The More Vulnerable You Look, The More Men Find You Attractive?

May 24, 2012  |  

I know, it sounds silly—or like an already proven fact—but blame it on evolution. A new study to be published in Evolution and Human Behavior from the University of Texas–Austin explored what they called the sexual exploitability hypothesis based on the idea that for ancestral women, casual intercourse with an emotionally unattached man who you weren’t sure would stick around to raise any potential offspring was not a good move. But for men, with what seems like an unlimited number of sperm cells, wasting a few on women you have no intention of being with isn’t a big deal. Already sounds like not much has changed, but the researchers wanted to see specifically if whether any indication that a woman’s guard is lowered is a turn-on for the average man.

To explore this, they asked a large group of students (103 men and 91 women) to identify some “specific actions, cues, body postures, attitudes, and personality characteristics” that might indicate receptivity or vulnerability to advances, then they found photos displaying the 88 cues of sexual exploitability that were identified. After that, a new group of 76 male participants was presented with these images in a randomized sequence and asked what they thought of each woman’s overall attractiveness, how easy it would be to “exploit” her using a variety of tactics (everything from seduction to physical force), and her appeal to them as either a short-term or a long-term partner.

The final results were actually mixed. Physical cues of vulnerability—for instance pictures of short women or heavier ones—had no effect. These women weren’t necessarily seen as easy in bed, nor were they judged as being particularly appealing partners for either a casual fling or a lifelong marriage. On the other hand, the more psychological and contextual cues, like pictures of dimwitted or immature-seeming women—or women who looked sleepy or intoxicated—did have an effect. Men not only rated them as being easy to get in bed, they were also perceived as being more physically attractive than female peers who seemed more lucid or quick-witted. When it came to judging these women as long-term partners, it was a no-go. They lost their entire attraction when it came to their potential as a prospective girlfriend or wife. In other words, can’t turn a heaux into a housewife. Not sure why science keeps trying to prove otherwise, evolution shows it’s been that way from the very beginning.

The good thing is the researchers did a follow-up study that dove a little bit deeper into these men’s personas—we wouldn’t want to blanket all men as only thinking with their little heads. The more promiscuity-minded men (or fellas on the prowl) who happened to also be a bit deficient in the personal empathy and warmth department were the ones who were most responsive to these female “exploitability” cues. Men who weren’t only focused on getting the panties tended to miss their opportunities altogether. So the moral of the story is don’t let a man with women’s issues try to sweet talk the panties off of you when you’ve had too much to drink. But you knew that already, right?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • B

    this is an old article but

    Some guy below said that a “Man Natural Instinct is to
    Protect and Provide”. However, that’s no longer relevant because women can
    provide for themselves and regarding protection: technology can give women the protection
    they need…so these gender standards are becoming redundant.

    There are some men out there who still have a desire to “protect
    and provide” and thus require a vulnerable damsel in distress. However, such men
    who still ascribe to these old fashioned standards are on the lower
    level of the evolutionary rung and haven’t adapted to the new economy. Ive
    noticed that insecure ppl tend to go for the vulnerable types. The smarter, more
    shrewd men tend to want women who have more money and assets them
    themselves. In today’s economic climate why the hell would u want a damsel in distress just to stroke your ego?? its stupid

  • OwlieBub

    The word “heaux” is hilarious!

  • La-Dee-Dah

    Heaux to Housewife? Oh please. When will men get past the madonna/whore complex already?

  • Hiddenlustre

    why is there always a hint of predatory behavior when they try to classify men’s sexuality? they want a woman who looks asleep or intoxicated.. which in both cases are classified as an assault since the person cannot consent while either of those.  And then dimitted and immature.. on yahoo they used the term ‘innocent’ sounds like they like the whole underaged thing… I’ve definitely noticed that when i am walking alone.. or using clothes I’ve had since I was 15 or 16.. I get MORE attention than I when I am intentionally dressing to attract attention.

