From books by pickup artists to instructional videos by porn stars, what is attractive to women is a dangerously misunderstood topic.
I can’t think of a topic where more snake-oil gets peddled, so I’d like to offer you a straight-forward way of understanding the fundamentals of what women find attractive.
I’m writing from a man’s perspective, but if you’re a woman stick around. This will be useful when talking with your man about what you find sexually attractive.
Along the way, I’m going to oversimplify, generalize, embrace gender stereotypes and heterosexual examples. If you’re cool with that, let’s go…
HERE’S WHAT IS ATTRACTIVE TO WOMEN…
Sex therapist, Esther Perel, famously asks women this question in her live seminars:
“What’s one thing that your man could do to make you more attracted and open to sex?”
Can you guess what the most common answer is?
“Help with the dishes!”
If that makes no sense to you, I feel your pain… so you’re not alone.
I recently explained this phenomenon on one of my newsletters. The next day, I received this upset message from a guy named Max:
"Bruce, there are studies that show that the more men help with the housework, the less their wives are attracted to them!!!
Women are attracted to a masculine man, who is somewhat dominant and decisive in his mannerisms. Somewhat mysterious and uncommunicative.
If you are a male girlfriend to your partner, or too much of an understanding roommate… you will get less sex from her."
Reading ideas like this leaves many of us (especially men) feeling confused and inadequate.
What if we’re not naturally dominant or mysterious or stoic? Are we supposed to fake it?
To understand what women find attractive in a man, we first need to first make some assumptions:
ASSUMPTION #1: YOU’RE IN A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP WITH A MATURE WOMAN.
A 40 year-old woman will be sexually attracted to different qualities than an 18 year-old girl will.
Also, the rules of the attraction game are vastly different depending on which relationship stage your relationship is in.
Here, we’re talking about how to stay sexually attractive in the eyes of your long-term partner.
ASSUMPTION #2: YOUR PARTNER’S ATTACHMENT STYLE INFLUENCES WHAT THEY FIND SEXY.
Here’s the deal: You can be securely attached or insecurely attached…
- Securely attached means that you feel good about depending on your partner emotionally and having them depend on you.
- Insecurely attached means that you don’t feel good about depending on your partner emotionally and having them depend on you.
There’s a lot more to it than that, but for the sake of preventing information overload, we’ll save it for another time. What’s important is that you know which you are.
If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly insecurely attached. So is your partner.
That’s not a judgement or a curse, it’s just a statistical probability. Hey, I’m insecurely attached too, so you’re in good company!
Depending on your attachment style, you’ll be attracted by very different things.
Whereas securely attached partners are drawn to have sex by the desire for intimacy, insecurely attached couples are commonly drawn to sex by the desire to reduce their anxiety or fear.
You may not immediately recognize your anxiety or fear, but that’s OK. Stick with me…
In my marriage coaching practice, insecurely attached couples often tell me that they have a “sex drive” issue.
“I have a high sex drive” commonly turns out to be code for: “I feel insecure about me or us… and I need sex often so that I can soothe myself and feel better.”
“I have a low sex drive” commonly turns out to be code for: “I don’t feel safe enough to be that vulnerable with you” or “I resent you and don’t want to be that close with someone that I feel has hurt me and whom I can’t trust won’t hurt me again.”
Notice how neither of those have anything to do with intimacy.
ASSUMPTION #3: SEXUAL ATTRACTION IS SPARKED BY TWO OPPOSING FORCES WITHIN EACH OF US.
Just like an electrical circuit has both positive charge and negative charge, let’s pretend that everyone has two opposing forces inside of them – ME and WE.
ME traits are often considered masculine traits. WE traits are often considered feminine traits. I don’t like to use these terms because it’s dangerously easy to confuse them with male and female. ME and WE is simpler.
We all have both ME and WE traits in differing amounts.
Still with me? Good.
Alright. With those assumptions out of the way, let’s do this…
DO WOMEN REALLY FIND DOMINANT MEN ATTRACTIVE?
Max wrote: “Women are attracted to a masculine man, who is somewhat dominant and decisive in his mannerisms. Somewhat mysterious and uncommunicative”
Dominant… Decisive… Mysterious… Uncommunicative...
Phew… That’s a lot to live up to, but there’s some truth to this.
It’s true that many women find confidence and mystery attractive traits in a man.
Each of those is a ME trait. ME traits signal autonomy. And autonomy is sexy (for reasons we will cover another time).
However, the idea that dominance is attractive is horribly oversimplified.
Many men (myself included) have mistakenly concluded that we need to be dominant, decisive, mysterious, and uncommunicative all the time, or risk losing our woman’s respect. That’s really hard to do.
There’s a name for people who are dominant all the time. They’re called bullies.
