What exactly IS attraction? How important is attraction? Why are we attracted to certain people or attributes? There are a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around out there. On this episode, we tackle what attraction is, how it affects who we choose as partners and even how attraction is related to sex drive. We look into the research and you might be surprised by what we uncovered.
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Jace Lindgren: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we're talking about attraction. Physical attraction is something that most of us care about in a potential partner, but how important is it really? There is a lot of research that's been floating around for years about why we're attracted to people and what traits women and men find most attractive in a mate, but most of these have been brought into question lately-- not most, but many of them have been brought into question lately. Some of the data might not be as conclusive as we once thought. We're going to talk about all this as well as much more about the ways that we are attracted to people both on the inside and the outside in today's episode.
Emily Matlack: I found that this topic, I feel like once you start to question-- Just bringing up the question of why you're attracted to certain people, I find super duper fascinating, and I'm really interested in it. I feel like a lot of people, it brings up a lot of discomfort I find-
Dedeker Winston: I agree.
Emily: -for some reason. Have you experienced that too in talking about this?
Dedeker: I think just people definitely do feel like, "This is very personal, and it's my own decision. Maybe I don't always know why I'm attracted to someone or not, but nobody gets to shit all over who I get to be attracted to or not". I feel like it does kind of spark some anger maybe in some people if those ideas are brought into question for any reason. I have found that in people that I've talked to about this particular thing.
Emily: Yes. Because it's like the way that sometimes people react to it, it's like you're suggesting that conversion therapy is a thing I think-
Emily: -which I think is not really the conversation we're having around attraction. It's not necessarily this conversation of going from total 100% gay, 100% straight or something like that, not like conversion therapy or anything like that. However, I do feel like when people react with discomfort or anger or frustration around this, sometimes I feel like there's this perception of like, "If you make me question who I'm attracted to, then you're expecting that I should just let go of all my preferences and just be attracted to everybody and anybody. There's no distinction or whatever". I don't know. As a pansexual leaning kind of person, I'm like, "What's the problem with that?" I know that's not how everybody jives, I suppose.
Jace: I think it's interesting too because on the other side there are people who will say things like, "Why is it that I'm always attracted to people like this who are bad for me?" In the same way, they might not be like, "You can't tell me this is wrong". They're the ones being like, "This sucks. I wish I didn't do this", yet at the same time feel like it's out of their control. It's just something that they can't change, that they don't have control over. It's just something out of our hands.
Dedeker: Yes, that's really interesting.
Emily: I know--
Jace: Sorry. I was just going to say it kind of reminds me about the way people talk about whether they're monogamous or polyamorous too. Either they might want to change it, or they might be very fixed in what they are. The idea that it could change seems kind of foreign to people that that preference could change, that kind of admitting how much of it is social programming is hard for people to accept whether they want it to change or not.
Dedeker: It's like nature versus nurture, that question again regarding those.
Emily: Yes, it hard because I feel like with a lot of things you can't get down to this black and white, this digital on or off switch when it comes to figuring out who you're attracted to. However, it's not also something where you're just so completely set, and there's no changing it, and you are just the way you are, and there's no plasticity or fluidity around it. It kind of lives in this in-between area, I feel.
Jace: Yes. We wanted to start out looking at what are some of the myths and assumptions that we have about attraction. What comes to mind of things you've heard, things that maybe we've even talked about on this show before, things that research seems to support or just that's anecdotal like sayings that anyone--
Dedeker: Common knowledge
Emily: I feel like there's definitely a big narrative drawn from evolutionary psychology, at least I think within the last 50 years that's kind of started to dominate the stuff that we tell each other about attraction so ideas like the theory that it's like when women are ovulating then they want really masculine, testosterone-filled, survivalist men with beards and body hair-
Dedeker: To put babies into them.
Emily: Exactly. To put the good genes into them but then when they're not ovulating, then they want men who are more feminine or softer or more of soft voice stay-at-home, going to pay the bills and do the dishes in the cave kind of man. I've definitely heard that one tossed around-
Dedeker: Cave dishes?
Emily: -a number of times-- You know cave dishes.
Jace: There's a term for that. I think it's called the dual selection model or something
Emily: Yes, the dual mating strategy. Yes.
Jace: Dual mating strategy where it's like the idea is that a woman would ideally be trying to find these two different kinds of men to complete her needs and that she would change during her cycle.
Emily: It's the only two kinds of men that exist after all.
Dedeker: Correct. No other types. They're very simple.
Emily: Just those two. I've definitely heard a lot of that. Related to that, I think even in Sex at Dawn they talked about some study where they found that women were more likely to cheat when they're ovulating or more likely to be flirtatious or something like that, so I definitely heard that around attraction and it being linked to a woman's hormonal cycle and ultimately being linked to these evo-psych theories about these very essential ways that we're different from each other.
Jace: Right. There's one that's not even scientific so much. It's just a thing that people say all the time is this idea that opposites attract. There actually were a lot of studies done that did support that idea, but that's one that I remember hearing for a long time is like, "Opposites attract. That makes sense. This person's more outgoing than you, so you must be attracted to each other". I don't know.
Emily: I feel like that's so pervasive in our rom-coms is--
Jace: Yes, true. The odd couple kind of thing.
Emily: How many times have you--
Dedeker: She was an uptown girl. He was a down and out guy from the alley. I don't know. They got together.
