Dare to Ask: Muscling in on the rules of
By Phillip J. Milano
Straight women and gay men: What is the most attractive muscle on a man?
David B., Los Angeles
Lady J., 24, Los Angeles
Abs are the most attractive. My second choice would be their chest, as long as
they aren’t overly built (“man-boobs”).
Gregory, 17, gay, Minn.
I find the thighs very attractive, but only if they are covered in thick body
hair. I also like ’em to have a bit of a paunch.
Trisha, 27, Flint, Mich.
Stomach (often indicates a low body fat percentage) and legs/butt (very
Jason, 29, gay, New York
Aww. His brain. And a paunch. Stephen Hawking and Zach Galifianakis, sleep well.
For the rest of us, here’s the wake-up call:
A Men’s Health magazine poll a couple years ago found that women’s Top 10 male
muscle preferences were, in descending order: strong hamstrings, large biceps,
big chest, money line (the inguinal crease between the torso and inner thigh),
rock-hard calves, sculpted shoulders, broad back, nice butt, powerful forearms
and six-pack abs.
AskMen.com got cute with alliteration in its results when it asked users a
similar question and came up with, in descending order: Sharply shaped
shoulders, Chiseled chest, Bulging biceps, Luscious lips, Tantalizing tongue,
Hygienic hands, Honed hips, Awesome abs, Primped penis and Buff butt.
For gay guys, proportion seems a bigger deal. One study by British researchers
published in 2008 in the International Journal of Men’s Health reported that gay
men like lower waist-to-chest ratios on other men. They apparently really like
that V-shape and see it as an indication of a powerful upper body.
Sadly, men in general increasingly have body image problems, partially because
of unreal standards set in magazines, ads and other media. Some studies suggest
that “muscle dysmorphia,” also known as “bigorexia,” is rising. Men, even
muscular ones, too often gaze in the mirror and see someone “puny and frail.”
In “The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession,”
researchers note that college men in one study felt that women preferred a male
body with 30 pounds more muscle than they currently had. But an accompanying
study found women actually desired just an “ordinary male body without added
We asked Roberto Olivardia, clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School and
co-author of “The Adonis Complex,” to weigh in. He told us by email:
Women like diversity. “A healthy body, nice skin, a nice smile, are all
features women are attracted to. Some muscle and a strong upper body are also
seen as attractive.”
Gay men desire in other men what they idealize in themselves.
“A strong jaw line, full head of hair, taller height, large penis, fit, muscular
body, strong upper body. … It is more about the visual. This has nothing to do
with being gay. This has everything to do with being male.”
Survival is at play. “Studies show that during ovulation, women
are more attracted to traditionally strong, masculine-looking men. …
Evolutionary biology would say that conception is more likely to happen and that
offspring with these genes are more likely to survive. Interestingly, when not
in ovulation, women tend to prefer less traditionally masculine-looking men.
They are more attracted to men who they feel are more emotionally committed.”
Women are getting more demanding. “Media imagery has just
recently been focusing on the male body as a commodity, and both sexes have
responded to that.”
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Phillip Milano, author of "I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee)," moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Keep the cross-cultural dialogue going at his
Jacksonville.com blog or at www.yforum.com. Send general
column comments to yforum (at) yforum.com. You can also hear his