Relationship Alive! Sex and Porn Addiction — Myths and Truth — With Paula Hall

even though the idea that individuals can be addicted to porn or sex is still controversial — we are going to handle this topic head-on, so that you are able to identify ways that you may be impacted.

How can you know if you, or someone you love, is addicted to sex, or pornography? What can you do about it? And combined with healing patterns of dependence, what is most helpful for the spouses of people with addiction? Our guest today is Paula Hall, one of the world’s leading experts on treating porn and sex addiction, and the writer of”Recognizing and Treating Sex and Pornography Addiction” — along with a number of other books on the subject for addicts, spouses, and the therapists that are helping them. Even though the idea that individuals can be addicted to porn or sex is still controversial — we are going to handle this issue head-on, so that you are able to identify ways that you may be impacted. And, as always, you will learn powerful strategies for how to overcome addiction and get back on track to a healthy sexual life.


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Relationship Alive! How to profit from Conflict

Today you will find a taste of how you can turn your conflicts into rebuilding and building moments within relationship.

Conflict in connection is often regarded as a bad thing. It’s uncomfortable. It’s tense. It makes us feel bad, and frequently makes our spouses feel bad also. But what if you are passing up an opportunity? That is the view of the week’s guest, Viola Neufeld. She is a mentor, teacher, therapist and facilitator, and she works to help those stuck in battle to work through their hard conversations to a place of deep inner transformation. Viola is also the author of”Grateful For Your Fight: Using inner battle to change yourself and your relationships.” Her motto? “Do not waste your battle.” And today you’ll find a taste of how you can turn your conflicts into rebuilding and building moments within relationship.


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The Purchase Price of Heartbreak [Podcast]

The end of any connection can be debilitating, but it may also open the door to finding something better.

Listen to Real Men Feel, #137,”The Cost of Heartbreak” here:

Writer, Rick Sharpe, joins us to talk about his experience with depression after the end of a connection and finding the power in his own vulnerability.

“I was the posterchild for preventing vulnerability.

Rick’s book and this dialog focus on finding the power in vulnerability in addition to learning the difference between reacting and responding.

Issues and Questions Include:

  • What’s you living in Dubai?
  • What prompted your book, the purchase price of Heartbreak?
  • Was this your first breakup?
  • What was your recovery process like?
  • Where did you learn it was wrong to become exposed?
  • What was the target of the book?
  • What is the best thing that’s happened from composing, the purchase price of Heartbreak?
  • Were you afraid to understand yourself?
  • What stands out as a key to your growth and recovery?
  • Some men respond to heartbreak by giving up on relationships completely, is that something you believed?


Watch Real Men Feel, #137, the Purchase Price of Heartbreak, April 10, 2019
Notice: Rick joined us from Dubai and the movie froze a couple of times, but the sound is solid.

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I needed to learn how to appreciate how I am. That was a massive leap of faith. ” ~Rick Sharpe

Find out More about Rick in Rick-Sharpe. com

Check out Rick’s book, the Purchase Price of Heartbreak: Curing is mindfully feeling

Let us know what you thought here in the comments or shoot an email to [email protected].

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Scroll down to the author bio for all the links to get more #RealMenFeel

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Relationship Alive! How to Stop Controlling Every Other (and Why)

In today’s episode, we are going to dive deep with this issue of control, and determine if we simply can not dismantle the ways that it is holding you back into your relationship.

In what ways are you being controlled by your spouse? How does this help you? And how can it hurt you? In today’s episode, we are going to dive deep with this issue of control, and see if we simply can not dismantle the ways that it is holding you back into your relationship. By the end, you will see precisely what structures of control you have put into place on your relationship, understand why they’re there, and have a route towards greater freedom to be yourself in your own relationship.


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The Ideal Dating Episodes of the Art of Manliness Podcast

We find ourselves on that vacation specializing in romance, when our ideas naturally tend towards the condition of our relationships. Maybe you’re single and wondering how to have better success with relationship. Or already dating someone, and considering upping your commitment level. Or perhaps you’re married and trying to keep the flame of love alive. 

Fortunately, for any relationship phase you are in, we have done a podcast episode that covers it and provides solid, expert-backed hints for enhancing where things are at now and creating the best possible next move. Below you’ll find a round-up of our finest relationship-focused shows that cover how to perform love well in certain phases of romance, in addition to navigating the overall principles of intimate relationships throughout the board.

Is That a Date or Not? The Issue With Ambiguity in Relationships

Dating has never been more ambiguous than it is now. People sort of end up with each other without specifically defining the character of their relationship, degree of commitment, or expectations for the future. What starts as hanging out, slides into spending the night, which slides into moving in together, and may even occasionally slide into marriage.

While maintaining your romantic relationships ambiguous may appear to make them safer and less complex, Scott Stanley has conducted research that shows that is not necessarily true. In this episode, Scott explains why relationship has gotten more ambiguous throughout the last twenty years and why that has led people to slip into relationships rather than explicitly committing and deciding to them.

Love Is Overrated

Do you end up making the same mistakes over and over again in your relationships?  Do you have a propensity to ignore red flags and always wind up in relationships that are not healthy for you?  Maybe you wind up in relationships where the chemistry is great, but a couple of months afterwards, you’re searching for any way out. 

My guests in this event, father-daughter duo and authors Michael and Sarah Bennett, assert that your problem is that you let yourself get suckered by love. The Bennetts supply a great deal of solid advice when it comes to establishing long-term and fulfilling relationships. 

3. The Surprising Benefits of Marriage for Men

Unfortunately, many contemporary men see marriage as an institution which, at best, stifles them, at worst, sets them up for divorce, and because of this, financial and emotional ruin. But study coming out lately indicates that union actually provides a good deal of advantages to men — from earning more money, to getting better sex, to enjoying a healthier and longer life. 

In this episode I talk to Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, along with the Director of the National Marriage Project.  We discuss the impact marriage has on men, and why formally tying the knot really makes a substantial difference in comparison to being in a committed, non-married relationship. 

4. Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts

If you are a guy on the precipice of union, or wish to get married, 1 worry you probably have is”Can my marriage last?”  While divorce rates have been decreasing because they reached their peak in the late 1970s and early’80s, there is still a perception out there that marriage is only a crapshoot — a game of Russian roulette — and that the odds favor you end up in a family court, or at best in a gloomy and loveless relationship. 

In this event, writer and marriage therapist Les Parrott asserts that does not have to be your destiny so long as you take a proactive approach to union. With some thought and intentionality, you can help make certain you get a joyful, loving, fulfilling relationship that lasts till death do you part. 


In this episode, I speak with Dr. Duana Welch about what social science has to say about how, why, when romance goes bad. We discuss the different reasons women and men cheat and how to stop it, how pornography affects relationships, and also the best way to break up with someone when a relationship goes sour.

6.  Date-onomics — How Demographics Are Affecting Courtship and Marriage

In the past forty years we have seen dramatic changes in how that people date and marry. Sexuality has become more permissive and young adults are putting off marriage more and longer. And plenty of ink has been spilt in an attempt to explain exactly why. People today talk about factors like changing values and the changing market.

My guest in this episode has a different spin on the subject: writer Jon Birger argues that it is perhaps changing demographics which have transformed mating patterns in the West. We also talk about some practical suggestions about how to best take advantage of demographics based upon your individual scenario. 

7. Better Conversations on Marriage and Money

Among the biggest sources of contention in marriages is cash. When you have two people come into union with quite different ideas about how money should be handled, saved, spent, etc., you are sure to have some battle. But it’s possible to decrease those money arguments. Like every marital difficulty, issues about money can be solved with a few constructive discussions. My guests in this event, Derek and Carrie Olsen, discuss the discussions you should be having with your partner not just about money, but also values and lifestyle generally. How Face-to-Face Contact Could Make You Healthier, Happier, and Smarter

Although this show is not just about relationships and dating, Susan Pinker and I do talk about the value of face-to-face connections in romantic relationships. We also get into how women and men socialize differently, and why online dating is not all that it is cracked up to be. Even the parts that are not about dating specifically will surely provide insight which will carry over into your relationship with your significant other. 

A growing number of today, we are communicating with the people we love through displays. While this has greatly improved the efficiency of communication, there are some inevitable drawbacks which come with the decrease in face-to-face conversation. Like the episode above, this is not explicitly about romantic relationships, but what Sherry Turkle and I talk will definitely enhance those relationships. We discuss what we’re missing when we do not speak with people in person, the downsides of communication via computers and smartphones, and what we can do to recover purposeful dialogue.


In this episode I speak to evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller. We discuss some myths of relationship, the traits women find attractive in men, and definite steps men can take to boost their relationship value and have more success with women. A fascinating show whether you are married or single. 

What do women find attractive in men? What should you be searching for in a partner if you would like a long-lasting relationship? Are there any red flags to be watching for in a spouse?  Are married men happy or unhappy? My guest in this episode, Dr. Duana Welch, has spent her career exploring these questions. She highlights the bona fide research that is out there about dating and relationships. 

12. Mating Intelligence

Drs. Glen Geher and Scott Barry Kaufman talk with me about the cutting edge research from evolutionary psychology, intellect, imagination, personality, social psychology, and neuroscience to reveal what people find attractive in one another and what we can all do to maximize our mating intelligence so as to have more success in forming and maintaining relationships. 

