The Role of Sexual and Romantic Attraction in Human Mate Preferences

Meike Scheller, Alexandra A. de Sousa, Lori A. Brotto, Anthony C. Little

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


Sex differences in mate preferences are ubiquitous, having been evidenced across generations and cultures. Their prevalence and persistence have compellingly placed them in the evolutionarily adaptive context of sexual selection. However, the psycho-biological mechanisms contributing to their generation and maintenance remain poorly understood. As such a mechanism, sexual attraction is assumed to guide interest, desire, and the affinity toward specific partner features. However, whether sexual attraction can indeed explain sex differences in partner preferences has not been explicitly tested. To better understand how sex and sexual attraction shape mate preferences in humans we assessed how partner preferences differed across the spectrum of sexual attraction in a sample of 479 individuals that identified as asexual, gray-sexual, demisexual or allosexual. We further tested whether romantic attraction predicted preference profiles better than sexual attraction. Our results show that sexual attraction accounts for highly replicable sex differences in mate preferences for high social status and financial prospects, conscientiousness, and intelligence; however, it does not account for the enhanced preference for physical attractiveness expressed by men, which persists even in individuals with low sexual attraction. Instead, sex differences in physical attractiveness preference are better explained by the degree of romantic attraction. Furthermore, effects of sexual attraction on sex differences in partner preferences were grounded in current rather than previous experiences of sexual attraction. Taken together, the results support the idea that contemporary sex differences in partner preferences are maintained by several psycho-biological mechanisms that evolved in conjunction, including not only sexual but also romantic attraction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-312
JournalJournal of Sex Research
Issue number2
Early online date16 Feb 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Data Availability Statement

The data associated with this research are available in the project-specific Open Science Framework repository

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The Role of Sexual and Romantic Attraction in Human Mate Preferences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this