Three theories of female sexual attraction

We describe three alternative theories that attempt to explain the causes of female sexual attraction to a male. The theories may explain overlapping sets of phenomena. They may simultaneously hold although they are at a tension in several respects. Scientific experimental evidence is scarce at this point as far as I know. If you know of studies that may help evaluate these theories, please let me know.

Asshole-detector theory

The female sex module contains a social judgment mechanism that recognizes a subset of the males it responds to as “assholes” (a term that currently awaits precise definition). The female automatically and involuntarily becomes sexually attracted to any man thus classified by her sex module.

This does not mean that she, as a person, likes the asshole male or approves of his behavior. She may dislike him and decide to avoid him. And she may succeed to avoid him if this personal judgment of hers dominates her sexual attraction to the male.

Causal-source/proactive-agent theory

Causal-source/proactive-agent theory claims that females are sexually attracted to what they perceive as the causal sources or proactive agents in the (social) system. This is closely related to the idea that social power is attractive, but generalizes the element of influence beyond the social domain.

In order to cope with our complex environments, we perceive the world as a causal network of events and perceived influences. People’s actions are events and can be perceived as either reactive or proactive. Proactive actions are actions that appear as first causes or causal sources in the network because they are unpredictable to us. (In fact, of course, the world may be continuous, rather than composed of discrete events; and deterministic, thus void of any true causal sources – the theory refers to our perception of first causes, which results from our inability to completely predict the dynamics we are observing.)

Causal-source/proactive-agent theory suggests that males are attractive when their actions appear as first causes and have considerable consequences – either positive or negative. The theory explains a variety of phenomena frequently discussed in connection with female attraction. In particular, it explains why females appear to be attracted by:

  • fame
  • fortune
  • violence
  • dominance
  • genius
  • humor
  • social power

Note that this list includes phenomena generally considered as socially undesirable (e.g. violence) as well as phenomena generally considered as desirable (fame, fortune, genius, humor), and also phenomena that are ambiguous in this respect (dominance, social power). All these phenomena share a property: they make the male appear to be the causal source or proactive agent of the dynamic he is a part of.

One possible evolutionary explanation for such an attraction mechanism in females is as follows: Male desire for sex with females gives females considerable social power over males. The female must harness this power in order to ensure the security and prosperity of herself and her offspring. Males who have more power, confer more power to her. Moreover, to the extent that a male is dangerous to her, seeking a bond may avert such danger.

Judgment-copying theory

The female sex module does not contain a judgment mechanism (as suggested by the previous two theories). Instead it relies on social judgments from other people to determine the level of sexual attraction. These judgments can be sexual or nonsexual; in either case a positive judgment about him perceived by her increases her sexual attraction. The social judgments copied can come from any person other than herself: Her own negative or positive judgments of the male will not affect her attraction to him. Any other person’s judgment of him, including his own projected self-judgment, will be copied by her sex module.

This theory explains the effect of both social status and confidence on the sexual attractiveness of a male. (For a more detailed articulation of this theory, see the separate post on judgment-copying theory.)

Which theory is true? Are they simultaneously true? Does one subsume the others?

Each of these theories explains a lot of observational evidence. Although aspects of each could simultaneously be true, there are some tensions:

  • Judgment-copying theory (in its strong version) claims that the female sex module is not in the business of judging, but only copies social judgments. Asshole-detector and causal-source/proactive-agent theory claim that the female sex module does judge, but by criteria radically different from those by which the male sex module judges: While males are attracted to females with good looks, females are attracted to males with bad personalities (asshole detector) or males whose actions are unpredictable and of considerable consequence (causal-source/proactive-agent).
  • Assholes are often unfavorably judged by others. Are those judgments exempt from judgment copying?

Judgment-copying theory can explain the confidence-related appeal of the asshole: The callous disregard for other people’s feelings at the core of the asshole personality may project a self-judgment of superiority. Moreover, to have no need to be nice may be taken to indicate high-social status because only the well-accepted can afford to be assholes.

We need to understand exactly what aspects of the asshole personality cause female attraction.