Emily: For God's sakes, how many times have we seen the pairing up of the free spirit with the type. That romantic pairing, even if they're in movies or TV shows or sitcoms or whatever like, that happens so many times, and it's very much the, "Opposites attract. It makes sense".
Dedeker: Yes, interesting. To jump back real quick to the hormonal thing, definitely I've had friends say that they dated someone for a long time when they were on birth control and then got off birth control and then were no longer attracted to then sexually. I think that, yes, there have been a lot of studies done about that over the years, but we wanted to talk about that more a little bit because I've definitely heard that and worried about that at times like, "If I got off of birth control, does that means that I'm not going to like this person anymore, want to sleep with them anymore?"
Emily: There's definitely been theories floated around that maybe one of the reasons why people suddenly stop having sex as much or stop being attracted to their partner as much is if the story is that there's a woman who's on birth control and she meets her partner, they get married. They decide they're ready to have a baby. She goes off birth control, and then suddenly her whole hormonal make-up is all different and her idea of what's attractive and what's not, and then all of a sudden, it's like, "Hormonally, maybe I'm not with the person that I would normally be attracted to". Or maybe it's just you have a baby, and suddenly, you're doing a kajillion things and too exhausted for sex.
Dedeker: Yes, it's like sex is the last thing that I want to care about at this point. Interesting. Also, there's a lot of myths out there that men care more about looks than women. Women care more about personalities and also just this idea that you're going be happier if you find a more attractive mate.
Jace: Yes, the idea of like trading up or whatever.
Dedeker: Yes. Interesting.
Emily: Oh gosh. Very common. I feel like I've also heard a lot of theories around- what is it -golden ratio geometry around symmetry in faces and in body shape at least around women as far as what are the classic ratios that all men are going to be attracted to, which is the way these studies tend to frame this stuff. I've heard a lot of that around how you're hips have to be this many inches in relation to the ratio of this many inches around your stomach, and then that indicates fertility. Everyone's drawn to it
Dedeker: Everyone cares about the fertility
Jace: We want to get into some of these and actually look at some newer studies about some of these things. We did want to start here that as you've already heard from these things we've been mentioning, this research and the sort of adages and things like that tend to fall very strictly down cisgender, heterosexual lines. That's who researchers are researching because apparently that's where the money is, so that's where institutes are willing to put their money. Anyway, just disclaimer with that that all of this obviously has to be taken with that in mind. Some of these studies involve homosexual men and women, but for the most part, this is heterosexual cisgender. The first one that we want to talk about was actually something that we've talked about before on this show, and that's the thing that Emily was mentioning about birth control and if your attraction to your partner will change if you either were on it when you got together and then you stopped taking it or the other way around: you weren't on it and then you do.
This was something that some science supported that. Because it was the first science seeing that, people were like, "Give us headlines. Let's share this information". Then later on, people have been able to do larger studies because now there's an interest in this, so there's more funding for it, things like that.
In this example, a team of researchers at a university in Finland recruited almost a thousand women who were in a relationship with a man and had them answer questions about their sexual attraction to their partner, their jealousy, their partner's physical attractiveness, their satisfaction in their sex life and then also whether or not they were on the pill now or on hormonal birth control now versus if they were when they got together.
Dedeker: This is a little bit more anecdotal, but I remember my mother, for instance, talking about when she was on the pill eons ago but how the hormones in the pills back in the day were higher than they are now. Now you can get Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, and it's the very, very minimal amount. I do wonder perhaps if when those initial studies came out it was with these higher hormonal birth control pills, and now that that's not the case anymore, it's perhaps not affecting people's body chemistry as much. The studies have changed over time. I don't know.
Jace: That's an interesting question, yes. That wasn't brought up in this write up that I found. The key take away they did find though is that there wasn't anything there to support that hypothesis that changing your birth control status would affect that. They found that women were no more or less satisfied with their relationship or attracted to their partner if their pill regime had changed or if it had remained the same. That was definitely an interesting thing to be like, "Okay. Maybe there's some question marks there or something a little more complicated to it than just 'this is a fact'."
Emily: Yes. I'm going to jump on the band wagon of something being a little more complicated because something that I'm realizing is there is a lot of research to back up and also I can definitely say a lot of anecdotal evidence to back up sex drive changing when you're on hormonal birth control. I definitely found for myself personally as soon as I'm on hormonal birth control of any kind, my sex drive totally tanks. It was like I've just way less desire, way lower libido than when I'm not.
However, what I do think is interesting is that there has to be this distinction between being attracted to a partner versus sex drive. I wonder if some of these assumptions are coming from conflating the two of like surely if you're attracted to your partner you're going to have a sex drive for them and want to have sex with them, when sometimes I think that's maybe the difference because this is also reminding me of another study. I'm sorry I didn't pull the exact numbers and stats for this particular study but where they found that when they were--
As we've been in the process of people trying to develop essentially Viagra for women, they find that with women sexual dysfunction isn't about the act of sex itself. It's like once women are aroused that a lot of women experience like, "Yes, whatever. Things are fine. Once I'm aroused sex is fine, and I can function during sex just fine". The difference is in the desire, is in wanting it in the first place. That's what I think is maybe interesting is I wonder if some of these assumptions we were talking about earlier come out of this place of just assuming that, that it's like if you're attracted to your partner ,then surely you would have a sex drive to match it when maybe that's not necessarily the case.
