TV Tuesday -- The Science of Sex Appeal (How It Relates to Writing Romance)

June 24, 2014 05:39 PM Posted by juliannadouglas

There were several shows I watched this week that tempted me to write about them, but none more so than the Discovery channel documentary that I viewed on Netflix called, The Science of Sex Appeal. As I mention in my bio, another of my hobbies is feeding my insatiable thirst for knowledge, and this particular show did that while also appealing to the romantic in me. I was quite fascinated by the information presented in this show, but I'll start by prefacing that it focuses only on heterosexual relationships and the biological responses that drive us to seek mates. That said, I still found it very intriguing how our bodies and our brains are constantly making calculations about the opposite sex of which we are mostly unaware.

Researchers have discovered the science of what make a face attractive based on the mathematical concept found in nature known as the Golden Ratio. I won't go into a long explanation of what that is. If you're interested, look it up.:-) In short, sexual attraction seems to begin with the face. From there, it progresses quickly to an assessment of the body. Again, the human brain goes through some interesting processes to determine whether a body is attractive. Part of what makes a body attractive is how it moves. eg. When a man knows a woman is watching him, he has an unconscious tendency to puff out his chest a bit and walk with more of a swagger, and when a woman knows a man is watching she'll be more likely to walk with a slightly exaggerated sway of the hips.

Once that initial physical connection has been made, then other factors start coming into play, such as the sound of the other person's voice and their scent. Interestingly, a woman's voice, scent and even her face will change slightly when she is ovulating, sending out subtle biological cues to potential mates. Additionally, she will become less picky about men at that time of the month, and it is the only time when a woman finds the scent of male androsterone pleasant. Women also seek signs of status and wealth in a man, because she is subconsciously looking for a mate who can provide for her and their offspring. I strongly suspect that this accounts for the wild popularity of romances featuring heroes who are billionaires, aristocrats, royalty, or otherwise rich and famous.:-)

Now admittedly, the show didn't explore other avenues of attraction beyond biology. This led to my husband and I having a fascinating talk afterwards. It began with how intelligence might play a role. eg. Being a highly intelligent person, he finds it virtually impossible to be attracted to a woman who seems ditsy no matter how beautiful she might be on the outside. I, on the other hand, being a student of personality types, mused about the role of personality in attraction. eg. I may not be physically attracted to a man at first glance, but if I find out he's a particularly nice person to whom I can relate, then he most likely will become incredibly attractive to me. The show did wrap up with an admission that there are other factors involved in sex appeal, and that choice itself plays a role, which is why humans have such highly developed brains in the animal kingdom, and that of course, we need to use them when pursuing relationships.:-)

In general, the show left me with a lot of food for thought and my own active brain started making connections between the things presented in the film and romance writing. Some may think that having sexual attraction boiled down to science would take all the fun and romance out of it, but I personally think it's exactly the opposite. IMHO, the very best romance writers in the business instinctively know these things (whether consciously or subconsciously) and are already incorporating them into their stories. However, there are still some romance writers who fail to make that all important connection between her hero and heroine in such a way that the reader can sense it. I think perhaps this is due in part to them not expressing these initial attraction cues. Even the most seasoned pros can sometimes forget these small but crucial things, so I think it worth discussing how romance writers can incorporate the research presented in this documentary into their stories. Here are some tips:

  1. When your hero and heroine first meet, do they take the time to consider some of the things they find attractive about each other? Perhaps he likes the color of her eyes, the shape of her pert little nose, or her full lips that are begging to be kissed. Perhaps she likes his strong jaw or thinks he has kind eyes. Don't go overboard with descriptions of facial features, but bear in mind that the face is one of the first things a person assesses in a potential mate.

  2. Next, do your hero and heroine make an assessment of each other's bodies? Don't be crude and again, don't go overboard, but having him notice her pleasing curves and the sway of her hips or having her notice his broad shoulders and muscular arms wouldn't go amiss.

  3. Do your hero and heroine notice the sound of each other's voices? Is her sweet, high voice like music to his ears? Does she find his deep, masculine voice sexy?

  4. Do your hero and heroine take notice of each other's scent? It doesn't necessarily have to be their own unique aroma, although that's important too. How about the scent of their perfume or cologne or shampoo? Perhaps if he's a cowboy, he smells earthy or woodsy, like the outdoors or like the leather of his saddle. Maybe she's a baker and smells like pies or cookies. Consider the kind of work your hero and heroine do, and be creative when describing how they smell (just make sure it's a pleasant scent :-)). Scents also create memories in our brains that can make us think of that special person, keeping the loving feeling heightened, even when they aren't near us. One of the women interviewed in the documentary said that when her military husband was deployed, she hugged his pillow every night because it had his scent on it. Perhaps your hero or heroine left their scent behind somewhere (on a pillow, on their clothes) and it wouldn't hurt to have the other one take a whiff.;-)

  5. Now I don't recommend having your heroine think about all the material things the wealthy hero can provide for her. That would just make her seem shallow, leading readers to dislike her. However, she could be wowed by his nice car or house or other possessions without seeming like a gold-digger. Even if your hero isn't independently wealthy, the heroine could take notice of his strong work ethic or admire his business acumen.

  6. Last, but certainly not least, once you've established the biological basis for your hero and heroine's connection, then it's time to progress to the next level, which are the emotional, intellectual, and psychological connections that my husband and I discussed. These are things on which long-term commitment is based and the only way you're going to convince the reader of that all-important HEA. Discussion of those things, however, will have to wait for a future blog post.

For now though, I hope you've enjoyed this peek into The Science of Sex Appeal. If my blog post has piqued your interest at all, then I highly recommend watching the show. You just might get some new ideas for expressing and establishing a convincing initial connection between your hero and heroine, so your readers can actually feel it in a palpable way.

Categories: TV Tuesday, Writing

Tags: Attraction, Discovery Channel, Romance, Sex Appeal