- Do Muscles Really Make Men More Attractive To Women?
- Do Muscles Make Men More Attractive? Our Built In Body Image Bias
- Do Muscles Make Men More Attractive? Prejudices Against The Obese
- Evolutionary Reasons For Muscles Being Attractive To The Opposite Sex
- Do Muscles Make Men More Attractive? The Downsides of Too Much Muscle
- The Muscle Man As An Ideal Mate- In Theory More So Than Practice
Do Muscles Really Make Men More Attractive To Women?
(Do Muscles Make Men More Attractive to Women- updated April 2018)
As of the time of this article being updated, we had 2,230 respondents to our poll on whether or not people thought muscles made men more attractive to the opposite sex, and over two thirds of those responding believed that it does, with a little over 6% believing the contrary. (See our poll at the bottom of this post.) Numbers that ring true with my own experience over the past several decades as a natural bodybuilder and personal trainer in New York City. From movies to advertisements in today’s modern media, the “ideal man” is almost always well built. Past stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone still stand out decades after the zenith of their movie careers as the epitome of masculinity. As are the well-built and muscular images of almost all of the main characters of the superhero movies that are so much a part of today’s popular culture. Images that have prompted millions of men over the years to start lifting weights with the goal of improving their attractiveness. In many instances driving them to extreme behaviors such as over training and or the use of anabolic steroids. All in the quest to achieve their goal of that well-muscled physique that they perceive as being more attractive to the opposite sex. Media hype aside however, is there any real evidence that having a well-muscled physique makes you more attractive to the opposite sex?
The answer is yes, and no. Yes, there is evidence that a moderately well muscled physique can increase male attractiveness among members of the opposite sex, but only to a degree. Wealth, as we all know, also increases attractiveness, but having one million or fifty million dollars makes someone no more or less attractive, as the degree of attractiveness remains the same as long as the individual is perceived as wealthy. Attractiveness to muscles on men, however, follows a different pattern, as there is evidence that a moderately well muscled physique is considered very attractive to the opposite sex, but women consider too much muscle as being less attractive. The extreme degree of muscularity displayed by drug using bodybuilders, physique competitors and avid gym goers using anabolic steroids, and other performance enhancing drugs to the point where it is readily apparent that they are chemically enhanced, does not appear to be congruent with the majority’s perception of a male ideal, especially among females. Instead of being seen as an accomplishment, it is perceived as being “too much.” An aversion that transcends mere aesthetics as it has deep biological origins. While it’s hard to draw a line as to how much muscle is too much, it would appear that a more naturally (appearing) physique wins over an obviously over-sized one. A concept foreign to many Western males raised with social and media cues that being bigger is better. In this article we will take a look behind the science behind muscular attractiveness. Thanks for reading and as always, do be sure to share this article with anyone who might find it to be of interest.
Do Muscles Make Men More Attractive? Our Built In Body Image Bias
While we might like to think that our preferences are born solely of individual choice, the truth is that a preference for some degree of muscles on males seems to be hardwired into our genes. Studies show that children as young as kindergarteners, appear to prefer males with more muscular builds over those who are naturally on the heavier side, (endomorphs), or those with inherently lean and thin physiques (ectomorphs). Young children in general have a slight aversion towards heavyset individuals and in one study children aged 10 to 11 years old related muscular mesomorphs as “all things good”, while attributing less favorable descriptions to ectomorphs and endomorphic body types.
Fatter children generally have a negative perception of themselves , which can lead to a generalized negative self image. Negative reactions to overweight individuals are an undeniable fact of modern Western life. People that are obese are often discriminated against in obtaining life insurance, getting jobs, and gaining entrance to college education. As much as we might try to ignore it, such discrimination, while not coming from a place of malice or prejudice, still does create serious and almost institutionalized problems. A study of 10,000 people aged 16 to 24 that spanned a seven year period found that being obese meant you were less likely to marry, more likely to have a lower income, and more likely to receive less schooling as well. People in Western society also perceive the inability to lose weight as a character flaw, which is ironic given that obesity is a rapidly spreading epidemic that affects the majority of the population, with 63% of the American population categorized as overweight and almost one third of them can be termed as being obese.
Do Muscles Make Men More Attractive? Prejudices Against The Obese
Fatter children generally have a negative perception of themselves , which can lead to a generalized negative self image. Negative reactions to overweight individuals are an undeniable fact of modern Western life. People that are obese are often discriminated against in obtaining life insurance, getting jobs, and gaining entrance to college education. As much as we might try to ignore it, such discrimination, while not coming from a place of malice or prejudice, still does create serious and almost institutionalized problems. A study of 10,000 people aged 16 to 24 that spanned a seven year period found that being obese meant you were less likely to marry, more likely to have a lower income, and more likely to receive less schooling as well. People in Western society also perceive the inability to lose weight as a character flaw, which is ironic given that obesity is a rapidly spreading epidemic that affects the majority of the population, with 63% of the American population categorized as overweight and almost one third of them can be termed as being obese. (Read more about stigmas against overweight individuals in my article here)
Evolutionary Reasons For Muscles Being Attractive To The Opposite Sex
One of the evolutionary reasons for perceived attractiveness is the male’s ability to successfully reproduce and bestow some genetic benefit upon their offspring. In all species, it is important that the female selects a healthy mate, and some of the factors for physical suitability are called, “fitness cues” which demonstrate that the male is in good physical condition. Some scientists see organisms as entities that capture energy from the environment and then use those energies not only for survival but also for enhancing their potential for reproductive success by developing “metabolically expensive” physical features that are attractive to the opposite sex. For example, the larger sized tail and plumage of the male peacock requires a notable amount of energy to produce and maintain, and it is precisely because the tail is so metabolically costly that it makes it attractive to female peacocks. As it demonstrates that the male with such endowment must be in good physical health. The same applies to well muscled human males. Lean muscle tissue requires more calories to be built and maintained than any other form of tissue and thus it signals to females that the male is in good physical condition.
