Research Article: Does attractiveness influence condom use intentions in women who have sex with men?

Date Published: May 23, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Anastasia Eleftheriou, Seth Bullock, Cynthia A. Graham, Shayna Skakoon-Sparling, Roger Ingham, Remco PH Peters.


Attractiveness judgements have been shown to affect interpersonal relationships. The present study explored the relationships between perceived attractiveness, perceived sexual health status, condom use intentions and condom use resistance in women.

The study data were collected using an online questionnaire.

480 English-speaking women who have sex with men, between 18–32 years old.

Women were asked to rate the attractiveness of 20 men on the basis of facial photographs, to estimate the likelihood that each man had a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and to indicate their willingness to have sex with each man without a condom. Condom resistance tactics were also measured and their influence on condom use intentions was assessed.

The more attractive a man was judged to be, the more likely it was that participants were willing to have sex with him (r (478) = 0.987, p < .001). Further, the more attractive a man was judged to be, the less likely women were to intend to use a condom during sex (r = -0.552, df = 478, p = .007). The average perceived STI likelihood for a man had no significant association with his average perceived attractiveness or with participants’ average willingness to have sex with him. The more attractive a participant judged herself to be, the more she believed that, overall, men are likely to have a STI (r = 0.103, df = 478, p < .05). Women’s perceptions of men’s attractiveness influence their condom use intentions; such risk biases should be incorporated into sexual health education programmes and condom use interventions.

Partial Text

Perceptions of attractiveness, both our self-perceptions and our perceptions of others, have an impact on our interpersonal relationships. Facial attractiveness, in particular, has been the subject of extensive research, as it dramatically influences the context of social interactions [1], including decisions about sexual/romantic partner selection and sexual behaviour [2] [3] [4]. Indeed, recent work [5] demonstrated a strong correlation between the perceived facial attractiveness of women and the condom use intentions of heterosexual men. In this study, men were both more interested in having sex with the more attractive female targets, and they reported lower condom use intentions for sex with the women that they found more attractive. Further demonstrating the importance of perceived facial attractiveness, these men perceived the less attractive female targets as more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and reported higher condom use intentions when they perceived greater STI risk. These findings fit well with other work indicating an association between facial attractiveness and perceived health [6]. The current work explored women’s perceptions of male targets’ attractiveness and risk for STI transmission. We also examined women’s condom use intentions based on their perceptions of male targets in order to determine how romantic attraction may influence women’s decision about their sexual health practices with new sexual partners.

The results of the current study demonstrated a strong association between perceived attractiveness (of a potential partner and of self) and condom use intentions in women who have sex with men. Participants were more willing to have sex with more attractive men, but were less inclined to use condoms when they do so. These findings agree with those of a previous study [5] on the influence of attractiveness on condom use intentions in a heterosexual male population. The findings are also in agreement with previous work that has highlighted that individuals use unimportant or irrelevant factors to judge partners’ relative safety [22] [23] and that different contextual factors, like relationship motivation and partner familiarity can be used to justify sexual risk taking [24].

In summary, this is the first study that investigated the association between own perceived attractiveness, sexual health status, condom resistance, sex and condom use intentions in a female population. Female perceptions of attractiveness influence their condom use intentions; such risk biases could profitably be considered and discussed during sex and relationships education sessions in educational settings.




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