What you bring to the table, sexually, matters.
In fact, it is life-changing. What job opportunities you get, whom you end up with as a partner, the chances your children will have — it all depends on your sexual market value.
Learn why SMV is rooted in evolutionary fitness, how it plays out in different phases of your life, and what you can do to improve yours.
Definition: What Is Sexual Market Value (SMV)?
Sexual market value (SMV) is your worth to other players in the sexual marketplace. The higher your SMV, the more leverage you have in the game of dating.
For example, if you are an exceptionally attractive woman, you will get many more offers from men than if you were less attractive.
Likewise, if you are a confident, driven man, you will get more attention from women than if you were insecure and lethargic.
So, while it’s difficult to quantify SMV, it clearly exists. Some people have more of it, some less.
The concept goes back to the laws of economics. Everything is a game, and we are all competing over limited resources — in this case, sexual access to attractive mates.
Why We Are Uncomfortable With SMV
SMV rubs many people the wrong way.
Tellingly, it is not the winners that complain. Rarely will you hear an extremely attractive person grumble about the injustices of the sexual marketplace.
They know full well that SMV is real, as they have been enjoying its benefits for all of their adult lives.
Likewise, people with a low SMV rarely question the idea either. Their lifelong lack of opportunities really drives the point home.
It’s the people in the middle, the sexual average, that gets worked up about SMV.
They will go on about “conventional standards of beauty,” and argue that what we perceive as attractive is really a social construct.
“It’s the media that instills these beauty standards in our minds,” they will say.
Scientifically speaking, though, there is no question that we prefer mates which gives us a better chance at reproduction. What we perceive as “beauty” is really an expression of reproductive fitness.
All other animals — not just humans — show the same predilections. They will reliably choose the most attractive partner they can get with and discard less attractive options. It is in their best genetic self-interest.
When people contest these dynamics, it is because they subscribe to a radically egalitarian worldview. Nobody can be seen as more valuable than another person.
But like it or not, that is how marketplaces work.
Customers on Amazon won’t be persuaded to buy a crappy product if there is a better option available.
Employers won’t be persuaded to hire a less qualified candidate if there is a more qualified candidate around.
And just like that, people will never date down, if they can get hotter.
In truth, the denial of SMV itself is a selfish move.
By trying to shame people into thinking that they shouldn’t be attracted to superior mates (superior from a sexual point of view), these people are trying to level the playing field. If everybody is equally desirable, their own sexual averageness is no longer a disadvantage.
Interestingly, this whole discussion seems a lot more prevalent in the heterosexual world. When I listen to gay friends talk about their sexual choices, they don’t mince words. They will call a lemon a lemon.
The Good News
The good news is that you are not at the mercy of nature. You can improve your own sexual market value significantly.
This will look different for everyone, depending on your gender, your dating goals, and what you already bring to the table. We’ll get into the specifics in a bit.
Granted, there is a natural ceiling to what you can achieve. For example, with my genetics, my age, and my history, I won’t become a male sex symbol any time soon. That ship has sailed.
But most of us are currently not anywhere close to that ceiling. If we did put the work in, we could easily improve our relative attractiveness by 30 or 40 percent, I would estimate.
Who Am I To Talk?
From about 2010 to 2014, I ran a dating coaching business with my ex-poly girlfriend. Together, we taught our clients how to initiate the courtship process as well as how to go about alternative relationship models.
Talking to hundreds of clients and more importantly, watching them in action, we would again and again observe the same SMV dynamics. It was like watching Groundhog Day.
The following is a distillation of these dynamics. Interestingly, our anecdotal findings are mostly in line with the scientific research about what determines sexual attractiveness. To a large extent, we really act like biological machines.
I’ll reference some of these resources at the end of this article, in case you want to dig deeper.
What we found is that you can relatively easily trigger favorable reactions from potential mates, if you know what these triggers are. When you understand your sexual programming, you can manipulate your SMV.
That is the solution to the sexual puzzle — not moaning about the sexual hierarchy but learning to play the game.
Let’s look at the rules.
Rule 1: Your SMV Depends on Your Gender
The first thing we need to look at is the role of gender. The way your SMV plays out differs vastly for men and women.
For women, the prime factor is physical beauty — your figure, your curves, your facial symmetry, your hair, your skin, etc.
