(im)perfect quest for love

Hilarious and flawed stories about my personal dating life

Ladies, you are going to meet, and presumably also have met many many guys in your during your time on this earth. I wish I could write, and all these men want you but no, this blog is about honesty. So, I hate to tell you that some of these guys will simply not be attracted to you. Quite frankly, that should be ok, just imagine if half the world’s population were running after you mouth wide open and drooling? No thank you, I would be worn out to the bone, and probably have too many panic attacks to count. Also just think about how many men you would need to reject, read this post about how hard it is to reject someone but why we should, even if it is hard.

What if all men found you attractive?

All these men that do not fancy you for one reason or another will never tell you that. They do however say a lot of other things like… “I am hurt, tired, sick, scared, blind perhaps? But the simple truth is brutal but clear: He’s not attached to you, and is probably not going to give you a “like” on tinder, go up to speak to you in a bar. If you have already met or are dating he does not want to hurt your feelings – and of course, he really does not wish to have to deal with your emotions afterward. The simplicity of it is that if a man is not trying to undress you, he is not into you. He may actually like you on a friendship level but not sexually attracted to you.

Normal healthy relationships

Just a side jump, if you are in a loving longterm relationship, of course, there may be days where he is tired and stressed, etc.. and that is allowed. You too, experience periods where your sex drive is lower. But in my opinion, I believe a healthy relationship includes a lot of sex, even if it becomes a routine. Sex is healthy, it is exercise, releases endorphins relieves stress, and creates deeper bonds between two individuals.

Back to why someone may not want to have sex with you – and stay in the friendship zone

Ah it is so nice not have
to worry about being sexually attractive

There are a lot of reasons guys may not want take a friendship a step further, starting to be intimate and ripping your cloths off.
There are a lot of reasons guys may not want to take a friendship a step further, starting to be intimate and ripping your clothes off. Again, it does not really matter why they are or if they make sense. The simple explanation is that when they imagine being with you in a more intimate setting (trust me both, men and women do) they will not be that into it, and their inner voice will say something like “Naah, I rather play a video game, or iron my shirts”. Please try to not spend more time over-analyzing why, other than saying to yourself, “well, it is their loss”. I am who I am, and that is good enough. Well you could turn to plastic surgery (I HIGHLY recommend you to not to do that, as many men actually do not find fake boobs or too big lips sexy)

If you are dating and you have started having sex, but suddenly the frequency of him wanting you drops and this does hurt you. You should try to dig up the courage and ask, why he is not jumping between the sheets with you. I know that it is scary, and it easier to just believe that there is a good reason behind it, they are too stressed, too sad, too fat, too sunburn, eat too much food, too anything, than finding out that they really is just not that attracted to you. It is extra confusing because we are talking about sex ( embarrassing) mixed with emotions ( mortifying) mixed with our own insecurities (humiliating). Also, there are the stories you hear that in long-term relationships sex decreases, so why does it really matter if it disappears sooner than you wished? Other factors of your relationship are much more important, like being compatible, trustworthy, and potentially a fantastic father. Because it is such a psychologically complex issue and talk let alone thinking about it is excruciating, many do choose to keep quiet. But please DON’T. I believe and you should believe too, that you can have a relationship with a fantastic man that loves you and that is wildly attracted to you. Likewise, when that wanes, as it naturally will at some stages in life, two individuals can be open about it, and make it a priority to be intimate and stay sexually attracted to one another. Let him or she explain to you why they are not in the mood to have sex with you, and if they do not come up with any explanations, well, I guess maybe you already know what I would suggest. They are not that into you – you deserve better and get out of the relationship. Find someone else that gives you orgasm making your head spin seeing sparkly unicorns because you deserve that!

Fear of intimacy – and is there really such a thing?

Well as a psychologist I know that there are many people in therapy for it, tons of self-help books dedicated to the subject are on the market, AND a lot of crappy behavior is excused because of it. The old fashion notion that if we women withhold sex when they want power over a guy to want them even more, it may be somewhat true. Waiting and anticipating to rip your clothes off may lead him to be really into you until you do have sex, afterward it can go both ways. He got what he wanted, and moves on or your sexual endeavors with the guy continue. But please, do not hold sex back for too long (like waiting until you get married) because sexual attraction and chemistry, does mean a lot to a healthy long-lasting relationship (see the section about biology and evolutionary psychology) . So imagine if you have not tried to ride the pony, stud or donkey you are dating and then on your wedding night and the years preceding turns out he is really, really bad at sex. what if your preferences are totally different, and the ability to reach orgasm for you as a woman equal to zero. I would not wish that upon any woman.

The truth is also that withholding sex is a game men play too. Why invest time and energy in wooing a woman when you can get intimacy for free? If a guy is content and delighted laying around in bed with you eating pizza and watching all James Bond movies, and he’s not gay, then he’s just not that into you. He likes you as a friend and likes being around you but sexually he is not attracted to you. 

Sure, plenty of individuals have been hurt in their past, and now fear intimacy. But remember, it was the past and now they are with you, a completely different person. So if they are into you they will help you to not fear intimacy again because they want that. But please, do be honest and explain why you fear to be intimate, remember we humans and especially men are not mind readers. I hope the below personal story may give you some hope if you are in such a situation.

