Sexual Attraction Isn’t Natural

I hate to break it to you, but the people and features that get you all hot under the hood are artificial. You get horny in the ways that you were taught to, for a whole lot of deep cultural and political reasons. That doesn’t mean it’s some deep conspiracy, or that any person or group is steering the ship. It’s more like an expression of our collective unconscious – the same collective unconscious that told us all that crocs were a good plan. And just like our opinion of crocs waxes and wanes…

“Beauty” rules come and go

Let’s start with a simple question: if beauty was some fixed constant, some universal truth, then why do our standards keep changing all the goddamn time? Here in America, we’ve moved a lot over even the past few decades. From where I’m standing, it looks like we went from idolizing freaky-thin to Kardashian-butt to what I’m officially naming “athletic millennial Karen chic”. Let me know if there’s a better word for that (I promise there isn’t). AND THAT’S JUST WITHIN ONE CULTURE, WITHIN ONE GENDER. Someone please tell me what trends you’ve seen in male body ideals – is it beards? It’s gotta be beards.

Actually, let’s take a swing at men, too. Real quick, picture 2020 Chris Pratt. Lovable, dorky, scruffy, but still ripped under that shirt. Now picture 2010 Chris Pratt. Lovable, dorky, clean-shaven, and a little flabby in a way that makes him more approachable. There was a whole dad-bod trend for a while there, and we fucked it up. Jim Halpert is now a secret agent. Andy Dwyer is a superhero. Where did we go wrong?

“Beauty” isn’t a universal constant

Evolutionary Psych people, don’t come at me with your golden ratio nonsense either. For those who have thankfully escaped this bullshit, the idea is that there is some magical, mathematically consistent way to capture female beauty with algebra. Not sure if the logic extends to male faces, and I also don’t think the people who buy into this would accept the existence of trans and non-binary folks. There’s also stuff about preference for symmetrical faces kicking around that I won’t get into.


But to anyone who buys into the Evolutionary Psych, “beauty is geometry” argument, you gotta know that your sample is completely fucked. Right? You get that? We can’t meaningfully know what human preference would look like in a vacuum, because by the time anyone got around to studying it, Europeans had already colonized the world and murdered anyone who didn’t convert and conform (hell, they killed most of the poeple who DID). That’s like dumping a bunch of oil into a lake and telling me that the ducks were always this slimy; in fact, you know what, I bet the oil makes the fish taste better. White people forced their preferences on everyone else and then were somehow surprised those people took them up on it. And then they dumped oil tankers on innocent ducks.

…living its best life, I guess?

So what IS “beauty”?

Beauty isn’t some independent universal constant. Beauty is downstream of everything else that we value or despise. When we’re down on people in other spaces, we also devalue them sexually. Conversely, people with the most status are also rated as most bangable. According to OKCupid, who gathered stats on who their users were hooking up with:

– non-black men applied a penalty to black women
– while black men showed little racial preference either way
– all women preferred men of their own race
– but they otherwise penalized both Asian and black men

Shit, you could map out the racial hierarchy of our whole society with this one survey. Black women are punished by everyone who isn’t black, while white men are the least-penalized group in the survey. It’s power and status being mapped onto bangability in no uncertain terms.

Sabrina Strings walks through the ways that our desperate attempts to separate whiteness from blackness (because slavery) led white folks to vilify fat and glorify lean, angular, blonde types. Uma Thurman, really. Just picture Uma Thurman. Hell, the idea of “whiteness” didn’t even exist until we decided we WEREN’T black. We built the racial hierarchy first, and then worked backwards to what that said about beauty.

In Conclusion

  • What we collectively get horny for changes over time
  • The goalpost moves so that it is perpetually unattainable
  • It’s all super racist because of course it is

Thank you for coming to my TED talk. Go in peace, and may you spend the rest of your day questioning everything you have ever been attracted to.