  • Is a male displaying callous disregard for others’ feelings, but also low self-confidence and negative self-evaluations sexually attractive to females?
  • Are non-confidence-related aspects of the asshole personality relevant to female attraction? (Such aspects could include physical and psychological violence, independence of social judgments from others.)


7 Responses to “Three theories of female sexual attraction”

  1. 11minutes Says:

    The answer as to what causes female attraction will only become clear “in the light of evolution”. As with other biological phenomena, there will be ultimate and proximate factors.

    If we start with the assumption that women ultimately chose the men who promise the “sexiest” (fittest) offspring, several things become clear.

    Certain character traits in a man will indicate survival value.

    The reason “assholes” get chicks is that they display several of these character traits.

    The reason “causal sources” get laid is for the same reason.

    There is a vast overlap between these two sets. The “asshole” set is likely to be more attractive to women (aka bar tenders get more ass than politicians).

    The judgment copying factor pertains to the above. It is more like a mechanism to detect men of high sperm quality.

    As you point out, these theories rarely get in conflict.

    In the case of “assholes”, there is good indication that the societal judgment is not overriding the choice of a woman’s sex module. Women tend to “secretly” date these kind of men if they fear judgment. And again, CEOs and politicians are often seen as less attractive than mass murderers (just count the marriage proposals written to Charles Manson against those written to Bil Gates or George Bush).

    Another important factor is that women are internally torn in their sexual preference. While the “excitement” is with the bad boys, many women increasingly stay away from these men as they get older.

    Ultimately, women do not just seek out lovers, but also providers. It is possible that this preference may be dissociable from female sexuality, but ultimately women need both ATTRACTION and COMFORT.

  2. stagetwo Says:

    I agree with most of these observations. They left me wondering about a few points:

    Interesting note on Manson, Gates, and Bush! Do you know of studies analyzing female responses to such people or the numbers of proposals from females to the famous and infamous? Manson versus Bush is interesting: Bush has killed more people, from a protected position of power; Manson was more hands-on in the killing, I guess.

    You talk about survival value and high-quality sperm. But high-quality sperm (i.e. nature) is only one of the factors determining survival value, the other is acquired abilities (i.e. nurture). In Mystery’s book female preference for nature/nurture-dependent survival value is contrasted against the male preference for nature-dependent reproduction value (primarily beauty).

    Likewise I suspect that it takes both nature and nurture to produce an asshole – neither by itself can achieve such a feat.

    Survival value suggests that worldly success is sexy to females (cf. “Succexy”, the song by the group Metric). While this is true, it’s only part of the story. Assholes are not more successful in the world than nice guys, I think. There’s something about the raw assholiness of the asshole that cannot be reduced to either survival value or natural qualities (such as physical strength and tendency toward risk taking).

    I agree that the evolutionary reason for the preference may have the origins you describe. But we need to understand exactly by what signature females choose assholes.

    We need to strip the asshole down to what’s sexy about him: perhaps we can reduce what assholes do to some strange behavior that seems to make no sense at all in isolation but drives women crazy with desire all the same – ideally without the undesirable (except to the female sex module) qualities of asshole behavior (being an asshole takes a lot of energy and annoys other people – naturally). Can we find the loophole in the asshole detector?

  3. Greg Magarshak Says:

    I don’t believe there is anything “intrinsic” about women liking assholes. Women’s attraction is in some ways similar to men: if she likes you, she will like things you do. If she doesn’t, she will find faults with the same exact things. Women go with their feelings much more than men. The rest of it is because of their conditioning. Let me explain…

    Consider this: do fat chicks like assholes? Don’t they have a different worldview than hot chicks? Do you go for fat chicks a lot? Your theory should explain all this. The facts are staring us in the face. Hot chicks have a lot of guys who want them, so their mindset is rejection by default… their attraction usually happens in two circumstances only: 1) there is nothing to reject, 2) they reject but the guy overpowers them. Again, these are not sufficient but they are necessary for the hot girl’s attraction. They are necessary because the girl ha to feel like she can win the guy over to fall for HER, you are not attracted very much to things you know you can have, right away, day after day. Imagine being a bodybuilder and girls (even attractive ones) always coming up and being “OH MY YOU’RE SO BIG AND STRONG! CAN I FEEL YOUR BICEPS?” Eventually you’d be like the hot chick. It’s more symmetrical than you think.

