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”.