The ethology of attraction to bad boys


It was not only the natural selection that favored warlike men, but also the sexual selection. In archaic times, the combative behavior implied not only chances of survival, but also a more significant reproductive success. Women’s preferences for combative individuals have evolved in parallel with men’s aggressiveness.

Numerous studies have shown that women manifest a higher sexual attraction towards men with a warlike reputation, towards leaders and military men. In some societies, military men who are dressed up in their uniforms are being perceived as having a sex-appeal that is superior to those who wear simple clothes [Schreiber, Van Vugt, 2008].

The women’s predilection for warriors and the military uniform’s sex-appeal represent a reminiscence of women’s ancestral preferences for men with high social status (resource owners); from times when the hierarchical position was directly associated with warlike abilities and aggressive behavior. From then, the symbol of the warlike man, who is in control and who has a combative and imposing behavior, is part of a strategy that favors men in their relationships with the opposite sex [Hardy, Van Vugt, 2006].

More recently, one study published in the journal ”Evolution And Human Behaviour” showed that women are more likely to find a soldier attractive, and are more inclined to date him, if he had been awarded a medal for bravery in combat. But displays of heroism in other fields, such as in sports or in business, had no effect on how likely women were to find a man attractive. It was also found that veterans of World War II who had been decorated with Medal of Honor had on average 3.18 children, while regular veterans averaged 2.72 children, suggesting decorated war heroes sired more offspring than other veterans.

The researchers concluded that heroism on the battlefield was an important selection criterion in archaic times, when the tribes with brave warriors had better chances of survival and conquest. Wars and fights may provide an arena for men to signal their physical and psychological strengths; and subsequently the heroes in the battles were in a better position to obtain sexual favors [Rusch et al., 2015]. There are other curious aspects of admiration for the male force, which marks the psychology of sex in our times.

It is well known that young men who behave modestly and seem agreeable, selfless and shy are disadvantaged as regarding sexual relationships. On the contrary, those who are manipulative, arrogant, cunning, overconfident, who play hypermasculine roles, enjoy a higher number of sexual experiences with more partners [1]. These effects are due not only to the gumption with which these men act, but also to the fact that women prefer this kind of men, with a more imposing behavior. Different studies have shown that the skillful men who have a dominant status and an assertive character are more attractive for women that those who are submissive and shy [Sadalla et al., 1987; Burger, Cosby, 1999].

At the same time, men get a higher prestige and are more attractive for women when they manifest their dominant character and their hostility towards the rivals (for example, towards the members of an opposing sport team) and not towards their colleagues or the persons who are nearby. As regarding a lasting romantic relationship or marriage, the interpersonal aggressiveness, unleashed by a man, could diminish the women’s interest (they being afraid of getting aggressively dominated) [Snyder et al., 2008]. Therefore, the assertive domination is favorable for conquests and courtship strategies for short periods of time, while the prestige (usually associated with social status and richness, but which can also include a prosocial behavior, empathy, intelligence, generosity) is going to have a long-lasting impact [2].

Other studies also have shown that women express increased preference for masculine traits when male-on-male aggression occurs. Images of male-on-female aggression, on contrary, elicited in women feelings of disgust and anger. The results suggest women process men’s facial and vocal traits as signals of aggressive potential and lose any preference for these traits with cues indicating men might direct this aggression toward them [Li et al., 2014].

Evolutionary psychologists David Buss and Todd Shackelford identified that women desired men with traits in the following four dimensions: 1. Good Genes – Men who were more masculine, physically attractive, good looking, fit, and high in sex appeal. 2. Good Investment Ability – Men with high potential income, good earning capacity, educated, and older than the woman herself. 3. Good Parenting – Men who want a home and children, who are fond of children and like them, who want to raise them well, and are emotionally stable and mature. 4. Good Partner – Men who want to be a loving partner [Buss, Shackelford, 2008].

Women who perceive herself more physically attractive will have greater requirements to men; she will try to find a partner who meet all good qualities. Less attractive women, in contrast, tended to reduce their expectations on all traits across the board, settling for a bit less in each area. Depending on the circumstances, some women would employ a mixed-mating strategy. Usually, this would involve short-term sex (single parenting, cheating, cuckolding, etc.) to get good genes from a fit and masculine man, while getting investment and parenting from another man with good resources [3].

Another researchers surveyed 1,365 women from 11 countries, ranging in age from 14 to 68, about their preferences in a male partner and found that women generally preferred the “dad” type men for a long-term partner and the “cad” type men for a short-term sexual affair. Preferences vary by age: young women were more likely to consider brief sexual affairs, particularly with the cad. This effect of age is perfectly understandable if we consider that young women are more fertile and are unconsciously more likely to have a relationship with a attractive man, bearing good genes. Older women, in contrast, prefer mating strategies that are related with higher paternal investment [Tifferet, Kruger, 2010].

