Chapter 25: A drop of sweat spent in a drill is a drop of blood saved in a battle

píng shí duō liú hàn, zhàn shí shǎo liú xuè

Previous chapters already brought up the problem of the demonisation of physical relation­ships.[1] Some readers may have noticed the author’s attempt to argue against such unfa­vourable opinions and instead to promote a progressive or open-minded attitude towards human sexuality. The tone of the upcoming paragraphs will be no different. This time, however, virginity and pre-marital intercourse will reside at the heart of the debate. On that note, the choice of the proverb could appear confusing, or for the very least surprising. At first view, there is apparently no connection between the wording and topics such as coitus, ero­ti­cism or luxuria. Taking one step back and thinking about the act itself, however, one will notice that blood and sweat are not that foreign to sex after all, especially when it concerns of the first experience of a young lady. Considering the discomfort she suffers during the process and the haemorrhage caused by the rupture of the hymen[2] – not to mention the emotional trouble she goes through when it turns out that her first “boyfriend” is a jerk and that their love will not last forever – it seems that good preparation can, as the adage suggests, have a number of benefits. At any rate, preliminary or explorative practice helps her cope with some of the difficulties she will, sooner or later, face in her future rela­tionships with men. Like for most aspects of life, experience raises young adults’ chan­ces of success in real situations.

Despite the controversial nature of the issue, the arguments raised here shall remain unba­lanced and unequivocally in favour of fornication. The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that lust, for lack of a better word, is good. Lust is right, lust works. Lust clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Lust, in all of its forms: Lust for life, for nookie, for love, carnal knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind. But lust, you mark my words, will not save couples, nor that malfunctioning institution called marriage.

Man is by nature a sexual animal. As Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha wrote in their 2010 book Sex at Dawn, “there’s no denying that we’re a species with a sweet tooth for sex”.[3] More than two hundred years before that, one of the characters in Pierre de Beau­marchais’ play The Marriage of Figaro (1778) already had observed that “drinking when not thirsty and making love all the time, […] is all that distinguishes us from other ani­mals.”[4] How right he was. In fact, no other creature on earth dedicates more of its dis­po­sable time on sex-related activities (e.g., thinking about, planning, having, or remem­bering them) than humans. We even out-bang the notoriously lascivious bonobo. Both spe­cies are the only ones for whom eros does not only represent a facilitator for pro­creation but is also emplo­yed as a means of cementing friendship or for recreational pur­poses. For them, non-reproductive coupling is the most natural or usual form of copulation. Other animals, on the contrary, pair quietly, less frequently, and strictly with the intention to produce offspring. In that sense, the practice of spontaneous, loud, or frivolous sex, which we often qualify as “ani­ma­listic”, is actually much more “human” (perhaps even more “humane”) than we think, whereas prudish, inhibited or boring people who rarely roll in the hay are the ones who in reality act like animals.[5]

Nothing in history, no writing, no religion, no philosophical doctrine, no technology, no social convention, etc. has had enough influence to dethrone us as the kings of ass. Never­theless, it is only recently that people have earned the right to say, “I am horny, and it’s fine this way”[6]. In the course of the last 60 years, many restrictions concerning sexuality were brought down. People saw themselves endowed with new unalienable rights, among them free love, promiscuity and the pursuit of horniness. Until a few decades ago, in some cul­tures still today, a woman’s social life was by and large confined to that of the family. Esca­ping from matrimony was practically not feasible and associated with several risks, such as marginalisation, des­ti­tu­tion, malnourishment, or even death. Nowadays, things are different, especially in Westerns countries. Bachelorettes can now decide not to get married, and wives to split up with their husbands. They are free to live out their desires, without worrying too much about the conse­quences of their lewdness. At the same time, caution should be exercised if a man insists on the virginity of his bride or wishes to delay the “first time” until the nuptials. It may indicate that he values the purity of her body more than her personality or feelings and that he considers her as a mere object that should not be spoiled – a view or requirement that is completely out-of-place at the beginning of the 21st century.


[1]    See chapters 2 “A good woman doesn’t go with a second man” and 4 “Beauty is the troubled water that brings disasters”.

[2]    From this perspective, the formulation “a drop of blood spent in a drill is a drop of sweat saved in a battle” sounds more accurate, but this is another question we shall not discuss any further here.

[3]    Ryan / Jetha (2010), p. 2

[4]    Original: “Boire sans soif et faire l’amour en tout temps, madame, il n’y a que ça qui nous distingue des autres bêtes.” (Act II, Scene 2)

[5]    Ryan / Jetha (2010), pp. 85-87

[6]    Or in German: “Ich bin geil, und das ist auch gut so.”

Chapter 24: You can’t catch a cub without entering the tiger’s den

Nothing venture, nothing have

bù rù hǔ xué yān dé hǔ zǐ

The previous section introduced the importance of smiles and eye contact in the flirting pro­cess.[1] At this, it only covers the very first visual touch between two people, one showing interest in the other and waiting for a positive response. What the chapter does not mention, however, is what should happen once a mutual personal appeal has been effectively confir­med. Of course, the two actors could continue to smile and wink back at each other, but such superficial exchange might not be enough to substantially develop the relationship. Dee­per interaction becomes necessary at this stage, which is where things become com­plicated for many men and women. Indeed, people tend to be intimidated by the idea of moving onto the next steps once the initial contact has been established. “What shall I say?”, “What opening line does not sound too cheesy?”, “How is he going to react if I invite her to a coffee?”, “Is it all right if I rub my arm against his now?”, etc. are the types of ques­tions that may cross the mind of someone facing the situation of how to prepare for the next step. Such moves can be daunting as they do not always turn out well. Every first chance could also be the last one.

