Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 243–268 | Cite as

The Perception of Sexual Attractiveness: Sex Differences in Variability

  • John Marshall Townsend
  • Timothy Wasserman


Results of three independent studies supported predictions derived from evolutionary theory: Men's assessments of sexual attractiveness are determined more by objectively assessable physical attributes; women's assessments are more influenced by perceived ability and willingness to invest (e.g., partners' social status, potential interest in them). Consequently, women's assessments of potential partners' sexual attractiveness and coital acceptability vary more than men's assessments. The proposition that polygamous women's assessments of men's sexual attractiveness vary less than those of monogamous women (because the former allegedly are more influenced by target persons' physical attributes) was also tested. In Study 1 male college students showed more agreement than females in their rankings of the sexual attractiveness of opposite-sex target persons. Target persons' flesh and bodily display enhanced this sex difference. In Study 2 men exhibited less variance than did women in their ratings of target persons' acceptability for dating and sexual relations. Women who viewed models described as having low status showed more variability than did women in the high-status condition. In Study 3 women showed more variability than men did in their ratings of 20 opposite-sex celebrities' sexual attractiveness. Studies 2 and 3 included the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (SOI)—a measure of polygamous attitudes and behavior. Women's SOI scores did not affect the variability of their assessments in either Study 2 or 3. In Study 3 men with low SOI scores showed less variability than did men with high SOI scores. Alternative explanations of the findings are examined. Theoretical and empirical implications are discussed.

sexual attractiveness sex differences evolution sexuality perception 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Marshall Townsend
    • 1
  • Timothy Wasserman
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologySyracuse UniversitySyracuse
  2. 2.Office of Evaluation and ResearchSyracuse UniversitySyracuse

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