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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?

Anne Sexton, 17 May 2012

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.

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