At the same time, the unpredictability of the results can be extremely exciting and stimu­lating. The fizzy anticipation of the other party’s reaction, the hope, the butterflies, the unknown, etc., all of these factors contribute to making coquetry a thrilling, sometimes addic­­tive, pursuit (one, by the way, that many couples miss once they are happily settled). In this regard, the proverb presented here invites people to take risks when attempting to get closer to a man or women they are drawn to. “Nothing ventured, noth­ing gained”[2] is the credo. Uncertain as the outcome may be, there is no way you can succeed and “get” the girl (or the guy) if you are afraid of making decisions.

In spite of all motivation and encouragements, procrastination in the course of approaching a romantic interest is both normal and understandable. The stakes are high (happiness vs. sadness, triumph vs. failure, pride vs. humiliation), and many people remain wary of this undertaking, which requires them to put their mood, reputation, or dignity on the line. Who has never been snubbed by a friend, classmate or colleague we had a crush on? This kind of experience hurts and can have traumatic consequences, preventing the victim from repeating the venture too soon. After suffering a blow, men and women need time to digest the defeat, recover their self-esteem and feel good about him or herself again. Once they feel secure about their own attractiveness to others, they are ready to take action again.

Biology itself offers explanations for dating nervousness and the embarrassing flirting bloo­pers that accompany such discomposure. Similar to what was mentioned in the section des­cri­bing the consequences of infatuation[3], the human brain is exposed (respectively pro­duces) all kinds of chemicals when we are in the presence of someone we like or find appealing. The effect is surprisingly analogous to what happens when we are high on drugs. The cocktail made of neurochemicals like serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine (adrenalin), etc. then launches a head trip that can ultimately lead to the impediment of our judgement or ability to make rational decisions.[4] Moreover, a Dutch study revealed that the mere infor­mation that a female would observe him while he carries out a relatively simple task was enough to affect a man’s performance negatively, leaving his cognitive functioning impai­red.[5] Inversely, a 1974 experiment established a connection between anxiety and sexual attrac­tion, showing that men were inclined to undergo higher levels of sexual stimu­lation when exposed to fear-arousing situations.[6]



[1]See chapter 23 “A smile will gain you ten more years of life”.

[2] The originator of the Chinese saying presented in this chapter is known to be bān Chāo, a general, explorer and diplomat of the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD). His words are quoted in the Book of the Later Han, Biographies of Ban, Liang (Volume 47, 后汉书 班梁列传hòu hàn shū, bān liáng liè zhuàn). The proverb is prominently featured in chapter 117 of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, (三国演义, sān guó yǎn yì), one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (see also chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”). Attributed to early Ming dynasty writer Luó Guànzhōng (罗贯中), the story belongs to the most widely read historical novels in late imperial and modern China, remaining a beloved work of literature across East Asia.

[3]    See chapter 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

[4]    See chapter 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

[5]    Karremans / Verwijmeren / Pronk / Reitsma (2009)

[6]    Dutton / Aron (1974)

Chapter 23: A smile will gain you ten more years of life

xiào yī xiào, shí nián shǎo

 “Behind every great love is a great story” – thus reads the tagline of the 2004 film The Notebook. What is arguably even more persuasive though, is that “behind every great love is a great flirt”. Without such playful exchange, two individuals may never find out their mutual interest in one another, miss the opportunity to fall in love and jointly write that roman­tic story. In its purest form, flirting (or coquetry) is a social activity involving verbal or non-verbal communication by one person to another, insinuating an interest in a closer relationship with that other person. It implies one or both parties talking or acting in a way that hints at a deeper intimacy than the actual relationship between them would justify. This can happen by the display of frivolousness, wittiness or irony, transmitted either verbally (e.g., through naughty comments, innuendo, double entendres, complimenting, teasing, mis­chie­vous argu­mentation, questioning) or via body language (smiling, eye contact, casual touching, flicking the hair, flashing an eyebrow, batting the eyelids, lip licking, tilting the head, seeking proximity, keeping an open posture, feigned disinterest, etc.).[1],[2]

Although the proverb introduced here highlights the virtues of smiling in everyday life (in particular in terms of its favourable influence upon others), its essentiality in the building and sparking of erotic energy calls for a dedicated chapter. Indeed, an authentic smile is not only one form of expressing pleasure, happiness, or delight; it also paves the way to laugh­ter,[3] which itself has been found to have several positive health effects (pain relief[4], among others)[5]. In addition, smiling makes a person more likeable and approachable.[6] As will be discussed further down, it can also be interpreted as an advertisement of sexual interest. Women, in particular, can increase their physical attractiveness and lift their sex appeal by smiling or showing other signs of happiness[7],[8].

