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James Taranto summarizes research from Notre Dame’s Elizabeth McClintock:
In one ingenious study, published in 2011 in the journal Biodemography and Social Biology, McClintock explored sex differences in “revealed sexual preferences.” That is, she wanted to know if, as evolutionary psychology suggests, men and women diverge in their sexual or romantic goals. Just asking them doesn’t necessarily yield reliable answers because people may mistake what they think they should want for their actual desires. (That’s known as social acceptability bias.)
Even studying actual behavior is not entirely straightforward, because, as a sage once observed, “You can’t always get what you want.” That is, since each sex needs the other to realize its sexual and romantic goals, actual behavior reflects not only one’s own preferences but also the constraints imposed by the other sex’s. Few men date supermodels, but that doesn’t mean supermodels are undesirable. Rather, because they are desirable and in short supply, they have the luxury of being superselective.
Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, a massive and detailed database covering 27,000 teens and young adults, she found that physical attractiveness (as rated by the person conducting the survey interview) does indeed correlate with sexual behavior–and in opposite ways for the opposite sexes:
The better-looking a man is, the more lifetime sexual partners he reports; the better-looking a woman, the fewer. Good-looking men are more likely to have had sex soon after meeting a partner; good-looking women, less likely. Good-looking women are likelier to describe their relationships as “committed”; good-looking men, less likely.