Shocker of the Ages: Women Care How Men Look

Apr 09, 2013 • Lifestyle, Science

Brian Mautz study about penis size and male attractiveness

A year ago, Hugo Schwyzer wrote an article about the “women love assholes” myth. You know the one — that women confer sex on guys who are total dicks, so if a guy wants to get a girl, he has to be just as big a dick, if not bigger. Schwyzer wrote an excellent piece, but what really caught my attention was the comment section, where a discussion broke out about the fact that “nice” is often used to describe individuals who are not very attractive.

“One of the things that I always find amusing about this is that people tend to ignore one huge correlation – that women dig the looks of a sex partner,” writes Inertlak. Some comments later, Cassandra adds, “There’s a specific kind of guy who gets really angry when he realizes that, much like himself, women tend to want to fuck people who they’re physically attracted to.”

This came up again yesterday after Matt Soniak wrote a piece on Science about recent research on how various factors interact when women evaluate the attractiveness of men. The study — led by Brian Mautz, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Ottawa in Canada — tackles the question of whether a bigger penis can make a man more attractive to a woman. The answer is yes — but only to an extent. According to the study, women put equal weight on height and body shape.

To get an idea of how the factors interact in mate selection, Mautz and his team created 343 computer-generated men, varying in penis size, height and shoulder-to-hip ratio. These were then broken up into a set of 53 random figures and projected to each of the 105 female subjects, who were instructed to rate them on a number scale from one to seven.

The results showed that, basically, a big penis is an advantage, but not having a big one isn’t the end of the world — so long as a man is tall and has a good shoulder-to-hip ratio. For men who are shorter and have a rounder body shape, a more impressive penis size did little to increase their attractiveness. Soniak writes:

For example, a model that was 185 cm tall (about 6 ft) with a 7-cm-long (about 3-in-long) penis got an average score for attractiveness. To get that same score, a model that was 170 cm (about 5’6″) needed a penis of about 11 cm (about 4.5 in) in length. Boost the taller guy’s penis by just about centimeter, and the shorter guy needs double that to keep up and get the same attractiveness score. After that, the shorter male pretty much can’t continue to compete. To really reap the benefits of a big penis, a guy needs to be attractive in the first place, Mautz says. If he isn’t, even the biggest penis in the world won’t do him that much good.

I was speaking with a male friend about this study when I brought up the comments Schwyzer had received to his piece about the “women like assholes” myth. He responded that unattractiveness couldn’t account for the entire meme – if “nice” is basically code for “unattractive,” why do women insist on saying things like “You are so nice — you’re the kind of guy I could see myself marrying — but I really think we should see other people.”

“I think that means ‘You are almost the whole package — you’re smart and funny and thoughtful and you can cook! — but you don’t look like Ryan Gosling, so I hope you’re still around if I don’t succeed in shacking up with him,'” I responded.

“That’s depressing as fuck,” he said.

“Why?” I asked. “You judge women on looks all the time. Why is it depressing — or even surprising — to hear they do the same to you?”

It’s true. And who hasn’t seen people wave around evolutionary psychology to support the characteristics they find attractive in women? Bigger breasts and narrow waists indicate fertility! Red lips and fair skin indicate health!

Is it really so shocking that women are paying attention to men’s bodies when it comes to mate selection?

In the 1870 novel Venus In Furs Leopold von Sacher-Masoch writes, “Man is the one who desires, woman the one who is desired. This is woman’s entire but decisive advantage.” We may no longer use the words “the fair sex” when describing womankind, but the notion that women are the ones who were created to be beheld and desired remains obstinately.

This toxic ideology does a lot of things, most notably reduce women to passive participants in their own sexual experiences, which is how you end up with myths about how men are more sexual than women, more visual than women, and why articles about women looking at porn or having affairs remain as perennial go-to topics on slow news days.

The truth is that women are visual, and when we look at a man, we assess his physical attributes. Women desire and, like men, we’re going to have some preferences when it comes to the body of potential mate.

And personally, if there is anything I like less than assholes, it’s being an asshole. So, yes, when I turn down that second date, I’m going to cushion my rejection with a reminder about the attributes that I think make you a great human being. I don’t often use the word “nice,” but I hope to God you don’t stop being smart just because I happened to mention that fact while letting you down easy.

Header image by Courtney Rhodes.