Overall, in the course of humans’ evolution, the dominant individuals have been favored within the reproductive competition, one being able to find even today large categories of women who prefer “alpha males”, with an assertive and sexist approach [4] [Hall, Canterberry, 2011]. In general, numerous studies in recent decades have revealed the inclination of women to short term relationships [5]. Women’s sexual preferences are largely oriented toward dominant men; even if they have a stable partner, they can venture in transient relationships. The desire for short-term relationship is more pronounced in the days of maximum fertility in the menstrual cycle (ovulatory shift hypothesis) [Gildersleeve et al., 2014].

Many women who consider themselves attractive prefer men with a deeper, more masculine and dominant voice [Vukovic et al., 2008, 2010]. Also, the guys with more masculine faces are preferred, them being associated with a greater physical strength therefore, with better genes [Little et al., 2011]. And, the more difficult and unstable the living conditions are, the more emphasized are these preferences [DeBruine et al., 2011]; in regions were the epidemic situation is more dangerous, where the population is more vulnerable to diseases, men with masculine facial traits are more attractive to women than those with womanish faces, due to the fact that masculinity correlates with testosterone and with high resistance to infections [6].

The studies which were based on the scanning of women’s brains have shown that they are sexually attracted by those male faces that inspire both fear and danger [7]. It’s interesting the fact that women are attracted by the masculine smell, by the dominant behavior and by imposing physical traits especially during the period of maximum fertility of their menstrual cycle [Little et al., 2007]. This speaks about women’s unconscious and instinctual predilection towards dominant and virile men.

In another study, was analyzed whether appetitive aggression in men serves as an additional signal for a favored partner choice. Appetitive aggression describes the intrinsic motivation to act violently even when not being threatened. In study, were evaluated the preferences of 1212 women for some categories of soldiers returned from war. Results indicate that women preferred a soldier high in appetitive aggression as a short-term mate but not as a long-term relationship. This preference for the “warrior” was higher for women in their fertile window of the menstrual cycle. Authors concluded that women in their fertile window prefer men exhibiting higher appetitive aggression as a short-term partner, revealing appetitive aggression in men may serve as a signal for a higher genetic fitness [Giebel et al., 2013].

What’s more, was observed that women at high-conception risk were found to be less attracted to men displaying the nonverbal expression of shame compared to women at low-conception risk. These results are shown among North American women. While Indian women were found to be less attracted to men displaying shame than American women. These observations suggest that male shame displays indicate poor genetic fitness. But women preferences are however partly influenced due to local socio-cultural factors. The choice dictated by social norms and rational and emotional attachment may have though supremacy over instinctual impulses, dictated by genetic advantage [Beall, Tracy, 2015]. The social context matters.

The staggering case from a prison in Baltimore, where four female guards fell pregnant to same inmate, a gang leader named Tavon White, illustrated, even in anecdotal form, the phenomenon of woman attraction for dominant men [8]. But let’s remember how many convicted killers (like Charles Manson) capture the hearts of law-abiding women, being assaulted with love letters and other signs of adoration while sitting in prison [9].

That is why perhaps we should not be much surprised to find that most dreaded terrorist in the world, Osama bin Laden, was considerd sexy and not a few women had testified that they had fantasies with him. For some women, he was perceived as The Original Caveman, raw, brave, basic. Other women fall for bin Laden’s supposed sensitive side, his spirituality, the mystery surrounding it, his ideological fighting.

Osamaphily was observed not only among women in the Middle East, but also among women in Western countries, among American women, for whom Osama ought to be an enemy. According to Justin Frank, a professor of psychiatry at George Washington Medical Center, women turned on by bin Laden might have had rocky relationships with their fathers. Other specialists invoke strange attraction of women for tough guys, for misogynists, especially if they appear on TV and are somewhat popular [10].

In psychology, the term of Dark Triad is used to characterize the traits of a certain category of men who have the tendency to act violently and dominantly. The Dark Triad includes three sub-clinical traits: narcissism, machiavellianism and psychopathy. These men are complacent, selfish and overconfident; they manipulate and exploit others without any scruples; buy accutane they are impulsive and lacking empathy; they are impudent and possessive in their sexual relationship; they have sadistic inclinations. In an apparently paradoxically way, many women adore such types of men [11] [Carter et al., 2014]. In fact, some women have fantasies about brutal sexual relationships, including rapes; these fantasies represent an unconscious expression of women to be sexually desirable, their wish to be possessed by men [12], [13].

It is believed that the international success of the erotic novel “50 shades of Grey” by E. L. James is mostly due to the fact that it succeeds in exploring the erotic fantasies of women who are desirous of unconventional sexual relationships with sadistic elements [14]. By the way, it has been found out that numerous young female readers of this book are being influenced by the messages that are being transmitted by this book; they adopt an unhealthy lifestyle, some of them are more predisposed to drink alcohol and to manifest a more promiscuous behavior (they are looking for more sexual adventures) [Bonomi et al., 2014].

Studies show that certain categories of women manifests indeed a greater attraction for sex with elements of sadomasochism, scenes involving dominance and submission (BDSM); and there’s nothing neurologically or biologically dysfunctional about kink-related desire [15].

