What Determines Sexual Attraction? 7 Things That Impact Your Turn-Ons

Human sexuality is complicated AF. Like really complicated. As in, all the studies and research that has been done since the dawn of mankind have probably just barely cracked open the can of human sexuality. While we often think women corner the market on the complexities of human sexuality, the reality is that sexuality is complicated for both men and women. What’s even more complicated is how sexual attraction works.

One major thing that plays a role? Confidence, Dr. Nikki Goldstein, Sexologist and Relationship Expert tells Bustle. "Immediately when we meet someone and before we speak we can tell if they are confident or not by particular things on their body. Are they smiling? Are they wearing clothing that says they are proud of what they have not hiding what they are ashamed of? How is their posture and eye contact? We are attracted to people who are confident no matter what they look like so this is important in the dating game. It's not about changing everything but embracing what you do have."

Dr. Goldstein also says masculine/feminine attributes can play a role in attraction, too. "We have a biological side to us and it's still in there somewhere. No matter how hard we fight it, some of things we find attractive are influences by what is traditionally associated with being masculine and feminine and linked to the hunter/gatherer days. But this can also be influence by your upbringing and what you were told is masculine/feminine and what your parents displayed."

But that's just the beginning. Here are seven other things that can determine sexual attraction.

1. Smell

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Multiple studies have found that smell plays a major role in determining sexual attraction. Even if we’re unaware that someone smells good to us or we smell good to them, pheromones don’t lie. Smell is such an important factor in sexual attraction that a dating service called Smell Dating was launched as a means to connect people with those who smell the best to them based on a collection of sweaty t-shirts. It might sound strange, or even a bit gross, but despite how we’ve evolved, we’re still animals to our core.

2. Fear

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Because human sexuality is so fascinating, so complex, and OMG I just can’t even wrap my brain around it sometimes, studies have found that fear can determine sexual attraction. It’s that rush of adrenaline that evokes sexual attraction, especially if the two people in question experience something thrilling or fearful together. Although some researchers call this “misattribution of arousal,” it doesn’t change the fact that multiple studies have determined that arousal and nerves are interconnected, resulting in a sexual attraction to someone that may not have existed before the shared experience.

3. Hunger

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A 2014 study found that the hungrier a heterosexual man is, the more likely he is to be sexually attracted to women of more diverse shapes and sizes. And the same is true for heterosexual women. A woman who is hungry is going to be more open in whom she finds sexually attracted, as opposed to if she were satiated. Just one of the many ways food and sex are linked.

4. Fertility

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Research has found that heterosexual men are more sexually attracted to women when they’re in the most fertile phase of their menstrual cycle (ovulation), because — you guessed — procreation will keep the species alive and, inherently, that’s what we’re “supposed” to do. I know, I know; it’s archaic, but science!

5. Where You Live

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In keeping with the whole fertility thing, where you live can also determine sexual attraction. A 2010 study found that hetero women in developed countries are more sexually attracted to men who are less traditionally “manly” looking, while women in poorer countries go for the more masculine looking guys. The reason? Straight women are sexually attracted to men that they feel will result in "good" offspring, but what is regarded as "good" differs depending on where you live and your surroundings.

6. Health

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Boatloads of studies and research have found that health determines how sexually attracted we are to each other when it comes to heterosexual relationships. It’s not so much about certain looks or body types, but an overall healthiness, because it conveys to those of the opposite sex that we have good genes and, as we’re realizing, the animal in us wants someone with good genes.

7. Similarities

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A study out of Germany earlier this year found that we're sexually attracted to those who are similar to us — but not just in personality. The study found that we’re attracted to people who look like us (or someone in our family), have similar DNA, and the same level of education. The reason behind this sexual attraction is the belief that people rarely change, so we’re just subconsciously drawn to those who are like us almost as a means of keeping things safe and eliminating any surprises down the road.

Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (7)