    So consider the guy who society likes. If the woman is in a company that really respects and likes a guy, she has not had a chance to reject him. They can interact and she can get attracted to him. The dynamics will constantly work in his favor. She will say nice things to him, and he can be confident.

    On the other hand, consider the asshole. This guy also does not really give chicks a lot of room to reject him, because he doesn’t seek their approval. This asshole gets “rejected” a lot in the sense that the chick wouldn’t go for him if he had come up to her. But the chicks he DOES interact with, his focus is on being narcissistic and not about trying to win her approval. So she can’t reject him and therefore he has a chance to win her over.

    Finally consider the asshole … since he angers a lot of people, those that stick by him really respect him. So the chick sees him being surrounded by his “boys”, who usually have colorful personalities of their own and do exciting things together. They usually have chicks too so it’s a wild little group. Her fantasy is usually to date this guy and maybe make him fall for her (a challenge).

    Bottom line, the “intelligent” guys need a social circle around them when they meet chicks, and the “uninhibited” guys need to have a self absorbed personality that is also tempered by being interesting/captivating/charismatic, so the girl can get interested and not reject them off the bat.

    Greg Magarshak

    • stagetwo Says:

      greg, you have some good points. for example, i agree that availability somewhat lowers the appeal — for men as for women. however, there are fundamental gender asymmetries that your reasoning cannot begin to account for. your bodybuilder example is a case in point: the most physically attractive guys do not get nearly the amount of automatic opposite-sex attraction that the most physically attractive girls get. good looking guys always also need game. and less good looking guys with good game can get very hot chicks. conversely hot girls do not really need game at all to create attraction. and ugly chicks never become very attractive, no matter how they behave. the hottest-looking guy turned wussy loses all sexual appeal to a woman. the hottest looking woman cannot possibly lose all her appeal through her behavior — even to a man to whom she is totally available. male attraction is simply more beauty-based. the asshole has several masculine qualities girls are biologically programmed to respond to: independence of other people, a resulting greater decisiveness or badass quality, dominance over her and other people. but of course you can have all these masculine qualities without being an asshole. in that case women will love you. so perhaps in this sense women are not “intrinsically” attracted to assholes — just to the masculine qualities, which are most easily projected by being an asshole.

  4. Greg Magarshak Says:

    Are you sure of this, or just saying what you have heard from pickup artists? I mean my experience pretty much correspond to the theory I outlined. Believe it or not there are guys who get many girls throwing themselves at them … except for guys it is not beauty or looks (usually) but the social proof that does it. For example, anyone famous, a casting director, someone with a modeling agency, male stripper, bartender etc. The women come to him. <– this is what I think about the sexes.

    Your point is well taken — I have heard it before. But in my experience it is much better to be the recipient of attention, to get attraction, than to do a cold approach. It's better to have people talking to you and you having to do very little to keep it going. It comes across as confident. The second I try to be as you say "dominant" or "proactive" I actually get less results. Better to get the world throwing women in my direction and become the "hot" guy who can choose, than to have to do everything myself.

    But you are absolutely correct, men are much more attracted to looks than women, especially the older women get. That is great news for you as a guy. Because a woman can't tell hat league you are in until she hears the "language" you speak (with your style, with your voice tonality, choice of words, choice of topics). If you hang around ladies men it'll rub off on you and you start to use their language, you start being "hot" to women. At least that has been my experience.


  5. Greg Says:

    Oh here is the #1 thing… girls don’t do things they feel are wrong. If she is very hot and above your league, then if you just ask her out she will feel wrong saying yes, usually.

    But this applies to a lot of other things, that pickup artists don’t mention … like for example if you make a girl have to be proactive and invite you out, she will rarely do it … because she will feel uncomfortable doing it and will stop herself. So always leave her an easy way to go along with what you’re doing, but don’t come on too strong. It’s a hard balance to strike but as a man if you do it right you will get a lot of girls 🙂

  6. Game Key Says:

    Game Key…

    […]Three theories of female sexual attraction « stage two[…]…

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