Jace: I don't want us to go too far down this rabbit hole and spend our whole episode talking about this.
Emily: It's so interesting, Jace [laughs].
Jace: What's interesting what I'm going to share with you something interesting is that in that study, they did find though that women who were currently using the pill whether they had been using it all along or weren't when they met their partner but were now, tended to report higher sexual satisfaction which I think is very interesting.
Dedeker: Yes. Because it's the opposite of what you just said.
Emily: Hang on though.
Jace: Or could you look at it the other way-
Emily: Sexual satisfaction though that's different.
Jace: -and be like because they don't want it so they're plenty, so they're more likely to say they're satisfied.
Emily: Exactly. It's like what counts as sexual satisfaction.
Dedeker: That's true. Satisfaction versus wanting it or not, those are two different things. Interesting.
Emily: That is so interesting that it's like I think not even maliciously we can conflate all of these things together: wrap up attraction and sexual satisfaction and libido and sexual functioning all into this one thing when it's actually all this different many moving parts.
Jace: Then just last little thing. Their study also showed that current pill users rated as being more jealous in this study as well. Again, maybe related to all of that. I don't know. There's a lot going on there. It's definitely more complicated than it was originally told like, "It's going to change this thing about how you're attracted to people".
Jace: That is really interesting.
Dedeker: That's very interesting. Continuing along the hormonal birth control pill route, Poland in the University of Krakow there was a study that was done with over 6,000 heterosexual women who reported their pill use. They apparently saw pairs of faces that had been manipulated using computer graphic software. Some of the faces appeared more masculine, and some of them appeared more feminine. The participants were supposed to indicate which faces they found more or less attractive. Apparently, this experiment showed that women were no more or less likely to prefer masculine male faces if they were pill users versus if they were non-pill users.
That idea again that people who are on the pill or people who are ovulating even at the time might want more masculine people or less, it doesn't seem to matter.
Emily: Interesting. I guess that's related to also this other study which was in Scotland at the university of Glasgow. They studied the facial preferences again of 500 women in this one. Similar to these other studies we've been talking about, they found that women were no more or less likely to prefer masculine faced men specifically when they were fertile. This study was focusing on not necessarily pill use but on time of-
Emily: -the month.
Jace: This is that dual mating strategy thing.
Emily: Essentially, that time of the menstrual cycle.
Emily: Yes. Then similarly, there was a similar study conducted at the university of German town name. How do you think I pronounce this?
Emily: Gottinhen. Gottinhen. It was this University of Göttingen in Germany again looking at women particularly when they're fertile, when they're ovulating. They did find that at least among these women-- I'm assuming most of their respondents were heterosexual women because I found that they rated male bodies as more attractive as a whole. However, that was regardless of--
Dedeker: Than female bodies?
Jace: No. When they were ovulating, they found men just more attractive period.
Emily: They just wanted men more when they're ovulating-
Dedeker: Okay. I see.
Emily: -which can relate, but the important thing here is that in the study they found that that was across all body types, both more "feminine seeming male bodies as well as more masculine seeming male bodies" that the way that the men themselves presented essentially didn't really change things, that the women who were fertile were just more attracted across the board. It was still the same thing as--
Jace: They're still attracted to the kind of men they're attracted to just more so.
Emily: Just normally, just more so. You're just more horny, basically.
Dedeker: I see. That makes sense that-
Emily: That evo-psych hypothesis around this dual mating strategy, again there's more and more evidence showing up that maybe that's not exactly a strong theory anymore.
Dedeker: Yes, interesting.
Jace: Then the last one we wanted to talk about during these studies is this idea that opposites attract. Basically, there's been this thing for a long time in psychology of-- When you do studies where people self report, you fill out a thing about how outgoing you are or about how talkative you are, extroverted or introverted or different traits. You're self-reporting it. There's been this concern that's called the reference group effect, and the idea is if in my group of friends we're all introverts but I'm the least introverted of this group, I might self-identify myself as an extrovert when in reality compared to the whole population, I'm definitely an introvert.
This is something we've talked about jokingly before where I say like, "When I'm with Dedeker I feel like I'm a super extrovert compared to her. When I'm with my partner, Kaitlin, I feel like a super introvert compared to her being very extroverted". Basically, there's been this big thing with using social media data. This group of over 100 universities has looked at behavior of 8 million Facebook users, so rather than you self-reporting, it's actually just looking at your behavior. What they found through this is that actually opposites don't attract that they do sometimes, but it's the exception by far.
For the most part, we associate with people a lot like us. Whether that's friend groups, peer groups or romantic partners, all of it, we tend to be with people who are very similar to us. We may just feel like we're opposite in relation to this small group of people very similar to us. I thought that one was actually pretty interesting.
Dedeker: Yes, I like that. That's cool.
Emily: I see. It's basically your friendships and your romantic partnerships seem more opposite to you than maybe they actually are in the grand scheme of things.
Dedeker: Simply because the degree to which you are more or less introverted or extroverted than your friends, it just might be different or smaller than it is to a different, completely separate friend group from you.
Jace: Almost to put it in a more frightening way, it's that because we all tend to be so much in a bubble of personality type, we think there's a lot more diversity within our friend group than there actually is in terms of personality type, specifically.
