A recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research compared mate preferences between individuals feeling high sexual attraction towards others (i.e., allosexual) and those feeling little or no sexual attraction (i.e., demi-sexual / graysexual / asexual). The findings revealed that men placed greater emphasis on physical attractiveness when selecting a potential partner, whereas women prioritized social status and financial prospects. This gender difference was more pronounced among participants who reported experiencing stronger sexual attraction compared to those with little or no sexual attraction.
When choosing a romantic partner, both men and women strongly prefer partners who are kind, healthy and intelligent. However, there are aspects of mate preferences in which they differ. Men typically place more importance on physical attractiveness and youthfulness of a partner. Women, on the other hand, tend to value social status, ambition, and financial prospects of a partner more than men.
Some preferences for mates differ between cultures, indicating that they are flexible to existing environmental and social pressures. However, many studies have identified features that are universally considered more appealing by one sex then the other. Such features include physical attractiveness and social statues. The fact that gender differences in preference for physical attractiveness and social status are found across cultures indicates that they reflect general behavior adaptations to challenges in evolutionary history that were sex-specific.
Study author Meike Scheller and her colleagues wanted to explore the role sexual attraction plays in the expression and maintenance of these sex-specific partner preferences. Sexual attraction refers to the feeling of being drawn to individuals with specific traits in a sexual way. It includes a strong desire for engaging in sexual or intimate relationship with such a person. The ability to experience this sexual attraction differ across individuals.
The study authors conducted a survey that included participants differing in their ability to experience sexual attraction towards others. The study included allosexual, demisexual, greysexual and asexual individuals. Allosexual individuals are persons who experience sexual attraction in a way that most people do. They are believed to be the majority in every society. Demisexual individuals are those who can experience sexual attraction only after forming a strong emotional bond with someone. Greysexual individuals experience sexual attraction only rarely and it is of limited intensity and fleeting. Asexual individuals experience little to no sexual attraction at all.
The study included 701 participants, of which 550 reported being heterosexual. Of these, 166 were allosexual, 48 were demisexual, 43 graysexual and 219 were asexual. Forty-five participants reported being unsure about their sexual orientation.
Participants completed an assessment of sexual and romantic attraction intensity (the Asexual Identification Scale) and a questionnaire about mate preferences. This questionnaire consisted of a list of characteristics of a potential partner and respondents are asked to rate the importance of each characteristic on a scale from 1 (absolutely unimportant) to 7 (absolutely indispensable). Previous studies have shown that these characteristics can be grouped into physical attractiveness, social status/financial prospects, conscientiousness, and intelligence/education.
Participants also indicated the strength of their sexual and romantic attraction to both men and women using a 7-point scale.
Results shows that among allosexual individuals, sexual and romantic attraction were similar across genders. However, asexual individuals displayed greater variability in the directionality of romantic attraction, while showing less variation in sexual attraction.
In terms of mate preferences, allosexual men expressed stronger preferences for physical attractiveness and intelligence/education in partners compared to women. Conversely, allosexual women placed greater importance on a potential mate’s financial prospects and conscientiousness.
Importantly, the level of sexual attraction experienced by individuals (allosexual, demisexual, graysexual, asexual) played a significant role in shaping mate preferences. The disparity between men and women regarding the importance of physical attractiveness grew as the level of sexual attraction increased. Similarly, differences in the significance attributed to social status and intelligence/education were also influenced by the level of sexual attraction.
When considering conscientiousness, men assigned less importance to it than women did, but this difference was less pronounced among individuals with low sexual attraction. Men with high sexual attraction regarded intelligence/education as more important than women with high sexual attraction, but this gender difference was diminished among individuals with low sexual attraction.
Regarding romantic attraction, similar patterns were observed, but with a distinction. Romantic attraction better predicted gender differences in the importance placed on physical attractiveness and conscientiousness, whereas sexual attraction better predicted gender differences in the significance attributed to social status and intelligence/education.
“Notably, our results show that sexual and romantic attraction both help explain the maintenance of sex-specific mate preference differentiation. Self-reported preferences for all four partner traits were significantly or marginally significantly modulated by sex as well as either sexual or romantic attraction. Furthermore, the results support the notion that both forms of attraction can function independently and do not affect partner preferences in the same way,” the study authors concluded.
“While sex-specific differences in preferences for a high social status and good financial prospects (women > men), as well as intelligence and education (men > women) were reduced in individuals with low or no sexual attraction, the increased preferences for a conscientious partner in women was more strongly modulated by romantic than sexual attraction.”
The study makes an important contribution to the scientific understanding of mate preferences. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, it was based on self-reports and assessments of individuals traits of imagined potential mates. Decision making when choosing a mate in naturalistic settings and when considering and weighing combinations of traits instead of individual traits might not produce equal results.
The study, “The Role of Sexual and Romantic Attraction in Human Mate Preferences”, was authored by Meike Scheller, Alexandra A. de Sousa, Lori A. Brotto, and Anthony C. Little.