My personal story – of abuse and falling madly in love and getting over the fear of intimacy

I am writing from experience here, coming out of a shitty, abusive relationship when I was in my early 20s were, to be honest, there was not much sex, his excuse was that was no skinny enough, too tall and masculine. I was not as good as his ex in bed. And over time, yes I know it is horrible, he made me sleep on the floor or the next room as he did not want me close to him. I did have a fear of intimacy after that… I did also suppress some of the worst memories that only surfaced later in life, but I dated some really good guys who never once mentioned me being too big, tall, or masculine. they preferred me natural without makeup, and one even stated that I looked the sexiest waking up in the morning… haha.. well, maybe he needed glasses as my hair looks a bit like Donald Trump and I do sometimes drool. Anyways, after dating several guys on and off, and having been single for two years I meet a guy. And i fell madly in love with him, he did too. He was a tall redhead (yes I am attracted to redheads, and more on biological attraction later in the post). Guess what, this guy, loved cuddling, as for me I felt trapped and scared. He asked me straight out: “why don’t you want to be close to me, I know I sweat a lot, is that a turnoff?” My mind went in overdrive NO NO NO… I was so attracted to the guy that I could literally have licked his sweat, but having to tell him my experience from the past and how that still was so hard-wired within my body that it tensed up was overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. at this point in time, I had just managed to tell a few of my close friends what had happed to my ex, and I had finally understood that I the strong independent woman, taller than most men, had been a victim of abuse. Maybe on the outside, I looked confident but on the inside, I felt like a terrified bunny. I decided to tell him, because, well it was part of me and my fear of intimacy was becoming an obstacle in our relationship. My biggest fear was that he would say, wow, you are crazy, you are clearly not right in the mind for having endured such a relationship, you are broken goods and have ended our relationship. But guess what? First I saw kind of an animalistic rage cross his (oh no he is going to ask me to leave). Then with a shocked voice he said, I wish I could beat that guy up, he deserves jail. Then he changed again, got tears in his eyes, asked if he could hold me and said that he would be there for me the whole way, we would get over it together, after all, I was his girl now. There was no judgment. He was really into me, and I have him to thank for making me feel confident in my body and being able to share my story being a victim of abuse. It took time, and it was hard work, but step by step, he could cuddle more with me, and I started living it more and more. Best of all we explored sex, and I have never had more amazing, intimate, hot, and yes sweaty sex.

 The woman wants more sex than the man

Again, many people seem to think that this is a myth, women that have a higher sex drive than a man? Impossible! No, it is not, we are all different, some women from a biological point of view have more testosterone which has been linked to an increased sex drive. You may also think, well women who have lots of sex just do it just to increase their self-esteem, yes that may be right, but what is wrong about that? Wanting sex, or having had more sex partners, than a man, is not being slutty, it is just you.

In addition, you may start out in a relationship with a lot of sex, which is satisfying but then after some time, it becomes more and more infrequent. The relationship may be full of love and be healthy, but again the need for sexual intimacy that you are not receiving may become frustrating and a big obstacle in your relationship. But again, think about this, when we choose someone we want to spend a lot of time with, even perhaps till death do us part, we generally try to pick someone who likes to do things that are similar to yourself. Including, fornication, coitus, or simply sex. You can accept not getting it as much as you want, but you do really have to ask yourself, is this the relationship you want to be in. Is this how you want to live the rest of your sex life? He may be into you, love you, or maybe not. the only thing you have to be is honest with yourself, is this how you want to feel, perhaps forever?

Biology, psychology, and even history point out one of the most important aspects of a good relationship is sex. The Egyptians painted pots that depict sexual acts and how to please others sexually. The Jews have made religious laws about it. Sexual standards in Islam are paradoxical: on the one hand, they allow and actually are an enticement to the exercise of sexuality but, on the other hand, they discriminate between male and female sexuality, between marital and pre- or extramarital sexuality, and between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Most religions do have similar views. Yogis have over several centuries described how to practice good sex and its health benefits. However, the common denominator is that they all believe that one of the strongest ingredients to a healthy union is sex.

Lets get scientific and nerdy about sexual attraction

man thinking
Argh all this science… why can it not just be simple?

 Disclaimer, this part is long and written scientifically format. Not to make it a boring read, but being a psychologist and having written many papers over the years, it is easier for me to write in this form when it comes to research. Also, it does give you the reader the possibility to further investigate studies that are mentioned. 

Sexual attraction plays as a central motivational role in human behavior and the forming and maintenance of human relationships. The attraction can be physical, or due to other qualities or traits in the person. To address the different grounds for attraction I have chosen to dig deeper into the theories of evolutionary psychology, focusing on visual cues such as movement, waist-to-hip ratio, and symmetry, as well as other factors such as smell and pheromones, and social status. Besides, attachment theory will also be explained, as Eagle (2007) noted that sexual attraction and attachment are strongly influenced by one another. Eagle also comments on how attachment theory, see the same dynamics in attraction many other species and not only humans. 

The common denominator for these theories is that they try to capture some objective criteria for sexual attraction. Yet please do note that, there is no denying that there is a large element of subjectivity in the rating of sexual attractiveness, depending upon a person’s interest, perception, and sexual orientation. Also, the angle of this post is on only addressing heterosexual sexuality (not to be discriminatory, as I believe may forms of love should and do exist), yet most research focus on sexuality with partners of different genders.

