Sex Ed

Study: Men Think Women With Tattoos Are More Interested In Casual Sex

March 20, 2016 by Justin Lehmiller

Men appear to make judgments about women’s sexual intent based upon their physical appearance. For example, research has found that heterosexual men think women are more interested in and willing to have sex to the extent that they’re wearing red and/or revealing clothing. Psychologists believe that men have evolved to pay attention to these and other physical cues that might signal a woman’s interest in sex in order to avoid missing out on potential reproductive opportunities.

It isn’t just what women are wearing that matters, though. A recent set of studies published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that men also consider women’s tattoos to be a sign of sexual interest.

In one study, researchers recruited 11 attractive women to lie on popular beaches in France. Apparently, some research assistants have better jobs than others.

All of these women wore identical red bikinis and were instructed to read a book while lying on their front. They were also told not to look at anyone unless they were approached. Half of the time, these women were given a temporary butterfly tattoo on the lower back; the other half of the time, the women went au naturel (i.e., no ink).

While these women were lying on the beach, a secret observer recorded how many men approached each woman and made verbal contact with her, as well as how long it took for her to be approached. In the end, each woman visited 20 different beaches, yielding 220 observation periods in total.

The results indicated that tattooed women were approached more than twice as often. Specifically, tattooed women received 26 approaches, while those without tattoos received 11. Tattooed women were approached much sooner, too, receiving their first approach after 24 minutes on average. By contrast, women without tattoos took an average of 35 minutes to be approached.

In another experiment, researchers instructed the same women to lie alone on the beach. Again, they had temporary tattoos half of the time. However, in this experiment, the researchers approached men who already happened to be on the beach and surveyed them about their perceptions of one of the women.

Specifically, guys were asked to rate the likelihood that they would be able to get a date with the woman, as well as how likely it is that she would agree to have sex on the first date.

Results indicated that men perceived the tattooed women as more likely to agree to a date and sex relative to the non-tattooed women.

Overall, the results of these studies tell us that men seem to make inferences about women’s sexual interest based upon whether they’ve been inked. These findings are particularly compelling because they were demonstrated with two distinct methods: a survey of men on the beach, as well as a naturalistic experiment in which men’s actual behavior was assessed.

As with all research, this study is not without its limitations. For one thing, only one tattoo placement was considered—and it appeared in a location that many colloquially refer to as a “tramp stamp.” Because lower back tattoos already have a sexual connotation, it would be interesting to see whether men make similar inferences based upon tattoos in different bodily locations. In addition, this study did not consider whether women’s actual sexual intent truly varies according to whether they have tattoos. In light of this, we can’t truly say whether female tattoos serve as a useful cue for men looking for sexual partners. It’s quite possible that tattoos say very little—perhaps nothing—about women’s interest in casual sex.

In sum, like many other aspects of women’s physical appearance, tattoos are signs that men use to make judgments—which may or may not be accurate—about women’s likely sexual interests.

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To learn more about this research, see: Guéguen, N. (2013). Effects of a tattoo on men’s behavior and attitudes towards women: An experimental field study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1517-1524.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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