Women Like Muscle Men. Right?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

When men were asked what sort of physique they thought women most preferred and were offered a choice of silhouettes to choose from, they guessed that women wanted muscle men.

Turns out the ladies mostly like guys with average builds. Toned is great. But too much muscle can be too much.

Think of the guys you see in Cosmo, not Men’s Health. Definitely not Iron Man. More Bradley Cooper and less Sylvester Stallone. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fine-looking, too.

Now, some women are into big muscles. Maria Shriver was into Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it wasn’t his physique that made her leave him. But according to stats, most women like men with pretty normal body builds.

Here’s what a couple had to say on one forum:  

  • Never been a fan myself of the big muscled look. I like well-built guys but not those who are swelled up all over.
  • Men are able to impress mostly other men with their muscles while women are more turned by a sense of humor, emotional connection, empathy, intelligence, success amongst other qualities.

Saying that women prefer less muscly men may seem to promote a narrow standard of male beauty. But no natural man’s body is bulging with muscles. Guys have to put a lot of time, effort and possibly steroids, into creating that particular body type.

Other research has found that women prefer qualities like loyalty and generosity over bulging biceps and strong jaw lines, too.

But really, the biggest turn-on is probably confidence, and muscular men may well have more of it.

Moral of the story: Accept yourself, be comfortable with yourself, like yourself and others will likely like you too.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 17, 2014, in body image, feminism, men, psychology, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 53 Comments.

  1. There are some contradictions here.

    It is said that the media alters people’s tastes with the images that they promote.
    Men learned to be attracted to unnatural looking women because of the media exposing unnatural models and female porn stars. So men learned to like women with unnatural big breasts and ultra thin models. And this social learning even applies to women since women learn the breast fetish too.

    But when it comes to women and their preference on men the theory of social learning doesn’t seem to apply. Given that the male body is a bit ignored by the media, still the ONLY kind of male of body that is portrayed by the media is the lean toned male body. Still most women do not learn to like that kind of male body even though it’s portrayed by the media.
    Some women may like it, others may like more chubby male bodies, other may like with hair or no hair and many many women aren’t interested in male bodies at all!

    If women can learn to like the female body because of the media, shouldn’t women also learn to like the male body because of the media? But there is not much of effect there.
    That could well mean that men and women are different.

    That brings another issue.
    Men and women learn to be attracted to the female body but many women aren’t attracted to the male body even though they are straight! Their explanation is that the female body is attractive whereas the male body isn’t and that women are drawn to men because of their personality.How can women have sex with men if they find their bodies unattractive?
    Once again it seems that men and women are different but what’s really interesting is that men and women value women’s good looks whereas women value men’s personality.

    The media overexposed the female body because that’s what the straight men were interested in and women also learned to like it.
    But since the companies are all about profit and they spend large amounts of money in researches on how they can manipulate people in buying their products, if there was the possibility of women learning to be attracted to the male body, wouldn’t have they already it used that?

    • I suspect the reason for the difference is that women simply aren’t bombarded by media images of men in the same way that men are bombarded by media images of women. How are you going to develop a taste for a particular type of body when you don’t see it that often?

      • So the number of lean male models’ bodies that appear in the media and the ads is still not high enough to shape women’s taste?
        but a few women seem to be attracted to that kind of bodies.

      • I’m not sure if we are talking about the same thing. Women do like toned men but not bulky muscles, As much. That’s on average. Some women do like bulky muscles. Maybe not Mr. Universe but Men’s Health. You will always get a variety of taste.

  2. I like the moral of this post: Accept yourself, be comfortable with yourself, like yourself and others will likely like you too. This is completely true and I believe that it goes very well with the topic since I think it’s not true that women like muscle men. A lot of times men and women alike are worried about making themselves likeable when in reality we can’t really stereotype and say “women like muscle men” or “men only like skinny women.” These are very common scenarios of what people sometimes think and in most cases they are wrong. I would prefer a man who is average built and loves himself for what he is and not trying to be something else so that “women” like him. Everyone will have their own likes and dislikes, but we can’t generalize and say that women prefer muscle men because this is most likely not the case. I, myself, would probably look at muscles last because as the post suggests, there are many qualities that a women will notice in a man and that really, in my opinion, does not include muscles 

  3. Women like squatting so that they can show their sexy butt. The same thing, men shows their muscular body. I am a big fan of muscle man. I don’t want to be too bulky. I just want to be in toned and cut. I am pretty sure that women like muscle men because they think that muscle men are strong, brave and sexy for them. Having a toned and cut and muscle makes good looking for girls. I think it makes more attractive. I think women don’t really like too bulky guy. I think that looks ugly because I saw some guys look the upper body is way bigger than the bottom body part. So I would say women likes normal muscle men.

  4. I have to say that I do find that toned men are more attractive. For me there’s something unnatural looking when a person has to much bulk. I guess because I know that most of the time steroids is involved. However, I know it also takes so much time and dedication to have a fit body, which for that I give them kudos. My point in all this is that to me beauty should be something natural. Something that is improved through time with the right type of modifications in life. However, in the end true beauty is reflected through character and sooner or later without us wanting it to bodies will change and all that is left is what lies from within.