Emily: I see. Yes, I suppose that is a little bit frightening how much we can bubble up in that way and just really not be aware of it. That's so fascinating. We're going to get into some other studies a little bit later on that deal with non-straight people. Again, this is something that just influences so much of researches, the fact that there's this really strong heterosexual and cisgender bias as far as the groups that we do choose to study. That is changing slowly but surely, but hopefully, we'll see some more of that on the horizon.
We're going to take a quick break right now to talk to you about the ways that you can join our little family as it were. Because our little family of listeners--
Dedeker: Get in our bubble.
Emily: Yes. Get in our bubble, essentially.
Jace: I love that. Come get in our bubble.
Emily: Yes, come get all bubbly with us. The best way that you can join our little bubble is to become one of our Patreon Patros, as we lovingly call them. If you go to patreon.com/multiamory, you can sign up to become part of our Patreon community. Specifically, if you sign up the $7 a month level, you get access to our private Facebook group discussion group, our private discourse, our private discord chat. In addition to that, you also get these episodes released a day early. They're going to come out with no ads, so you don't have to listen to us suddenly breaking from the discussion to talk about sex toys and stuff.
Also, you get bonus content. Every single episode has a little bit of extra content at the end like other studies that we found, sharing personal anecdotes, other little interesting tidbits that we just didn't have time for in the episode, but you get that attached automatically. You don't even have to download a separate episode. You get that attached automatically to every episode that comes out. Again, if you want to join our little bubble, get access to add free episodes that come out early with bonus content, go to patreon.com/multiamory.
Jace: Another thing that's super helpful is to take a moment and write us a review on iTunes or on Stitcher. The purpose of this one I guess isn't so much for you getting into a bubble because you're already part of our bubble if you love us enough to go write a review. It's about getting other people to be part of this bubble and expanding our bubble, inflating our bubble. I don't know. I'm taking this metaphor too far.
Is to take just a couple minutes and write a review, leave us a rating on iTunes or Stitcher and let people know what it is that you get out of this show. What do you find valuable about this show? What kind of information can people expect to get if they listen to this show? It really does a lot to help with our rankings and things like that on iTunes, as well as just when people might be considering listening to the show, they might see your review and relate to something that you've said and go, "Yes, okay. I will give this a try". It really is an incredibly helpful thing to do. If you could just take a couple minutes and do that, we will be in love with you.
Emily: Wow. That's quite a commitment, Jace.
Jace: Yes, I know.
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Emily: That's sexual? Gone With--
Jace: Bone With The Wind.
Emily: Bone With The Wind, it's a little bit of a slant rhyme. I see what you're going for there.
Jace: It would look very similar, right? You'd only changing one letter.
Emily: It would. Yes.
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Emily: I love the her and him question mark, just to kind of...
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Emily: For whomever.
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Emily: In the wind, with the wind.
Jace: With the wind.
Emily: On the wind.
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Emily: I'll be honest, I'm a little bit excited about the idea of some Gone With The Wind cosplay pornography being out there.
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Emily: I'm searching it right now.
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Emily: Okay, I'll Google image search. I really shouldn't have.
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Emily: This brought up a lot of other pornographic results that I was not expecting.
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Emily: Okay, y'all. We spent some time talking about numbers and stats, talking about studies, about attraction specifically around femininity, masculinity. I want to get down to actually one of the questions that did inspire this episode in part, not totally but in part. I feel like for a long time there's been these floating questions around are my preferences and who I'm attracted to or my preferences and who I date basically are they okay and whether it's something as extreme as is my sexuality okay. Is it okay for me to be attracted to this particular gender or sex or whatever? All the way down to like is it okay if I don't want to date someone who's a Republican or whatever. I think people have these questions a lot.
In particular, there's been this age-old question around racial preferences in dating because as you'll notice, pretty much anytime you fill out a dating profile you have to click that box that indicates what your ethnic identity or grouping is. Of course, people are wondering if I only choose to date people of a certain race or if I write in my bio I don't date people of this particular race or I have a preference for that, is that racist, or is it just a preference? Is that okay?
Dedeker: I have a lot of things to say about this, but I'm also going to let this new Australian study say basically what I was about to say which is-- There was a study linking sexual race preferences to deeper ingrained racial bias. This was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. It asked 2000 gay and bisexual Australian men how they felt about race and dating through this online survey. These men they also completed a region specific version- I guess this is Australian region specific -of this thing called the Quick Discrimination Index. It’s the standard survey instrument that measured attitudes on race and diversity. That’s really interesting. I’d be interested to take that test to just see what it says. Apparently, after putting both of these sets of data together, this Quick Discrimination Index and then also this other-
Jace: The survey about-
Dedeker: -online survey.
Jace: -their online differences.
Dedeker: Yes. When they put both of these data sets together, the trend was clear that sexual racism is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction is solely a matter of personal preference. Even though people might reject this idea that they're racist or that the label of racism is wrong because their sexual preference is just their sexual preference, we do see that inherent ingrained racism is clearly a thing through surveys like this and through research like this.
It's something definitely that has come up that we see. I didn’t even realize how much it came up in people’s dating profiles, that they would have the audacity honestly to say something like that like no X, no Y, no Asian men or whatever or anything.