According to the 2004 The Flirting Report conducted by The Social Issues Research Centre in the United Kingdom, “flirting is a basic instinct, part of human nature”. Men and women are genetically programmed to flirt. Indeed, if neither of them ever tried to establish contact with members of the opposite sex by expressing some kind of interest, reproduction would not be possible. This would be the end of the human species.[9] Given the risk of embarras­sment and of rejection, taking the initiative is not self-evident and requires a minimum level of courage.[10] When a male and a female meet for the first time, the situation can be awk­ward or ambiguous for both of them. Neither of them has any idea about the other’s pur­pose or feelings. Expressing one’s own intentions or emotions verbally is often considered as too dangerous: Thoughts such as “What if she does not respond?” “If I say something silly now, he will definitely turn me down”, “I don’t know what to say”, etc. will typically cross a person’s mind when he or she is interested in someone, wishing to initiate contact, but not knowing how to. In that case, taking a flyer using body language (or non-verbal behaviour) is often the best option. The main benefit of this channel of communi­cation is that the person who wishes to convey a message of interest or attraction can do so in a com­pa­ratively discreet fashion, without risking of offending anyone or committing to any­thing.[11]




[2]    Gray (2009), pp. 197-198

[3]    Haakana (2010)

[4]    Welsh (2011)


[6]    Gladstone / Parker (2002)

[7]    Notice that a man’s smile is not necessarily as effective in attracting women. Facial expressions such as pride or even shame may, depending on the situation, have an even bigger impact on a male’s desirability.

[8]    Tracy / Beall (2011)

[9]    Fox (2004), p. 4

[10]  See also Chapter 24 “You can’t catch a cub without entering the tiger’s den”.

[11]  Fox (2014)

Chapter 22: Man not bad, woman won’t bed

Faint heart never won fair lady

nán rén bù huài, nǚ rén bù ài

Inexperienced men often feel that women are inclined to hook up with lousy guys who treat them badly. They claim that these “bastards” do not deserve these ladies because they do not appreciate them enough or fail to handle them with the respect they deserve. Indeed, some girls admit being attracted to cads who, so experience or common sense teaches us, could hurt them physically or emotionally. Based on what is mentioned in other sections of the book[1], this hypothesis may sound rather counter-intuitive. After all, would it not be more logical if women invariably partnered off with males who are nice to them, care about them, make them feel safe, remain faithful, etc.? What could ever draw a female into the arms of someone who is likely to abuse her, insult her, neglect her, or cheat on her?

The objective of this chapter is to look into this phenomenon, to explain why so many chicks prefer bad boys. We will also examine the popu­larity of handsome men (who some­times are considered for sexual purposes only), although we have repeatedly been told that women mostly cared about the personality and the inner value of prospective mates, as oppo­­sed to physical appea­rance[2]. One of the lessons to be taught here is that men and women are perhaps not as diffe­rent as one may think, at least not when it comes to the selec­tion of sex partners. What is important to remember in this context, though, is that the insights shared here are not meant as a generalisation of women’s desires and preferences. Not every woman is attracted to playboys and jerks, so men should certainly not assume that they have to act like one in order to be successful with ladies.

In many classical love stories, it is not necessarily the “nice guy” who gets the girl at the end. The character who represents the kind, understanding, sensitive gentleman willing to commit, consistently seems to lose the game. No matter how hard he tries, the heroine ignores his advances or rejects him, as she discovers that she cannot genuinely love this man, at least not sexually. She may have warm feelings for him, but in her eyes, he is still just a doormat.[3] Stuck in the so-called “friend zone”, he has no chance to be promoted in her heart, thereby confirming the motto that “nice guys finish last”. Well-known examples include Ashley Wilkes (in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell), Mr. Bingley (in Pride and Pre­judice by Jane Austen), Nick Carraway (in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald), or Frédéric Moreau (in Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert). Compare these fates to the relative victories of Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind), Mr. Darcy (Pride and Pre­ju­dice), Tom Buchanan (The Great Gatsby), and Jacques Arnoux (Sentimental Edu­cation), who all get what they fight for. Although their personalities are far from perfect, they are seen as the true heroes, if not by the general audience, then at least by the females they are chasing after in the story.

Similarly to the virgin-whore dichotomy occurring in the mind of many men,[4] many con­tem­­porary females classify the world of bachelors into “wimps, geeks, and nerds on the one side, and pricks and bastards on the other”[5],[6]. The former include candidates who pro­bably meet some of the requirements (e.g., a stable employment, generosity, willingness to com­mit), but for one reason or another finally prove unfit for the job. The latter do have that little something that qualifies them as lovers but are somehow reluctant to fully devote themselves to her (either because they are immature, cannot help philandering, or simply wish to keep their freedom). So what is this little something that makes them so irresistible? Each “bad boy” has his own tricks to seduce a woman. Steve Santagati, for instance, sug­gests three strategies in his Manual – A True Bad Boy Explains How Men Think, Date and Mate: 1) Tell her that she is beautiful (or pay her compliments in a way that she feels special); 2) encourage naughtiness (in particular, let her open up about her own fantasies); 3) pick up occasional fights (in order to trigger her anger and find out how she really feels).[7] Of course, these techniques could all be rated as manipulative, but what are woma­nisers if not masters of influence and deception?



[1]    See chapters 17 “Finding a good job is nothing compared to finding a good husband” and 18 “A man of determination will surely succeed”.

[2]    See also chapter 19 “If you plant melons, you get melons; if you plant beans, you get beans”.

