Seventy-six men were brought into a lab in pairs and tasked with competing for the attention of a pretty accomplice. It turned out that men’s testosterone levels were directly related to their expression of dominant behavior and the extent to which the female companion indicated that she “clicked” with each man.
The study researchers concluded:
These results provide new evidence linking T to adaptive evolutionary behaviors in humans and suggest that T interacts with people’s explicit dominance patterns to regulate behaviors that enhance mating success.
That’s great, but we can’t extrapolate the results from this study because they looked at a single woman’s preferences. To define the relationship between testosterone and attractiveness, you have to dig deeper…
Testosterone and facial masculinity
Studies have shown that testosterone levels directly correlate with perceived facial masculinity.
In this study, researchers constructed pairs of digital composites from the faces of men with high and low testosterone levels. These composites were then presented to subjects who were given the forced-choice task of rating the masculinity of the pairs of photographs. Overall, the photographs of the high testosterone composites were found to be more masculine than the photographs of the low testosterone composites. The attractiveness of the faces, however, was open to interpretation.
Women rate a man’s attractiveness based on whether his goal is short-term or long-term mating. In this study, researchers tracked possible facial cues in men’s faces that women use to assess attractiveness. Here is what they concluded:
Men’s actual and perceived affinity for children predicted women’s long-term marital attractiveness judgments, while men’s testosterone and perceived masculinity predicted women’s short-term marital attractiveness judgments. These results suggest that women can detect facial cues of male hormone concentrations and affinity for children, and that women use the perception of these cues to form judgments of mate attractiveness.
In other words, when a woman’s goal is short-term mating, she goes for the man with high testosterone. When her goal is long-term mating, she gauges how interested a man may be in infants.
And that brings us to the question…
How would you define an attractive man?
You could say that an attractive man is someone who is strong, assertive, dominant, and sure of his path and purpose in life. I am okay. But to break it down from an evolutionary perspective, the traits we consider attractive are simply those that improve our chances of survival and reproduction.
So the question to ask is:
What character traits in a male would a female look for to improve her own (and her offspring’s) chances of survival and reproduction?
Confidence, strength, and decisiveness are certainly traits that come into play, but in his comprehensive 20-year cross-cultural analysis, Dr. David Gilmore asserts that all masculine traits fall under three broader traits that embody what does man mean. These three traits, as Gilmore writes in his book Virility in the making, are 1) Protection, 2) Procreation and 3) Provision. Let’s go through each of these “P’s” one at a time.
How Testosterone Addresses the 3 Ps of Masculinity
The 3 Ps of Masculinity explores the big picture of what it means to be male across cultures. As you will see, testosterone is a major driver in the expression of each of them.
The first “P” is protection. As Dr. Gilmore writes in his book, the essence of protection boils down to the need “to establish and defend borders”. A man must be able to draw the line between safety and danger. If that line is crossed, he must have the ability to incite action and defend his family and tribe against outside threats. It’s quite obvious that testosterone comes into play – a man with low testosterone won’t have the strength, stamina, or mental toughness to deal with outside threats (if you’re wondering what which defines an “optimal” T-level, see my ultimate guide here).
The second “P” is procreation. This trait requires a man to successfully pursue women and spread his seed. Testosterone is a biological determinant of this trait. Without optimal T levels, a man lacks the potency and virility to actually “get up” and sexually satisfy his woman.
The third “P” is provision. A masculine man provides the majority of resources – whether financial, emotional, spiritual, economic, etc. – for the subsistence of his family and his tribe. Once again you can see how testosterone is factored in – without optimal testosterone production a man will lack the motivation and drive to deliver.
Essentially, higher testosterone levels make a man more masculine – this point is undisputed. In general, women find masculine men more attractive. But in reality, this will vary on a case-by-case basis depending on whether a woman’s goal is short-term or long-term mating.
Interested in natural testosterone optimization? Check out my free quiz that will analyze your current situation and offer personalized advice to move forward.
Read more: 5 Testosterone Myths That Seriously Need To Die