Therefore we understand that the natural selection has favored the formation of some masculine warlike traits because those men who were more combative and who had an assertive character were able to acquire more women, but it also has favored the women who preferred the warlike men, because they were able to gain access to more resources.

From an evolutionary point of view, we are dealing with an instinctive inclination that comes from archaic times when males inherited and, in turn, transmitted genes connected with aggressive and dominant behaviour, who provide a sexual success, and women properly, had inherited preference for such type of males. Masculine aggressive character has evolved in parallel with feminine attraction for such a character. A mutual strengthening of the respective strategies took place on a genetic level and they became typical for the human ethology. Effects of that archaic sexual selection are still strong today.

Maybe it is the instinctual predilection for tough and combative men that makes some women not to leave their violent husbands and that explains their fantasies with forced sex [16]. There are testimonies of rape’s victims in which the victims affirm that they had orgasm during the imposed sexual acts (different sources indicate a different rate that varies between 5%-10% and 50% of women who admitted having had orgasmic states) [17].

As for domestic violence, statistics show that between 30-50% of the couples who have reported violence remain in that relationship. Further, about 30% of dating partners who have experienced violence in the relationship interpret the violence as an act of love [Cate et al., 1982; Henton et al., 1983; Roscoe, Benaske, 1985, apud Mayseless 1991, p. 21]. Indeed, the famous Russian expression “????, ?????? ?????” (“If He Hits You, Then He Loves You”) is lifelike.

Another study, on 611 hospitalized women, which was made in Toronto, Canada, showed that almost 43% of them have been abused both physically and especially verbally at home in the last year, but more than half of them (54%) have declared that they would stay with their abusing husbands. The invoked motive is the feeling of safety that these women have when they are near their husbands [Panchanadeswaran et al., 2010].

”Why Do Some Battered Women Stay?”, asked professor Satoshi Kasanawa in one of his articles, and pointed out that there are ”possible operation of evolutionary logic to which the women do not have complete conscious access”. He explains that from the gene-centric view of life, there is one thing more important than life itself, and that is reproductive success.

Therefore, despite the terrible living with a batterer man, the alternative (leaving him and living with another man who is not the genetic father of her children) might even be worse for the physical and reproductive welfare of her children (and thus her genes). Sometimes organisms sacrifice their welfare and life in order to increase their reproductive success, concluded Kasanawa [18]. It is a common conclusion in evolutionary biology, indeed. All these considerations should make us look more profound at phenomenon of violence in general and at the male-female relations in particular.


© Dorian Furtuna, ethologist


Photo: Scarface /

1. Do women who really enjoy sex prefer “bad boys”? // by Eric Barker. Bakadesuyo. January 18, 2012 /
2. The Myth of the Alpha Male // by Scott Barry Kaufman. The Art of Manliness. July 7, 2014 /
3. Nice Guys or Bad Boys: What Do Women Want? Do women prefer “dad” or “cad” type men as partners? // by Jeremy Nicholson. Psychology Today. Jan 28, 2015 /
4. The Allure of Aggressive Men. A new study illuminates why women can find combativeness attractive // by Vinita Mehta. Psychology Today. May 28, 2013 /
5. Women Want Short-Term Mates, Too? Evolutionary Psychology Says Yes! // by David P Schmitt. Psychology Today. Jan 24, 2015 /
6. Why Women Don’t Want Macho Men. New research suggests that women from countries with healthier populations prefer more feminine-looking men // by Jena Pincott. The Wall Street Journal. March 27, 2010 /
7. Are dangerous men more attractive men? // by Eric Barker. Bakadesuyo. June 11, 2012 /
8. Four female guards fell pregnant to same inmate in one American prison // by Rob Waugh. Tuesday 25 Nov 2014 /
9. ‘I am Charles Manson’s wife’ // by Ted Rowlands. CNN. November 18, 2014 /
10. Osama bin Laden: Sex Symbol? // by David Wallis. National Post. December 29, 200 /
11. Dark triad //
12. Why Am I Turned On By Rape Fantasies? // by Justin Lehmiller. April 18, 2014 /
13. Don’t Call Them “Rape Fantasies”. Women: Ever had exciting fantasies of being sexually “devoured” by a stranger? // by Leon F. Seltzer. Psychology Today. November 5, 2014 /
14. What 50 Shades of Grey Tells Us About the Nature of Female Fantasy // by Susan Walsh. Hooking up Smart. April 9, 2012 /
15. The science of what excites kinky people doesn’t end with armchair psychology // by Nichi Hodgson. The Guardian. 14 February 2015 /
16. Rape fantasy //
17. What Science Says About Arousal During Rape. Yes, orgasms can happen to rape victims // by Jenny Morber. Popular Science. 05.30.2013 /
18. Why Do Some Battered Women Stay? Staying in abusive relationships // by Satoshi Kanazawa. Psychology Today. April 13, 2008 /

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