[3]    Townsend (1998), p. 149

[4]    See chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”.

[5]    Townsend (1998), p. 146

[6]    See chapter 26 “A sly rabbit has three burrows”.

[7]    Santagati (2007), pp. 22-23

Chapter 21: You can’t lead the life of a whore and expect a chastity monument

You can't have your cake and eat it too

jì dāng biǎo zi, yòu xiǎng lì pái fāng

“It’s a trap!” This is what not a few men think of marriage and long-term relationships. In their mind, matrimony is an invention of women to control them, to rob them of their freedom. For them, the marriage certificate represents a one-way ticket to a Groundhog Day-esque existence marked by boredom, tedium, and expectedness. “Till death us do part” is not really want they want to hear on that special day, even if they deeply love their signi­ficant other. Many of them are afraid of losing not only their independence but also their edge as an eligible bachelor. The perhaps most terrifying aspect of all in this context is the pros­pect of sleeping with the same person for the rest of one’s life.[1]

Single life presents numerous advantages – also for women. These include privacy, addi­tional free time, guiltless flirting, the avoidance of conflicts, or increased flexibility (in terms of cooking, weekend planning, holiday destinations, career choices, etc.). By not being in a relationship, a woman has the entire bed, the closet, the refrigerator, and the bath­room all to herself. She does not have to spend time with anyone else’s friends, can get up at any time she wants during the weekend, has full control over the TV remote, escapes awk­ward family dinners, can focus on herself, her own goals, and make her own big deci­sions. Furthermore, what could be more galvanising than the tingling prospect of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right when going out next time and the excitement of a first kiss? Not to men­tion the possibility of indulging in casual sex…

Considering the variety of perks of singlehood and non-committed liaisons, it is not sur­prising to hear males and females say that they do not want to be tied down and prefer to keep their options open. However, one should be aware that this attitude has the potential of causing disappointment or resentment in the other partner. For example, if a man possesses the right assets to be a long-term partner (including a good health, a well-paid job, a high socio-economic status), but fails to channel all these resources to the woman he has been with for a certain time, she will inevitably ask herself questions. She may start to doubt his sin­cerity, his integrity, or faithfulness.[2] Even worse, if she has the impression that her boy­friend or fiancé “only” wants to have sex with her without investing in her (financially, but also in terms of time, emotions, sympathy, fondness), that he hesitates to engage in the nece­s­sary next steps, or that he seeks to disperse his devotion across several females, she is likely to develop feelings of degradation or of being used. Emotional distress can emerge as soon as she perceives a discrepancy between the level of involvement she expects or desires from the man and his actual engagement.[3] Once she deems him as “commitment-phobic”[4], there is a risk that she will lose her passion, lowering her own dedi­cation to him, at which stage the quality of the relation could suffer substan­tial­ly.

The proverb giving its name to this chapter thus reminds people that one cannot have it both ways or, stated differently, that “you cannot have everything for nothing”. In the language of love, it means that someone cannot expect to enjoy the benefits of a relation­ship (for exam­ple sex, catering, support, shared costs, etc.) without bearing the legal and financial obli­ga­tions of a more formal partnership. The message here, to men in particular: Sooner or later, you have to commit, otherwise your girlfriend will leave you. Notice also that the original (Chinese) version is often used to describe situations involving falseness and hypo­crisy, respectively to expose cheaters and pretenders – just like the girl who feigns virtuous­ness and chastity, but in fact sleeps around like everyone else (for money, her own pleasure, or any other reason). It can therefore also be interpreted as a warning sign against promis­cuity and adultery, which, however, are covered in other chapters.[5]



[1] Titus / Fadal (2009), p. 15

[2]    Buss (2003), pp. 41-42

[3]    Townsend (1998), pp. 34, 39

[4]    Carter / Sokol (1987)

[5]    See chapters 26 “A sly rabbit has three burrows”, 35 “No cat can resist snatching fish”, and 36 “Looking for a horse while riding a mule”.

Chapter 20: You can’t judge people by appearance, nor measure the ocean in pints

Don't judge a book by its cover

rén bù kě mào xiàng, hǎi shuǐ bù kě dǒu liáng

The discussion in the previous chapters revolved around the traits that people desire the most in a mate. Given the importance of sex in the whole question of partner selection, empha­sis was laid on physical aspects. Yet as most couples or parents know, relationship is not only about carnal knowledge. Since love marriage[1],[2] is increasingly common in many parts of the world, the rules of engagement in the mating game are now much diffe­rent than in the past. For many men, youth and physical attractiveness are not enough any­more. Inner beauty, which includes psychological factors such as kindness, compassion, elegance, cour­tesy, intel­li­gence, wittiness, honesty, etc. have become much more important. Admit­tedly, the proverb mentioned here may appear inappropriate in a context of love and partner selec­tion, but considering its essence (namely, that “appearance is deceiving” or that one should not prejudge the worth of something or someone by its outward appearance alone), it reminds us that (physical) beauty should not be equated with virtue and that it does not gua­ran­tee happiness in marriage, at least not in the long term.[3],[4]

Various works and philosophers across the centuries uttered similar words of advice, albeit in different terms:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting

Torah, Bible – Old Testament (New International Version), Proverbs 31:30

Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.