13. How to Spot Red Flags in a Relationship

When many guys chalk up the odds of a successful union to the luck of the draw, my guest in this event, clinical psychologist Shawn Smith, asserts that by searching for certain red flags in a relationship, in addition to certain positive traits, you can avoid becoming involved in a draining union, and rather marry someone who will make your life simpler.  Shawn and I talk about the risks and benefits of love and the mistakes he has seen guys make over and over again in his counseling practice in regards to marriage and dating.

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Podcast #464: What’s Causing the Sex Recession?

Studies show that people, especially young people, are having less sex than past generations did. While many may celebrate this decline as a good thing, the reasons behind the drop in sex may not all be so positive. A decline in physical intimacy may potentially speak to a decline in emotional intimacy, and a struggle modern folks are having with connecting with each other.

My guest explores the decline in sexual frequency as a way into these larger cultural and relational questions in her longform cover story for this month’s The Atlantic magazine. Her name is Kate Julian, and today we discuss her piece, entitled “The Sex Recession,” on why people are counterintuitively having less sex in a time when sex is less taboo and more accessible than ever before. We begin our conversation highlighting the statistics that indicate young Americans are having less sex and whether this decline holds true for other countries and affects married people as well as singles. Kate then delves into the idea that the reasons for why young people are having less sex may suggest deeper issues in how people are relating, or not relating, to each other. These reasons include the way dating apps are shaping in-person interactions, the prevalence of porn, and an increase in anxiety and depression. We end our conversation by raising the question of why people continue to perpetuate relational patterns that don’t seem to be making them happy.

This is a fascinating discussion. I know some of you listen to the podcast with your kids. Due to the mature nature of this show, I’d have them skip this one.

Show Highlights

  • What are the data points that show young people are having less sex?
  • Is this a worldwide decline? Or a uniquely American problem?
  • Japan’s “herbivore men” 
  • Why this sex decline could indicate something more nefarious going on below the surface
  • Why people are putting off romantic relationships, and prioritizing their education and career
  • The true effectiveness of dating apps (and how much time is spent/wasted on them)
  • Why meeting people at bars or other social venues isn’t as acceptable as it once was
  • What smartphones are doing to our casual relationships
  • How dating in the digital world has become gamified
  • The effects of porn and masturbation on people’s relationships
  • How young people are learning about sex these days, and how it subsequently affects their sexual relationships
  • The rise of depression/anxiety in young people
  • Why young people are actually getting more prudish
  • What social media is doing to our self-image 
  • The social and political ramifications of the sex recession 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Kate Julian

Kate on Twitter 

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Studies show that people, especially young people are having less sex than past generations did. While many may celebrate this decline is a good thing, the reasons behind the drop in sex may not all be so positive. The decline in physical intimacy may potentially speak to a decline in emotional intimacy and a struggle modern folks are having with connecting with each other. My guest explores this decline in sexual frequency as a way to these larger cultural and relational questions in her long form cover story for this month’s Atlantic Magazine. Her name is Kate Julian. And today we discuss her piece entitled The Sex Recession, on why people are counter-intuitively having less sex in a time when sex is less taboo and more accessible than ever before.

We begin our conversation highlighting the statistics that indicate young Americans are having less sex and whether this decline holds true for other countries and affects married people as well as singles. Kate then delves into the idea that the reasons for why young people are having less sex may suggest deeper issues and how people are relating or not relating to each other. These reasons include the way dating apps are shaping in person interactions, prevalence of porn, and an increase in anxiety and depression amongst young people. We end our conversation by raising the question of why people continue to perpetuate relational patterns that don’t seem to be making them happy. It’s a fascinating discussion. I know some of you listen to the podcast with your kids. Due to the mature nature of this show, I’d have them skip this one. After the show’s over, check out our show notes Kate joins me now via

Kate Julian, welcome to the show.

Kate Julian: Thank you so much for having me.

Brett McKay: So you recently published an article in The Atlantic that’s gone viral. Everyone’s talking about it, and it’s about how there’s a sex recession going on in America right now. People are having less sex. So, start of, what are the data points that tell us that people, particularly young people are having less sex nowadays?

Kate Julian: So my jumping off point for this piece is a series of research done by Jean Twenge, who’s a psychologist at San Diego State. She published over the past few years a series of four articles in the archives of Sexual Behavior about the way people’s sex lives are changing. The part of this that struck me as most counterintuitive was her finding that sexual frequency had declined among adults from something like 62 times a year on average to 54 times a year on average between the late 90s and 2014.

Now, for a given person that’s not a huge drop. You might not even notice it. The both numbers are about once a week. But across the whole country, it seems to me or it seemed to me I should say, really counterintuitive that in the age of all of these things that we think of as enhancing sex that people would be having less of it. So from there I dug into it and started to look at the young people part of this more specifically and found some other surprising numbers. If I can go into those, people are launching their sex lives later. They are more likely according to Twenge’s research to be abstinent or celibate in their 20s two and a half times more likely compared to Gen X or baby boomers. They’re also on track, people in their 20s are on track to have fewer lifetime sexual partners than those other two generations.

Brett McKay: And it’s not just sex. It’s like also things just like that lead up to sex, like making out, kissing. That’s also decreasing as well, right?

Kate Julian: That is what seems to be happening. Now, I do want to be really clear here about two things. The first is, I’m using sex as a way into the sort of larger question of relationships and intimacy. So where you’re going with this is absolutely speaking to the heart of what I’m curious about here. The problem is, we don’t have a lot of data on things like holding hands and kissing and the like, right? This is not something that studies have really looked at on a large scale. Most research on adolescence looks at specific outcomes. Did they get pregnant? Do they have a disease, that type of thing. There’s much less asking about sort of more qualitative experiences of relationship and connection to other people.

I did find it striking though that when I went trying to dig into anything that we could use sort of as a baseline, there’s one major study of adolescence in the mid 90s called Add Health that found that of 17 year old girls and boys, 66% of boys and 74% of women or girls had said they had had what they called a special romantic relationship. And in another big survey in 2014 found that it had gone down to 46%. And in fact, the later survey used an even broader definition. They included like hooking up or something like that. So, it seems like 74% to 46% in really just 20 years is kind of an amazing change.

Brett McKay: Yeah. So like the high school crush or dating thing, that’s not happening as much.

Kate Julian: It seems like it. There is some research that looks at the question of dating and then turns into this thing about like, do people say dating anymore? Is that word dated so to speak. But it does sort of track with other things we’ve seen, other research by the same scholar, Jean Twenge that was published in a book last year called iGen, found that over the last 10 years, there’s been a pretty market decline in a lot of things we think of as going with adolescence. So, things that might actually be connected to having flirtation or romance, whatever you want to call it with another person. Getting your driver’s license, going out of the house without your parents. These things have dropped off quite a bit.

Brett McKay: Now, is this just an American phenomenon or is this happening in other countries as well?

Kate Julian: This is what I found most fascinating when I started to look into all of this. Most countries I should say do not study their citizens sex lives. But the countries that do have serious ongoing surveys that speak to this stuff, most of which tend to be wealthy countries are finding similar trends. So in Japan, in Australia, in the UK, in the Netherlands, and in Finland, I should say, similar trends are being noted.

Brett McKay: And in Japan, I mean, it’s really stark, I mean, I think for the past decade or so, we’ve been seeing articles about, I don’t know, these shut ins. I don’t know, they call vegetable eaters or herb eaters or whatever.

Kate Julian: Yeah, this is such an interesting term. In Japan, for the past I think 15 years or so, there’s been this recognition of a category of young men who are just totally uninterested in romantic experiences. They call them, sort of direct translation is herbivore men or grass eating men. That’s what they’re known as there. And the question then sort of becomes what led this generation, what led this generation to kind of turn away from interest in romance and marriage. And it seems that there, you know, the root cause of it probably is really an economic one. This coincided with really the Japanese economy sinking into the doldrums and the kind of dating culture there for the second half of the 20th century was really focused on meeting people in the workplace. That was the standard, normal, socially acceptable way to meet somebody.

And when young men and young women were no longer company men and women anymore, people didn’t actually know how to go about it. And moreover, what sort of dating culture did exist was pretty expensive to participate in. And if you’re a young man without a job, it was really hard to go there. And so, digital entertainment and staying at home became pretty quickly really appealing. And then various products and industries porn and not porn related sort of sprung up to indulge that tendency.

Brett McKay: And is this happening across, I imagine single people are having less sex, but are married people, like married young people having less sex too or is this predominately a singles problem?

Kate Julian: Well, there are two parts to that. The short answer is one big cause of what we’re seeing is that fewer people who are under 35 are living with a spouse or a partner. For all the people like to joke about married people not having sex anymore, if you live with a sexual partner, you are just going to have more sex over the course of the year than somebody who doesn’t. A third of people under 35 are living, adults under 35, I should say, are living with a parent. That’s higher than it’s been in a very long time and it’s actually more common than any other living arrangement. So obviously, if you’re not living with a partner, more so if your your parents, this is going to have an effect on your sex life.

But Twenge’s research does suggest that even people who are in relationships are having sex less across most generational groups. And then that sort of raises the question of what may be going on to make even sort of long term couples compared to their predecessors be physically intimate less.

