For sex, do you choose brains or beauty?

How much do appearances matter? Is the one who makes you immediately horny the one you’re likely to chase? Or is there a different dynamic at play among women and men?

We were making dinner when I posed a question: “If you were out and met two women, one of whom was beautiful but vain and the other was average-looking but fun, smart and good-natured, which would you chose?”

“Hot one, every time!” Damien answered without hesitation. “Any man would say the same.”

I suspected he might be wrong about that. Damien is a great cook, but a very blokey bloke – fond of beer, rugby and women. I put the question to the altogether more mature Mr. H.

“I’d prefer the average-looking one,” he said, much to Damien’s disgust. “But maybe that’s just me,” he added.

We all know that men like beautiful women and women prefer attractive men. Even babies are not immune from the lure of beauty and will spend more time looking at pretty faces than ugly ones. Looks may be important, or at least useful, but when the chips are down, do our physical or personal characteristics matter more?

I’d been reading journalist Samantha Brick’s much-maligned article for the Daily Mail. Brick, as I’m sure you’ll know, wrote a piece this April in which she argued that women were jealous of her luminous beauty. This, said, Brick, made it impossible for her to have close female friends. For one thing they didn’t trust her with their men. Predictably enough, this attracted howls of derision, some of which was downright ugly and misogynistic.

Initially I’d been feeling sorry for Brick. Nobody, whether a journalist, a pop star like Lana Del Ray, a schoolchild, or your boss, deserves a barrage of vicious insults delivered with impunity from anonymous bullies. However I found my sympathy fraying when Brick followed up her initial article claiming that ten out of ten men fancied her.

On the one hand I’d love to have that kind of self-confidence – or perhaps self-delusion. Would I like to believe that everyone was secretly admiring or lusting after me? Hell yeah! That would be great. But it would take extensive plastic surgery or a strict regime of mind-altering drugs since I’m all too aware that my looks fall somewhere in the average range. On the other hand, at least I have plenty of female friends. Life has its compensations!

Whether you reckon Brick is akin to a modern day Venus or more like the back end of a bus is irrelevant, because there are few things as off-putting as vanity. At least that’s my opinion, but I wanted to know what other people thought.

We’re told that women value personality over looks and my very unscientific survey bore testament to that. The good news for men is that not one woman I asked would date a gorgeous vain man over an average but smart and funny bloke.

However this choice wasn’t as straightforward as you’d think.

“Looks definitely don’t compensate for the absence of a sense of humour, intelligence and romance,” said Emma very sensibly. But she added a caveat: “If it was just a shag I’d go for the hottie! But I wouldn’t text him again.”

Mean, eh?

“I’d choose the smart, fun one,” said Amber. “But not without some pangs of regret at compromising on a beautiful outside appearance to feast my eyes. That’s because I’ve met enough men by now to know that a beautiful vain man wouldn’t give me any lasting happiness.”

Experience certainly plays into our choices. I’d choose personality over looks every time, but it wasn’t always so. In my younger days I dated a man who was outrageously gorgeous. Everybody thought so, especially him. At first the jealous stares of other women who couldn’t believe I’d bagged such an Adonis were enough, but after a very short while his beauty stopped compensating for his vain, self-centred personality.

Despite Damien’s belief that all guys would choose looks over personality, men are not as shallow as he claimed. Of course, many of them wanted to shag the hottie and then date her nicer, less attractive friend. I wasn’t allowing them that option ­– that’s just greedy! And like my female respondents, most of the men I spoke to had learned through experience that looks are not enough by themselves.

“When I was younger I would probably have chosen the beautiful one, but now the average one. With make-up anyone can look good,” said Alan. “Sure, if she had a hunchback she could sprinkle it with glitter and turn it into a feature!”

A sense of humour wins every time (or maybe not!).

Alan agreed that life experience had changed his priorities. “If you had asked me this when I was 21 I would have said the beautiful but vain and self-involved one,” he observed. “I’m not handsome or cool. I’m not someone beautiful girls fancy so if I’d somehow managed to charm her, then her vain self-involvement would be irrelevant. A beautiful girl who’s willing to allow me to see her naked? And to do stuff to me and with me? For the win!

“These days, though, I’d definitely choose the second one. The conversation would be funny, stimulating and inspiring. The sex would be open, adventurous and nurturing. For the win!”

Of course most of us would like our sexual partners to be beautiful, smart, fun and charming, but as with most things in life, compromises have to be made. However what may surprise you is that a number of my male respondents decided that celibacy was preferable to sex with someone whose personality turned them off.

“If I found the second one attractive, that’s who I’d choose. But if I didn’t, I’d go home alone,” said Jack.

Cian agreed. “I always tried to find as many of the qualities that I was looking for, and if I couldn’t find them I waited until I did. I’ve been patient and now I’m lucky,” he said.

None of this surprised me. After all, if looks were of supreme importance to most men, there would be a whole slew of sexually frustrated average-looking girls. But most of us know that with a scrub-up and some lipstick we can attract male interest.

Nevertheless it was gratifying to hear that I was correct in supposing that men had higher standards than Damien suggested. Of course it is entirely possible that he is right – the men I asked could have been telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. If so, I can’t fault them for that. What it lacks in sincerity it makes up for in cleverness. After all, if there is one thing I’ve always admired in a man, it’s brains!

 

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