Physical beauty is not the only factor that can attract men to women, but it by far outweighs all other factors.
Thinking back to my dating coaching clients, I estimate that physical beauty accounted for 80–90 percent of them feeling attracted to a certain woman. To be clear, the remaining 10–20 percent like personality or sense of humor still mattered and actually grew in importance as the relationship went on.
But the initial assessment always came down to, “How hot is she?”
For men, there is no clear-cut single factor that determines their SMV. Rather, it’s a game of mix and match.
Man A’s sexual success might mostly be due to a great physique (60%), in combination with a good sense of humor (20%), and being a decent listener (10%).
Man B’s sexual success might primarily rely on charisma (40%), displays of intelligence (30%), and his prowess in the bedroom (30%).
Man C having neither good looks nor charisma, might bank his sexual success on his material wealth (60%), his decisiveness (30%), and his occasional moments of vulnerability (10%).
No two male SMVs ever look the same.
Why Everybody Is Complaining
Predictably, neither gender is happy with the cards they were dealt.
Why Women Are Complaining
Women understandably don’t enjoy being reduced to their physical attributes, especially in a professional or private context.
A female friend once told me it’s like an actor who was first cast for a hit comedy and now only gets offered comedic parts. People are oblivious to what else you might be capable of. They only want to see you in one role.
Hence, many women wish for the mix-and-match freedom that men enjoy. But no matter how well they craft their unique, well-balanced identity, a large majority of the market doesn’t care.
Also, being desired by everybody comes with real risks, like sexual harassment and rape. That means you cannot move as freely through the world as your male counterparts in the marketplace.
I can only imagine what it would be like to not be able to travel the world on my own without a second thought for my safety. It would suck.
Being inherently attractive can also quickly lead to economic dependencies. When every man wants to lay the world at your feet, it is tempting to let them. But what was given can also be taken away, especially once your physical beauty fades.
Why Men Are Complaining
I said earlier how women begrudge men their freedom to mix and match their sexual attributes.
But what seems like an unfair advantage can also be a handicap. Many men struggle with the openness of their sexual market value.
Unlike women, they have little to rely on naturally. Male physical beauty doesn’t trigger most women like it does the other way around.
So, men need to create themselves.
And if you are a self-motivated go-getter, that can play out to your advantage. But most people aren’t (neither men nor women). So, they go mostly unnoticed in the sexual marketplace.
When I was still working as a dating coach, men would sometimes remark to me, “I wish a was a woman, just for one day. I would love to see what it feels like to get all that attention wherever I go.”
Of course, that is shortsighted. A lot of that attention is not desirable. And being an attractive woman also comes with real risks, like harassment or rape.
But they still had a point. If you have gone through life without anyone ever being crazy about you, but then there is a large group of people that get sexual opportunities thrown at them wherever they go, of course, you are going to be jealous.
Rule 2: Your SMV Depends on Timing
Your sexual market is highly dependent on timing. This relates to:
- Your SMV in relation to others
- The SMV of others in relation to you
1. Your SMV in Relation to Others
Your SMV peaks at a certain point in your life and then declines.
For women, their peak SMV is usually between 20 and 25, give and take a few years. During that time, they will get the maximum amount of attention from men.
For men, their peak SMV is usually between 30 and 35, give and take a few years. During that time, they will appear the most desirable to women.
There is also a difference in how quickly our SMVs go down. With women, it tends to decline more rapidly, once you have peaked. With men, the decline in SMV tends to happen more slowly.
Of course, I am generalizing. There are incredibly hot 50-year-old women (Sofía Vergara is 51) and there are plenty of 30-year-old men that nobody wants to touch. But as a general tendency, it holds true.
It makes sense to capitalize on your SMV when it is at its highest. You will have more buying power in the market.
This is a common mistake that I saw with our dating coaching clients. Even though they want to be in a long-term relationship, they would off on committing, always thinking someone better might come along.
The same is true for many women. During their “party years,” they will live it up, as they are getting lots of attention from men. But the risk is to assume it will go on like this forever, without any decline in your SMV.
For either gender, if they miss the window, the consequences are substantial. They will have to settle for a partner less than optimal than what they could have had earlier. In some cases, they might come away altogether empty-handed.
