Family Matters

One-Night Stands Explained: Men Prefer Hot Bods to Pretty Faces

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Ladies, hit the gym (and hold the makeup). Unless you’re gunning for a long-term relationship, it’s your hot bod — and not your winsome face — that guys are after.

New research from the University of Texas at Austin shows that men seeking a short-term lover are more interested in a woman’s body than those desiring a long-term commitment,  who zeroed in on a woman’s face.

The research, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, originated from a premise: a woman’s body reveals more insight into her immediate baby-making potential than her face, which is more of a window into her long-term reproductive value.

What sparked the research in the first place? Though there’s been plenty of analysis of what makes a face attractive (symmetry, for example) or the body beautiful (most notably, waist-to-hip ratio), the preference for body over face had not been explored. (More on Top 10 Love Triangles).

“There are terms like ‘butterface’ out there — everything’s perfect but-her-face, and that stimulated a thought about whether bodily attractiveness conveys something different than facial attractiveness,” says psychology graduate student Jaime Confer, who co-authored the research with graduate student Carin Perilloux and Professor David Buss

For instance, a woman’s face can predict how many years of baby-making she has ahead of her. Is it wrinkled? Move on, fellas. Smooth and supple, of course, indicates youth. A 16-year-old girl, for example, is not at the peak of her fertility – that happens around age 24 — although she is at the peak of her reproductive potential. Seeking a long-term mate able to incubate lots of offspring? Choose her.

The female body, on the other hand, offers different fertility clues: Can she get pregnant right now? Is she pregnant already? And don’t forget the waist-to-hip ratio, which research has suggested decreases at ovulation. Ergo, a curvy woman is highly desirable as a short-term mate since there’s ample evidence she’s a Fertile Myrtle in the making. (More on It’s Not If You Fight, It’s How You Fight)

Men hone in on these fertile cues, which are more concentrated in a woman’s body,” says Confer. “We are talking about evolved psychological mechanisms to prioritize access to immediately fertile women. Men care more about can she get pregnant right now than her long-term reproductive potential.”

But wait: Since when do men out for an evening of casual sex want that evening to culminate with conception?

Blame it on the principle of natural selection. “This is operating outside of conscious awareness,” says Confer. “Men still have this proclivity to become more interested in a woman’s body even if they don’t want to get her pregnant.”

Only men, not women, showed a significant preference for body vs. face when seeking short- vs. long-term partners.  Women were more interested in a man’s face for both short- or long-term relationships. (More on A Crazy 40-Year Experiment in Life-Work Balance).

That makes sense since men’s fertility doesn’t decline rapidly like women’s. Assume, says Confer,  that any man under the age of 80 can get a woman pregnant. If that’s the case, there’s  no reason for a woman to be concerned with a man’s fertility, and, hence, his body.

To reach their conclusions, the researchers showed 375 college students a representation of a person of the opposite sex, whose face and body were hidden. Half the participants were instructed to evaluate the images as a potential short-term mate; the rest were told to consider the image as a potential long-term mate by uncovering face or body — not both.

Just over half of the guys — 51% — who were told to pick the proverbial one-night stand chose to look at the woman’s body. On the other hand, 75% of men who were directed to consider the woman as a long-term partner decided to check out her face.

Up next: The researchers may wade into trickier territory if they move forward with follow-up research asking subjects if they want to see the faces or bodies of potential rivals who may be stealing their partners.  Which is more threatening: a pretty face or a rockin’ physique? Stay tuned…

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