Emily: It’s such an interesting conversation because it’s like either you can take the tact of like, "Yes, having racial preferences especially loudly pronouncing them is racist". Or you can take the tact of like, "No, it’s not racist. It’s just a preference. That’s all. It’s just a preference". Either way, I feel like it comes back to this basic question of like, if we didn’t all live in a society that’s already quite racist, would you have those preferences in the first place?
That’s my thing that I always want to come back to, not just in the discussion around race but also in the discussion around like what body types you’re attracted to or just anything of questioning like, why is this something that so frequently just goes unexamined? Basically, why is it so easy for us, for people to just be like, "That’s just how it is. That’s just what I like. There's nothing wrong with it. That’s just what I like, or what I don’t like".
It’s like why are we so resistant to just going a step further on questioning that because I feel like going a step further does then start to open this Pandora’s box of all the reasons why.
Dedeker: It’s incredibly important to be able to ask oneself those questions. I think that we’re starting hopefully to change the narrative around these ideas and also have the wherewithal to say like, "Hey, maybe I've never dated a person of color. I should look at that within myself. Ask myself the question of like, why is that?" Is it because I grew up in a school system that was predominantly white, or is it just because the people in my social group were predominantly a certain race, or is it because that I do have engrained racist ideas just in the way that I grew up or whatever, and that is seeping into my dating preferences, for example?
Jace: Emily, your talking about that brought to mind lot of stuff. I’m not sure if either of you are familiar with this study that’s been done to try to tease out this inherent ingrained racism that might be in us despite trying to actively go against it. It’s this study where part of it is that your reaction times are timed, and you would see pictures of people’s faces and then have to choose words that were either positive or negative words associated with that person, just based on seeing a picture of their face. They show people of different races.
This one it’s not just about whether you picked a positive or negative word, but it’s how long it took you to choose the positive word. Like for a picture of President Obama, it’s like that there would be this slight delay in pressing it as the people go through that process of questioning themselves. What’s interesting about it is that on the one hand some people use it to be like, "See, everyone's racist all the time". What I think is the next level of it is that thing of like-- It’s almost like realizing that that’s in there because of the culture that we’re raised in and because of the neighborhoods or the environments and the media that we consume is accepting that that’s in there. That doesn’t mean that doing something about it isn’t still good like questioning that.
The fact that they did still choose positive things to associate with people of color and not just white people, that’s still a good thing, but it shows us like, "Yes, that’s in there somewhere". I think that’s really interesting with your question, Emily, of asking where does it come from I think is a really cool part of that thing of just realizing like, "Yes, this is in there not because I am a bad person, but that’s just the reality. It’s the water that I swim in as this fish".
Dedeker: Yes, sure.
Jace: Becoming more aware of it can help us more proactively do things to change that.
Dedeker: Yes. I’m half Mexican, but it doesn’t matter because I'm white passing, and I grew up with all of the privilege that a white person would. I have Puerto Rican-- My best friend is Puerto Rican, but still he is white passing. My sphere of growing up was having to worry about having people be prejudiced against us at all. I agree with you that it is important to look at it and important to change, even if you know that something might be there inside of you for a variety of reasons. It’s important to examine it regardless, even if that’s tough.
Jace: Part of what came up when I was searching some of this before the episode is this thing that Grindr did somewhere recently, I think in the past year or two, which is an initiative called Kindr like Grindr spelled without the E toward the end called Kindr, which is this initiative that is banning any racist things in people’s bios which in itself is interesting. People try always to get around it by saying things like, "No rice", or "No spice", or using little metaphors or whatever to try to hide it, but still the fact that they're cracking down on it and acknowledging it, I think is worth mentioning.
Also, part of what they did is they introduced these video series featuring users who have experienced online discrimination, telling their stories of what that feels like, what’s happened for them. Some of the videos I watched were really, really interesting. They're also very nicely shot. They feel like a Buzzfeed video or something that’s got that very bright, very well lit kind of a look to it.
Dedeker: Colorful, yes.
Jace: One of the things that was interesting in that that came up that goes to some of the questions that Emily was asking earlier too is that a number of the guys said things like, "If you don’t want to date me because I am Asian or because I am Latino or because I'm black, that’s one thing, but to just put it on your storefront window, no blacks, is a much more hurtful and shitty and racist thing to do". I thought that distinction was very interesting.
That is one of the things that comes up. It's like, "It’s a preference". It's like sure, but plastering that up as a sign being like, "You and everyone who is like you in this one specific way is somehow less than or not attractive", that really gets to people. That really affects people.
Dedeker: Completely understandable.
Jace: Those are the stories that these guys were sharing in the videos.
Emily: It also just seems very short sighted I suppose to just plaster it there also. It just doesn’t seem like you’ve thought this all the way through. You haven’t even considered the optics of this.
Jace: Yes, I suppose.
Emily: You’re so caught up in making sure that someone from a particular racial group doesn’t message you-
Dedeker: So fucked up.
Emily: -that you can’t even think about how this is going to make you be perceived, essentially.
