Do Men Interpret Women’s Tattoos As A Sign Of Promiscuity?

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Several recent studies have found that heterosexual men make judgments about women’s sexual intent based upon their physical appearance. For example, men think women are more interested in and willing to have sex to the extent that they are wearing clothes that are red or revealing. Some psychologists believe that men are evolutionarily wired to pay attention to these and other physical cues that might signal a woman’s interest in sex because it helps them to avoid missing out on opportunities to “spread their seed.” In a new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers sought to determine whether men also consider women’s tattoos to be a sign of their sexual intent.

In the first study, researchers recruited 11 attractive women to lie on popular beaches in France (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it, right?). All of the women wore an identical red bikini and were instructed to read a book while lying on their stomach. They were also told not to look at anyone unless they were approached. Half of the time, the women were given a temporary butterfly tattoo on their lower back (on a side note, tattoos in this location are colloquially referred to as “tramp stamps” in the U.S.); the other half of the time, the women went a naturel. While these women were lying on the beach, a secret observer recorded how many men approached each woman and made verbal contact with her, as well as how long it took for her to be approached.  In the end, each woman visited 20 different beaches, for a total of 220 observation periods.

So what did they find? Overall, tattooed women were approached more than twice as often. Specifically, tattooed women received 26 approaches compared to 11 for those without tattoos. In addition, tattooed women were approached much sooner, receiving their first approach after 24 minutes on average, compared to 35 minutes for women without tattoos.

In a second experiment, researchers instructed the same women lie on the beach by themselves (and, again, half of the time they had temporary tattoos). However, this time, the researchers approached men on the beach and surveyed them about their perceptions of one of the women. Specifically, the guys were asked to rate the likelihood that they would be able to get a date with the woman, as well as how likely it is that she would agree to have sex on the first date. The results revealed that men perceived the tattooed women as more likely to agree to a date and to sex than the non-tattooed women.

Combined, the results of these studies indicate that men make inferences about women’s willingness to have sex based upon whether she has been inked. These findings are particularly compelling because they were demonstrated with two distinct methods: a simple survey of men on the beach, as well as a naturalistic experiment in which men's actual behavior was assessed. Of course, there are a few limitations of this research. First, only one type of tattoo (the so-called “tramp stamp”) was considered. Lower back tattoos tend to have a sexual connotation already, so it would be interesting to see whether men make similar types of inferences based upon tattoos in different body locations. Second, this study did not consider whether women’s actual sexual intent varies according to whether they have tattoos. As a result, we cannot say whether female tattoos truly serve as a useful cue for men looking for sexual partners--in reality, tattoos may say very little about a woman's sexual interests.

That said, what we can conclude is that tattoos, like many other aspects of women’s physical appearance, are signs that men use to make judgments (which may or may not be accurate) about women’s likely sexual interests.

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To read more about this research, see: Guéguen, N. (2013). Effects of a tattoo on men’s behavior and attitudes towards women: An experimental field study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1517-1524.

Image Source: iStockphoto.com

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