As has been discussed over and over in this post sexual attraction plays as a central motivational role in human behaviour and in the forming and maintenance of human relationships. The attraction can be physical, or due to other qualities or traits in the person. To address the different grounds for attraction I have choose to dig deeper into the theories of evolutionary psychology, focusing on visual cues such as movement, waist-to-hip ratio, and symmetry, as well as other factors such as smell and pheromones, and social status. In addition, attachment theory will also be explained, as Eagle (2007) noted that sexual attraction and attachment are strongly influenced by one another. Eagle also comments on how attachment theory, see the same dynamics in attraction many other species and not only humans. 

The common denominator for these theories is that they try to capture some objective criteria for sexual attraction. Yet please do note that, there is no denying that there is a large element of subjectivity in the rating of sexual attractiveness, depending upon a person’s interest, perception, and sexual orientation. Also, the angle of this post is on only address heterosexual love (not to be discriminatory, as I believe may forms of love should and do exist), as traditional theories, of both evolutionary and psychological nature, mostly discuss partners of different genders.

Sexual attraction from an evolutionary perspective

From an evolutionary perspective there is no denying that sex is a major motivator in finding a partner, as the prime goal in evolution is the propagation and continuation of the species and one’s genes. Instincts that ensure reproductive success is something we share with other animals, especially mammals, although we humans have developed far beyond the simple mechanisms by which most other species live. However, just as one is faced with a wide selection of choice over which types of food to pick over another, the same can be said for mate selection, or sexual attraction. For decades researchers and specially psychologist have emphasized the important role of visual stimulation in relation to attraction (Fisher, 2005). However, Bailey, Gaulin, Agyei, and Gladue (1994) noted that out of the two genders, men are more likely to be aroused by visual sexual stimuli than do women. The reason for this, they suggest, might be that the male reproductive system makes it possible for men to pursuit more sexual partner than women due to the difference in investment in offspring. Men might therefore be more readily aroused than women because their reproductive output is more dependent on the number of sexual partners (Bailey et al.,1994). This is further strengthen by the fact that it is shown in male mammals after mating with a specific female several times, their sexual interest decreased after a period of time. Yet, if a new female appears the male is ready to copulate again shortly after the introduction (Eagle, 2007). It is reasonable to think that over thousands of years of evolution men have developed a preference for those women who were most fertile, or abilities, conscious or subconscious, that are able to pick up on features that correlate best with fertility (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). 

Evolutionary research aims to discover the hidden, subconscious rules of attraction, not readily available to our consciousness, although they may be accessible to awareness (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Many hypotheses have been extrapolated from animal research and the findings in humans have been intriguing (Eagle, 2007). However, no evolutionary theory of attraction claims to be the sole determinant in mate choice, but rather an influencing factor in an advanced interplay of many factors and circumstances (Enquist & Arak, 1994). There is no denying that the human brain is so far advanced compared to other species that instinctual laws of mate selection do not have the same influence as in other animals, although some theories indicate strongly that the influence might be more profound than humans might be ready to accept. One important banner of evolutionary theory is the focus on external cues of attractiveness, bodily features that convey good health and, consequently, good genes. So what explanations and features explain why we are sexually attracted to one person but not the other?

Lets start with movement

One of the first things we notice about another person is not necessarily their faces or figures, but rather, their movement (Johnson & Tassinary, 2007). Firstly, it is visible from a distance. Secondly, movement has the potential to communicate a lot of information, for instance how coordinated and athletic people are, which has a high probability to indicate healthy genes, and more importantly also what sex the person is. Johnson and Tassinary (2007) proposed that certain visual cues would reliably provoke sex categorization. They tested their theory, by by presenting participants with computer-generated animations of a walking silhouette, called “walkers”. Participants were asked to judge the walkers for sex and attractiveness. The “walkers” were animated from extreme shoulder “swagger” to extreme hip “sway”. Perceived women were judged to be more attractive than the perceived men. The more feminine movements were also judged more attractive than the masculine gait. However, there was a cross-over effect in that the female targets were judged to be more attractive when they were perceived to be feminine rather than masculine. Not surprisingly, the opposite was true for male targets, being more attractive with a masculine gait than a feminine one. This study shows the importance for visual cues as an initial ‘pass-filter’ where individuals can deduce large amounts of information based on outline of the body and movement. As such after the initial observation of movement of another individual a person can further explore other features in order to evaluate if they are attracted towards that particular person. 

oh the much debated waist-to-hip ratio

The movement of the hips in women, as has been mentioned, can make a big impact on guys. In research on sexual attraction the hip area has been given additional attention, as Singh (1993) argued it was the most reliable cue to a woman’s reproductive success.  Singh investigated men’s preferences of hip-to-waist ratio (HWR) in women. He found that the ‘perfect’ HWR was 0.7, even if the woman was skinny, average, or of a thicker form. Although WHR might be said to be a factor in attraction, Singh went beyond this notion in three critical ways: 1) he postulated the WHR is a first-pass filter, meaning it’s one of the first things men notice in women before they learn much else about them, and they make an initial decision whether she is worth pursuing or not. 2) The feature is cultural invariable. Singh conducted the study in several countries on large populations across a big age span and found the same preference all over. 3) He pinpointed the WHR to be 0.7. So women if your are curious take out a measuring tape and see if your waist is 0.7 smaller than your hips.