2. The SMV of Others in Relation to You
What attributes we find attractive in others also change over time.
I refer to this as the 3 sexual stages:
Stage I (approx. 15–30 years): Here, we are most concerned with sexual attraction. The limiting factor is usually the woman. She decides if it happens or not.
Stage II (approx. 31–45 years): Now the game becomes about starting a family. The limiting factor is usually the man. He must decide if he is on board or not.
Stage III (approx. 45 years to end of life): The final stage is about emotional companionship. The decision to be companions is usually mutual.
During stage I, the most important factor is sexual desirability.
If you are a woman, you should focus on — surprise, surprise — improving your physical attractiveness. All the usual advice from women’s magazines applies. Get fit. Optimize your style. If you want to take it to the max, consider plastic surgery.
If you are a man, you will see the most success by mixing and matching the following qualities:
- Physical appearance: Improve your muscle-to-fat ratio and your style.
- Confident behavior: Know what you stand for, and act decisively.
- Ambition: Have plans and put them into action.
- Vitality: Display “life force;” having energy is a sign of strength.
- Leadership qualities: Demonstrate that others look up to you and follow you.
- Potential for violence: Be able to defend yourself and those close to you.
In stage II, our preferences change.
In women, men are no longer only looking for physical hotness (even though that is still the big one), but now also are screening for factors like emotional stability, reliability, and skills like cooking or running a household.
Note: I know how terribly backward this sounds, but the sexual marketplace is what it is. These were the qualities that most men we were coaching were looking for if they fell in the stage II category.
In men, women are suddenly paying a lot more attention to actual economic standing and social status — which makes perfect sense. Since it is you who will bear the child and most likely do most of the raising, you are to a degree chaining yourself to a man.
Therefore, it is a very good idea to make sure he has actual success, not just the potential for success. Even if you plan to continue your own career and be self-sufficient (highly advisable), having a resourceful partner will make a lot of things easier.
Here, expectations change again. Interestingly, the qualities we are now looking for are starting to merge.
Both genders are now upping their appreciation of social and emotional intelligence. The more our partner has these qualities, the easier it will be to enjoy our sunset years together.
The need for stability further increases. So does the need for reliability. As we grow old, we want someone to help us and stick around in case we fall sick or die.
Rule 3: Your SMV Depends on Your Desired Outcome
The qualities we are looking for vary depending on your dating goals.
If you are looking for a fling, you will seek out different qualities than if you were trying to start a committed relationship.
With flings, we broaden our sexual range. An SMV that would not meet our criteria under normal circumstances now becomes acceptable. We are willing to loosen our standards if it’s “just sex.”
Also, we are looking for signs of sexual promiscuity.
For women, this might be communicated through style, seeking and holding eye contact, and smiling at a man. In online dating, it might be communicated through sexual innuendo.
For men, sexual promiscuity can also be communicated through style, as well as displays of social dominance.
But more than anything, men need to make a move. They need to break the ice and appear as if they have done this a thousand times before.
As the interaction goes on, both parties must continue to signal sexual availability. Women will laugh at bad jokes, men will move in for the kiss.
The appeal of sexual availability is twofold.
First, it signals sexual experience. “This ain’t my first rodeo,” is what’s being subcommunicated. And when you are feeling frisky, you want someone who knows what they are doing.
Second, these signs promise a good effort-to-reward ratio. Potentially, sex might be had without too much hassle.
With so-called committed relationships, we narrow our SMW. We become extra critical of whom we will get with. Ideally, we want to date someone slightly out of our league.
The qualities we must display also change.
Whereas with flings, female sexual availability is a plus, now displays of chastity win the game. This plays into the Madonna fantasies of many men. Getting with a “good girl” is ultimately an attempt at making sure the offspring is yours.
With men, kindness becomes a thing. A “good guy” might not be as sexually exciting, but he is less likely to stray and more likely to stick around. He will be there to raise the kids
Overall, committed relationships stress risk aversion. We want to increase our chances of passing on our genes.
Resources for Further Reading
If you want to learn more about sexual market value, I recommend you read these books:
- “The Evolution of Desire” by David Buss
- “The Mating Mind” by Geoffrey Miller
- “The Red Queen” by Matt Ridley
- “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins
- “Sperm Wars” by Robin Baker