Jace: Some of these guys stories were even like a person said no Asians on his profile but contacted him, contacted this Asian guy. He went to his profile and saw that. He's like, "Dude, why would you contact me? You say this right here on your profile?” They'd give answers like, "You looked white", or, "You're passing." This kind of stuff that just sort of adds layers to this hurt, right? That's entirely unnecessary. An analogy they used a lot was if any of us saw a storefront that actually had a sign that said no Asians or no Hispanics, or no black people, we would all, pretty universally in this country I hope, agree that's fucked up, that's not allowed. There are, in fact, are laws against it, but putting it up on your dating profile, again in this very sort of public way, is something that people will try to defend.
Dedeker: Right. I feel like there is this trend now, and I think some apps, some sites, are starting to catch on and starting to remove the ability to even filter by race. I think they're allowing people to still self-identify but removing the ability to be able to include that in your search terms, because I think that's more research that came out that said that this is actually kind of perpetuating this problem rather than making it any better.
Jace Yes, that it was actually making people more racist in their preferences by having the option to search for by that.
Dedeker: Well, so it's clear that this is definitely something that affects who people feel like they're attracted to, or who they feel comfortable reaching out to, or going on a date with, but I do want to talk about also the whole myriad of other factors that influence attraction other than just physical appearances; whether it's skin color, or body shape or able-bodied or anything like this, all these things that are outside just the realm of the physical, because I think when we talk about it that's what everyone thinks is just like the physical attraction is physical attractiveness beauty or your sexual chemistry or stuff like that.
There's just so many other things that actually influence who we are attracted to, and a lot of them are very-- I think kind of like this racial preferences thing, I think a lot of us just aren't aware of what's going on on the surface level. It's a lot of things that are very subtle, that are very deeply ingrained that we don't even realize are influencing who we choose to match with or swipe right, or whatever, we're not even holding our conscious brain at the moment.
One of them is this idea of we kind of subconsciously sometimes seek rewards, we're attracted to people that we feel will give us some kind of reward. Rewards mean things like dating this person will influence my status in some way, or influence myself financially in some way, or give me some kind of perception of power, or a lifestyle change, or a social standing.
There was this really interesting data mining done by this data scientist, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, and I think he came up with a book I think it's called, it's like everyone lies or something like that. It's basically about the fact that it's what people search for on Google or search for specifically on Pornhub because he also did did data mining of Pornhub stuff, indicates that people are attracted to a much wider variety of body types of ethnic identities than people actually will do in real life.
Jace Ages and things like that too.
Dedeker: Yes and age as well. Is a very clear indicator that it's like our perception of how others will perceive us when we date this particular person or have sex with this particular person really influences whether or not we choose to swipe right on that person. Again, it's not this thing that we necessarily hold at the forefront of our minds but it is there.
Emily: Another thing that we don't think about but that we might-- that kind of becomes apparent is time. I mean to say that isn't like you probably have a big group of social people that you hang out with on a regular basis. After a while, you might start dating someone that perhaps initially you didn't find very attractive, but then as you get to know them, as you build intimacy and a bond, then you might actually date them.
Anecdotally, kind of a couple psychologists in some of these articles that we read and research for this episode talked about this. They also talked about the 36 questions thing, which we've spoken about often on this podcast, but that sort of like container for building intimacy over time, again, when your attraction can grow just simply from getting to know someone on a more intimate level. That's kind of nice to this idea that people can be attracted to others for better reasons than just do, "I find them physically attractive or not." I think it takes a little bit of time and patience to build that intimacy for sure.
Dedeker: Yes. I feel like that kind of indicates at least, like the study, they really famous study done about the 36 intimacy questions thing, is that it can indicate that it's not always this formula of physical attraction happening first and then you get to know someone more deeply, and then there's intimacy and then a relationship, but the idea that you can be generating intimacy with someone first, you can know them as a friend for a long time and get close to them and then the physical attraction comes in.
Dedeker: That it can be this kind of flipped thing that is produced as a result of getting close to someone rather than the other way around.
Emily: In addition, we do like Jase said before, try to find people that are similar to ourselves. It includes personality and values and then also yes looks. I've definitely seen couples that look identical. They look like they can be like brother and sister and it is really interesting. A lot of these talked about that people will date those who are as attractive as they are, which is an interesting idea. I'm like, that's so subjective though, how attractive is one person versus the other? What does that even mean universally? Why? I can't even say what equals a more attractive person than another?
Jace Something that actually we didn't mention earlier but that I found in researching this was that all these studies are done about averages, right? So when they look at things like attractiveness, or about preferences of men and women and whatever, that they're all about these averages. While that can be interesting, I was reading about this other study and, again, I'm sorry I don't have the details, but basically, they found that while this may be true on average, that from any one person to another they actually vary quite a bit in terms of who they find attractive. They found this even with sets of identical twins.
Emily: Yes, that was interesting.
Jace That even within sets of identical twins, they would find quite different people to be attractive when presented with pictures of them. It's like this interesting thing where on the one hand, we get this data of the average but in reality, each of us are individuals. We actually vary a lot more from each other than these studies would lead you to believe.
Emily: That's cool.
Jace Another factor in attraction is self-esteem. This one, go back and listen to our episode on self-esteem. This is essentially having lower self-esteem means that you are more likely to reciprocate a relationship or whatever to someone who likes you even if you might not be as attracted to them or there's incompatibilities there or it's not the healthiest relationship because of that sort of need for validation that comes from a lower self-esteem.
Another one is the exposure effect, sometimes called the mere-exposure effect. That's basically just that the more often you're exposed to something, the more likely you are to like it. This is why pop songs work the way they do, why they tend to be so repetitive, why they get played so often on the radio.