Brett McKay: So, a lot of parents, ministers, educators will probably see this decline in young people hooking up, having sex a good thing because, you know, there’s a decrease in teen pregnancy rates which is a good thing, we’ve been working on that since the 50s basically. STDs are down. But as you said, this whole idea of people having less sex, it speaks to a larger issue of just about how humans are relating today and maybe people having less sex can indicate that something below that is going on that’s causing people to have less sex. What’s going on there you think?

Kate Julian: Yeah. So I actually want to pause and just linger on the first part of what you said, which is key and I don’t want that to be lost in all of this. The fact that the teenage pregnancy rate is a third of what it was, a third of what it was in the early 90s is a remarkable and good development. I mean, that’s terrific. And there are other parts of this that are really good as well, some of which I talk about in the piece and some of which I don’t. More people now are likely than in the past to say that their first sexual experience whenever it happened was wanted and welcome. That is terrific. I don’t see that there’s any rush, it’s not that I’m decrying the sort of delay of teenagers having sex or young adults having sex.

But what I am curious about is what’s causing this. If the thing that was causing this to happen was essentially for lack of a better word, a positive thing, then I would be applauding it, right? If people are doing this because they feel more comfortable saying no, because they have other occupations that are keeping them happy and fulfilled and allowing them to connect to people in other ways, like that would be a terrific thing. And for some people, those things are probably true. I’ve talked to some people who were not in sexual relationships and were not interested in their 20s and romantic relationships because they were busy with work and school and had really wonderful rich lives.

What I’m more concerned about is the sort of large number of people I talk to who felt very stuck and frustrated and like they didn’t know how to meet somebody and they were really having trouble making connections. Not just sexual connections but really I would say sort of relationship connections more broadly. Not just physical intimacy, but emotional intimacy.

Brett McKay: Well, you mentioned one thing there that one reason people are putting off, young people are putting off sexual relationships is that they’ve invested more into their professional and academic success over, not just sex, but just relationships. Why is that? Why are young people today more focused on that than say maybe their parents or grandparents?

Kate Julian: All of these generalizations are obviously tricky but I do think people now in their 20s have a lot of sort of economic uncertainty that they’re having to grapple with which may make this seem like less of an immediate priority. A lot of people I spoke to honestly were so sober and responsible and were like I have to get my education taken care of. I’m still living at home. If I can’t even figure out how to sort of pay for my own apartment, I shouldn’t even be worrying about this next step. There was a notion that things need to happen in a certain order.

Part of the problem, though, is I think that order is a little bit outdated. That is, people are sort of holding themselves to the standards of their parents’ generation, even though some of the jobs and other things that may have supported their parents’ ability to connect and get married in their 20s just aren’t really there, and people are really having to patch together multiple jobs and sort of function in the gig economy and all that stuff.

Brett McKay: So yeah, people feel like they have to have a job and a house and all that before they get married.

Kate Julian: It seems like it. I mean, we’ve seen for a while that is marriage rates were declining and also as people were delaying marriage, that marriage seemed like it was sort of a, some scholars have described it as a capstone, like something you you looked to when everything else in your life was together. And I wonder if something similar is happening with romantic relationships generally. Like I shouldn’t even be worrying about that until I see myself being on a track where I would be looking for my lifetime partner.

Brett McKay: So, a lot of young people are prioritizing work and study over relationships, romantic relationships. But at the same time, you cite a study in your article that, you know, the majority of students or young people wish they had more opportunities to find a long term boyfriend or girlfriend. College is like the best time to do that because you’re just with a bunch of peers your age, and that’s not happening. So, what’s going on there? Are young people just sort of caught between two contradictory desires, that desire to get ahead but also start a relationship?

Kate Julian: I think so. I think so. I think that there’s some notion with sort of hookup culture that you kind of have to choose between casual sex and no sex. I think that that has sort of left a fairly large group of people out in the whole, sort of in the cold so to speak. Some of the sort of more recent research on so called hookup culture really has shown that a lot of the way that we talk about it and think about it isn’t really quite right. So, it’s not something that most people are engaging in with wild abandon. It’s something that may be sort of 20, 25% of people are really active participants in and other people may be sitting it out all together. I talked to people who felt that on campus they hadn’t really known how to go about finding something outside of hookup culture.

I think this sort of bridges to another interesting point about dating apps for people who are in their 20s, which is to say the apps have become really, really sort of ubiquitous over a pretty short period of time. We’ve had these things for only 10 years or so. And by some measures, they’ve become the most common way of meeting people. And on the one hand, that clearly, that very marker suggests that they are working for a lot of people. But it’s pretty clear to me from looking at the data that they’re really not working for a lot of other people. And what I heard in my interviews with young people was this sort of refrain that like that’s the accepted way to find somebody now, and yet it’s not really working very well for me for a variety of reasons. And so what do I do? Like I don’t know how to meet somebody outside the apps.

Brett McKay: Let’s dig into that a little deeper because, yeah, the dating apps, even like dating websites is supposed to make dating more efficient. You go to a place where you know everyone is there looking for romantic partner. But as research suggest, people actually, they’re not that effective at finding a romantic partner through dating apps. Walks us through the data.

Kate Julian: There’s a positive side here. Like people who, according to one set of research I looked at, people who meet through an app who are sort of interested in a long term relationship are more likely to get married more quickly than people who meet other ways. So for people who really sort of are doing this effectively, it obviously can be super efficient. The problem is that many people are spending just a kind of unfathomable amount of time on these things. The last time that Tinder for example released this data, I note in the piece, the average user was spending an hour and a half a day on the app. Now, when you combine that, when you compare that to sort of usage for other types of apps, like Facebook or Instagram or whatever, it’s a really, really big number.

Similarly, they log I think, the latest data they gave me, 1.6 billion swipes a day and those lead to just 26 million matches. And when I started digging into that, okay, so what happens once people have matched on the app, I as a person who sort of met my husband before dating apps were thing was kind of shocked at how inefficient it was even at that point. There was this guy named Simon I talked to who is really, really interesting. He went into a long term relationship in 2007 right before sort of apps hit the scene and came out of it in 2014 when he was around 30 and found that the very sort of landscape of sort of chatting somebody up in a bar seemed really different than it had when he’d gone into the relationship. It just seemed less acceptable because there was this other way that you were supposed to do things now.

And so he gamely signed up for all the apps and yet he found that this, he described himself as not super physically attractive. He said, you know, I’m short, I’m balding, all of this. I’m funny. Historically I’ve done pretty well with the ladies because I’m funny but I don’t necessarily like look great on Tinder. And he found that even once he sort of had a match with somebody, he was swiping right for every match he made on Tinder, and then for everybody he matched with he would send a text message and he would only hear back, he figured he was quite a numbers oriented guy, he only heard back from like one in 10 of these women which means essentially, he’s swiping right 300 times for everybody he has a text exchange with. He kept with it because he’s a dogged guy and he’s now in a long term relationship and he’s really happy. But you can imagine somebody who doesn’t have the sort of time or robustness to keep with it just feeling really confused and rejected by that scenario.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s one of the, you just mentioned one of the downsides. It seems that these dating apps favor people who are attractive, right? Is that how it typically works out?

Kate Julian: Yeah, there’s a fascinating study that came out in August I think, that sort of, where they took dating profiles, a large number of dating profiles and sort of managed to independently kind of rate the physical attractiveness of the people, which obviously is a tricky thing because people like different things. But, be that as it may, and they looked at sort of what types of, how that correlated with people’s matching or swiping behavior, and they found that the average user tends to swipe on people who are 25% more attractive than they are which doesn’t seem like a great recipe for success. And you have this sort of vision of like, you know, a man swiping right on a woman who’s pretty hot and then she’s swiping right on a guy who’s really, really good looking and so forth. And none of them are actually connecting.

Brett McKay: Yeah. That’s one of the, when you take all your dating online and you’re only judging based on physical appearance, like with this one guy, you miss out on the humor.

Kate Julian: The fact that he’s so smart and funny.

Brett McKay: Right, right.

Kate Julian: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look, people can obviously, if they push forward and engage in a texting relationship with the person, as Simon did, get a chance to show off their their wonderful sense of humor and some of their other qualities. But you don’t get as many cues about a person as you do sort of in an in-person interaction, you just don’t.

Brett McKay: But I just said, because dating has almost completely shifted to online with these apps, now, if you want to go out and like approach someone in public, in meet space as they say, that’s now a creepy you’re not supposed to do that.

Kate Julian: Well, that’s what I heard in my interviews. And I have to say, this is one of the things that really startled me, and there’s no data to sort of establish how much this is the case but it came up again and again and again, that people just felt, especially people who are a little bit older who are like maybe in their early 30s now, who’ve been at this for a while, that it had become less socially acceptable to talk to people spontaneously in person. I think that’s interesting. It sort of suggest that maybe, maybe part of this is due to dating apps.

That’s become sort of the acceptable way to meet people. And it’s like, well, that’s what you’re doing, go there. Another part of it may be phones, and I hate to blame phones for everything because it sort of seems really predictable. But it does seem to me that the way we sort of hang out in public spaces now when we’re not busy is really different than it was. And I’m saying the piece that I met my husband on an elevator, but I haven’t been on an elevator recently where people were just sort of having random chats with strangers.