There is, however, an important limitation to Singh’s studies. He used simple line drawings of women in a swimsuit. It is not unreasonable to assume that the result might have turned out differently with real women, or even pictures. Moreover, Singh’s study was replicated by Tassinary and Hansen (1998) who also used line drawings as stimuli, but in contrast to Singh they included figures that had a WHR under 0.7, which Singh had not. They found that the WHR of 0.7 was mostly judged to be overweight. They found no consistent preference for any particular WHR, but they did however find that overweight figures were ranked considerably lower than the skinny ones. Based on this they concluded that weight seemed a better estimator of attractiveness, which contradicts Singh’s suggestion that WHR is a more consistent feature of attractiveness over time, whereas he claims the preference for body weight has changed throughout the century. To further challenge Singh’s findings, there are reports of big cultural differences in preference of body type. In a replicated study in Peru, Yu and Shepard (1998) found that men clearly preferred the ‘overweight’ figures, classifying the WHR of 0.9 as ‘healthy’. One of the participants classified the underweight figures as “feverish”, “had diarrhoea a few days ago”, and finally “almost dead”. The key take away is that waist-to-hip ratio may have some effect on sexual attraction but that we humans are complex and cultures, history and trends do impact what we find attractive. As such, if your ration is not a perfect 0.7 do not fall in despair.  

Symmetry- face, body and how even our mensural cycle affects our sexual attraction

espite Singh’s claim of the universality of the WHR, the contradicting findings make it difficult to accept WHR as such an influencing factor. Another aspect of body shape and physical features in attraction that might have more universal appeal is symmetry. Enquist and Arak (1994) postulate that symmetry is indeed a universal phenomenon as it is apparent across the entire animal kingdom, in the intricate patterns of butterfly wings, feathers, flowers, and other bodily patterns. Thus, they claim, it is reasonable to believe that it also plays a major role in human attraction. Research has found evidence showing that well-proportioned and symmetrical faces are judged more attractive than less proportionate faces. For example, Mealey, Bridgstock, and Townsend (1999) suggested that secondary sexual characteristics (features that distinguish the sexes from one another) of the face has a big impact on perceived attraction. In men, masculine features such as a broad jaw and projection of the central face, below the brow, is a sign of high levels of testosterone, which is believed to be beneficial to immunocompetence in the offspring. Testosterone is also linked to higher levels of sexual activity (Fisher, 2005; Eagle, 2007), which is beneficial if wanting to produce lots of offspring and as such have a larger chance for the survival of your genes. In women, high levels of oestrogen inhibit chin growth but increases lip size (Mealey et al., 1999). These features are believed to increase attractiveness in humans, and the more symmetrical they are, the more attractive the person is deemed. Mealy and colleagues (1999) further reported several studies where these findings have been confirmed in animals, but there is weaker evidence in humans. However, they conducted a study where they measured the fluctuating asymmetry (FA) in monozygotic twins by mirroring their faces and then have their attractiveness judged by both male and female participants. FA is defined as random deviations away from the bilateral symmetry coded in one’s genes, assumed to be an indicator of ability to maintain normal developmental course under environmental stress. Their findings confirmed that the twin with the lower FA was rated more attractive than the co-twin with higher FA.

The compelling evidence for the importance of symmetry is extrapolated from its prevalence in the animal kingdom and throughout human development. In fact, symmetry has been found to change throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle, by affecting the soft tissue in the face, making it more symmetric during ovulation and less symmetric during menstruation (Manning, Scutt, Whitehouse, Leinster, & Walton, 1996). A picture study, similar to the one mentioned above, was conducted using two pictures of women, one while she was ovulating and one when she was not. Male participants were then asked to choose which picture they found most attractive. The findings suggested that women are at their most attractive during ovulation. Subtle changes like pupil dilation, colouring of the cheeks, and symmetry, which has been suggested is due to change in water collection caused by hormones (Manning et al., 1996).

There are also changes in women’s preferences in men during their cycle (Pillsworth & Haselton, 2006). In a picture study Pillsworth & Haselton (2006) found that women tend to prefer men with more masculine facial features (strong jaw, heavy brow) during ovulation, whereas they seem to prefer men with more feminine features during menstruation. The explanation behind this phenomenon might be that more ‘rugged’ features signals a man with high levels of testosterone which would indicate healthy genes from a biological perspective (Mealey et al., 1999)  and high sexual activity (Fisher, 2005; Eagle, 2007). However, human females seem to change preferences during the rest of their cycle to more feminine-looking men (big eyes, full lips), and this might be related to the fact that these features indicate a warm, caring, and honest man. Moreover, less likely to conduct infidelity as they sexual needs may be lower. In fact, Pillsworth & Haselton’s (2006) study did not solely look at women’s preferences in men during their menstrual cycle, but also their desire for so-called extra-pair mates during their period of high fertility – ovulation. They found that women who rated their partner’s attractiveness as lower had greater extra-pair desires during ovulation, but the same was not found in the women who reported high attractiveness in their partner. This, Pillsworth and Haselton argue, is due to an evolutionary mechanism to ensure good genes for their offspring from a highly rated sexually attractive partner, and then good material benefits for the offspring which they might not get from the same partner. Even though the findings in this study can be perceived as controversial, it is nevertheless a compelling finding in support of evolutionary dynamics and also the biological chemicals (Eagle, 2007; Fisher, 2005) at work in the human psychology of sexual attraction especially in regards to visual stimuli.

