
Of course, I learned my lesson about fucking up my life, and I didn’t do anything.
In fact, I went home and had fabulous sex with my boyfriend and forgot all about it.
Ten years later, I ran into the friend again. I had long since left the pretty Goth boy, and even moved to another city. However, I was back visiting some friends and I ran into Goth boy’s best friend.
His looks had not improved. He never got braces, and his teeth had become more snarled and unappealing. His hairline had receded even further, and the odd shape of his head made his forehead seem huge like the aliens from 1950’s cartoons. He had developed a sort of lisp (I supposed because of his teeth?) and he made an annoying smacking noise when he talked. He was chubby and the overall shape of his body was somewhat like an old armchair that is left on the curb on trash day.
However, I felt this animal attraction (which I was crazy ashamed of.)
Since there was no reason outside of his general grossness to avoid sleeping with him, I did. It was extremely satisfying, although the sex was only mediocre. I ended up sleeping with him for a few months before moving overseas to teach. I even let him come visit me in my little apartment overseas, where we spent a week having lots of sex.
I am not proud of it. I tend to leave the pictures of him out of any photo albums. It’s not something I want to brag about. But, it totally happened.
Now you may say:
“I don’t understand. He had bad genes. He lost his hair and his teeth were gross and he was fat and squishy.”
And that is the thing that makes genetics so complicated. Let’s say I have the gene for breast cancer, the gene for bad eyesight, and the gene for diabetes. This is just an example and it’s more complicated than this, but let’s just say that I had those bad genes. Now, Ashton might have had different bad genes, right? Baldness and bad teeth and all that. But, he didn’t have the gene for breast cancer or the gene for diabetes. That means that we were compatible, because our genes could combine to make a human with none of the bad qualities that we both possess.
Remember, evolution is not smart. In many cases the choice of what genes become part of the offspring is a crap shoot. It was also possible that we could have made a kid with all of our negative traits and none of the good ones.
However, when a woman smells genetic compatibility, she is smelling the fact that a man has the good genes that she lacks, and she wants to mate with him in order to give her offspring the chance to inherit the good genes. After all, if she picks a mate that has the gene for breast cancer and she also has it, then there is a 100% chance that the offspring will. So, giving them some chance is better than none.
It is also worth noting that the genes I found distasteful about Ash were all physical. He was physically unappealing. However, he was healthy. My conscious mind may care more about looks, but my lizard brain does not. It cares about health.
So now that you know the mechanisms at work when a man finds something attractive, and the mechanisms at work when a woman finds someone attractive; would you say that women can answer the question of “What are you attracted to?”
It is my opinion that we can’t.
The follow up from men is always “Well what are you into?”
The answer to that is hilarious, if I am perfectly honest:
I am into anything that someone that I am attracted to wants to do.
I couldn’t stand Ash, and I hate feet, but I still let him lick my feet. He wanted to, and I was desperately attracted to him. A horny woman will agree to pretty much anything, in my experience. I am actually somewhat disgusted about it now, but at the time I really couldn’t help myself. In fact, I agreed to do tons of things that had been hard limits for me in the past. I didn’t seem to be able to say no.
Of course, I don’t think all women are as bad as me. Most women seem to live a bit more in their heads, if you know what I mean. But I have always been a creature of instinct. I don’t know why I am so in touch with my primal desires, but I am.