Brett McKay: As you talk to these people, do you get the sense that, okay, this is the way things are, but are people happy with it? Would they like to be in a world where they could just chat up a stranger in public and possibly kick off a relationship from that?

Kate Julian: Well, this is such an interesting question. I mean, I do think there might be a little bit of romanticizing the past, right? Because I would sort of mention this experience, meeting my husband to people, sometimes as we were chatting about ways people met. People would often talk about the way their parents met and sort of sigh and say, I couldn’t really meet the way that my parents met. And then when I said to them, well, here’s how I met and what would happen if somebody started talking to you on an elevator, I would get this kind of weird split screen response of like, oh my god, I would love that. And then if somebody did that, I would actually probably think they were weird.

Now, I will say one of the lovely things about publishing this piece has been that I have heard some like wonderful kind of stories of people who in the recent past met people on elevators and trains and all the rest of it. So it certainly can be done and I hope some people maybe will be inspired to go out and prove that I’m wrong. But yeah, it did seem that, you know, I heard more than I expected people saying has it always been this hard and I really wish that I, you know, a number of people just volunteered to me like without any prompting, I wish I were dating before smartphones and apps.

Brett McKay: Yeah. You continue on this idea of how social mores have changed rapidly. You cited a study that millennials are more likely to consider a guy asking a woman out to drinks as sexual harassment as opposed to a baby boomer, they’d be like, well, that’s normal.

Kate Julian: I found this number kind of stunning, I don’t have it in front of me, it’s close to 20% of people I think in their 20s. So, sort of younger millennials and Gen Z even think that a man asking a woman out for a drink is always or usually sexual harassment. And, of course, that means that 80 something percent don’t think that. But the fact that that many people do is really stunning to me and it’s a much higher rate than with boomers or Gen Xers. And obviously, you know, work is a lot of where we spend our time. So, if it really is not acceptable to, I mean, obviously, I’m not supporting people hitting on their subordinates. There’s been some really disturbing revelations in the wake of #metoo about people really taking advantage of workplace situations. But I think that that whole discussion has perhaps led to a real pause and people are not really sure what is and isn’t acceptable and that’s confusing things further.

Brett McKay: As you were talking to these people you interviewed for the story, you know, and they’re talking about the dating apps, its sounds like a lot of them weren’t happy with it but why do they keep using them? What do they say is like, well, it’s just like, it’s because that’s the only thing they had? I mean, what was going on there?

Kate Julian: One of the fascinating things was how many people I talked to who were using the apps even though they weren’t actually interested in meeting somebody. I thought that was really interesting. It almost a game. There’s a woman who I call Iris in the piece who first said this to me, she said, it’s been gamified. And I didn’t really get what she meant by that at first, and then I kept hearing the same thing again and again and again from people who would say, yeah, I’ll download the app when I’m bored watching TV, sort of a diversion. And that helps to explain sort of how we could get to a situation like the one, the guy I call Simon experienced, where he’s having to swipe right for 300 times for a single text exchange, which is that people are just idly doing it. It’s maybe a quick kind of dopamine hit, ego boost, to see if somebody will swipe right back on you. It makes you feel good temporarily. One woman I talked to describe it as like a bubble popping game.

So, it does seem to be, obviously, for a lot of people, it is a way to meet people in real life, but for other people, it’s more of a diversion.

Brett McKay: So, they’re using it like Instagram.

Kate Julian: Exactly, yeah.

Brett McKay: Okay. So then another factor that came up in your research as you delved into this is about the role of porn and masturbation. That’s been increasing even in the past like 20 years. So what effects are that having?

Kate Julian: Yeah, so this is interesting. So the data we have suggests that the number of people who say that they masturbated in the last week has doubled since the early 90s to a bit over 50% of men, it tripled for women I should say to a bit over a quarter. Now, many people after I published the piece sort of said that’s BS, like everybody masturbates. The people who still don’t say that they’re doing it are lying. I can’t really speak to that but it is interesting that the percentage of people who admit doing it or who say that they do it has gone up so much. And part of that may be due to sort of decreasing social stigma. One of the things that I was really interested in as I was digging into all of this was just how stigmatized masturbation was through much of the 20th century. That isn’t something I’d really focused on, but really came up in my reading.

But let’s assume that it has doubled. That doubling is partially due to probably decrease taboos. It’s absolutely obviously got to do with the availability of digital porn. For women, it seems to have something to do also with the availability of vibrators. One fairly recent study found that half of women have used them which we don’t have a baseline for, but every researcher I spoke to thinks is undoubtedly a big increase from the past. As I say in the piece, Amazon has something like 10,000 different models available. So that’s a big factor too.

But then the question becomes, is this substituting for sex or is it like its whole own occupation? And for different people, the answer’s probably different. This turned out to be a really hard question to get out and research because guess what, people who have higher sex drives use porn more and masturbate more and they also tend to have sex more. So it’s very hard to sort of tease out cause and effect.

Brett McKay: So yeah. But like I think you talked about the use of porn or young people particularly learning about sex through porn is making sex kind of weird and like uncomfortable for a lot of people.

Kate Julian: Yeah, absolutely. I guess backing up just a little bit on the porn question, there’s been so much attention, I don’t know whether you’ve talked about this at all on your podcast. There’s this whole sort of anti-masturbation movement playing out in various-

Brett McKay: No Fap.

Kate Julian: Yeah, No Fap. Fight the new drug is one that’s for porn oriented but obviously the two are connected. The the sort of far right Proud Boys group has a sort of what they call no wanking policy. This is really become sort of over a short period of time sort of a big movement. One of the things that I found really interesting is that many of the things that are asserted seem to be controversial. You know, for example, the notion that porn is addictive, that’s really controversial, and the scientific evidence is pretty mixed.

But, there is some research that suggests that thinking that porn and masturbation are bad for you tends to be the biggest predictor of whether you’re sexually dysfunctional, which I thought was really fascinating. It’s this idea that like if you believe that it’s bad for you whether because of your religious beliefs or some other similar set of beliefs, that tends to be almost self-fulfilling. I thought that was really interesting.

And then I think there’s a separate set of questions apart from whether or not porn or masturbation or substituting from sex which goes to what you just said, which is what happens when you learn, when you have sort of on demand access to a really wide variety of porn starting at a really early age before you’ve experienced the real thing. How does that change the way you approach sexual relationships?

Brett McKay: And how has it been changing sexual relationships based on your conversations?

Kate Julian: Based on my conversations, I heard from a lot of, so it was interesting, conversations with men tended to sort of say my porn life and my sex life are different things, they’re not related, which I thought was a good and interesting self aware point. And yet, in my conversations with women, some other themes emerged, which is, I’ve been with a couple of people, dated a couple of people, I have had sexual relationships with them. And there were things that happened that I really wasn’t cool with. And I later discovered as a sort of not heavy porn user that the things that happened to me are sort of really common in a lot of porn, mainstream and otherwise.

So the maybe most common example of this is choking. A lot of younger women said that they’d had people try choking them without asking and sort of unexpectedly and found this really traumatic. Choking has become really common and porn and some people do enjoy it in real life. But it’s really, really, really not something you should spring on somebody. And I think that if, you know, you’re young woman and you’re sexually inexperienced and you’re with a young man and he’s sexually experienced and he thinks that that’s like a normal and expected thing to do, that’s going to possibly scare both of you off.

Brett McKay: Right. So, that’s what you do. Okay, I saw this.

Kate Julian: Yeah, exactly.

Brett McKay: Okay. Yeah. Well, okay, let’s talk about another factor that you explored in the article, is rise of anxiety and depression amongst young people. Is that inhibiting people from having relationships or is the lack of relationships making people more depressed?

Kate Julian: Such a good question, and I really think that this is sort of a vicious circle or vicious cycle. So we do know that depression and anxiety both of which seemed to be by some measures really rising among young people are for almost everybody libido killers. We also know that the drugs used to treat those conditions are libido killers, which is really sort of a cruel irony. We also know that having a happy healthy sex life seems to be a booster of happiness and healthiness. Having sex at least once a week is tied to a whole bunch of really positive outcomes in terms of well being. There is a bit of a chicken and the egg problem here as you say.

Brett McKay: And it’s also going back to this idea. It’s not just about sex, but it’s like relationships. Just like human relationships, young people seem to be having a problem with this.

Kate Julian: Yeah. Perhaps, you know, and it suggested some older people are having a problem as well. But it can become, I mean, going back to the question of is it a good thing or bad thing that teens aren’t doing this. Yes, maybe it’s a good thing but then maybe some of the costs of it are a bad thing because I think that once you get to a certain age in your 20s and you haven’t had any experience with flirtation, rejection, heartbreak, all of those other things, it can be a pretty overwhelming time to sort of start to figure all that out. I do think that the sort of relationship experimentation part of this is really crucial. Like getting your heartbroken when you’re in high school and there’s a roof over your head and someone’s going to make sure you eat dinner is a little bit easier I think to hack than when you’re 25.

Brett McKay: Right. When you’re trying to graduate college or get your first job.

Kate Julian: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And what’s interesting you highlight throughout this book is this sort of weird paradox that’s going on, not the book, but the article, this paradox that’s going on is that this young generation considers itself very progressive, very open, very tolerant. Yet the same time, these young people are also becoming increasingly prudish. There’s like this openness about sex. There’s all these apps and there’s porn and all this stuff going on. But the same time there’s this lack of intimacy.

