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”.


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