Most women aren’t attracted to bullies.
Try being “mysterious and uncommunicative” (ME traits) when your partner is hurt and needs you to empathize and listen. She’ll erect even higher walls around her heart to protect it from your insensitivity.
Then, the last thing she’ll feel like doing is making love with you.
The only person I can think of who meets the criteria for being dominant, decisive, mysterious, and uncommunicative all the time is James Bond.
Most women would agree that James Bond is a damn fine specimen of a sexy man.
I’m pretty sure that there are millions of women who would be tickled pink at the thought of sharing some time between the sheets with such a confident, autonomous and mysterious man.
I mean, he’s James Bond, right? He’s the poster boy for autonomy.
But, if I asked those same women if they’d want to spend the rest of their lives with
Bond... James Bond
James Bond? I’m pretty certain that I’d hear a resounding “No thanks!”
Because James Bond is a man who can’t commit. He’s incapable of intimacy. He won’t talk about his feelings. And he’d never help out with the dishes.
Said another way, James Bond has massively under-developed WE traits. As a result…
A man like James Bond is good for only two things – saving the world and a one night stand!
DO WOMEN REALLY FIND NICE GUYS UNATTRACTIVE?
We men have been indoctrinated to believe that nice guys don’t get the girl.
Not wanting to be jerks either, many of us feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, unsure of who to be and how to behave with our woman.
Our uncertainty isn’t attractive… and so she rejects our sexual advances. This perpetuates our belief that we need to be someone other than who we are to spark her sexual interest.
So, we resolve to be more like who we think she wants us to be. This in-authenticity isn’t exactly attractive either… and so she rejects our sexual advances again.
And round and round we go, stuck in a vicious cycle – each one a little bit worse than the last.
Until we resolve to banish our Nice Guy personality.
Instead, having read in some dating book that women find this behavior attractive, we try to act like an Alpha Male.
Those same dating books tell men not to be too needy, available or emotional – basically, to not be human. Crazy, huh?
So, faking disinterest and emotional unavailability, we end up coming across as a Jerk instead.
Being a Jerk isn’t attractive… and so she rejects our sexual advances again.
Until we end up in a sexless marriage, having an affair or getting divorced.
All this because some “relationship guru” told us that women don’t like Nice Guys.
So, let’s set the record straight once and for all.
Most women aren’t attracted to wimps, but they aren’t attracted to jerks either.
There’s nothing wrong with being a nice guy, a decent guy, a considerate guy, a thoughtful guy or a caring guy.
In fact, if you can’t express those traits, no self-respecting woman will want to be intimate with you.
So, let’s not use the term “Nice Guy.” It’s misleading. I’ve got some new terms for us instead…
THE NEW ARCHETYPES OF ATTRACTION
A person with developed ME traits and developed WE traits. They are autonomous and play well in a team. They’re powerfully masculine and powerfully feminine and can choose to express more or less of either, depending on which is appropriate in the moment.
The Wimp (male – formerly known as the nice guy) or The Pushover (female):
A person with underdeveloped ME traits. They tend to not have a clear sense of direction in life and often come across as passive and needing to please. They’re trying extra hard to not be too “Masculine.”
The Jerk (male) or The Hard Ass (female):
A person with underdeveloped WE traits. They tend to be self-centered, pushy and dominant, without much empathy for others. They’re trying extra hard to not be too “Feminine.”
NOTE: These descriptions are the extremes of each archetype. You might recognize yourself (and your partner) somewhere in the middle.
We wimps, jerks, pushovers and hard-asses are NOT bad people. We’re usually very loving, caring people. But we haven’t yet developed our ME and WE traits.
NEVER AGAIN MOMENTS
Most of us have suffered a Never Again Moment – a moment where we experienced being badly hurt (or betrayed) by someone close to us and having little or no support to help us heal our hurt.
After a Never Again Moment:
- Wimps and Pushovers often make a promise to themselves that they will never be like the person who dominated them. In doing so, they deny their dominance (a ME trait).
- Jerks and Hard Asses often decide that they will never again be dominated. In doing so, they deny their vulnerability (a WE trait).
ATTACHMENT STYLE INFLUENCES WHAT YOU’RE ATTRACTED TO
To add to this sea of complexity, our attachment style also influences our partner choice.
Insecurely attached people tend to fall in love with other insecurely attached people.
So, when we meet a securely attached Integrated Man or Woman, we’ll commonly break up with them pretty early on. But they’re likely to be the very person who can give us the partnership that we so want.
Why would we leave a person who can give us what we want? Because…
…the consistent emotional availability and stability that an Integrated Man/Woman provides, doesn’t feel like Love to us.
It feels unfamiliar… foreign. We’re not expecting it or looking for it because we never received it as a child.