Kate Julian: Intimacy, yeah. And I think prudishness is not the wrong word perhaps to some extent. There’s a lot of research suggesting that heavy social media uses is tied to sort of poor self image and predicts poor body image and all the rest of that. This sort of coincides with this sort of generational thing a lot of people have noticed.

People started mentioning this to me as I was embarking on this project. I kind of didn’t take it that seriously but it kept coming up, which is that people sort of pointed out that young people in gyms don’t want to be naked in front of other people as much as they did in the past. And I was like, really? Like, I work out at home, I don’t go to a gym. I don’t know if this is true, but it kept coming up. I think that people, some of that may be sort of not wanting to have your photograph taken, like that might be like a smartphone thing. But some of it I think actually is sort of increased sort of discomfort with nudity which is really interesting and kind of counterintuitive because as you say, there’s all this, the culture has never been sort of more permissive or really super hyper-sexualized in one way.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I thought that was interesting. Because, I mean, you hear people talk about that on social media. It’s like, oh, the old guy at the gym just got naked.

Kate Julian: Exactly, exactly. I heard from a few people like old guys at the gym have no problem letting it all hang out. Maybe there’s something to that. Look, before the 90s, I went to high school in the mid 90s and up until about that point and was shortly before I was in high school, most people had to shower after gym class, and then that changed for variety of reasons involving liability and concern about molestation and a whole bunch of other stuff. And so now people actually just have less experience being naked and unembarrassed in front of other people. Maybe that’s part of this.

I also think there’s a sort of interesting question that dovetails off of what you just said about whether, you know, does something become less interesting or alluring when it’s no longer forbidden. If you can sort of download or access any kind of sexual content you want, does the real thing lose some of its allure? I can’t speak to that but it’s an interesting question.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I mean, it seems like, all this sex, we live like in a really unsexy time even though there’s sex all around us.

Kate Julian: Yeah, exactly, right?

Brett McKay: You watch those old movies from like the 40s and 50s and there’s all this like tension and like pretense, and they don’t actually say, but it’s like-

Kate Julian: Innuendo.

Brett McKay: Innuendo. And it’s like, that lights a fire to get sex. But now it’s just like, man, it’s all there.

Kate Julian: Exactly. Right. And people are sexting which is a bit of a puzzle. Like how can it be that like, if people are so prudish but I guess you have a lot of control over that image of yourself, right? If you’re taking a picture of yourself that’s flattering and that you’re comfortable and you’re doing it on your own terms, that’s one thing. But in reality, like sex with another person, even another person you know well is like, is messy and potentially awkward. It’s sort of the opposite of a controlled environment.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s another thing. I’m kind of, this larger trend, I think young people, I feel like they want more control. They’re afraid of the awkwardness of relationships, not just sex, but like romantic relationship. But even friendships because it’s so, you don’t have any control over it, right? And it’s awkward, and like all these apps and all these things that we’ve, social media, it allows you to control, but when you get that control like you lose something in the process.

Kate Julian: I think that is such a key point. That honestly is one of the things that came up when I tried to sort of push people on, so you’re texting with guys on apps but then you’re not meeting up with them in real life. I did hear variations of like, well, texting with somebody is controlled, right? Like, I have time to think about how to respond. I’m not put on the spot. That word awkwardness kept coming up again and again. It’s less awkward. Another word that came up several times was ambiguity, there’s less ambiguity.

So even though I may not like apps very well, I like the fact that by opting into them, we both know that we’re sort of potentially interested in each other. There’s none of that sort of confusion that there was say when I met my husband. I mean, when I first, I think I may say this in the piece, but when I first met up with him for drinks outside the office, actually, he’d stopped working in the building, at that point where I met him on the elevator. But it was like, is this a date, is this not a date? I don’t know. And a lot of people just said they found that type of uncertainty so stressful. They couldn’t handle it almost.

Brett McKay: But isn’t that what makes like romantic relationships exciting, like the tension?

Kate Julian: Exactly. It’s like the roller coaster of it, right? The up, the down. Does she like me, does she not like me. Yeah.

Brett McKay: That’s all that Jane Austen was about, does he like me, what are the feelings for me.

Kate Julian: Yeah, exactly. It can be exhilarating. It can also be queasiness inducing, but they go together.

Brett McKay: Yeah, they go together. So, we’ve been talking about the personal effects of this. I mean, it can lead to depression, people are feeling more lonely, etc. But what are some of the social even political implications of this sex recession?

Kate Julian: Yeah. When I started working on the piece, I thought that this would be what I spent more of my time on, sort of looking at whether this is tied to the decreasing fertility rate in this country. Over the past 10 years, the birth rate has gone down quite sharply. It hit a historic low for the second time, second year in a row recently. Having been above two children for women as recently as just before the Great Recession. Clearly this is somewhat connected to that. Sex and babies aren’t the same thing but they obviously have something to do with each other. So that’s sort of one question. I tend to think perhaps some of the things that may be making dating more complicated for people in their 20s that we’ve talked about, feeling not ready to start, not financially sort of steady enough to be pursuing kind of long term partnership and family, and part of this.

Another part of this, of course, which really became a national issue after I started working on the piece is sort of what are the political consequences of people feeling like they can’t find a partner. Is there something about that that’s sort of destabilizing. And of course, you know, there have been all of these really awful shootings where so called self described incels say that their inability to get a woman has fueled rage and even violence. This isn’t to say that their grievances are legitimate, they’re not. But it is interesting that we can look for examples around the world and through history, like when there are lots of untouched young people that tends to be socially destabilizing.

Brett McKay: I mean, the other concern with a lot of countries too, particularly Western democracies that have robust welfare states is that the welfare state depends upon people having babies, right?

Kate Julian: Right, right, right, right. I wouldn’t say this, but some people sort of say, you know, yeah, Social Security, all these things are sort of a Ponzi scheme, you have to have more people paying into them for them to pay out eventually or keep paying out. And so yeah, the sort of fiscal implications of this certainly are real. I’m more worried, though, about sort of what this tells us in the here and now about the people who are here already. It seems to me that if there’s some set of conditions that are making human connection and intimacy in the here and now among people who are already here more fraught, more elusive, that should be concerning to everybody.

Brett McKay: So, it seems like a lot of people based on the article are unhappy with the state of, the dating scene or the relationship scene. Like the same patterns keep perpetuating. And it seems like, you know, people keep acting in a way that’s contrary to the actual desires. What do you think that’s going on there? What are the obstacles that stand in the way of people doing something different that’s not, different from the thing that’s not working?

Kate Julian: Going back to the anxiety, you know, the more you become unaccustomed to doing something, the more nerve racking it is. One woman I talked to who I call Anna in the piece talked about how she kept using the apps even though they weren’t really working that wonderfully for her because the more she did it, the harder it was to talk to people in real life. So I think part of the answer to this is to just sort of, if you are unhappy, twofold, realize that you are not alone. I think that’s key. I think that feeling that you’re alone or weird is really sort of self-fulfilling and clearly a lot of people are struggling with the ways in which the world has changed very quickly in a very short period of time. So to sort of take some comfort in that know that other people aren’t happy with this either.

If Instagram is making you feel bad, get off of it, go exercise, sleep. Take care of yourself. Take the hour and a half a day that you’re spending on Tinder to go out and do something that makes you happy and perhaps that will also connect you with other people.

Brett McKay: Yeah, typically is the best dating advice, do something you enjoy. You usually end up doing that with someone that also enjoys that thing and that can be the kick starter of a relationship.

Kate Julian: Exactly.

Brett McKay: Well, this is the kind of article, it’s super fascinating and I feel there’s a lot more that can be said about it. Is this something that you can see turning into a book in the future?

Kate Julian: I’ve been thinking about that, yeah. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t want to just sort of dilate with already here. I’d want to do something that sort of was original but I think there is just clearly a lot of people are eager to read about this topic and I find it fascinating. So with any luck, I will find a way to sort of continue in this vein.

Brett McKay: Okay. Is there some place people can go to learn more about the article and your work?

Kate Julian: Yeah, so you can find me on Twitter. My handle is @KateJulian, K-A-T-E J-U-L-I-A-N. And the article is on the Atlantic’s website, and it’s called The Sex Recession.

Brett McKay: Kate Julian, thanks so much for coming on. This has been a great conversation.

Kate Julian: Thank you so much for having me.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Kate Julian. She’s a senior editor at the Atlantic and she’s the author of the piece, The Sex Recession. You can find that on Also check out our show notes at where you can find links to resources. We delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at and if you’ve enjoyed the show, you’ve gotten something out of it, I’d appreciate if you give us review on iTunes or Stitcher, that helps out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

Download my eBook The Secrets to Attract Women FREE now by clicking here

Podcast #474: The Surprises of Romantic Attraction

According to the popular, evolutionary theory of human attraction, people select romantic partners based on objective assessments of what’s called their “mate value” — the extent to which an individual possesses traits like good looks and status. But is that really all that’s behind the way people pair up?

