Sexual attraction is attraction on the basis of sexual desire or the quality of arousing such interest. Sexual attractiveness or sex appeal is an individual's ability to attract other people sexually, and is a factor in sexual selection or mate choice. The attraction can be to the physical or other qualities or traits of a person, or to such qualities in the context where they appear. The attraction may be to a person's aesthetics or movements or to their voice or smell, among other things. The attraction may be enhanced by a person's adornments, clothing, perfume or style. It can be influenced by individual genetic, psychological, or cultural factors, or to other, more amorphous qualities. Sexual attraction is also a response to another person that depends on a combination of the person possessing the traits and on the criteria of the person who is attracted.
Though attempts have been made to devise objective criteria of sexual attractiveness and measure it as one of several bodily forms of capital asset (see erotic capital), a person's sexual attractiveness is to a large extent a subjective measure dependent on another person's interest, perception, and sexual orientation. For example, a gay or lesbian person would typically find a person of the same sex to be more attractive than one of the other sex. A bisexual person would find either sex to be attractive. Asexuality refers to those who do not experience sexual attraction for either sex, though they may have romantic attraction (homoromantic, biromantic or heteroromantic) or a non-directed libido. Interpersonal attraction includes factors such as physical or psychological similarity, familiarity or possessing a preponderance of common or familiar features, similarity, complementarity, reciprocal liking, and reinforcement.
The ability of a person's physical and other qualities to create a sexual interest in others is the basis of their use in advertising, film, and other visual media, as well as in modeling and other occupations.
In evolutionary terms, the ovulatory shift hypothesis posits that female humans exhibit different sexual behaviours and desires at points in their menstrual cycle, as a means to ensure that they attract a high quality mate to copulate with during their most fertile time. Hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle affect a woman's overt behaviours, influencing the way a woman presents herself to others during stages of her menstrual cycle, in attempt to attract high quality mates the closer the woman is to ovulation.
Social and biological factors
Human sexuality has many aspects. In biology, sexuality describes the reproductive mechanism and the basic biological drive that exists in all sexually reproducing species and can encompass sexual intercourse and sexual contact in all its forms. There are also emotional and physical aspects of sexuality. These relate to the bond between individuals, which may be expressed through profound feelings or emotions. Sociologically, it can cover the cultural, political, and legal aspects; philosophically, it can span the moral, ethical, theological, spiritual, and religious aspects.
Which aspects of a person's sexuality attract another is influenced by cultural factors; it has varied over time as well as personal factors. Influencing factors may be determined more locally among sub-cultures, across sexual fields, or simply by the preferences of the individual. These preferences come about as a result of a complex variety of genetic, psychological, and cultural factors.
A person's physical appearance has a critical impact on their sexual attractiveness. This involves the impact one's appearance has on the senses, especially in the beginning of a relationship, among them:
- Visual perception (the symmetry of the face, physical attractiveness, health, and how they act or move, for example, while dancing);
- Audition (how the other's voice and movements sound);
- Olfaction (how the other smells, naturally or artificially; the wrong smell may be repellent);
- Somatosensory system (for example touch and temperature).
As with other animals, pheromones may have an impact, though less significantly in the case of humans. Theoretically, the "wrong" pheromone may cause someone to be disliked, even when they would otherwise appear attractive. Frequently, a pleasant-smelling perfume is used to encourage the member of the opposite sex to more deeply inhale the air surrounding its wearer, increasing the probability that the individual's pheromones will be inhaled. The importance of pheromones in human relationships is probably limited and is widely disputed,[unreliable source?] although it appears to have some scientific basis.
Some people exhibit high levels of sexual fetishism and are sexually stimulated by other stimuli not normally associated with sexual arousal. The degree to which such fetishism exists or has existed in different cultures is controversial.
Pheromones have been determined to play a role in sexual attraction between people. They influence gonadal hormone secretion, for example, follicle maturation in the ovaries in females and testosterone and sperm production in males.
Research conducted by Donald G. Dutton and Arthur P. Aron in the 1970s aimed to find the relation between sexual attraction and high anxiety conditions. In doing so, 85 male participants were contacted by an attractive female interviewer at either a fear-arousing suspension bridge or a normal bridge. Conclusively, it was shown that the male participants who were asked by the female interviewer to perform the thematic apperception test (TAT) on the fear-arousing bridge, wrote more sexual content in the stories and attempted, with greater effort, to contact the interviewer after the experiment than those participants who performed the TAT on the normal bridge. In another test, a male participant, chosen from a group of 80, was given anticipated shocks. With him was an attractive female confederate, who was also being shocked. The experiment showed that the male's sexual imagery in the TAT was much higher when self shock was anticipated and not when the female confederate shock was anticipated.