  5. “Moral of the story: Accept yourself, be comfortable with yourself, like yourself and others will likely like you too.” Great words to live by.

    But all in all, it all depends on the women’s opinion on what she finds attractive. I feel like it is common for a women to like muscle men, but that is because more muscular men tend to be more confident with themselves because of the appearance of their body and usually women tend to find confidence attractive. However, confidence can also be a double edged sword as some people can convey men’s confidence into cockiness.

    However, it is nice to know that from the previous comments, it seems like the majority of women prefer the more natural look of men of being more slim.

  6. Everyone has their own opinion of what they call attractive I honestly think personality is everything in men, its the most attractive quality to have. my ex boyfriend was buff and it seemed like he was trying to Impress other guys more than me as if it was a “lets see who’s buffer competition” and along with his buffness their came cockiness I felt like he was the girl in the relationship at times. I’m all for going to the gym and staying healthy but some men go overboard. I think men who aren’t gym junkies are more down to earth and fun to be around their not full of themselves.

  7. What concerns me, I like to look at pictures with muscle men. Why not? I find athletic muscle body very attractive and I respect these men because they are very persistent and purposeful, as it is a very hard work to build muscles. But in real life I will not prefer a man with such an extreme muscle mass. I have nothing against them personally, but such men seem to me clumsy like bears. Also they seem to be a narcissist as they try to wear open shirt or tight T-shirt to draw attention to their muscular body. It seems to me that such men think that once girls see such a muscular body they will want to have a sex with them. Of course, sometimes the body, like clothes, can help to make the first impression. But it is not enough, men still need to keep this attention, so they should have a certain amount of intelligence, have a good sense of humor and have interest in something other than a gym rather than be focused only on their muscles.

  8. I feel like this post brings up a good point. Men and women tend to expect women to always be attracted to GQ men, actors with oiled up six packs and quarterbacks, not the average Joe. However, I think that generalization is just as far fetched as assuming all men want blondes. There definitely are levels of muscles to be considered. A toned or athletic man does seem more attractive to me than a man who has body builder muscles, but in general muscles are not a priority for me. While there likely is a good portion of women who are attracted to muscles I could assume that plenty of them would lean towards a more average build for their lovers. I know for me that would be because I feel like men with muscles seem less warm. I wouldn’t feel as comfortable cuddling with hard muscles. Besides the cuddling, men who have large muscles tend have a certain persona. A man with muscles is going to be concerned with physical appearance and will spend a lot of time dedicated to maintaining that appearance. That says a lot about how he lives his life, and since thats not I am about as a person, it doesn’t create that spark of desire. Likely, a man like that wouldn’t be attracted to me either and in the end I think women,and men, are most attracted to individuals who are compatible with their lives.

  9. Shahin Larhnimi

    People prefer different body types and it all comes down to what YOU think is attractive. I would say that I like toned men compared to many of my girlfriends that have their eyes for men with a bunch of muscles. It is all in the eyes of the beholder, but a lot of men believe that they have to have huge muscles to impress others and show that they are “real men”. It does not always have to do with what we women want, how we want our men to look like because if it was for that reason, most men would not bother to go to the gym and try so hard to build their bodies with muscles (not all women want bodybuilders). There are of course a stereotypical picture of how a man should look like and many people see pictures in magazines of a “perfect man” and think that it is how it is supposed to be. The image of a man has changed majorly and a lot of men strive to get closer to the ideal man (same as women). Men do often compare themselves to each other, who is the strongest one or weakest and they compare their strength with other men to get that confirmation exactly as women do but women compare beauty instead.

    Generally speaking, a lot of women say “ the older I got, I started to realise that I was more attracted to a man with a brain and a good personality”, and that it how it should be but we all know that that peoples bodies and faces are the first thing we judge, if that person the things on our lists.

  10. I think it might be that men believe women prefer men who are more muscular because most men relate a strong body with a strong personality and confidence, without necessarily realizing it. Personally, I think a man who is more “fit” and slim or has an athletic body would probably be more attractive than a muscular men. I think muscular men would be more intimidating and less easier to talk to to than a fitted man. Plus, I would probably assume that a man who is very muscular would probably be really into the gym and really into special diets or something, therefore more preoccupied with the way to he looks and spending time at the gym than giving attention to someone (again, I’m just assuming) Whenever i have heard my friends joke about who they look like, most of the time someone than looks athletic and fit than someone than looks really muscled.

  11. I find myself in between. I do like muscly men but then again I like the more lean men. I think I prefer a guy who has moderatley average sized muscles with a great personality and sense of respect and loyalty. I find that maybe I like a guy who does have muscles because I feel like they could protect me if need be. I feel like that is the case for most girls. Girls are built smaller than guys and may feel as if they need a man who is big and musclar so they can protect them. But men who are extremely musclar can come off very cocky. I personally do not like guys with that kind of attitude. When I see a guy super built I think to myself that he is too into himself and if we were to be in a relationship all he would think about is working out more and showing off his body. The guys i see that are really musclar always wear shirts that are super tight and shows off their muscles and I find that to be a really big turn off. I do not thing its right for girls to even be wearing super tight clothing where it looks like the cannot breathe. I just find it to be a little over the top. Its like they want the attention and someone to comment on their muscles. I actually find it quite scary when I see guys like this just because I can see how much bigger they are. But do not get me wrong, I still find muscles to be very attractive, but over the top ones are just too much and start to become a turn off.