Saint Augustine, City of God

Beauty pleases the eyes only;

Sweetness of disposition charms the soul.[5]


One sees clearly only with the heart;

What is essential is invisible to the eye.[6]

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


One of the most obvious reasons why men (and also women) should not choose their part­ner based on physical aspects only, is that beauty, more often than not, fades away with age. That means that after a few years into the relationship, the aesthetic or reproductive value of the spouse will gradually decline anyway.[7] In addition, physical chemistry itself is rather short-lived.[8] After a few rounds of fleshly pleasures, the attraction quickly vanishes if it is not supplemented with chemistry in the mind, heart, and soul. Only if physical affinity origin­ates in and is nurtured by emotional, intellectual or spiritual chemistry can it last or grow in time. When a man senses sexual chemistry with a woman, he feels interested in her, he likes her, he thinks he knows her… This may lead him into believing that he loves her. However, as relationship counsellor John Gray remarks, “the real test is whether he still likes and loves her after he gets to know her.” [9],[10]



[1] Love marriage refers to the union of two people based on mutual love, or else attraction, fondness, commitment, etc. It is opposed to the phenomenon of forced or arranged marriages, where one or both families fix up the matri­mony for the individuals involved. The term has only limited distinct meaning in Western societies, where love is commonly considered as a prerequisite for marriage. This may not be the case in South Asia and the Middle East, which have strong traditional arranged marriage systems. However, it shall be noted that even in the West, love mar­riage is a relatively young concept. So is the thought that affection, rather than duty (defined by wealth or social sta­tus) should be at the base of a shared life, which was first expressed in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1761 novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse. It was not until the emergence of the feminist movement at the beginning of the 20th century that this new way of choosing one’s spouse finally became standard. (Source:

[2]    See chapter 10 “A melon forced off its vine is not sweet”.

[3]    See chapter 34 “Marriage is the tomb of love”.

[4]   The proverb is a quote from the novel Journey to the West (西游记, xī yóu jì, chapter 62) by Ming dynasty poet Wú Chéng’ēn’s (吴承恩). Widely known as Monkey in English-speaking countries (after Arthur Waley’s popular abridged translation), the work is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (see also chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”).

[5]    Original: “La beauté plait aux yeux, la douceur charme l’âme.”

[6]    Original: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”

[7]    See chapter 5 “Old cows like tender grass”.

[8]    See chapter 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

[9]    Gray (2009), pp. 17-18

[10]  See chapters 3 “Men like, women love” and 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

Chapter 19: If you plant melons, you get melons; if you plant beans, you get beans

As a man sows, so shall he reap

zhòng guā de guā, zhòng dòu de dòu

Several chapters in the book discuss the importance of a woman’s bodily appearance in sexual selection. Although many women or feminists may not be happy about this, it is none­­theless widely accepted that men do insist a lot on beauty and on other “external” aspects when choosing a potential mate. But what about women? Do visual aspects also influence them in their choices? The purpose of the present section is to find out how rele­vant physical appearance is in a woman’s emotional or sexual attraction to a particular man, and, if at all, to describe which traits have the biggest impact on her desires. One element in the line of thought will play a key role, that of the so-called sexy son hypothesis, which predicts that women secretly wish to copulate with sexy males in the hope to bear sexy sons them­selves. Quite analogous to the logic of the proverb mentioned here, the objective is to employ a certain type of seed (in this case, the seed of handsome, high-quality, men) to sow a fertile field (her own body) and grow and harvest new crop (i.e., male children) that are expec­ted to have the same positive properties as the original seed itself. Admittedly, there is a certain gap between the message delivered here and the intended meaning of the expres­sion, which simply reminds people to be kind and to work hard.[1] So like for other pro­verbs pre­sented in this book, readers will also have to a little be creative, and look beyond its face value.[2] For that matter, it shall be reminded that messages similar to “as a man sows, so shall he reap” can be found in the bible[3], but are most certainly not related to human inse­­mination.

To get straight to the point, women do pay a lot of attention to a man’s physical appearance – irrespective of their plans with him (dating, one-night stand, romance, marriage, etc.). If asked directly, many of them may down­play its weight. After all, applying such a superficial criterion as beauty would trivialise the importance of their feelings and emotions and represent a degradation to the same level of shallowness as males’.[4] Although physical aspects matter less than personality and status, they still remain, consciously or uncons­ciously, a non-negligible factor in a woman’s decision making process.[5] In fact, men’s appea­­rance exerts a stronger influence on women than they are generally willing to admit, whereas, surprisingly enough, men are less affected by women’s appearance than they usu­ally claim.[6] As soon as lie detectors are involved, however, women seem to open up and confess that “physical appearance plays a big role in their feelings of initial attrac­tion.”[7] In this connection, a survey among women revealed that “the person had a desirable body” ranked sixteenth on the list of the most cited motives for having sex.[8] Another noteworthy finding here is that there seems to be a difference between men and women in terms of the emphasis they lay on physical attractiveness, depending on the time horizon of the relation­ship. When considering long-term partnerships, the discrepancy between both genders is quite large, men tending to value physical attractiveness and women prioritising social sta­tus. For short-term relationships, conversely, men and women seem to be much more simi­lar to one another, both sexes placing a relatively high emphasis on physical characte­ris­tics.[9],[10],[11],[12]