My guest today has done a series of studies which add greater nuance to the mysteries of romantic attraction. His name is Paul Eastwick and he’s a professor of psychology at UC Davis. We begin our conversation unpacking the fact that there’s sometimes a gap between the sexual and romantic partners people say they prefer in the abstract, and the partners they actually choose in real life. We then turn to whether or not the popular idea that men value physical attractiveness more than women, and that women value status and resources more than men, is really true. We also talk about how people’s consensus over who is and isn’t attractive changes over time, and whether it’s true that people of equal attractiveness generally end up together. We end our conversation discussing how these research-based insights can be applied to the real world of dating, and why less attractive people may have better luck meeting people offline than on.

Some interesting insights in this show that lend credence to the old adage that there’s someone for everyone.

Show Highlights

  • What’s the accepted theory of how men and women are attracted to each other?
  • How “mate value” is calculated 
  • Is it true that men value physical appearance more than women?
  • The self-insight gap that plagues daters 
  • Why trait-based compatibility doesn’t give the full picture of a relationship’s potential
  • The importance of “fit” when it comes to compatibility
  • How physical attractiveness changes over time as we get to know people
  • Do equally attractive people always end up with each other?
  • What does modern science say about pick-up artist techniques?
  • Tips for how to think about modern dating apps 

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. According to the popular evolutionary theory of human attraction, people select romantic partners based on objective assessments of what’s called their mate value, the extent to which individual possesses traits like good looks and status. What does that really all that’s behind the way people pair up? My guest today has done a series of studies which add greater nuance to the mysteries romantic attraction. His name is Paul Eastwick, he’s a professor of psychology at UC Davis. We begin a conversation unpacking the fact there’s sometimes a gap between the sexual romantic partners people say they prefer the abstract, and the partners they actually choose in real life.

We then turned to whether or not the popular idea that men value physical attraction more than women and that women value status and resources more than men is really true. We also talk about how people’s consensus over who is and isn’t attractive changes over time and whether it’s true that people of equal attractiveness generally end up. We end our conversation discussing how these research based insights can be applied to the real world of dating and why if you’re not Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Cary Grant, 1980s Tom Selleck and whatever famous, handsome man you want, you’re not any of those guys may have better luck meeting people offline than online in an app. Some interesting insights in the show that lend credence to the old adage that there’s someone for everyone. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at Paul joins me now via

Paul Eastwick, welcome to the show.

Paul Eastwick: Thanks so much for having me.

Brett McKay: So you are a professor of psychology and you’ve spent your career researching human attraction. And what I think is interesting about your research is that it, it goes a different direction from what the sort of the popular and accepted ideas that are out there about what makes humans attracted to one another. So before we get to your research and how it adds to that theory, what is, can you walk us through like what the popular and accepted theory of what makes men and women attracted to each other is? I guess it’s based on evolutionary theory.

Paul Eastwick: Yeah. So there’s a lot of work out there that takes what I would call a trait based approach to understanding what makes men and women attractive and this is a very simple idea. It’s that we possess particular desirable qualities, or we don’t, and the extent to which you have those desirable qualities is what makes you appealing in a mate. And we can talk about things that you can see on the surface, like physical attractiveness. We can talk about status and resources, we can also talk about traits like intelligence, but the presumption here is that there is some sort of objective reality about a person and the extent to which they have those desirable traits and that a person’s desirability as a mate or their mate value, that’s often the term that’s used, can be sort of calculated based on the extent to which they possess those sorts of traits.

Brett McKay: And also the research has shown there’s differences between the sexes on what’s attractive and not attractive. Like men find certain things attractive in women, but women find other traits attractive and men.

Paul Eastwick: That’s right. So the calculus for mate value classically differs between men and women. You know, intelligence is very appealing to both men and women in a partner, but when you ask men and women, how much do you care about traits like attractiveness, men will tend to rate it higher than women, although women like it too. You see the reverse for traits like resources, right? With women rating it higher than men, but in general these findings sort of fit into this, what I would call this trait based mate value sort of approach where the idea is that there’s some sort of reality about the traits that you possess and your job if you’re looking for a mate from this perspective is to size up whether or not somebody has these qualities and then make your choice accordingly.

Brett McKay: And it’s also a very market driven, right? Approach to relationships, right? You have certain values and you kinda have to make trade offs on what you have and what the other person has.

Paul Eastwick: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s why it’s, you know, evolutionary theory touches on these ideas. But yeah, it’s based on these very classic market based ideas about marriage, this pervade sociology going back 70 years or more. These are very influential important ideas that have long pervaded how people think about the way relationships form and are maintained.

Brett McKay: And how have evolutionary psychologist come to this conclusion that men find physical attractiveness more important than women find physical attractiveness in men. What are the studies look like where they’ve come to this conclusion?

Paul Eastwick: It’s interesting because humans can do this really funny thing which is you can put rating scales in front of us and we can fill them out with a pen or a pencil. And what that means is that instead of, if you were studying animals in the wild, you’d have to set up these really complex designs and sort of see which of the mates the females would pursue or see which mates the males would pursue. But in humans you can sort of throw a scale in front of them and be done in 30 seconds. And so much of the research supporting these sex differences tends to use that ladder approach that is, you asked men and women to rate physical attractiveness on a rating scale from one to 10. How much do you like this trait? And that’s where you see men say they care about it more than women. You see the reverse with things like status and resources. So a lot of the research is pretty straightforward and questionnaire based along those lines. It’s sort of this neat thing that you can get humans to do that you can’t get other nonhuman animals to do.

Brett McKay: So basically what these surveys ask is like what you would want in a hypothetical potential mate, not an actual mate, correct?

Paul Eastwick: Right. I mean, you know, they’re asking people to think about what would you want an ideal mate to have and people can do this. When you give people questionnaires like that, they’re like, they’re not thinking I have never pondered such a thing before. People are definitely … They can call to mind what their ideal partner looks like. But I’d also argue that that requires a level of self insight that is under appreciated. That is, we can ask whether or not people really know the extent to which attractiveness appeals to them. And is that captured by a rating on a rating scale? It’s one of the questions that we’ve tried to pursue in our research.

Brett McKay: So in addition to what this idea of trait based attraction, there’s this idea of a sort of meeting that comes up that attractive people end up with other attractive people. High status people end up with other high status people. So, there’s that aspect to this trait based theory as well.

Paul Eastwick: Yes, that’s right. And it is certainly true that you see assorted of mating on many qualities, qualities like attractiveness, traits that people generally say they really like in a partner, both men and women rate attractiveness quite highly. And indeed the attractive men and the attractive women tend to pair up. Now that association is far from perfect, right? So there are plenty of matched couples and plenty of mismatched couples out there too. And so we need our explanations just to be able to account for the existence of both the matches and the mismatches, if you will.

Brett McKay: So there’s been mountains of research for the past 20, 30 years that reinforced this idea that, they’ve done this across cultures too, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Japan or America or England, men tend to rate physical attractiveness more important on the list of wanted traits in women than women do. And women put an emphasis on resources and status. So despite the mountains of research that has shown this over and over again, what led you to think that there was something else going on in how people decide who they pair up with?

Paul Eastwick: So we noticed that much of this research had sort of used these questionnaire type approaches where you’re asking people what they’re looking for. The better studies would do something a little bit more clever. They would say, introduce you, usually in the form of an online dating profile or something like that, to a series of people who very in attractiveness. And then you could ask the question, well, does the attractiveness of these various people that you’re looking at predict who you like, who you choose? And there were a few studies that had conceptualized the appeal of attractiveness that way. Not my theory about how much attraction this appeals to me, but sort of this enacted preference, something we actually call a functional preference, right?

If you present me with a series of mates that vary in attractiveness, to what extent am I likely to take the attractive ones relative to the unattractive ones? That’s like a more live in the moment way of capturing the extent to which attractiveness appeals to me. So there’ve been a few studies out there that had used that sort of approach but almost none that had used that kind of approach with people actually meeting face to face. And we thought well gee, ancestrally, certainly, and even in the modern day for the most part, people meet face to face before they start seeing where this thing is going. And so we wanted to see what did people’s functional preferences look like once these face to face meetings had taken place?

Brett McKay: So tell me about a story that you did to look into that idea a bit more.

Paul Eastwick: So one of the first studies that we conducted along these lines was a study with speed daters. So, we brought a number of men and women together who were single and looking to potentially date new people, but these folks hadn’t met each other before and these were heterosexual speed dating events. So, all of the men have a chance to meet all of the women. And so you’re meeting this array of people who are varying in attractiveness and then we look to see how much does attractiveness appeal to me as I go about selecting these people saying, oh, I’d like to meet you again and not you. You know, when rating how much I liked these various people. And sure enough physical attractiveness was a very strong predictor of the extent to which people liked their speed dating partners. But that association, the power of attractiveness was identical for men and women. Physical attractiveness as instantiated in these real people was just as powerful a predictor of initial attraction for men as it was for women. There was no sex difference there whatsoever.

Brett McKay: Interesting. So what do you think that says about the theory that’s out there that women prefer, you know, status and resources more, they rate that higher than men do? What’s going on there then?