Females mating with such a male would also have a greater likelihood of passing on these attractive traits to their offspring and thus increasing the female’s reproductive success in later generations since the ability to add muscle mass over one’s baseline is indeed heritable. Some other evolutionary cues may have also played a role in shaping women’s preference for muscularity. A well muscled body would be useful for gathering of resources and providing protection and so a preference for muscularity may have evolved in women partly because of the direct benefits a muscular mate could provide.  Benefits that would increase the female’s chances of survival and pass on traits that would increase the chances of survival for her offspring as well.
So, given the fact that muscles are a fitness indicator and a muscular physique would provide heritable and direct benefits to females from an ancestral point of view, it would be tempting to extrapolate that the more muscles a male has, the more attractive they will be to the opposite sex. In reality, it does not play out that way as human mating behaviors are far more complex. According to strategic pluralism theory, men have evolved in such a way that their reproductive behaviors are based on their value in the mating market.  So more attractive men increase their reproductive success by investing more time in seeking multiple partners and less time devoted to raising offspring. Less attractive males who do not have the same mating opportunities will invest heavily in their mates and the raising of offspring and spend less time seeking other partners. From the female point of view, the ideal scenario is to attract a mate who will invest in them long term and pass along genetic benefits as well. However, not all women would be able to attract long term invested males who could pass on favorable fitness cues, and so there is a trade off between choosing males who have good fitness indicators and those who will be better long term partners and invest in family life. As such, for short term relationships, or when the male contribution is only genetic, do women tend to prefer more muscular males, but for long term relationships it becomes a bit more involved.
Do Muscles Make Men More Attractive? The Downsides of Too Much Muscle
While studies overwhelmingly show that women rate muscular men as more sexually desirable than non muscular men, there is also an “inverted U” when it comes to muscularity. Very slender men are considered less attractive, as are chubby and “typical” sized males, while toned men are deemed the most sexually desirable, with built men being seen as less desirable and brawny or heavily muscled men even less so. To the point where heavily muscled and slender or skinny men are considered equally less attractive than those with more proportioned and natural looking muscular builds. Which is ironic, given that one of the reasons many men use anabolic steroids for physique enhancement is as a result of being naturally skinny and feeling unattractive to the opposite sex. In the West, men generally believe that the more muscles you have, the more attractive you will be to the opposite sex. [12,13,14,15] However, this does not seem to be the case, and anabolic steroid usage almost always results in a body that most women would refer to as overdeveloped.
Women also perceive muscular men as being more dominant, volatile and less committed to relationships and the more muscular a man is, the more such qualities are perceived. That said, muscular men tend to have more lifetime and short-term sex partners, and reportedly have more affairs with women in relationships when controlling for other variables.  Studies are unable to tell if toned men in the middle of the inverted U curve have more lifetime partners than highly muscular men, perhaps because of the difficulty in finding a large enough pool of extremely muscular men. Another explanation might be that although overly muscular men might be less attractive to women, they also tend to be more dominant, volatile, persistent and narcissistic, which could lead them to have more lifetime sex partners. But would also predispose them to more relationship related problems as well.
The Muscle Man As An Ideal Mate- In Theory More So Than Practice
So, is a well muscled body a template for the ideal mate? A simple yes or no answer is difficult to come by and in the real world today it might not be as important as many might like to think. Researchers find that women who see themselves as conservative and feminine tended to favor ‘muscle men.’ While more ‘liberated’ women lean more towards thinner and more linear bodies. Big women tend to prefer big men but again these are all rather abstract ratings. When researchers looked at the actual choice of mate for women surveyed it was a very different story. Overwhelmingly bodies of research have shown that the best clue to a women’s favorite male physique is the type of physique belonging to the man who is ‘the most important to her at that time in her life.' The fact that women prefer the physique of the man who is currently important to them, confirms that partners are selected for many reasons besides physical attractiveness, and that people can favor an ideal body type but still not be happy with someone who fits that ideal.
Now there are sub groups of women who find extremely muscular men incredibly attractive, and some go so far as to only date men who are very well muscled, however these women are very small in number relative to the size of the female human population. I myself started out at 125 lbs and did indeed see a tremendous difference in the way I was treated by the opposite sex as I slowly transformed into a 200 lb plus natural bodybuilder. It was a fascinating study in human behavior during my teenage years to go from being almost completely ignored by the opposite sex to a center of attention, which was interesting experience to say the least as I honestly didn’t expect it. Bodybuilding for me was a very personal undertaking and the realization of a childhood dream, and frankly I was surprised that it changed my interactions as much as it did. I do believe that muscles can give you the advantage of a good first impression- but after that, character, integrity, personality and a host of other factors will always be more important in terms of long term attractiveness. It might sound strange coming from me, but I do think that men, like their female counterparts, should focus more on being themselves rather than trying to fit an ideal. The desire for a well-developed body should spring from a sincere quest for self-improvement and overall health, and certainly not just as a way to pick up women. Besides, as the research overwhelmingly shows, muscles aren’t always everything.
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Kevin Richardson is an award winning health and fitness writer, natural bodybuilding champion, creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training , 5 time Best Personal Trainer NYC Award winner and an International Fitness Consultant for UNICEF.
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