  • Njnicolejohnson

    Yes i love a strong woman..but, Ladies… also LOVE TO FEEL NEEDED…..thats why they tend to go for the woman that dont have ANYTHING..b/c hes NEEDED…

  • Ebonydiva82

    Men who lack confidence and are insecure, as well as plan a-holes, prefer women who are vulnerable. Men who are confident, secure in themselves usually prefer women who are confident, assertive and secure in themselves.

  • Kai

    …this article is saying that men like to screw vulnerable looking women and then leave them, i.e. use them for sex, not have relationships with them..

  • GovermentChecks

    In no way am I saying be something you are not. This is Somewhat true a  Man Natural Instinct is to Protect and Provide this is why Independent Woman are not seen as attractive. Just like a woman’s natural Instinct is to Reproduce and Nurture and be protected. This would be the reason most woman are not attracted to Feminine tendency in a Man. Once a female realize that men are attracted to nurturing then they will stop yelling Independent……. Woman want a Independent man some woman seem to confuse men wants with their wants. What Woman want and What Men want are completely Different. I am in no way saying screw independence I just saying it should not be a selling point in the Dating game save your credentials for Career Opportunities.

    • good response. the thing i’m noticing tho is that a lot of men today are not protective and providers. they want women who are doing that and they can sit back and be mediocre. i don’t even know if i should use the term “men” to describe these ppl. don’t get me wrong not all of them are like this but it is very, very hard to find one who isn’t. i’ve even came across a white guy like this (he is in a relationship with a bw btw). he told me the deal and i started thinking. is this what men thnk about bw and i’m talking all races, that we’re strong enough to wear both hats and they just step in here and there?

    • Tina

      Stupid, slightly sexist response. Actually, women are attracted to what are deemed “feminine tendencies” in men, such as showing emotion, etc. Do you really think independent women care what men want? No, in spite of whatever “instinct” we may possess, everyone is different. What women want and what men want are NOT completely different, actually. Men and women want men and women that are nurturing at times, and protective at times. All in one. Sex does not determine how nurturing a person is, really. As you have men that love being around kids and women that hate it.

  • Diana White42



  • Shakaking06

    men are attracted to both for different reasons. Men go after the vulnerable woman because being needed makes us feel manly. Men go after independent women because it is a challenge and strokes our ego if we can get her to love and need us. be yourself girls so you get the man who loves you for you.

  • certain men are attracted to these things. and i don’t mean this in a good way either. a man who is attracted to a woman because she looks vulnerable is questionable behavior to me .

  • Chile please

    LIES AND FOOLISHNESS… People stop trying to be what u THINK the opposite sex want and be you!!! People play and act a fool with ANY AND ALL TYPES OF PEOPLE IF THEY THINK THEY CAN…

    • L-Boogie

      All this effing game gets annoying. 

  • Kitsy

    I think this is true. Men like to say that they want an independent woman who’s got her own, but they are often intimidated by independent women. I once asked a friend what her secret was to getting men to volunteer to pay her bills, take her shopping and get her hair done. She said, it’s because I don’t look like someone who needs them! It’s true – I have my own and often don’t even give others the chance to do for me. It really made me realize that men are attracted to vulnerability and that they whole “damsel in distress” thing made them feel more manly.

    • Yeah….OK

      Wait…. I’m confused, u said your friend is strong and independent and got men, and then u said they want damsels in distress… Which is it??? Lol

      • L-Boogie

        Totally agree.  

      • Kala

         I think when she said “it’s because I don’t look like someone who needs them.” is being said to Kitsy about Kitsy. It is not her friend who is saying that about herself. little confusing i know

        • Klasode

           other words” it’s because KITSY don’t look like someone who needs them!”

    • tina robinson

      Men aren’t necessarily intimidated by independent women.From what I discovered they are more turned off by the attitude that most “independent” women possess.There’s a difference.

      • innerlife

        Which is what, exactly?

        • Johnny Alphaseed

          Independence is a masculine trait. Men are not attracted to masculine traits in women but feminine. The notion that men are intimidated by independent women is a misnomer. It’s not intimidation, they just see them as more masculine which is a turn-off. The more you try and act like a man the more men will see you as a man.