Sexual attraction is the key concept to explain why women can be drawn to handsome men without any other ground. The term refers to any form of affinity, allurement, or drawing power on the basis of sexual desire, or to the ability to generate such magnetism. Sex appeal, in turn, is defined as the capacity of a person to entice another individual or else to raise his or her erotic interest. Such sexual attractiveness, which constitutes a crucial factor in mate choice, can, but does not have to, be inspired by looks. Other qualities (including a person’s smell[13], eye expression, voice[14], personality traits[15], etc.), as well as genetic, psy­chological or even cultural aspects[16] may also play a role.[17] One main form of attractors are the so-called secondary sexual characteristics. As opposed to the primary sex characte­ristics (or sex organs), they have no direct function in the reproductive system. Yet they can still be considered as “sexual” in the sense that they represent attributes that help identify or tell apart males and females, and that they emerge during puberty, respectively at sexual matu­rity. Familiar examples include the long colourful feathers of male peacocks, the manes of male lions, or the tusks of male narwhals. In humans, one could cite the wide hips and pelvis, and the enlarged breasts of females, as well as the Adam’s apple, deep voice, square face, the growth of facial, abdominal, or chest hair on males.


[1]   Both the Chinese saying and its English translation can also be interpreted as “sow much, reap much; sow little, reap little”. It acts as a warning that there is always a consequence for everything someone does or says, and that the effort a person puts into something is likely to pay off sooner or later.

[2]    The locution is quoted from Chapter 45 in Water Margin, a novel attributed to Yuan dynasty (1271–1368 AD) writer Shī Nài’ān (施耐庵). Also translated as Outlaws of the Marsh, Tale of the Marshes, All Men Are Brothers, Men of the Marshes, or The Marshes of Mount Liang, the book belongs to the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (see also chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”).

[3]    For example “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (Corinthians, 9:6, New International Version)

[4]    See chapter 3 “Men like, women love”.

[5]    Ridley (1993), p. 297

[6]    Pines (2005), p. 85

[7]    Fisher (2010), p. 149

[8]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. 10

[9]    Feingold (1990)

[10]  Li / Kenrick (2006)

[11]  Eastwick / Finkel (2008)

[12]  Li / Valentine / Patel (2011)

[13]  See chapter 16 “When you have musk, you will automatically have fragrance”.

[14]  See chapter 23 “A smile will gain you ten more years of life”.

[15]  See chapter 20 “You can’t judge people by appearance, nor measure the ocean in pints”.

[16]  See chapter 13 “Like attracts like”.


Chapter 18: A man of determination will surely succeed

Where there's a will, there's a way

yǒu zhì zhě shì jìng chéng

The previous chapter explained why pragmatic, material and financial aspects are so impor­tant for women when selecting a partner. As people tend to get married when they are young, women need clues to identify those specimens with the highest chances to get rich or to become good fathers. The problem, however, is that a man’s wealth and rank are not writ­ten on his fore­head and often cannot be observed directly. External signs of riches, such as fashio­nable clothes, a gold watch, a fancy sports car, a prestigious residential address, a sump­tuous lifestyle, etc. do suggest that someone has enough resources and would, therefore, qualify as a good provider. But what if a young man got these goods from his parents or other relatives? Is this financial condition sustainable? Truly successful men who are young and earned their opulence (e.g., entrepreneurs, actors, singers, professional athletes, etc.) are very rare and experience shows that some of them lose their property as quickly as they attai­ned it. Bearing in mind the adage that “wealth does not pass three generations” (富不过三代, fù bù guò sān dài), such ostensible ornamentation can be treacherous and does not neces­­sarily constitute the best piece of evidence to determine a mate’s future resource hol­dings.[1]

However, various personality traits may serve as markers for such “husband material” fit­ness. This section introduces three of these characteristics as related to a man’s potential ability to gather resources: Dominance, confidence, and ambition. Even if he is poor, a male who displays these qualities has a good chance of attracting at least one partner. Considering the number of challenges and difficulties faced on the path to success and conquest, getting ready for the contest requires a good load of drive and determination – thus the proverb chosen.[2] Admittedly, the phrase may be considered as irrelevant or inappropriate in the pre­sent context of sexual selection per se. But with a pinch of creativity, its fundamental mes­sage seems to apply when it comes to positioning oneself as a liable husband or lover. Here some examples: “A man who has a settled purpose will surely succeed” (in getting a wife), “every­thing comes to he who wants” (including women), “nothing is impossible to a willing mind” (or body), “strong-willed people get results” (and laid), etc.

In Napoleon Bonaparte’s own words, “success is the most convincing talker in the world.”[3] Women must have been aware of this a long time ago, when they learned that successful men offered the best survival chances. For the most part of history, the mightiest and most domi­nant males have also been the most prolific. While success is not measured on the hun­ting ground and the battlefield anymore, status cues such as prestige, power, position, finan­cial prospects, etc. heavily affect women’s assessment of attractiveness.[4] In order to be impres­sed, a woman has to be able to relate to and to respect a man’s merits and the activities he shines at. His excellence and achievements consti­tute key criteria by which she judges his quality.[5] Yet as success or exploits are not always obvious or demonstrable on a daily basis, women are seeking other clues for someone’s qualification as a provider. Domi­nance repre­sents an ideal proxy for excellence since it signals “a man’s ability to win the respect of his peers, meet life’s challenges, and defend himself and his loved ones against their ene­mies”[6], which is exactly what females are looking for in a partner. By mating a domi­nant man, a woman is likely to gain both short and long-term benefits. These range from a better access to resources for herself and her offspring (thus paving the way for a brighter future for the latter) to the breeding of children who themselves carry such dearly sought-after traits of dominance (which in turn naturally blesses them with advantages when competing for status and resources).[7]


[1]   See chapter 20 “You can’t judge people by appearance, nor measure the ocean in pints”.

