Most of us have preferences when it comes to what we find attractive in potential intimate partners, usually influenced by what we are exposed to in both our immediate society and society-at-large. Socialization plays a significant role in how we perceive others, especially when it comes to determining physical attractiveness. A recent survey suggested that men feel the so-called “perfect” woman has narrow hips, long legs and big breasts, while 100 years ago, the “perfect” woman was 170 pounds and pear-shaped—bottom-heavy with wide, full hips. As times change, so do accepted preferences, and people adjust and adapt accordingly, often despite their very different internal desires… and, likely, to the detriment of their sex lives.
While Diana Ross sang that she wanted muscles, Lil Wayne’s rapped about a “thick redbone,” the Commodores sang the praises of an “Amazon brickhouse” and Salt-N-Pepa hailed the man with “a body like Arnold and a Denzel face,” their personal choices for partners haven’t always reflected these outward preferences. Holding out for these super-rare finds will leave your bed cold and your body frigid.
There are some explanations behind preferences, though. Tall women might prefer taller men because they’ve been led to believe a taller man will better protect them and their families. Larger men and women might prefer slimmer or more sculpted, muscular physiques because they’re not comfortable with their own size and stature and shy away from people built like them. Darker men may prefer lighter-skinned women because of how the media has historically portrayed lighter skin as more beautiful and attractive, or because they were teased as children or teens for being dark-skinned. Black men and women, particularly, have had to deal with being inundated by images of the mainstream’s standards of beauty that rarely reflect what we see when we look in the mirror. This has been a notoriously polarizing trend creating severe aesthetic inferiority complexes, especially among Black women.
The extent to which we buy into these beauty standards and allow them to determine what we find sexually appealing can actually limit our potential to have amazing sex with people who might not meet those standards. We may find ourselves having clear physical responses to models, for example, who look almost perfect in our favorite magazines, without taking into account how much airbrushing, styling and coiffing goes into presenting those few images. We might watch scenes in adult videos and feel ourselves responding to people who are paid to look a specific way and flaunt borderline exaggerated body parts. It’s important to acknowledge that these images don’t reflect the norm; the average person looks nothing like the models and porn stars we see in print and video.
Yet, many of us continue to hold onto these preferences, refusing to budge or “settle” (as we might consider it) if we date outside of these standards. I used to be strict with my physical standards, to the point where I’d developed a clear “type” and 90% of the men I dated fit that type. As I got older, I realized that being so narrowly focused was limiting my dating potential and my orgasms. I was not having that! Too many of us also allow the opinions of friends and families to stop us from getting with someone who they might deem unattractive. In doing so, we’re probably missing out on someone who will set our beds on fire. It’s crazy for a super-horny man to go without sex for months because his five-and-a-half foot, stretch-mark-free fantasy with naturally long curly hair and a Nicki Minaj frame never shows up in his life. It doesn’t make sense that a woman would climb the walls because she hasn’t climaxed in months, but she’ll pass over a heavier brother whose tongue can work miracles because he isn’t the Morris Chestnut type she longs for.
I can almost guarantee that most of us overlook people based purely on what we’ve been conditioned to believe is sexy, and it’s costing us some of the best orgasms we could ever imagine. It wasn’t until I had my socks knocked off by a man I previously considered “short” that I realized I was tripping. Once I relaxed some of my long-held, staunch standards, I began having some of the best sexual experiences and fun times of my life. I encourage you to follow suit by going out with someone who fits fewer than three of the physical standards you’ve held onto the longest. You never know what fire might spark.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.