People consciously or subconsciously enhance their sexual attractiveness or sex appeal for a number of reasons. It may be to attract someone with whom they can form a deeper relationship, for companionship, procreation, or an intimate relationship, besides other possible purposes. It can be part of a courtship process. This can involve physical aspects or interactive processes whereby people find and attract potential partners, and maintain a relationship. These processes, which involve attracting a partner and maintaining sexual interest, can include flirting, which can be used to attract the sexual attention of another to encourage romance or sexual relations, and can involve body language, conversation, joking, or brief physical contact.
Sex and sexuality differences
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Men have been found to have a greater interest in uncommitted sex compared to women. Some research shows this interest to be more sociological than biological. Men have a greater interest in visual sexual stimuli than women. However, additional trends have been found with a greater sensitivity to partner status in women choosing a sexual partner and men placing a greater emphasis on physical attractiveness in a potential mate, as well as a significantly greater tendency toward sexual jealousy in men and emotional jealousy in women.
Bailey, Gaulin, Agyei, and Gladue (1994) analyzed whether these results varied according to sexual orientation. In general, they found biological sex played a bigger role in the psychology of sexual attraction than orientation. However, there were some differences between homosexual and heterosexual women and men on these factors. While gay and straight men showed similar psychological interest in casual sex on markers of sociosexuality, gay men showed a larger number of partners in behaviour expressing this interest (proposed to be due to a difference in opportunity). Self-identified lesbian women showed a significantly greater interest in visual sexual stimuli than heterosexual women and judged partner status to be less important in romantic partnerships. Heterosexual men had a significantly greater preference for younger partners than homosexual men. People who identify as asexual may not be sexually attracted to anyone. Gray asexuality includes those who only experience sexual attraction under certain circumstances; for example, exclusively after an emotional bond has been formed. This tends to vary from person to person.
Sexual preferences and hormones
The ovulatory shift hypothesis is the theory that female humans tend to exhibit different sexual behaviours and desires at points in their cycle. Two meta-analyses published in 2014 reached opposing conclusions on whether the existing evidence was robust enough to support the prediction that women's mate preferences change across the cycle. A newer 2018 review does not show women changing the type of men they desire at different times in their fertility cycle.
Ovulation and ornamentation
Hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle affect a woman's behaviour in preferences and in their overt behaviours. The ornamentation effect is a phenomenon influenced by a stage of the menstrual cycle which refers to the way a woman presents herself to others, in a way to attract potential sexual partners. Studies have found that the closer women were to ovulation, the more provocatively they dress and the more attractive they are rated.
It is possible that women are sensitive to the changes in their physical attractiveness throughout their cycles, such that at their most fertile stages their levels of attractiveness are increased. Consequently, they choose to display their increased levels of attractiveness through this method of ornamentation.
During periods of hormonal imbalance, women exhibit a peak in sexual activity. As these findings have been recorded for female-initiated sexual activity and not for male-initiated activity, the causation appears to be hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle.
Research has also found that menstrual cycles affect sexual behaviour frequency in pre-menopausal women. For example, women who had weekly sexual intercourse with men had menstrual cycles with the average duration of 29 days, while women with less frequent sexual interactions tended to have more extreme cycle lengths.
Male response to ovulation
Changes in hormones during a female's cycles affect the way she behaves and the way males behave towards her. Research has found that men are a lot more attentive and loving towards their partners when they are in the most fertile phase of their cycles, in comparison to when they are in the luteal phases. Men become increasingly jealous and possessive over their partners during this stage.
- Body odor and subconscious human sexual attraction
- Erogenous zone
- Evolution of sexual reproduction
- Human height
- Human physical appearance
- Human sexuality
- Interpersonal attraction
- Mating system
- Physical attractiveness
- Sex in advertising
- Sex symbol
- Sexual arousal
- Sexual capital
- Sexual dimorphism
- Sexual field
- Sexual polarity
- Sexual reproduction
- Sexual selection
- Westermarck effect
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- On peculiarities of Russian sex appeal, see Draitser, Emil (1999). Making war, not love: Gender and sexuality in Russian humor. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 13–32. ISBN 978-0-312-22129-4.