[2]   The saying is derived from a story told in Book of the Later Han (后汉书, hòu hàn shū), a Chinese court document compiled by Liu Song dynasty (420–479 AD) historian and politician Fàn Yè (范晔) and covering the history of the Han dynasty from 6 to 189 AD. Volume 19 of the book chronicles the life of gěng Yǎn (耿弇), a general who served Emperor Guangwu of Han (汉光武帝刘秀, hàn guāng wǔ dì liú xiù). According to the legend, gěng Yǎn was hit by an arrow during a battle. Instead of waiting for reinforcement, he decided to continue and fought until his army had defeated the enemy. The emperor praised his bravery and persistence with words that can be translated as follows: “Generals proposed such strategies in Nanyang in the past; I often thought that these were impracticable and difficult to accomplish. It now seems, however, that people with a strong sense of purpose can achieve success in the long run.” (将军前在南阳,建此大策,常以为落落难合,有志者事竟成也, jiāng jūn qián zài nán yáng jiàn cǐ dà cè cháng yǐ wéi luò luò nán hé yǒu zhì zhě shì jìng chéng).

[3]    Original: “Le grand orateur du monde, c’est le succès.”

[4]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 55

[5]    Townsend (1998), p. 62

[6]    Ibid., p. 164

[7]    Ibid., p. 157

Chapter 17: Finding a good job is nothing compared to finding a good husband

zuò de hăo bù rú jià de hăo

When close friends or family members of a young man are not convinced about the good faith or uprightness of his girlfriend or fiancée, they will utter all kinds of words of caution to him, for instance “she is only after your money”. When googling this very locution (inclu­ding the quotation marks), the search yields around 318,000 results.[1] This shows how common this piece of advice is, and along the way, how scared people are to be used by women in that fashion. Whether males are only slaves of this apprehension or whether their fear is gene­rally justified cannot be established definitively. The very existence of this pro­verb nevertheless indicates that the phenome­non of women choosing a good (in the sense of rich) husband over a good (in terms of well-paid) job is real – at least in China. What the phrase does not account for, however, are the reasons behind such predilection. As is about to be explained, the desire to find and marry a mate with enough resources has nothing to do with female laziness, rapa­city or parasitism, but is only the natural desire to feel safe and protected in exchange for the tremendous costs women bring upon themselves in the wake of sex, pregnancy, and childbirth.

Whoever dreams about long term relationships devoid of any material considerations should be set straight about such a naïve belief. In most cases, this ideal is doomed to remain a chi­maera. Pragmatic aspects have always been central to the definition of interpersonal rela­tions, inclu­ding romantic ones. In fact, they are so fundamental, that the sociologist John Lee iden­tified “pragma” as one of six basic love styles. According to his model, some types of couples are marked by at least one of the lovers rationally and realistically reflec­ting about her expectations in a partner. The costs and benefits of a relationship are thoroughly weighed, including the contingency of marriage and children, which are seen as potential liabilities as well as assets. When questing for a mate, the pragmatic lover uses practical cri­teria to select the right person, comparing qualities and ticking the items off her shopping list. She will carefully assess her “market value” and is likely to employ phrases such as “out of my league”. Like in a personal advertisement, the attributes sought after cannot be recog­nised on sight, but rather they reflect the target’s demographic background (religion, social class, etc.) or personality (hobbies, sports activities, artistic preferences, etc.).[2] In his book Love is a Story, Robert Sternberg describes a scenario that fits very well into the pragma scheme, illustrating the motivations of the partners:

In the business story, a relationship is run much like a business. An indivi­dual is attracted to a mate as a potential ‘business partner,’ who is evaluated largely in terms of his or her suitability in this role. Thus, a careful weighing of economic considerations, social status, and business sense may play more of a role in the formation of this kind of relationship than they would in the for­mation of other kinds of relationships. Indeed, to them, a relationship is a business, and the story of love is a story about successfully running a busi­ness.[3]

Researchers have tried to explicate the question of who marries (or appeals to) whom with psychological and economic models of human behaviour. Employing concepts such as social exchange theory,[4] it then becomes possible to elucidate the idea about the utility of romantic attractions. According to this perspective, amorous choices are the result of the desire to close the best possible deal in terms of the most benefits or rewards (for example, sex, love, support, etc.) at the lowest cost or price (namely, doing what one does not want to do). Mathematically, affinity is then defined by the equilibrium point of “exchange value”, i.e., where the personal assets and liabilities that each spouse brings to the relationship is dee­­med the fairest (or the best) by both. After that, the calculation is simple: The more of a win-win the partnership turns out to be, the more fulfilling it is and the longer it lasts.[5] And in the event of divorce or the breakup of relationship, there are always prenuptial agree­ments (also an immediate corollary of viewing of love as a business arrangement) to regu­late issues such as the division of property or spousal support.


