The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sex and the Olympic Athlete

A terrific article discussing something I've heard whispered about for years: that the most intense sex on the planet takes place in the Olympic villages. Perfect male and female bodies colliding in erotic sport. Yow. In relation to our discussions on this board, note the comment that female Gold Medal winners are considered no more desirable than the losers. On the other hand, male Gold Medal winners are chased like crazy. One can consider this a neutral phenomenon (ain't that interesting?) or as negative toward either men or women ("Men are intimidated by powerful women!" "Women are just power-chasing gold diggers!") or any mixture that appeals to you. I just crunch the data. What do you guys think?
I have to admit that my "One Step Down" idea comes directly out of my teaching experience. It is a way to encourage students to improve their reading, to visit art museums, to get out and live. As Steve Perry so rightly points out, it needs to be labeled "In general..."


Donnon said...

My question is, if we assume that the boys who are inclined to invite other boys up to their room also are looking at the other boys' bodies and looks, are the girls who are inclined to invite other girls up to their room also after the girl gold medalists, or the looks? What's their selection process? -Dave in Anaheim.

Bennett said...

My guess as to the less selective nature of male interest as opposed to female is that it just mirrors the general population. It isn't just that the women here are pickier, it's more than the men are /less/ selective. Call it libidinous or simply open-minded, depending on your mindset.

Turning away from the physics of what a couple of gymnasts or swimmers could do (so as not to dazzle the mind)--what do you suppose the pickup lines are like?

A few of the tamer ones I can come up with (leaving out, for starters, all the myriad puns related to swimming strokes and any sport involving equipment with a phallic or other bodily reference):

"Up for some cross-training?"

"Care to do a few laps with me?"

"Hey, y'know what they say is really great cardio?"

"My trainer says I need some help working out a few kinks..."

"Hi, I'm Michael Phelps."

Shady_Grady said...

I think it's just neutral-just a description of life. As the article points out and as has been discussed here, male success and achievement is rather more of a turn on for women than female success is for men.

Mark Jones said...

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'd have to say that for me the article is pretty much on the money. Given that all the women in the pool (so to speak) are young, strong, flexible and fit, and many of them are pretty as well--I'm not really inclined to care much whether they medaled or not. So my behavior (were I there as an athlete) would fall right in line with how the article describes the men's behavior when it comes to chasing female athletes.

The women, apparently, have more stringent guidelines.

Unknown said...

Just a quick comment, I got here off a friend's blog and this discussion was intriguing. I think most of the male/female targeted attraction can be linked back to our wonderful biological imperatives that are built in...males want to have sex and increase the species/prove their manhood, females normally are looking for a mate to provide for and protect their progeny. :)

I think this one is more sociology than socialization. It will be interesting to see what would happen when our biology could catch up to our social mores. Would the dating behavior be more similar?

Marty S said...

My suspicion is that its a result of the classic view of beauty/hunkiness. Beauty in women is all about the right curves, not an athletic muscular body, while an athletic muscular body is the ideal in men.

Mark Jones said...

Marty--that doesn't explain the differential between female Olympians selectively pursuing male medal winners while male Olympians pursue female Olympians with little or no apparent concern for whether they won. All the athletes are presumptively young, strong, fit and therefore reasonable attractive (if they are also pretty that's a bonus).

I doubt there's much discernible difference (in appearance) between male medal winners and the also-rans. But the women (at least anecdotally) preferential pursue the medalists, whereas the men don't.

Mike R said...

I think the short answer is that women are just more picky about who they have sex with then men.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I take the gender difference as sort of neutral. It's a somewhat bad deal for both men and women, but in different ways. For women, success gets less of a reward. For men, the chance of a big reward is smaller.

The amusing thing is that things heat up as athletes are out of competition. Is there a perverse incentive for those who didn't have much chance of winning big?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

One more thing about it being neutral-- I usually don't see much point in complaining about what people actually want[1], especially when it's pretty harmless. The only caveats I can see in this case are that there might be some observer bias (the reporter seeing what they expect to see) and that it's tempting to overgeneralize.

There's been a fairly rapid shift toward capable women being considered attractive rather than scary. For all I know, it could go farther until victory is also considered sexy in women.

[1] I still complain about how much people (considered as a group, not everyone) like cruelty beyond anything that can be conceived as practical. In evolutionary terms, the biggest surprise is child abuse. There are parents who put in decades of highly energetic nastiness. Shouldn't that have been selected out by now?