Smell and pheromones

Other evolutionary research suggests that there are additional forces than visual stimuli at work in sexual attraction. Phenomena that are not immediately apparent to humans, as they do not include visual cues, but rather olfactory ones. Research has long suggested that smell might play a big role in attraction between partners (Grammer, Bernhard, & Neave, 2005). In relation to the study showing women’s preference of masculine or feminine men, mentioned above, Gangestad and Thornhill (1998) also found that women’s preference for scent also changes during their cycle. They conducted a simple olfactory study were female participants were asked to smell t-shirts which men had slept with over a period of two nights. The results showed that women preferred the scent of symmetrical men (low FA) during the peak of their fertility (ovulation). During the rest of the cycle, the women had no special preferences. The researchers took this as evidence of women having developed an ability to discern the most symmetrical, and thus most attractive and ideal partner, through smell.  

A similar study was conducted by Wedekind, Seebeck, Bettens, & Paepke (1995) where female participants were asked to smell t-shirts worn by men for two nights. Before the study, the male and female participants were coded for certain antigens that play an important role in our immune systems. It turned out that most of the women preferred the scent of the t-shirt of the man with the least matching antigens. This is where the key to the scent theory lies. It suggests that humans are able to distinguish through olfaction which people have the least matching immune system to their own (Wedekind et al. 1995). The antigens that were coded in this study are components of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which is a cell surface molecule that mediates interactions with white blood cells. The ideal combination of MCH will produce the strongest possible immune system in the offspring and this theory postulates that the fewer matching genes in the partner, the more likely that partner is to be preferred, as was confirmed in the study. 

The olfactory aspect of human sexual attraction has its roots in research on pheromones. However it is still a controversial viewpoint as it has often been disproven and it has mainly sprung out of animal research. The theory of pheromonal attraction also rests upon the assumption that humans also have a vomeronasal organ, which is found in animals and make them sensitive to pheromones, and chemical orientation and attraction (Firestein, 2001). The vomeronasal organ in humans is vestigial, meaning we develop this bulb as a part of the olfactory organ as a fetus, but that it regresses and vanishes prior to birth. Although the existence of a chemical sensory organ in humans is still disputed, there is ample evidence in the literature that pheromones affect humans albeit there is much evidence to contradict these findings.

In summary, a substantial body of research on evolutionary theories shows that humans place large emphasis on physical features in regards to attraction in relation to a potential partner. In an extensive study by Buss, Shackelford, Kirkpatrick, and Larsen (2001) where they assessed the qualities people looked for in potential marriage partners, using data from all the way back to the 1930s and up till the 90s, they found an increase in emphasis on physical attraction was found in both sexes. Both sexes also increased the importance of financial security in the partner. Men place less importance on domestic skills in women, and finally, both sexes emphasized the need for mutual attraction and love. These findings provide intriguing hints of dramatic changes in preferences among human mate selection. The changes are also evidently sudden from an evolutionary perspective.

Nevertheless, a survey of more than hundred thousand married women, found that the strongest sign for relationship and sexual satisfaction was related to the ability to show and express sexual feelings to their significant other (Love & Robinson, 1995). Thus, it may not only be the visual or olfactory senses that predicts if one is attracted to another person, being able to express sexual needs and talk openly towards a partner might also contribute to attraction, especially in regards to keeping the initial attraction going. Despite, that it is important to keep in mind was a survey conducted in a magazine and only included reposes from females (Love & Robinson, 1995). So again, I repeat again, please remember if you are unsatisfied with the sexual attention you receive from your partner be open about it, ask why, do not overlook and try to come up with a bunch of excuses.

In light of these intriguing findings from an evolutionary theory perspective in regards to human attraction, it should be noted that most of these findings have important limitations. They are highly specific in their focus of research, and it is difficult to specify the influence and importance of particular factors in the intricate web of so many other simultaneous factors. Buss and Schmitt (1993) recognize that the mechanisms behind mate selection and sexual attraction in humans are not solely blind instincts, but there are important psychological aspects as well.

Sexual attraction and attachment theory

Theories of attraction differ in whether the mate selections are goal-directed and strategic, as would be defining of many evolutionary theories, or the product of forces beyond the individual’s choice (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Freud and Jung are important names in theories of human sexuality, and they both proposed that humans seek characteristics in their partners that resemble the archetypes of the opposite-sex parent (Eagle, 2007; Pines, 2005). According to Freudian theory, the infants attachment to the mother is secondary to the importance she has for reduction of drives, primarily the hunger drive, and providing pleasures associated with stimulations of the infant’s erogenous zones, which in the formal years are oral (Eagle, 2007). In this view, the infant’s attachment to the mother can be said to be based largely on infertile sexuality, namely, on the drives she reduces and the erogenous pleasures she provides. Thus, there is no separate attachment system to which one can relate sexuality, to the degree that attachment was thought to be based on infant sexuality. In short, there are no separable systems to be related to one another (Eagle, 2007).

Freud believed that men would be sexually attracted to and seek qualities in a partner similar to that of their mothers if there had been an unsuccessful integration of attachment and sexuality in childhood, due to failure to resolve the Oedipal complex. Classical Freudian theory states that when boys and girls do not pass through the Oedipal stage successfully, they remain fixated at this stage and cannot detach themselves from their infantile love object. For example such men will, when they grow up, remain in love with their mothers and will be incapable of fully loving another women. Typically, they might get married and declare that they “adore” their wives, who invariably are “wonderful mothers” but for some “inexplicable reason”, they are not attached to their wives sexually. They are instead sexually attracted to all other women, but never love any of these (Pines, 2005). 

