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A fear of pubic lice puts women off bearded men

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Maggie Thatcher famously disliked beards, and if a new Australian and UK study is correct, it may have been because she wasn't a big fan of pubic lice. The researchers surveyed 919 women to try to determine what they found attractive in a man, beard-wise, when considering either a short fling or a longer-term relationship. They also surveyed women's levels of disgust towards parasitic lice, disease, sex and their 'moral disgust'. The results suggest women who are squeamish about ticks, pubic lice and other hair-borne pests find bearded men less attractive, and that married women prefer bearded men if they're planning to have kids, while single women would rather their baby daddy was clean-shaven.

Journal/conference: Royal Society Open Science

DOI: 10.1098/rsos.191209

Organisation/s: The University of Queensland

Funder: University of Queensland.

Media Release

From: The Royal Society

A multivariate analysis of women’s mating strategies and sexual selection on men’s facial morphology

Beard bugs - Women squeamish about ticks, pubic lice and other hair-borne pests find bearded men less attractive. Researchers studying the effects of male facial masculinity and beardedness on heterosexual women’s judgement of attractiveness, said disgust helped humans evolve less hair to avoid disease-carrying parasites. The study (in 917 women and 37 men) also found that when married women were considering having children they found bearded men more attractive, but showed no change in feelings toward clean shaven men.

While masculinity may communicate benefits to women and offspring directly (i.e. resources) or indirectly (i.e. health), masculine men may be costly as long-term partners owing to lower paternal investment. The current study takes a multivariate approach to testing whether women’s mate preferences are context dependent. We found no associations between pathogen disgust, self-perceived mate value or reproductive ambition and facial masculinity preferences. However, we did find a significant positive association between moral disgust and preferences for more masculine faces and faces with full beards. Women’s preferences for beards were negatively associated with their disgust towards ectoparasites, providing evidence for ectoparasite avoidance hypothesis, but were positively associated with their self-reported pathogen disgust, providing support for parasite-stress theories of sexual selection and mate choice. Preferences for beards were positively associated with reproductive ambition among single and married women, while associations between reproductive ambition and preferences for clean-shaven faces were positive among single women but negative among married women.

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