Paul Eastwick: So it’s interesting. I mean, you know, one thing we’ve been trying to figure out is that it looks like there is some sort of self insight gap that is plaguing people, right? People aren’t totally off when you ask them sort of kinds of qualities and attributes they like in general, there’s often a little bit of an association there, especially when people are in very simple environments. Right? So if I asked you how much do you like sweetness when it comes to your breakfast cereals, you will actually give me an answer that reflects pretty good self insight. But as the domain gets more and more complicated and when we get into the really complicated domain of romantic attraction, people’s insight just seems to fade. And the kinds of qualities they think are really appealing to them when you ask them in the abstract end up having very little relation to what actually appeals to them in the moment. So we do think there is this self insight gap there and what that means is that when you ask people about the kinds of qualities that they care about in a partner, you’re getting a lot of other stuff in those reports that don’t necessarily reflect strong self insight. Right? People might be reporting their sense of what desirable members of the opposite sex generally are like, right? As opposed to, you know, what are the traits that are really going to appeal to me specifically?

Brett McKay: Well, another interesting thing about speed dating is that it’s very, it’s all about initial attraction. Like the idea in evolutionary theory is that women put an emphasis on resources more than men because they’re looking for a longterm companion. Does the short duration of speed dating, does that change things like how women evaluate or do you think just like no, women actually put emphasis on attraction more than they think they do?

Paul Eastwick: That’s a great question. I think that, and then when we ran those first studies, that was sort of the next question for us was, well, okay, is this limited to initial attraction? Maybe some of these sex differences start to emerge later and we actually conducted a very large scale study a few years later. It’s called a meta analysis and in a meta analysis, you just bring many different data sets together that can all address a similar question. And so we had data from tens of thousands of participants that look across the full span of people’s relationships. So not just initial attraction, but also what happens in dating relationships. What happens in married relationships. Do you see these sex differences playing out? Now we can look at these same kinds of associations in these datasets. So generally, when women are married to men who have more versus fewer resources, do they tend to be happier in those relationships?

And importantly, if we asked the same question of men, are men happier when they’re in relationships with women who have status on resources, are they happier? So when we look at all of those effects and all of those associations across all of these datasets, we end up seeing, again, no evidence for these sex differences. So to go back to the status and resources example, there’s a small effect that people tend to be happier in their relationships when their partner has more status and more resources. It’s not nearly as large as physical attractiveness and initial attraction, but that effect is just as strong for men as it is for women, which frankly we found a little mind blowing, right? The idea that that men are a little bit happier in their relationships when their women have status and resources. That was not intuitive to us going into this study, but this was a pretty large swath of evidence that seemed to suggest that you know what? The status resources effect, when you look across datasets in this aggregated way, you don’t see much of a sex difference there.

Brett McKay: Okay. So meta analysis shows that men and women are actually, there’s not that much of a difference. When you look at things at a broad view. You also did some interesting research to that show that whether you find someone attractive or not depends on a lot on how long we’ve known them. Can you talk about that? Walk us through that research?

Paul Eastwick: Yes, definitely. So this goes back to this sort of classic trait based approach, right? I mean, the reason we’re asking questions about why we think physical attractiveness is more appealing to men or women. Same thing with status and resources is because classically the field has treated mating and mate selection in this trait based way, right? There’s a reality that you possess that’s determined by your traits. And like again, my job as a mate selector is to assess those traits and then make my selections accordingly. I think what that perspective misses, at least with respect to humans, is that part of the mate selection process in humans ancestrally wouldn’t have been about finding the objectively best mate, or even the objectively best mate that you could get given your own mate value, it would be about this ephemeral thing called compatibility.

And that’s because a lot of what mate selection was about in our ancestral past was about coordination and interdependence, right? So in order to raise these very costly offspring, I have to essentially set up an effective coordinated system with you and not just you, but also your family members and my family members. Right? But the pair bonding process and then what it takes to raise these costly offspring is not something that’s just about your traits and my traits. It’s also about how well we fit together and how well we work together. And so another of the main mate selection tasks that people have to solve is this assessment of compatibility. And that’s a lot trickier than assessing whether or not somebody has desirable traits.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. So this is what you’d call it, I guess you’d call it relational attributes of-

Paul Eastwick: Yes. Right. It’s a way of thinking about the concept of mate value, but in a relational way. Right? The idea is simply that, you know, somebody might not have the most desirable traits in the world, but because of the way we fit together, this person has tremendous mate value for me specifically. And I think that’s a useful way of thinking about the compatibility concept. Now what it suggests is that, you know, when we all get together and rate each other’s traits, sure there’s bound to be some agreement. We’re going to agree on who is attractive and who isn’t. But what’s going on with the disagreements that we have? Is it just random error? Are we guessing or is there something systematic and important about those disagreements that also tell us something about the way mate selection works?

Brett McKay: Well, walk us through the study you did with college students where you had them rate each other’s attractiveness the first day of class and then done the same thing three months later.

Paul Eastwick: Right, so that’s exactly what we did. So we had these students in a class, they had just met each other and all of the opposite sex pairs in the class are rating each other in terms of their attractiveness, but other traits classically related to mate selection, things like intelligence, things like status and what you see at the beginning of the academic semester is that there’s pretty strong agreement there about who is attractive and who isn’t. Now there’s also a lot of idiosyncratic variance as well and in fact you can compare these things to each other mathematically and you see about as much consensus as you do idiosyncratic variability. So there’s a healthy amount of agreement about who’s attractive and who isn’t, but also important, real disagreement, right? I think this person is more attractive than you do, right? That doesn’t mean that I’m right and you’re wrong, or vice versa. That’s legitimate disagreement there on top of the existing consensus, but then we followed them up at the end of the semester and what we found at that point was that things had started to shift. But it shifted in a way that’s a little bit counterintuitive. People’s consensus about who was attractive in the class actually went down relative to the beginning of the semester and that idiosyncratic variability, the disagreements and you know, sort of in parallel increased.

So in other words, as I get to know you better, we start agreeing less about whether or not you’re attractive, right? The people who you know especially well start to agree less and less about how desirable you are and we think this is reflective of this idiosyncratic nature of the way mate value Works. As I get to know you better and better, you make a joke that I think is particularly unfunny, but somebody else thinks that’s quite funny. That feeds into your attractiveness judgments of the person. You make other remarks in class. I witnessed you doing something really nice for somebody, but somebody else doesn’t witness that. That feeds into your attractiveness judgment, so because when we form impressions of each other over time, the meaning of those different behavioral nuggets can be interpreted so differently by the people who are observing you and sort of judging you and considering you as a potential mate. That’s what causes that consensus to decline and what causes this increase in idiosyncratic judgments of who is desirable and who’s not.

Brett McKay: That’s really interesting. So let’s unpack some things here. So when you did the initial evaluation, there was a consensus not only on physical attractiveness but also things like character, humor. There was a consensus there as well?

Paul Eastwick: Right. So we also asked people questions like if you were in a relationship with this person, how good would the relationship be? Right? Again, these people have not met for all that long and yet they’re still reaching some consensus about judgements like that too. It’s not nearly as high as the consensus they reach when it comes to judgments of physical attractiveness, but you know, they are sort of looking at these folks around them saying like, oh, maybe being in a relationship with this person would be good. This person, they seem to have good character, but you know, people at the beginning, they’re drawing from stereotypes. They’re drawing from snap judgments as they sort of make these determinations.

Brett McKay: I imagine like the halo effect is also going on like, you know, typically attractive people are seen as, you know, more honest, trustworthy, high status, etc, etc.

Paul Eastwick: Exactly, exactly. I mean it’s just, you know, some people at the beginning of the semester they’ve got this glow about them and that’s what’s sort of producing the consensus on all of these sorts of judgments certainly.

Brett McKay: Okay. And then as you went on, you get to know people more and more. That’s when things started, the consensus just basically went away completely.

Paul Eastwick: Yeah. I mean for judgments of things like this person is going to be a good relationship partner. I’d like to be in a relationship with this person. The consensus went down on those measures substantially. There’s still a little bit there, but it definitely goes down over time. We also ran a similar study among people who had known each other for a few years on average. Right? So this is as if we’re tapping into your network, right? If you’re a heterosexual man, we’re tapping into your network of female friends and acquaintances, right? So if you think about those women in your life that your friends, your acquaintances, you know, maybe there’s an ex in there, what do these women think of you? Did they agree about how desirable you are as a partner? About how attractive you are. And those folks exhibited the least consensus out of anybody.

So the people who know you the best are the people who agree that least on what you are like when it comes to these romantic sorts of judgments. And that’s another important caveat too, because usually we think like, well, the more somebody gets to know me, people should agree on what I am really like. There’s a reality to who I am as a person and you know that’s true for things like what your personality is like, but when it comes to these romantic judgments, the fact that we see this increasing disagreement as people get to know each other, suggest to us that you know what ever the mate value truth is about a person seems to be quite ephemeral. It seems to disappear the better you get to know somebody and you’re left with these very idiosyncratic impressions that some person is really great for me and this person is really not so great for me.

Brett McKay: So this can go back to, we were talking about a sort of mating, right? So there’s this idea that attractive people end up with attractive people, but what this research suggests that the longer someone knows you, they might initially not have found you physically attractive or attractive, but they got to know you and you end up in a relationship with them. Right? And so you’re less attractive than she is. I guess that can sort of put a wrench in this idea that equally attractive people always end up with each other.