In the case of women, the ones who fail to resolve the Oedipal conflict remain in love with their father and they often never marry. Other women might marry men that they view as inferior to their fathers and, thus, deserving only cold criticism. Individuals with an Oedipal fixation are believed to be non-responsive sexually, which can be explained by incest taboo. Because the husband or wife psychologically represents a parent, he or she is forbidden sexually (Pines, 2005). 

At the same time, Freud believed that men were not sexually attracted to the person they choose to love, as they resemble their mothers too closely. Instead, they always found women who they could not love more sexually attractive. A reason for this, postulated Freud, is that living with another person dampens the sexual attraction towards the other person. This is due to an inherent restraint to avoid incest, according to Freud (Eagle, 2007). It can be argued that this theory has relevance still today, as the split between love and sexual desire seems quite common in today’s society. Also, many long-term marriages are shown to have low occurrence of sex (Love & Robinson, 1995). 

Moreover, a great deal of evidence suggests that early attachment patterns are part of creating how you feel sexually attracted to someone and what type of individuals your sexually attracted towards (Eagle, 2007). Pines (2005) argue that people are guided by internal working models rooted in early childhood relationship experiences, when seeking intimate relationships as adults. These models influence the type of interaction a person has with others and the person’s interpretations of these interactions. For instance, avoidant attached individuals tend to be more open to more sexual partners, and do not view sex as something in relation to emotions. They also seem to have difficulty between both feeling attached to someone and being sexually attracted to someone at the same time. On the other hand, preoccupied individuals tend to see their romantic partner more as a parental figure and, as such, have a hard time integrating both attachment and sexual desire towards the partner. They also tend to report a higher level of intense love experiences, rapid physical attraction, but also seeking emotional support from others than their partner. As such, their sexual attraction and behavior towards another person seem to be largely depending on gaining reassurance and not feeling abandoned. Individuals who fitted the secure attachment model as children are comfortable being close to others, whereas those who were anxious/ambivalent can often be reluctant to form close relationships (Eagle, 2007). 

Pines also argues’ that attachment styles influence peoples sexual styles. Secure individuals are willing to experiment sexually, granted they are in a committed relationship. They tend not to engage in as many one-night-stands or have much sex outside of relationships. Individuals with anxious attachment tend to prefer the, nurturing aspects of relationships, rather than the sex. Avoidant individuals are the opposite and get less enjoyment from all psychological  aspects of the relationship, except for sexual contact. These individuals are more likely to engage in one-night-stands and think of sex without romantic love as pleasurable (Pines, 2005).

Although Freud (1912) argued that the choice of a mate is controlled by infantile sexuality and is modeled after the objects of an individual’s incestuous wishes, which are formed in early life, the same argument can also be used to explain a desire for a similar or familiar partner. Freud’s argument is that the opposite-sex parent plays a crucial role in which partner one chooses. Even though this occurs unconsciously, men tend to find women who resemble their mothers sexually attractive. Findings in research indicate that both humans and animals have a tendency to choose a mate who is similar but not too similar to one’s close family. Mice, for instance, show greater sexual desire towards other mice that are intermediately kindred, often the second cousins (Bernard & Aldhous, 1991 as sited in Eagle, 2007). Other studies have shown that birds avoid mating with closely related others but have a sexual preference for mates that have similar appearance (Eagle, 2007). This is also found in humans where individual tend to choose partners and find others the most sexually appealing that have physical characteristics like themselves. (Eagle, 2007) As such, the partner is also presumably comparable to their close family members such as their mothers and fathers. 

In regards to these findings, Bateson (1983) proposes a theory of “optimal outbreeding” which suggest that our and animals biology tend find others that have and intermediate degree of genetic relatedness most sexually attractive and prefer them as mates. As such the cost of inbreeding and outbreeding are balanced and reduced. Eagle (2007) argues that a theory which he chooses to coin “optimal similarity” is a plausible explanation for sexual attraction and the feelings of safety and familiarity, which is needed to create attachment bonds to another person. He posits that “a choice made on the basis of optimal similarity seems to represent the optimal compromise between the somewhat conflicting demands of sexual and attachment systems” (p.43). He further points out the evidence which suggest that similar partners have longer more stable relationships and increased rates of fertility (Thiessen & Gregg, 1980 as sited in Eagle, 2007).

Based on Freud’s psychoanalytical theories of sexual attraction, it would seem that mate selection can be viewed as intending to avoid inbreeding by choosing mates different to oneself, but at the same time ensuring optimal outbreeding, by choosing partners with familiar traits and looks. The latter form of mate selection seems to be more closely related to attachment bonds to the other partner, whereas the former might be linked to sexual attraction with the sole intention of reproduction.

Attachment and Sexual Attraction Two Separate but Interviewed Systems

To further complicate matters, there is evidence to support that sexual desire and attachment are two separate systems in humans. Holmes (2001), argued that it is often seen that two individuals can be attached to one another without feeling sexual desire. However, the reverse is also true, in that two people can have a high amount of sexual attraction to one another without feeling attached. This was further investigated by Fonagy (2001 as sited in Eagle, 2007) who noted that the lack of sexual desire in a marriage is common, but people still choose to stay together. A study examining what factors contributed to intimacy in regards to romantic relationships found that sexual attraction and desire to once partner was not the biggest factor, but that attachment was more important for intimacy. However, this study did mostly examine females (Eagle, 2007), and it could be that females view sexual attractiveness and desire differently than males.