Dedeker: I think it's why people end up dating the people that they work with.
Jace That too. I think that's also a factor along with what Emily was talking about having time to develop a relationship and get to know someone instead of just writing them off because you're not immediately attracted to them. On the other hand, there's also this exposure effect going on at the same time that is going to make that person look more attractive to you over time.
This is the same reason why people tend to like the way they look in the mirror more than they like the way they look in photos, because you're looking in mirrors usually a few times every day it's your used to that way that you look. You see yourself in a photo where it's flipped and it's less familiar to you. That's part of why we tend to not like ourselves in photos as much.
Dedeker: Oh, damn. Is that the reason? Actually, that reminds me. That reminds me in the Exploratorium in San Francisco, there is an exhibit where they've-- I don't know how they've set this up, but they've kind of set it up so that essentially you could have the experience of looking into a mirror but you're looking at yourself flipped the way that everyone else sees you.
Jace Yes, with angled mirrors, yes.
Dedeker: Yes with these angled mirrors, and every time I've gone to that exhibit I've always been like, "Why is anyone attracted to me?" [laughs] Because looking at myself flipped in the mirror, it's such a weird sensation in your brain. I'm just like, "That's not my face, but that's the face everyone else sees. Is this how I look all the time? Oh my god, this is terrible." That's so interesting.
Emily: We have symmetrical-ish faces.
Dedeker: Ish, but that highlights all the little ways that you're-- I don't think it's even a matter of symmetry. It's more a matter of just what you're used to. Again, because of the exposure effect that you're used to seeing your face in a mirror, you're not used to seeing it up close the way that other people actually see it.
Jace Something you can take comfort in is that the other people in your life, they're getting the mirror exposure effect of your face, but the right way; the normal way, not in the mirror. Other people's experience of you is going to be more similar to your experience of yourself in the mirror than it is of you in pictures.
Emily: So basically, don't let your partner look in a mirror with you.
Jace Right, because Bloody Mary will come out and kill you both.
Dedeker: Yes, Bloody Mary concerns aside, don't let them look in the mirror with you, at least not to the same frequency as they look at you normally.
Emily: That would be very strange.
Jace Or be sure that they look at both equally much, so that then they're exposed to both.
Emily: They get the whole picture.
Jace Both ways, yes.
Dedeker: That's interesting that that was your takeaway, because my takeaway was I just needed to fucking chill.
Jace [chuckles] Yes, well also that.
Emily: That too, no for sure.
Jace In the great episode about attachment styles that the two of you did, that's also a factor that we may be drawn to recreate certain familiar attachment patterns from our childhood or from our past relationships. There's so many more factors, too. There's so many more factors. These are just some of the big ones we've brought up, but I'm just like, "I want to keep going, there's so much more, but there's only so much time in an episode."
Dedeker: Yes, seriously. So I guess, for me, thinking about this topic, I think my main thing that I want to internalize is just this idea of never taking my own attraction to other people for granted, essentially. Never falling back on this idea of, "Well, I just am not attracted to this kind of person," or "I'm just not attracted to this body type," or whatever, but being able to actually just be willing to step up and just examine that shit. That's all.
I think examining it is just a great first place to go. It doesn't mean that you need to suddenly do a major overhaul, or that you need to suddenly start fetishizing this group of people that you don't normally date. It's not about going to those kind of extremes. It's just examining. Just seeing what's underneath there, what are the possible factors that may influence the reason why I've tended to date this particular type of person over and over, or why I always tend to swipe left on this kind of person. I feel like just bringing the tiniest bit of mindfulness to it can be so illuminating and so fascinating. Just a little bit of a mindfulness, a little bit of a critical eye can really open up so much, I believe.
Jace Yes, it's great to put it that way. What Emily was talking about, having that realization of, "Oh my gosh, I've never dated a person of color," that her answer was, "I want to examine that and understand why and look at that," not, "Oh, I need to go out right now and date a person of color." Because that's--
Dedeker: Catch him like a Pokemon.
Jace Right, that's not a healthy way to think of people.
Emily: That's also problematic to, like you said, fetishize a particular group of people.
Jace Right, so let's be sure that we're clear on that. In the spirit of investigating this, trying to get to the bottom of it, something that can be really helpful is to actually expand your media diet and exposure. What that means is watching films, or TV shows, or magazines.
Dedeker: YouTube videos.
Jace YouTube videos, Dedeker likes to suggest Instagram accounts. Essentially, think of it this way; people being cast in the romantic lead, or the hot person role, who aren't white, or who aren't skinny--
Dedeker: Or just aren't like you.
Jace Who aren't skinny, or who aren't able-bodied, or who aren't cisgender, or whatever it is, of just getting more variety and realizing-- well, I'll tell a story. You guys may remember Phi, who was on our show a few episodes back talking about mono-poly relationships. She told us this really cool story about-- she watched this video, a Buzzfeed video called, Why Asian Men Aren't Sexy. It was this panel of Asian men talking about this phenomenon of why don't people think that Asian men are sexy.
They talked about, well, look at the way that Asian men are portrayed in film and TV. They're awkward, or they're weird, or they're super nerdy, or they're pervy and weird. Whatever it is, it's not the leading man. It's not the person you're supposed to be attracted to. It's not the person who's illustrating traits that are attractive. She said that she watched this video and was like, "Shit, you're right," and so specifically started trying to find more media showing non-white people as the romantic lead.
