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Animal Instincts: The Evolution Behind Sexual Attraction

While we may like to entertain the idea that we are in voluntary control of picking our sexual partners and romantic interests, the selection process is actually largely a function of our primitive biological needs and desires that exist as a result of evolutionary adaptations.

At this point you may be saying: “Whoa, that’s a lot of words.” But this concept is actually fairly simple and intuitive.

So, what does sex have to do with evolution? Think about it: in order to prevent the human species from becoming extinct, we need to continue to reproduce. And how do we reproduce? By having sex.

Obviously most college-age students aren’t in the habit of actively trying to reproduce, but our natural biological drive subconsciously causes us to seek out partners with good reproductive health. For example, a woman’s smell, sound of voice, and face all appear more attractive to men when a woman is at the peak of fertility during her menstrual cycle. It has also been proven that men are more attracted to women with wide hips as they signal fertility.

As for the ladies, a natural affinity for certain types of men stems from evolutionary selective pressure.  Apparently a woman’s preference for men is correlated with the health of her nation.   A group of Face Lab researchers conducted a study testing subjects’ preferences for faces with more masculine or feminine features and found that women who came from developing countries where poor health proves to be an imminent threat to their survival preferred the more masculine faces: “In countries where poor health is particularly a threat to survival, women leaned toward “manlier” men. That is, they preferred their males to have shorter, broader faces and stronger eyebrows, cheekbones and jaw lines.” (Jena Pincott, The Wall Street Journal)

Masculinity is essentially a male’s way of “advertising” his genetic health, causing a female to be attracted to him in order to increase her chances of producing healthy offspring. A woman in a poor country is especially in need of a masculine partner to protect her and produce children who have a better chance at surviving in destitute living conditions. But women in developed, healthy nations do not show such a preference for masculine men because they can afford to have a mate who is caring and cooperative, which unfortunately tends to go hand-in-hand with lower testosterone levels and thus a less “manly” man. As public health increases with the advancement of modern medicine and technology, and women become more financially dependent, the evolutionary pressure to choose masculine men may decrease and the primitive preference for masculinity may dwindle.

So if sexual attraction is just a matter of natural instincts, where do emotions and romance come into play?

One of the evolutionary functions of emotions is to motivate us to avoid something harmful and seek out something beneficial. Much in the same way that pain motivates us to avoid harming ourselves, sexual desire motivates us to continue engaging in sexual intercourse. Romantic love encourages males and females to form “pair-bonds”, a relatively recent adaptation in humans. We evolved from chimpanzees who formed no such bonds and lived in a society marked by conflict between the sexes. But once children began to need monogamous, paternal fathers for successful development, the male brain evolved from that of a misogynistic and sexually promiscuous chimp to those of the female-loving fathers we know today.

Even though we are continuing to evolve, we clearly still owe a lot to our ape-like ancestors whose primitive instincts we inherited have allowed us to continue growing as a species. So ladies, there’s no shame in trusting your animal instincts…after all, it’s in your nature!






My name is Elizabeth Worthington and I am a sophomore at Bucknell University! I am a Psychology major and an English minor. I'm from the suburbs outside Philadelphia, PA. 
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