Moreover, Diamond (2003) postulated that sexual attraction and desire is likely to be governed by our biological mating system, of which the main goal is to reproduce. Which is also the main explanation of sexual attraction from an evolutionary theory point of view. Whereas love is related to pair-bonding and attachment, which main goals are to have an enduring relationship with another human. If this is the case, it is primarily not sexual attractiveness to another person that keeps humans in pairs. Helen Fischer (2005) has made some intriguing findings where she links the feelings we get for another person with a strong sense of need, and thus sexual attraction is strengthened when we feel love. She argues that the feeling of romantic love is a universal human experience which is firmly woven into the fabric of the brain. Across a vast variety in age, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and ethnic origin, she has found almost no inconsistency in the ability to feel love. Such findings are of prime importance for showing that there is a biological basis for the feeling of romantic love and it also lends support to that there might be an evolutionary basis and need for love. 

According to neuroscientific research, the feeling of love can last from twelve to eighteen months, but this can vary dramatically depending on the people involved. Fischer (2005) argues that when there is a factor of adversity in the relationship it can strengthen the romantic ardour. Conversely, the opposite can lead to a sooner extinguishment, which is in accordance with the Freudian theory that one falls out of love with the person one lives with or spends too much time around (Eagle, 2007). Moreover, Fischer (2005) conducted neuroimaging studies on people who were newly in love. She found that the caudate nucleus became active when looking at a picture of a loved one. This part of the brain is the rewards system, which influences the motivation to acquire rewards, contains a network for general arousal, and causes sensations of pleasure. It helps us prefer a particular reward instead of another, and helps us differentiate between them. It is reasonable to assume that it thusly helps discriminate between people; including the person one finds the most sexually attractive. 

Fischer also made some interesting discoveries in relation to certain neurotransmitters and their role in the feeling of love. Firstly, she noted a large release of dopamine, which is associated with a feeling of ecstasy, and also extremely focused attention and goal-directed behaviour. Dopamine leads to the feelings about the lover become novel and unique, which is in concordance with her theory that overexposure to the partner shortens the duration of love. Secondly, she found large amounts of norepinephrine, which is derived from dopamine and causes excessive energy, exhilaration, and can also lead to sleeplessness. Finally, she noted the release to serotonin, which she argues makes the person think about the partner in an almost obsessive way, somewhat analogous to obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is characterised by high amounts of serotonin.

Although the discussion of love seems to deviate somewhat from the central focus of the paper, sexual attraction, it has important implications. The findings made Fischer come to a broad consideration: romantic love is a primary motivation system in the brain. In short, love is a fundamental human mating drive. The feeling of passion emanates from the caudate nucleus and it is fuelled by one of nature’s most powerful stimulants, dopamine. When this passions subsides, the brain tacks onto positive emotions, such as elation and hope. All the while, regions in the prefrontal cortex monitor the pursuit, plan tactics, calculate gains and losses, it registers one’s progress towards the goal, and it governs the emotional, physical, and, as an extreme, even spiritual union with one’s beloved. Romantic passion is entangled in a complex and intricate interplay between two basic mating drives, sex drive and the urge to build deep attachments to a romantic partner.

Although tightly interwoven, it seems that our biology has developed two separate chemical systems for romance: the sexual attraction system, which relate strongly to excitement, to bring humans together, and the attachment system to keep them together. This theory is strengthened by the fact that sexual attraction towards someone is accompanied by higher levels of phenylethylaine, which resembles amphetamine, which is associated with heightened activity and arousal. On the other hand, attachment is linked to higher levels endorphin which is part of forming infant-mother bonds. 

Moreover, other chemical systems may play a role as well. Insel and Young (as sited in Eagle, 2007) found in regards to research done on rodents that oxytocin facilitates the development of maternal behaviour. They reported that vasopressin has been shown to differ in prairie voles, which is a mammal that has monogamous relationships, compared to montane voles, who are not monogamous. Thus, vasopressin receptions in the ventral palladium are present in monogamous mammals but absent in animals which do not have monogamous relationships. 

Further research on hormones has shown that that high levels of testosterone increase sexual interest but also reduces attachment (Eagle, 2007). Studies have shown that men with high levels of testosterone marry less often, have more affairs outside of marriage, and divorce more often Additionally, it is also shown that as attachment to another person increases the testosterone levels decreases, which may suggest that in long term relationships sexual attraction decreases, which is confirmed by Fisher’s (2005) neuroscientific findings on the duration of love. In fact, Fischer (2000 as sited in Eagle, 2007) conducted a study where individuals in romantic relationships were given testosterone. The result was an increase in their sexual interest and sexual excitement towards the other partner, but their feeling of romantic passion did not increase. Again, evidence from animal research substantiates these findings as different levels of testosterone also influence other species. Male blue jay or cardinals that are non-monogamous and do not stay to help raise their offspring have higher levels of testosterone than monogamous male birds such as sparrows, which stay with their mate to raise their offspring (Eagle, 2007). However, if testosterone is injected to male sparrow they abandon both their offspring and also partner in order to court other females (Sullivan, 2000 as sited in Eagle, 2007). 

Pines  (2005) reports how a tiny molecule, called phenylethylamine (PEA) plays an important role in attraction. When the amount of PEA in the brain goes up, it produces a feeling of sexual excitement and emotional uplift. Pines (2005) claim some people become addicted to the rush of PEA and turn into “love junkies”. 