She found that for her, it did make a difference. She found herself passively in the world, being much more attracted to, in this case specifically, Asian men, but also other non-white men in a way that she hadn't before simply by consuming media that exposes you to people of those ethnicities being confident, being sexy, being inspiring, being successful, all of those traits that we already associate with our typical white leading man character and just putting that in other places. The nice thing is that with the Internet today, it's a lot easier to get access to media from around the world where they're not all white people in their leading roles.
Emily: That's awesome.
Dedeker: It is kind of like hacking that exposure theory thing of the more that you expose yourself to it, the more you're going to be able to be open to something like that.
Jace Yes, and that you're kind of not trying to go out and be like, "I've got to date someone who's this thing," but instead it's just-- that will just be in the background. You're changing the alkalinity of the water that you swim in, I'm going back to my fish metaphor from way earlier.
Dedeker: Yes, no I love it. I love it.
Emily: You're trying to do more bubble metaphors? Alkalinity of your bubble.
Dedeker: Yes, bubbles and alkaline water and stuff like that, I love it. This exposure thing, it reminds me of-- I just remembered this, that in the ethical slide, one of their little exercises, and I forget even the context for why they put this exercise in or what they're trying to demonstrate, but they give this exercise of when you're out in the world, on the train or in line at the grocery store, pick a person and try to see the person who's the most in love with this person, what do they find attractive about this person?
Especially try to pick someone that you're not immediately attracted to. Pick an old person, or pick someone that-- just a random stranger, someone who's not even normally the body type, or the gender, or whatever that you find yourself normally attracted to. Look at that person, and just find one trait that is attractive. Or one trait that you think their husband or their partner absolutely loves about them.
I really like doing that exercise, just to have this broader palette of the things that could possibly be attractive. I think it especially becomes more accessible if you put yourself in the shoes of this person's lover, or this person's partner, so it doesn't have to automatically be about you. At first, you can be like, "What do I think this person's partner is really into?" I think, again, that helps expand and expose to this different aesthetics and different ways a certain things can be attractive.
Obviously, rein yourself in. Don't creepily stare at strangers. You've got to be kind of subtle about it, but I also find it's a very entertaining activity to do when you're just on the train or on the subway, and don't want to just be staring at your phone all the time.
Emily: I like that, that's awesome. It's great. I guess our final takeaway with all of this is just that as people, as a community even, I think we're way more capable of change than maybe even we realize or that we think that we are. It's interesting, so many people look at people like politicians, and they're like, "Well, that person's a flip-flop," or, "They thought this thing a while ago, and now they think this other thing, and they're just trying to go with the tide."
It really truly is possible for people to realize that their initial reaction to something wasn't the right one, or that it needs to be examined, or that they really have some deep thoughts that they should have with themselves and figure out why they believe something, and if that is the right thing to believe. With all this, because we talked about a lot of studies even that were originally thought to be truth and now not so much, change is happening and I think it's so unbelievably fantastic that people are not as allowed to be outwardly racist on dating websites as they once were.
I would like to think that change, social change is really happening. Hopefully, by listening to this podcast, you can think about that in your own life, too. Just the specific one, think about maybe what your preferences are and if you need to examine that.
Jace Part of the great takeaway is that it's not like, "Oh, this is going to be hard and I have to do this for some greater social good." No, you actually benefit from this.
Emily: Totally. Absolutely.
Jace [chuckles] Right? That's one of the cool things, is that by broadening your palette and broadening the ways that you look at people and the ways that you're attracted to people pays off for you. You are the main one benefiting from this, so it's really win win all around.
Dedeker: Right. If you look at as this idea of your opening yourself up to more opportunities to connect with people, then it doesn't mean that it's always going to be opportunities for just sex with more people or more relationships or whatever, but just more opportunities that you're allowing yourself to connect with people regardless of how it turns out, at least in my experience, that's pretty much always been a good thing; being able to expose myself to this wider variety of experience and connection.
Dedeker: Hooray for neural plasticity.
Jace What did you think about this episode? Have you had any of these experiences? Have your attractions to people changed over time? I'm actually particularly interested to hear if anyone has had a struggle of feeling attraction for something, like those search results Dedeker was talking about with either Google searches is or Pornhub or whatever of being drawn to something that you don't feel like you can admit in public and has that changed over time?
Have you started to realize you know, what it's okay for me to be attracted to this type of person that isn't something that I have to hide? I'm really curious for those types of stories because that's not something we covered a ton in this episode, but I think is very powerful. It's very important to not feel shame for the attraction that we do feel because there is some evidence linking that shame to acts of violence and things like that against women and minority groups because of this disconnect between I'm attracted to this thing but I'm told that I shouldn't be.
Anyway, I'm very interested to hear some of those stories and the best place to share your thoughts and to talk with other listeners is on this episode's discussion thread in our private Facebook or discourse forums. You can get access to these groups and join our exclusive community by going to patrion.com/multiarmory. In addition, you could share with you us publicly on Twitter Facebook or Instagram. You can leave us an email at email@example.com or a voicemail at 678-MULTI- 05 or you can leave us a voice message on Facebook.