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Heterosexual Men’s Ratings of Sexual Attractiveness of Pubescent Girls: Effects of Labeling the Target as Under or Over the Age of Sexual Consent


The study aimed to identify implicit and explicit processes involved in reporting the sexual attractiveness of photographs of the same pubescent girls labeled as either under or within the age of sexual consent in the UK, women, and men. In two studies, 53 and 70 heterosexual men (M age 25.2 and 31.0 years) rated the sexual attractiveness of photographs in each category presented via computer [seeing target photographs of girls labeled as either under- (14–15 years) or within the age of consent (16–17 years)], using a 7-point response box. Ratings in Study 1 were in response to a question asking participants to rate how sexually attractive the person in each photograph was. In Study 2, participants rated how sexually attractive they personally found the target. Response times were also recorded. Several findings were replicated in both studies (although the strength of findings differed). Mean ratings of the sexual attractiveness of the underage girls were lower than those of overage girls and women. In addition, correlations revealed significantly longer responding times when “underage” girls (and men) were rated as more highly sexually attractive. No such relationship emerged with the same girls labeled within the age of consent or women. Overall, these data suggest that men find pubescent girls identified as being under the age of consent sexually attractive, but inhibit their willingness to report this; the greater the attraction, the greater the inhibition.

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Correspondence to Paul Bennett.

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O’Donnell, M., Lowe, R., Brotherton, H. et al. Heterosexual Men’s Ratings of Sexual Attractiveness of Pubescent Girls: Effects of Labeling the Target as Under or Over the Age of Sexual Consent. Arch Sex Behav 43, 267–271 (2014).

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  • Sexual attraction
  • Legal age of consent
  • Pubescent girls
  • Women
  • Heterosexual men