Paul Eastwick: Right. Exactly. And so that was, you know, as we conducted this research, the assorted of mating question loomed large because it suggested, well, okay, if we all disagree about who is attractive and who’s not, then why is it that you see assortative mating out there in the world? And so the way we resolve this is by thinking, well, okay, when some relationships form, they form relatively quickly after two people initially meet each other, but other relationships, people know each other for months or even years before they ultimately get together. And what if that distinction, that dimension explains where some of the variability on assortative mating comes from. That is what if the people who get together quickly, that’s where you see the matches, right? Because these people are largely operating based on consensus, but the mismatches come as people get to know each other better over time. That opens up the opportunity for, maybe he or she is not the most attractive person on the planet, but as you get to know him or her, you start see this person as being quite attractive. That can then start to create some of those mismatches.

Brett McKay: So, there’s the stereotype of like the more attractive women ending up with a lesser attractive guy, like the guy dates up or whatever they talk about. Does it also work the other way around too? Like sometimes really attractive guys end up with women who would be objectively rated not as attractive?

Paul Eastwick: Yes. So the flip side of that definitely does happen. But the caveat, I think, what my guess is that if most of your listeners try to call to mind one example or the other, it is going to be easier for them to call to mind the schlubby guy with the attractive woman. But part of that is caused by the fact that on average women are more attractive than men. So that’s a little wrinkle in there that produces this. And usually when we talk about assortative mating, what we miss is that we’ll actually in all of these relationships on average, the woman is more attractive than the guy by about a half of a standard deviation. That’s a pretty reasonably sized effect. And so that’s an important component of this as well, that women generally tend to be rated as more attractive than men on average when you look at a reasonably sized swaths of real life men and women.

Brett McKay: But how do you think your research compliments or doesn’t compliment, this evolutionary approach of human mating because like, I mean, a lot of people will have, there’s whole industries, the pickup artist stuff that are based around this evolutionary approach to human mating where you have to like, you know, they tell guys how to increase their mate value on these specific traits. What do you think your research does that idea that’s out there?

Paul Eastwick: Yeah, I mean, you know, I only know a little bit about sort of the pickup artist techniques and the pickup artist scene and certainly a lot of those techniques and tactics are designed to be effective in initial attraction settings, right? Where you’re meeting people for the first time and those are certainly settings where you know you’re going to cue into these traits that are very easy to pick up very quickly. It takes some time to really get a sense of whether or not you know, there’s something about, like a unique fit between us and often that’s sort of not exactly what the pickup artists are going for necessarily. So sort of looking for makes you idiosyncratically desirable to somebody else is you know, probably a technique that’s going to be more useful to people who are cultivating the possibility of forming relationships over a longer period of time.

That being said, I think it would be really interesting to sort of clearly hone and define what these effective pickup tactics are and then train both male and female confederates to use these tactics in initial attraction settings and see how effective they are. Now, maybe they’ll only be effective for the men using these tactics and women who sort of dress with the fancy hats and sort of use these clever lines, maybe they won’t be appealing, but I don’t know. I’d like to see the data. I wonder if those sorts of tactics, if women used them, would also be pretty appealing.

Brett McKay: And how do you think your research complements the more classic evolutionary approach to human mating?

Paul Eastwick: I think in some ways it’s very complimentary, right? We aren’t saying that people don’t care about traits like physical attractiveness. Of course they do, but we’re saying that the relative amount of sort of consensus going for the popular person, that there’s a truth to how desirable you are, that’s true in some settings, but not all settings relative to mate selection. Right? And settings where people get to know each other better, people start, whether they know it or not, making judgements that have this more idiosyncratic compatibility element to it. I think with respect to some of the sex differences in the appeal of attractiveness or the appeal of status resources, you know, I do think our perspective is harder to reconcile with the evolutionary perspective on that front in the sense that I think when we look at people’s impressions of real people, when we look at how people are actually acting in their relationships, I think those sorts of studies get closer to tapping the kinds of judgments that really would have mattered in a functional way when people were evolving as opposed to what people’s circle on rating scales. So, I think some elements are that we present are very complimentary, some are more challenging.

Brett McKay: And what do you think are some practical takeaways from this research? For people who are in the dating game?

Paul Eastwick: And that’s a good question. So I do think that there is a tendency to think about the mating and dating as being about a game of first impressions, a game of how does it go when you meet somebody else? Do you sufficiently impress them that they want to hook up with you or they want to give you their number, etc. And another really important thing that we find that some of our research is that the vast majority of relationships, whether short term or long term, do not form this way. People’s hookups and longterm relationships are usually come out of their networks of friends and acquaintances that these, as I talked about before, people have networks of their heterosexual opposite sex individuals that sort of float in and out of their lives. And that’s where most of these romantic experiences come from. So I think what’s often hard for people, let’s say they moved to a new city and their social network is pretty thin. It can get very frustrating to be out there dating and trying to meet new people and not having a lot of success.

But in some ways the problem is that getting out there and meeting people with initial impressions is always a very tough way to go regardless of what kind of relationship you’re looking for. It’s the thinness of your social network that is often the real problem. So if I were to give anybody advice who’s struggling with dating, it’s the more effort you can put into just sort of building your network, gradually building the people that you know and spend time with getting to meet new people without immediate expectations of something becoming romantic or sexual right away, that’s ultimately going to be a more fulfilling process. Right? It’s like diversify your portfolio and give it time to grow and expand rather than, you know, like keep hitting the same bars over and over again. I think it’s likely to be a much more fulfilling experience to do the former rather than the ladder.

Brett McKay: And what do you think your research says about dating apps? Because these things like Tinder, they’re all based on initial physical attraction or you swipe right because you just see a picture of someone who’s attractive or not.

Paul Eastwick: Right, exactly, and it is interesting how online dating has in some ways up ended this sort of traditional way of forming relationships where relationships, again, sexual hookups or longterm grow out of the networks that people have and with online dating sites and with apps give certainly the sense that there are all these options out there, right? As you’re sort of looking at all the various possibilities in front of you and you’re swiping right and swiping left, you get the sense that there are many possibilities out there and people are often effective at leveraging these sorts of encounters into immediate sexual hookups and things like that. So there’s nothing wrong with that and that’s often a very good way to go for people. I think for people who get, who are starting to get a little burned out on the apps or feeling like, oh my God, I’m spending a lot of time on these.

Again, thinking about these apps as ways of expanding your social network, not you know, solely a means of immediate sexual gratification could also be very, very useful. That, you know, that is, you might go on a Tinder date with somebody and it might just be okay, but you did have this one interest in common and you start spending time with the person and get to know some of their friends and your friends meet their friends and that starts to snowball and expand that way. So I think if we don’t, you know, dichotomize our relationship so much into, you know, these are the people I have sex with, these are my friends, but we sort of again think about a network of people that we know and we allow that network to grow and change over time. I think that ends up sort of giving people the best possible options.

Brett McKay: So you use the apps as a tool to increase your network. Not necessarily to get a romantic relationship.

Paul Eastwick: Right. I mean you can use it for that too, but again, my sense from people that use these apps and I confess, I have not done online dating in a very long time, well before there were the apps. But you know, my sense is that people start to burn out, right? Because they go on a lot of coffee dates before they find somebody that they even remotely like and sometimes it’s useful to find ways of even turning those meh coffee dates into a win. And again, if we don’t think about Tinder and other apps as an immediate road to a hookup that it’s really more about expanding your social network. That I think tends to go better for people.

Brett McKay: And we had Kate Julian, the Atlantic writer, she wrote that article about the sex recession she talked about people getting burnt out and then also people just not having any luck with the apps. So say you’re a guy, you’re not super physically attractive. So they never get a match because you know, women just like swipe left on them and they found that, okay, if I just start dating in person, I actually have better luck there because people get to know that I’m funny and charming and I’m kind, etc, etc.

Paul Eastwick: Right, right. Exactly. I mean, the apps do put many people at a substantial disadvantage.

Brett McKay: So, I think it sounds like the big takeaway here is, you know, physical attractiveness, those play a role, but there’s much more nuance to human relationships than what we think there is.

Paul Eastwick: Yeah. I think that’s right and that the humans evolved in relatively small groups where we got to know each other over long stretches of time and the possible mates that you are going to have over the course of your life, it was a pretty small group and it was probably a group of people that you tended to know pretty well and that is an evolved reality that’s tough to reconcile with the fact that many young people today are very mobile. They move from place to place and they also often live in large cities where there is vast swathes of people out there. So I think to create a community of people is often the thing that helps people as they negotiate the romantic landscape.

Brett McKay: Well Paul, it’s been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?

Paul Eastwick: They can go to my website. It’s Very straightforward, and there we have our publications and links to videos and things that explain the kind of work that we do.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love it. You have all your PDFs, your research and PDFs there, which I really appreciate. So, so thanks for making that available. Paul Eastwick. Thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Paul Eastwick: Yes. Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed this.

Brett McKay: My guest, it was Paul Eastwick. He’s professor of psychology at UC Davis. You can find out all the research he’s done. He’s got them all in PDFs for free at his website. Go check that out. Also check out our show notes at where you find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the podcast. Check out our website at You can find thousands of well-researched, thorough articles and just about anything, relationships, personal finances, health and fitness. You name it. We’ve got it. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you’d take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot and if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member if you think they could get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay, encouraging you to not only listen to the podcast, but put what you’ve learned into action.

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