How We Become Sexually Attracted To Someone

Love, Sex

When it comes to attraction, there are two key factors that affect how we become sexually attracted to someone.

In this article I’ll be diving into those (plus a few bonus factors) to give you a better understanding of the psychology behind sexual attraction.

Factor 1) Mood

In sex researcher Justin Lehmiller’s book The Psychology of Human Sexuality, he emphasizes the importance of our mood when it comes to attraction. He talks about a study made by Krosnick, Betz, Jussim & Lynn (1992), where they examined what happened when one positive and one negative stimulus was introduced to people before they met strangers.

“The study showed that those who’d been shown a picture of kittens tended to react more positively to the stranger, while those who’d been exposed to an image of snakes in a bucket, just before meeting the stranger, reacted more negatively to the unknown person. ”

Lehmiller argued that you can view this as a case of classical conditioning, and I agree with him on this.

The fact that we’re more often sexually attracted to someone when we ourselves are feeling good – or to people who make us feel good, may not seem surprising in and of itself.

This is, however, interesting in relation to what “pick-up artists” usually preach.

A common pick-up method that was discussed a lot about 10 years ago is “negging”. In essence it means you say something negative to someone to catch their attention. Like “how nice your sweater is, shame the trousers don’t match”. Or – “your friend’s really hot”. Pick-up artists claim this is a very successful way of picking someone up.

There are, however, several reasons why this isn’t a good strategy.

  • For one, it’s not a very nice way of behaving, generally speaking.
  • And also, according to science, it doesn’t work.

There’s a greater chance the person you’re interacting with will become attracted to you if they’re feeling good – which isn’t that likely if you insult them.

Factor 2) Similarity

Another interesting factor that determines how sexually attracted to someone we become, is similarity. Lehmiller means that this factor plays a role in the choice of partner – we more often choose a partner that’s about as physically attractive as we are. 

This is also a prominent factor when you consider our partners often have a similar intellectual capacity to our own.

This obviously doesn’t mean everybody makes this kind of choice (just like with all research, this is more or less true for each individual) – but the pattern is there.

“An interesting aspect of similarity being important to attraction, is that this, in itself, doesn’t guarantee happiness in our relationship or longevity, compared to couples where partners aren’t that similar.”

Lehmiller brings up dating sites as an example of this. He says that although the matching algorithms on popular matchmaking websites would have you believe that similarity equals happiness, this isn’t backed up by science.

What seems important in the beginning of a relationship doesn’t remain over time. What is important over time for a relationship to last, is something I’ll be delving into in a future blog post, so stay tuned!

Other Factors That May Affect How We Become Sexually Attracted To Someone

Another study the author points to – which I thought was very interesting – is a classic study from 1965, which looked at how attractive we perceived people to be, depending on how others had described them.

Descriptions were divided into four categories: solely positive, solely negative, negative initially then positive, positive initially then negative.

“The study showed that what people liked the most and what lead to the most attraction, was that the person who described you had gone from disliking to liking you.”

This may prompt you to ask a few follow-up questions. That’s what happened to me, anyway.

  • Could it be that the results indicate a human inclination for competitiveness?
  • Or is it a question of a sense of achievement, when a person goes from disliking to liking you. That we feel we’ve somehow deserved it, and we feel attraction?

Another study in Lehmiller’s book looked at clumsiness and awkward mistakes and how they affect how sexually attracted to someone we feel.

“The study showed that when people we view as successful and clever make minor mistakes – like spilling wine on their shirt – we find them more attractive.”

It’s thought that successful people (at least people who we perceive as successful) become more human to us, when they make minor mistakes, and that’s what increases the power of attraction.

But, we feel less attracted to people we think of as mediocre, when they slip up in a similar way. (Seems a bit unfair, doesn’t it?)

How we become sexually attracted to someone isn’t always clear cut. Sometimes it has to do with how successful we perceive a person to be, other times it has to do with winning people over, or the fact that we as individuals have similar personalities. By learning more about what sparks attraction you can more easily regain attraction that’s once been lost by focusing on the things that drew you in before.

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Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She's been featured in Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Tab, Glamour, The Minds Journal, and more. For more advice on sexual attraction, visit her website. For a happier relationship, download her free resource The Guide For Intimacy

This article was originally published at Therapy by Leigh. Reprinted with permission from the author.