I LOVE YOU, BUT I’M NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU
Imagine, for example, that you grew up in a home where both of your parents worked all day. They weren’t available when you needed them to help you through difficult emotional times because they were working.
You’d grow up having little experience of what emotional support feels like.
You loved your parents (and they loved you too), but you grew up with a model of love that didn’t include consistent emotional support during tough times.
I’m emphasizing the word “consistent” because as children, what makes us feel safe is knowing that our parents will always be available, emotionally responsive and supportive when we are in distress.
Fast forward 20 years and you begin dating someone really secure. You fall in love. They want to support you, but you’re weirded-out by their emotional availability. It feels icky to you.
Eventually, you end it saying,
“I love you, but I’m not in love with you. Can we still be friends?”
That phrase is code for “I care for you, but I feel no sexual attraction towards you. I want to find someone that makes my heart pound and feel alive.”
If we were more self-aware, we might admit to this instead:
“Your emotional support doesn’t feel like love to me. I learned from my parents that love feels like the lack of emotional support.
So, I’m breaking up with you so I can find someone less secure (and boring) than you are.
I don’t feel comfortable being so stable. I want someone who isn’t so emotionally available so I can feel my heart pounding and know that I’m in love.”
But what insecurely attached people never come to realize is…
That heart-pounding “in-love” feeling isn’t love – it’s FEAR!
LOVE AND FEAR FEEL SIMILAR
If you pay attention when you’re falling in love, you’ll notice that the feeling of being “in love” has many of the same characteristics as anxiety.
- Your heart beats faster…
- your palms get clammy…
- you obsess over one thing… (your mate)
- you can’t concentrate or focus for too long…
- you’ll do things you’d never ordinarily do to get their attention…
Their hearts do beat faster, but it’s not that desperate kind of thump-thump-thump. Secure love is often a quieter, more grounded (some might even say boring) experience.
But secure love lasts.
There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests…
Securely attached people are happier, are healthier and can live up to 10 years longer.
The good news is that anyone can learn to become securely attached and integrate their ME and WE traits. That’s what my work is all about.
WHAT WOMEN FIND ATTRACTIVE IN A MAN
Over the years that I’ve been helping couples, I’ve heard thousands of men and women talk about the intimate details of their marriages and sex lives. I’ve been able to collect a lot of data points.
In my experience, what most women consider sexy is a man who displays slightly more ME traits, and slightly less WE traits than she has.
That word, “slightly”, is important…
Try being too wimpy or too dominant with an Integrated Woman and she’ll toss you to the curb.
When my clients talk about what their husband could do to be more attractive, they almost always say something like this:
“I want him to take the lead, be protective if necessary… But also be vulnerable, honest and supportive.”
Isn’t she describing a Unicorn?
Nope. She’s describing an Integrated Man.
These men are neither mysterious nor uncommunicative.
They’re not overly dependent nor overly independent.
But they’re strong, kind, open, emotionally transparent and comfortable with being vulnerable (e.g. expressing sadness, fear, hurt).
They don’t project their feelings onto their partner (e.g. “It’s because of you that I feel bad.”). They’re willing to be supportive and they expect their partner to be there and support them too.
You feel calm and safe being around them.
Which is why The Integrated Men seems like a Unicorn to most insecurely attached women.
Most of them are already taken, in stable marriages and have no plans to divorce.
If you’re a man and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed thinking “How do I ever live up to that?”, that’s OK. We all have to begin somewhere on our journey towards integration and maturity. What’s important is that you begin.
But where to begin?
WHAT SECURELY ATTACHED LOOKS LIKE
Because most of us (insecurely attached folks) didn’t exactly have great role models when it came to love, we’ve never been shown what a securely attached relationship looks like and feels like.
What feels normal to us, can often look “Cray Cray” to securely attached folks.
According to my 17-year old step-daughter:
- Crazy (if you’re a millennial).
So, I’d like to give you a sense of what a securely attached relationship feels like by offering you this metaphor.
When a couple with integrated ME and WE traits come together, it can look a lot like partner dancing. In partner dancing, one partner leads, and one partner follows.
This video will help you understand better than my words ever can.
Beautiful, right? And it’s damn sexy.
The man is leading (a ME trait), but not dominating. The woman is following (a WE trait), but not like a pushover. She follows powerfully.
That’s what a mature, securely attached relationship feels like in the bedroom and out in the world.
However, for insecurely attached couples, the dance of attraction doesn’t always look as graceful. It looks like a lot more pushing and pulling and standing on each other’s toes.
And that’s OK because partner dancing can be learned. Some of us learned as children by watching our parents, but for the rest of us, we have to find a teacher.
If you’re interested in learning how to partner gracefully together, I teach that here.