Another is self-hatred, especially at the level that leads to paralyzing depression. Again, there doesn't seem to be any advantage, but for some people, it's tremendously tempting.

Steve Perry said...

Usual caveats apply here, vis a vis the broad, sweeping statements, but:

Men lacking in self-confidence might be intimidated by accomplished women; men who aren't, aren't -- at least in my experience.

Smart, funny, accomplished and fit beats gorgeous-looking all to hell and gone, far as I am concerned. It isn't always all about curves, there is that joie de vivre that some people have as part of jocking out that calls to others.

It's all personal preference, so who likes whom and why gets down to that, and all that testosterone keeps the brew bubbling.

Kai Jones said...

Because women are at higher risk from sex, it's unsurprising they'd have different standards from men.

Daniel Keys Moran said...


Evolution doesn't care if you're happy -- it just cares that you breed. You have to get to pretty high levels of performance, higher than most of the human race ever reaches, before depression or vile parents make as much of a difference as not getting enough to eat.

If you breed because you want to punish your children for your parents' sins -- we've sure all known cases of people who did that -- you've still bred.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Dan, reproduction doesn't just mean having kids, it means having grandkids. If you make your kids less capable (and a lot of kinds of abuse do that), then you've still imposed a reproductive cost on yourself.

Anonymous said...

Stories like this get trotted out about every four years. Nothing really new here except the emphasis on condoms.

The biologists tell us sperm count goes up the farther a man travels from home. After training like demons, living like monks, sweating adrenaline and circulating testosterone instead of blood the athletes must have the sex drive of a battle ship full of sailors.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

steve perry, my point is that it isn't all personal choice. What was considered an extraordinarily attractive to the Victorians isn't what's most attractive now.

There are people who, for good and/or ill, aren't affected by social pressure, but that doesn't mean it has no effect.

Steve Perry said...

Nancy --

But in the end, it *is* about personal choice. Adults are aware of social pressures, but they are also aware that, in the end, what they do is up to them.

Jocks probably appreciate other jocks not just because they are taut, but because they understand the work it takes to be like them.
I think this is why actors or musicians or writers often marry each other -- they want to be with somebody who understands who they are.

Which is not to say there are all that many adults around. It's not about age, adulthood.

We are social creatures, to be sure, and when my daughter was in middle school, a whole lot of the little girls wanted to look like Farah Fawcett. And anybody who hurried down to see Mr. Frank to get her hair done just like the lead angel? Not a lot of adults in that crowd.

Mores shift, and the herd zigs instead of zags, and what appealed to Og or the Victorians or the I-like-Ike 1950's might not be so appealing today, of course.

I'm not saying there is no social component to what people find attractive. But if one bases all his or her choices on what the herd thinks they ought to be, then one is a sheep.

And as John Brunner's title allows, the sheep need to look up once in a while.

Part of why we are all here with Barnes, isn't it?

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Nancy, sure -- success means having grandkids. But forgive me, isn't it self-evident that being an abusive asshole, short of actually killing your kids, isn't selected against in any meaningful way?

There's a lot of genetic traits that are at first blush plainly bad for the individual and should be selected against -- suicide. Homosexuality. Killing your kids.

In most cases, you can make a plausible argument that there's a survival value in those genes -- not for the individuals involved, but for the tribe they belong to. On the kill your kids/suicide stuff, when there's not enough food to go around, it's not such a bad thing for the marginal individuals to remove themselves from the gene pool.

On the gay thing, stats seem to show that gays didn't really remove themselves from the gene pool that often, and there are at least plausible benefits to a given tribe for having gay members which would explain why gay genes weren't selected out.

Genes don't have to be good for the people who bear them, they just have to be good by association for the people they're closely related to....

I could probably make a plausible case that seriously abused young men would frequently enough grow up to be great warriors who'd protect the tribe when the evil Others from across the river came visiting. That seething anger that abusive men walk around with ... useful if you need someone who wants to kill.

In any event, evolution and happiness or mental health are only distantly related. Breeding while vile or crazy is fine with evolution.

Jas. the Hidden said...

"note the comment that female Gold Medal winners are considered no more desirable than the losers. On the other hand, male Gold Medal winners are chased like crazy."

Since no one else mentioned it, I'll ask: is it possible that it's a simple case of numbers? According to one source, there were about 1500 more male athletes at the Olympics than female athletes. Given those numbers, maybe males can't afford to be too picky but females have a choice between medalists and not.

Or am I really off base here?