Are Attractive Women More Interested in Flings?

Scientists reveal a link between attractiveness and willingness to engage in short-term relationships.

Julian King/Flickr

Attractive women tend to be more willing to engage in short-term sexual relationships, according to new research by Scottish psychologists.

Humans vary in our desire for flings versus committed relationships. This variation is measured using a questionnaire called the Sociosexual Orientation Index, or SOI. Higher scores indicate a preference for flings; lower scores, a preference for commitment.

For some time, scientists have predicted that attractive people should be more interested in brief encounters. Handsome men and beautiful women make more desirable sex partners, and this could be expected to lead to beautiful people developing greater interest in shorter relationships. Another explanation could be that attractive people are choosier, and so may prefer not to settle for one partner but instead to play the field.

However, evidence for the link between sex appeal and sociosexuality is not strong. In early studies, photographs of women were rated for attractiveness regardless of whether they were wearing makeup, which is a problem because women who are more interested in flings may wear more makeup. Makeup increases attractiveness, so it is difficult to rule out whether any link between attractiveness and sociosexuality is caused by makeup use.

Different researchers have also used different versions of the SOI, and got different results.

Claire Fisher and her colleagues at the University of Glasgow decided to conduct a more robust test.

They took photographs of 226 young women. All of the women removed any makeup at least 10 minutes before being photographed. The photographs were rated for attractiveness by independent raters. The women were also weighed and their height was measured so that the researchers could calculate their Body Mass Index, or BMI. The circumference of the women’s waist and hips were measured, and the researchers used these measurements to calculate their Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR). Research has suggested that the WHR is related to fertility: women with a narrower waist and wider hips are more fertile and are usually rated more attractive.

All the participants in Fisher’s study then completed the SOI. The SOI includes questions about a person’s sexual behavior, attitudes, and desire. A respondent can score highly on the entire survey, or on any one of these three subscales. For example, a person might not engage in flings at all, but they may have a moderate desire for flings, and strongly believe that flings are an acceptable type of relationship.

Results

Women whose photographs were rated more attractive tended to have higher overall scores on the SOI: attractive women had a higher (or ‘less restricted’) sociosexuality. BMI and WHR were not related to scores on the SOI. Results were much the same when the scores on the SOI’s three subscales were analyzed separately.

Fisher and colleagues acknowledge that the link between sociosexuality and attractiveness is relatively weak, and is:

“unlikely to provide accurate, socially relevant information about others during social interactions”.

Nevertheless, they speculate that:

“more attractive women may be more open to short-term sexual relationships because they are better placed to offset the potential costs of engaging in short-term relationships, such as low investment and/or reputational costs”.


Fisher, C. I., Hahn, A. C., DeBruine, L. M., & Jones, B. C. (2016). Is women’s sociosexual orientation related to their physical attractiveness? Personality and Individual Differences, 101, 396–399. View summary

For an audio version of this story, see the 27 September 2016 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

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