By Eric Jaffe
"The study of male sexuality really should have ended in 1989. That year psychologists Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield reported the results of a social experiment conducted on the campus of Florida State University. For the study they recruited young women to approach male students at random and have a brief conversation. Average-looking women, mind you—"moderately attractive," even "slightly unattractive"—in casual clothes. No supermodels; no stilettos; no bare midriffs. It was important that the young man remain coherent. The ladies all told their guy they'd seen him around campus. They said they found him very attractive. Then some asked their man on a date. Some asked him to come over that night. And some asked him, point blank, to go to bed.
Cue the incoherence. Nearly 70 percent of men agreed to visit the lady's apartment, and 75 percent accepted the sexual proposition. At least one man asked why wait until the night. Another checked his mental calendar and said he couldn't today but what about tomorrow. Another who refused on account of being married apologized for having to refuse on account of being married. Meanwhile just half the men agreed to go out sometime. Extrapolating the finding to the real world means that on any given first date, the man would sooner sleep with the hostess than dine with his companion.
The study seemed to confirm every stereotype anyone ever held about what men want (for the purposes of this article, what heterosexual men want). We want women. Now, please—although tonight will do. At worst tomorrow. We want them like that old Army poster with the finger pointing outward. We want you. We want you like we're all Uncle Sam, and dammit if the Germans aren't at it again. Pack up the lab equipment, please, shut off the lights, and move on to more important behavioral studies. Like finding out who drinks "lots of pulp" Tropicana.
But the research did not stop there. What psychologists discovered is that underneath the simplicity, we men can be surprisingly complicated. We want women, yes, and we want sex. But we don't always want a slender frame and sharp curves. Sometimes we want a good personality. And a good romantic comedy. And to cuddle. This is laboratory science talking—not Hallmark or four martinis. And our motives for sex have diversified (as have women's)—a reality Hatfield now calls "one of our planet's most important new developments." We want sex, but sometimes we want it to enhance the emotional relationship. We want to say "I love you" before you do, some of us; we want to race you to love, and win. We want to love you so much that when we see a pretty face we think it's less pretty than we would if we didn't love you.
It doesn't take a psychologist to know what men want. But give a whole lot of them a whole lot of time and you begin to understand the considerable nuance that governs what men want. Some people like pulp in their orange juice, after all.
The Body: Often while walking the streets of Manhattan I adjust both the pace and position of my stride so as to follow close behind, but not illegally close behind, an attractive woman. I must stress here to my girlfriend and mother that I do not do this to admire the view. All right, so partly I do this to admire the view. But another part of me likes to observe the reactions we—we're a caravan, now—receive from the menfolk we pass. To walk this way is to witness the spasmodic necks and detoured eyes and high-pitched whistled salutes and deep, perfumed inhalations and even, at times, affected indifference that together form the grand choreography of male desire. The performance is a haphazard one, and far creepier to the audience than to the actors, but it remains sincere as instinct.
When evolutionary psychologists review this show, they find evidence for a universal male urge to reproduce. A woman's figure is a hallmark of her fertility, they argue, and men subconsciously know it. Researchers have documented a widespread, magnetic male attraction to a waist-to-hip ratio of .7—the classic hourglass. An eye-tracking study last year found that men start to evaluate a woman's hourglassness within the first 200 milliseconds of viewing, which, based on my pedestrian observations, seems slow.
But to call this desire universal is to ignore a great deal of competing information. While men in developed societies go numb for sinuous curves, those in many developing countries surrender to a larger, more parallel contour. Plumpness may be a sign of poor health in the West, but elsewhere it's a sign that a woman has access to money and food. Some cultures even prefer a body type that health experts consider clinically overweight. And when a man changes culture, he adjusts his preferred measurements accordingly.”