As mentioned earlier, a pheromone is a chemical substance that can serve as a sexual signal transmitted though scent (Grammer, Bernhard, & Neave, 2005). During adolescence, glands located under the arms, around nipples and in the sex organs start exuding a smell that attracts the opposite sex. Helen Fisher, says we all have different smell. When we like someone’s smell we get attached. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a versatile sex hormone from which most other sex hormones are derived. It increases sexual desire, serving in a sense  as a natural aphrodisiac. DHEA is consternated in the breast an pubic regions.

Taking this physiological evidence into consideration, it is likely that sexual attractiveness in regards to mate selection in humans may not be strongly related to forming attachment bonds with others, but more as a means to bring humans together in order to mate or reproduce. Such a conclusion would give further support to evolutionary theories of mate selection.

The psychological aspect and theories of sexual attraction

From a psychological point of view, an interesting contradiction exists (Eagle, 2007). In order for another person to serve as an attachment figure it is important that this person is familiar. Characteristics, such as unfamiliarity and novelty, are incompatible with the development of attachment to a figure with these characteristics. Conversely, the feeling of intense sexual attractiveness towards another person seems to be reduced the more predictable and familiar the other individual becomes, as is in accordance with biological theories. 

Evidence in this regard is found both in humans and animals (Eagle, 2007). For instance, is has been shown that people who are brought up together have a lot less sexual interest in one another. Shepher  (as sited in Eagle 2007; Pines, 2005) looked at the records 2,769 marriages of people raised in Kibbutzim, which is a common settlement in Israel. Out of all the married couples only 16 of them where raised together. And out of these 16 cases the couple had only been raised together after age 6. His conclusion was that a form of ‘negative imprinting’ is produced between individuals that are reared together, especially up to age 6, in order for them not to mate and as such have incest with one another. Thus, it seems likely that sexual attraction towards another individual is reduced if two individuals are raised together in close proximity. The fact that they are familiar probably leads to the other becoming less exiting and novel which is also related to sexual attraction.  This effect is in concordance with Freud’s theories about how sexual attractiveness towards another individual is heightened by novelty and dampened by familiarity, and often, for strong sexual excitement to occur, an obstacle is required. This obstacle might be, for example, the challenge of “conquering” a potential mate. Furthermore, in a romantic relationship this obstacle becomes less and less significant as one becomes more and more attached to the other person, and thus sexual attractiveness decreases. 

Hazan and Zeifman (as sited in Eagle, 2007) claims that sexual attraction brings and binds partners together, which, if they stay together, may form long and enduring attachment bonds. These attachment bonds, are not largely dependent on the sexual attractiveness to once chooses partner but the ability for the two of them to maintain emotional and close bonds even though sexual attractiveness decreases with time. Many studies have confirmed this by showing that sex and the feeling of sexual attractiveness is more important in the start of a romantic relationship, and later on emotional support becomes increasingly more important. And that sensitivity and responsive care in a romantic relationship is a more accurate predictor for relationship longevity compared to sexual attraction (Eagle, 2007). 

The interplay between evolutionary drives and psychological factors in sexual attraction

Contradicting and converging arguments for theories of sexual attraction has been presented throughout this paper. It is evident that there is a strong biological, evolutionary drive to sexual attraction that humans  share with all sexually reproductive species, as the main goal of evolution is continuation of the species. However, the mechanisms and strategies that underlie this drive are many and complex. Evolutionary strategies emphasize the influence of physical attractiveness and visual cues, as well as social cues. Pines (2005) note how one important factor for coming across as attractive to potential sexual partners is confidence. A strong and positive sense of oneself is important before one can develop en sustain an intimate relationship. Further evidence is shown by a study where students who felt surer of themselves, because of their great success in an intelligence test, expressed more romantic interest in a young women when she looked attractive. On the other hand, the students who felt less self-confident because they had performed badly expressed more interest in the women when she looked less attractive. This supports the influence of confidence in sexual attraction. People who feel confident are more likely to have higher demands in a potential partner, whereas people who are less confident are more likely to not have many requirements in a partner, and also appreciate more positive feedback from others.

Another study reports how physical attraction is often highly related to self-esteem in women. Female participants who were rated for attractiveness by objective judges where asked to describe their romantic preferences. It might not come as a surprise that that all women preferred to date a high-status man, such as a physician or lawyer, over a low-status man such as a waiter. Nevertheless, unattractive women were willing to go out with men holding jobs in the middle scale such as a clerk but attractive women were not.

These findings lend underpins the importance of social status, also argued for in evolutionary psychology, and empirically supported by Buss and Barnes (1986), and Buss and colleagues (2001) and their studies on human mate preferences.

Conclusion – what should you have learn from this post

What does all this mean?
  • Many theories have tried to single out concrete factors, but the bottom line is that sexual attraction is a complex interplay of many factors, both biological, and psychological, with roots back in time of evolution and one’s early social and environmental experiences.
  • Your lost self-esteem by finding out that someone is not sexually attracted to you may take longer to regain and find than a new partner, so prioritize accordingly. If you do like sex but are tempted to spend night after night just cuddling with someone, buy a puppy or one of those Japanese human pillows
  • Most people do want and need companionship, and the feeling of togetherness is fantastic, but togetherness with sex is even better. Call a spade a spade or, more fittingly a friend a friend and go find yourself a friend that cannot keep their hands off you.
  • People tell you who they are all the time. If someone says they do not want to be monogamous, you should accept it. It is for yourself to determine if you can live or have sex with that person.
  • There’s someone out there that does want to have sex with you, do not ever doubt or forget that

Oh, if you made it this far and have the desire to read more there is a reference list on the next page


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