[1]    Search performed on the 24th April 2017.

[2]    Lee (1998), p. 38

[3]    Sternberg (1998), p. 152

[4]    “Social exchange theory is a social psychological and sociological perspective that explains social change and stability as a process of negotiated exchanges between parties. Social exchange theory posits that all human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefit analysis and the comparison of alternatives.” (Source:

[5]    Pines (2005), p. 63

Chapter 16: When you have musk, you will automatically have fragrance

Good wine needs no bush

yǒu shè zìrán xiāng

After a few chapters describing sexual selection in men, we shall now devote our attention to the sexual psychology of females. In particular, the object of the following section is to illustrate how women’s mating desire (and therefore the distinguishing features they find appealing in men) is the result of an evolutionary process driven by their ancestral mothers to make judicious choices concerning their short- and long-term mates.

In this regard, it shall be noticed that such psychological adaptations are not only about bio­lo­gical procedures such as reproduction, but also affect aspects such as patterns of sexual attraction, mate preferences, sexual desires, the development of emotions (including affec­tion or love), and others. In fact, evolved psychological mechanisms are the mere mani­fes­tation of a solution to an adaptive problem faced by our ancestors. Accordingly, each major element of a female’s sexual psychology can be interpreted as a device contemporary women inherited as a gift and meant to support them, for example in the assessment of a potential partner’s health, the detection of deceptive behaviour by non-committed fellows, or the elaboration of plans to counter the moves of other females trying to seduce or “steal” their mates. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to view these human psychological adaptations as fixed, automatic or as overly mechanical instincts triggered in behaviour irrespective of the environment or the prevailing conditions. On the contrary, each response is only activated in specific situations, remaining highly flexible and excee­dingly sensi­tive to circumstance.[1]

One may ask what musk and fragrance have to do with all this.[2] Interestingly, it has been shown that women perceive odours significantly better than men do and that they subcons­ciously use these olfactory perceptions to evaluate the value of men, for example in terms of quality of their immune system or their genetic fit. Consequently, a male only has to smell “good”, or at least suitably, in order to be attractive and taken into consideration as a valid prospect for marriage (or coitus). Hence, the candidate has nothing to do but to be himself, in line with the adage that “good stuff need not be advertised, they advertise themselves”. In addition, the connection to wine is also quickly established, as, over the years, women have obviously become seasoned connoisseurs of male sweat.

According to research, the human body produces a personal “odour print” that differs from person to the other. It is just as distinctive as our iris, our voice, or fingerprint. For instance, new-borns use it to spot and tell apart their mothers. As briefly mentioned above, a study carried out at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia showed that women have a significantly superior sense of smell compared to men, which impacts not only on their daily but also on their love life. Indeed, another research investigated whether the fragrance of a man had any positive influence on their attractiveness, appeal or sympathetic aura as perceived by women. The results were unequivocal: If she likes his smell, she will automatically assume him as more confident, sensing a positive nature in him.[3] At the same time, olfactory sensations convey all kinds of psychological associations – from the fra­grance of a drink reminding someone of a specific place or point in time to the sniff of a lover’s habitual perfume triggering romantic images and tender memories in one’s brain. Together with women’s sharp sense of smell, this intense link between scents and emotions, memory, and sexual behaviour[4], turns odours into one of the strongest ingredients in sex appeal. Many women seem to be aware of the importance of the olfaction anyway. Accor­ding to research conducted at Brown University, how someone smells is the most critical of the senses for women selecting a partner, ahead of sight, sound and touch. In other words, it is more important how her lover smells than how he (or she) looks! For men, on the other hand, the scent of a woman is far less fundamental when it comes to what turns them on (except perhaps for blind men). The reasons for this discrepancy are quite straightforward. Not only have males inherited a weaker sense of smell from their forefathers than women; what arguably matters even more is the overwhelming weight of visual cues (i.e., what men can see) in their sexual stimulation.[5],[6] Likewise, what is true for good body odours, applies to bad ones as well, namely that any form of human stench is a lethal love killer, spoi­ling both emotional attraction and sexual arousal. This phenomenon may explain the exis­tence of the locution “he really gets up my nose” (signifying “he really annoys me”)[7], which provides additional evidence of the subliminal influence the sense of smell exerts in our lives.


[1]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. xvii

[2]    Notice that this proverb is typically used to describe a person’s qualities and talent, implying that gifted people tend to be discovered sooner or later. Although its source remains unclear, the original expression (有麝自然香,何必当风立, yǒu shè zì rán xiāng hé bì dāng fēng lì) is mentioned in Ming dynasty gù Qǐyuán’s (顾起元) The Story of Jingling (客座赘语, kè zuò zhuì yǔ), as well as in Traditional Chinese Ballads and Proverbs (古谣谚, gǔ yáo yàn) a collection of ballads and proverbs compiled and annotated by Qing dynasty’s dù Wénlán’s (杜文澜).

[3]    Both studies cited in: Fischer (2008), p. 38

[4]    Brizendine (2006), p. 86

[5]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. 6

[6]    See chapters 3 “Men like, women love” and 14 “Fair lady is what gentleman seeks”.

[7]    Similar expressions are also found in French (“Je ne peux pas le sentir”) and German (“Ich kann ihn nicht riechen”), both signifying “I cannot stand him” or “I hate his guts”.