THE FINAL WORD ON ATTRACTION AND HOUSEWORK
Max wrote: “…and over time, the more men help with the housework, the less their wives are turned on!!!”
I haven’t read the research Max quoted, but I suspect that the findings are a little more nuanced.
Could being a Good Guy really strip you of your desirability in your mate’s eyes and make you unattractive to women?
Helping out with the dishes demonstrates partnership, collaboration and caring (all WE traits).
The lack of ME traits is what is not attractive to women, not the presence of WE traits.
And, there’s no way any researcher could ever correlate washing the dishes with a spouse’s waning sexual desire.
- Firstly, these couples were not in a controlled environment.
- Secondly, there are a million other variables (like age, culture, health, menopause, hormone levels, etc) that could be influencing her sexual desire.
Perhaps it’s a chemical in the dishwashing soap that zaps sexual desire in women.
Did they test that? I doubt it.
The best that researchers can do is thumb-suck their conclusions.
While writing this, I got side-tracked and designed a dish-washing liquid label. I think it’s funny.
WHAT TURNS ALL WOMEN OFF
In her fantastic book, Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson shares research that shows that when men and women were presented with sexually explicit images while being hooked up to brain scanning equipment, both sexes were equally aroused.
The Prefrontal Cortex
However, the women’s brains lit up in an area that did not light up in the men’s brains – the Prefrontal Cortex. This area of the brain is concerned with control and judgment.
The researchers concluded that in response to a sexual cue, ALL women are preoccupied with safety at the same time.
Not so in men.
So, to all you men reading this, if your woman doesn’t feel safe around you, you’re not getting any nookie tonight.
Washing the dishes is attractive to women because it’s a demonstration that you’re a safe man. It shows her that you’re on her side. That you care. That she is not alone in your relationship or marriage.
It may also help to silence her Prefrontal Cortex in response to your sexual invitation. It takes her foot off her sexual “brakes”, allowing her arousal to naturally blossom.
So, keep washing those dishes!
HOW TO STAY ATTRACTIVE TO YOUR WOMAN
If you want to keep building attraction between you over the course of your long-term relationship or marriage, you both need to develop your ME and WE traits.
STRENGTHENING ME TRAITS
To develop your ME traits, you have to become acquainted with your inner terrain, and this is a solo journey.
A powerful (and free) tool for developing ME traits is meditation.
You’ll see results in weeks, not years. I recommend getting started with some apps on your phone. I’ve tried Calm, 10% Happier, and Headspace. They’re all good.
STRENGTHENING WE TRAITS
To develop your WE traits, you have to increase your emotional intelligence. For that, you need other people.
I recommend that you get involved in some kind of team sport.
Alternatively, any intimate group coaching environment where you’re forced to be vulnerable will open you up and develop your WE traits. You can’t go wrong with any Landmark Worldwide program. Start with the Landmark Forum. It might be the best $500 you ever spend on yourself.
BUILDING STRONG ME AND WE TRAITS AS A COUPLE
The fastest way I know of to develop your ME and WE traits is to learn to partner dance together.
Yes, I am suggesting that you go to dancing classes together. As a man, you’ll learn to lead gracefully. As a woman, you’ll learn to follow powerfully.
I think you’ll thank me afterward.
Another great partner activity is Acro Yoga. Again, it teaches the man to lead safely and the woman to follow trustingly.
My wife and I learning Acro Yoga together
In conclusion, what your woman finds attractive is a topic with many facets.
I hope that reading this has helped lift some of the fog of confusion that surrounds it.
In the end, only she is the expert on what turns her on and what turns her off. To find out, you’re going to have to risk asking her.
Here are two questions that I recommend everybody ask their partner:
- “When you’re most attracted to me, what am I doing?”
- “When you’re most turned-off by me, what am I doing?”
When she answers, listen carefully… and then thank her for her honesty. Whatever you do, don’t defend yourself or try to explain yourself. Just listen and learn.
Then, keep doing the things that she finds attractive and stop doing the things that turn her off. It’s not rocket science, I promise!
Here’s what’s important to remember:
- We all have both ME and WE energies.
- When it comes to what women find sexually attractive, most women want their partner to display more ME energy than she does.
- It’s not the presence of WE energy that turns a woman off, it’s the absence of ME energy.
- Above all, your job as a man is to make your partner feel safe enough to open up to the possibility of sex.
- Sign up for some dance lessons. You’ll learn much more than just how to dance.
- That heart-pounding, in-love feeling is probably not love. It’s fear.
- Help out with the damn housework already!
If you want to learn more about how to be happier together, subscribe to my newsletter.
Then, go do the dishes!
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Credits: I couldn’t have written this without the thoughtful research and insight of John Bowlby, Sue Johnson, Ken Wilbur, David Deida, Esther Perel and Robert Glover.