Sex Ed

Do More Attractive People Have More Sexual Partners?

May 29, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

Woman undressing man.

A reader asked the following question:

“Do more attractive people have more sexual partners?”

According to the research I’ve seen, there does seem to be a link between physical attractiveness and number of sexual partners among both women and men—however, as you’ll see in this post, the story isn’t quite as simple as that. 

In a study of 166 men and 196 women (all heterosexual and mostly young adults), researchers asked a group of college student volunteers to rate the facial and body attractiveness of each participant [1]. They then looked to see how these attractiveness ratings were correlated with number of sexual partners reported. 

For men, both facial and body attractiveness were associated with having a higher number of short-term sexual partners; however, there was no linkage between men’s attractiveness and number of long-term partners.

For women, facial (but not body) attractiveness was associated with having more long-term partners; however, there was no linkage to number of short-term partners.  

So, according to this study, it does seem to be the case that the more attractive people are, the more partners they tend to report; however, the short-term vs. long-term distinction seems to be important when looking at how this plays out for men and women.

A few other studies have found links between physical attractiveness and partner count; however, they didn’t make the distinction between type of partner (short- vs. long-term). Further, some of these studies only explored effects within one gender.

For example, in a study of 215 college-age men, physical attractiveness was associated with having more partners in general [2]. 

Likewise, in a study of 101 female college students, attractive women reported having more sexual partners [3]. However, this study also found that women lower in attractiveness reported having more partners, too, with women of average attractiveness reporting the fewest partners. This suggests the possibility that, for women, the link between attractiveness and number of partners may not be linear.

With all of that said, there does seem to be a pretty consistent association between higher attractiveness and more partners; however, it’s important to note that pretty much all of the studies I came across involved young, heterosexual, White adults. As a result, it would be important to see whether these effects replicate in more diverse samples before drawing firm conclusions about the extent to which these results can be generalized.  

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[1] Rhodes, G., Simmons, L. W., & Peters, M. (2005). Attractiveness and sexual behavior: Does attractiveness enhance mating success?. Evolution and human behavior26(2), 186-201.

[2] Bogaert, A. F., & Fisher, W. A. (1995). Predictors of university men’s number of sexual partners. Journal of Sex Research32(2), 119-130.

[3] Stelzer, C., Desmond, S. M., & Price, J. H. (1987). Physical attractiveness and sexual activity of college students. Psychological Reports60(2), 567-573.

Image Source: 123RF/lightfieldstudios  

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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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