  12. Girls do not like egotistical guys. Many are seen as d bags and full of themselves. Many more women find guys attractive who are confident. Some can be cocky or have a swagger to them, but the guys that attract throught that way. They don’t take themselves too seriously and usually their cockyness is mixed with humor and just being stupid. But it’s not something they try to do on purpose but natural. Girls who are attracted to the egotistical guys is more likely due to many of those guys being good looking, the girls want to have fun and think they can fix him, so it’s a bad boy thing. But that’s a temporary thing. Girls and women through the years find the confident guys attractive, old or young.

  13. To men the better your body looks, the more CONFIDENT you will feel. The stronger you are, the cockier you will be. The point is women LOVE that. They love a man that can stand up for them, or himself, and a man that can protect them. It makes them feel warm, and completely turns them on. Being egotistical can be a make or break. Some women will say that hate it, but mentally there will still be some sort of fantasy going on in their head. Furthermore, women are not necessarily looking for someone to have compelling conversations with, but someone’s hot for their short-term . Women are attracted to big muscle is the same way with men are attracted to boobs. However, muscular men ae nothing to me

    • Maybe you don’t know what I mean by big muscles. I truly think that guys with huge muscles are really gross looking. And also, while a lot of guys masturbate to naked women, I have my doubts that too many women masturbate to guys with big muscles. If they did, Playgirl wouldn’t have gone out of business.

      We eroticize boobs by selectively hiding and revealing them. Constantly focusing a camera on them. We don’t do the same thing with big muscles.

      And, do you really find these images attractive?: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/2006colpro_interv6.htm

      • Bodybuilders are by definition unnatural (they use steroids).

        The question is do women find these images attractive?

      • I’m guessing most women would find these guys pretty attractive.

        To show that kind of definition you must have very low body fat, though. So I doubt it’s healthy. And it certainly isn’t healthy if they’re using steroids.

        But based on survey data, most women would be perfectly happy with a more normal looking guy’s body.

        Women are often surprised to learn that men often prefer a more normal looking body over the skinny models that are out there, too.

      • skinny models have nothing, no fat, no muscles. The male models have low body fat but they have moderate amount of muscles, they aren’t weaklings.
        Low body fat percentage is very healthy for males. Actually the male body is supposed to have low body fat percentage (due to testosterone) but the unhealthy eating habits (lots of junk food) have made us think that the average male should be chubby.
        The more fat a man has in his belly the higher the risk is for heart diseases.
        There was a research that said that women thought the male body is the most attractive at 12% body fat percentage

      • So long as the guys are healthy and they aren’t walking around starving. More guys are starting to get eating disorders in attempts to have “perfect bodies.”

    • Maybe we are off topic but it’s physiologically impossible for a man (or a woman) to have a lot of muscles and starve at the same time. The body needs a lot of calories to maintain a large amount of muscles. So the muscle men have to eat lot in order to have all these muscles

  14. I like muscles just as much as the next girl, but Ive found that too much muscle acually is a huge turn off. Guys that are really “ripped” scare me insead of making me feel protected, because yes to can fight someone off, but you are also bigger then me what if im the one one day youre fighting against. I just feel that you should feel comfortable with your significant other not threatened. But thats just me.

  15. When I was younger I used to always date men with muscles, but not bulging muscles. I used to be kind of shallow, date men for their looks. I soon realized most good looking muscle men were very self-centered and full of themselves. I then started dating men for their humor, intelligence and personalities. They were nice, caring and overall much better people. My husband didn’t really fit the type of guy I would have usually dated when I was young. I feel in love with his sense of humor, brains, personality and chivalrous behavior. After 15 years of marriage, I love him even more. He still makes me laugh and opens doors for me. Looks fade and bodies change over time, but what’s on the inside can last forever.

  16. As a female, frankly speaking, I found very muscular men kind of unattractive. I would freak out when I saw men who are too muscular, I would feel like they would like to hit me when I stare at them. I know it is just a stupid thought of mine, of course I know that the body shape of a man had nothing to do with his character. Personally, I do not find muscular men very attracting; instead, like the article, I like men with normal and natural body shapes. I think it is the different between men and women, men would like to have a girlfriend with huge boobs and very thin waist; however, for women, we focus more on the personality of that person.

  17. it sound great in theory, however, if you are single and looking for a soul mate, mos likely you have notice that most women prefer fit and athletic men. Of course Stallone might be too much but being fat, chubby, or having some extra pounds does not help at all. It is true that loyalty and confidence are ranked higher that muscles but for a lady to give a first date, she must like something about your exterior, it does have to be muscles but they do help a lot!

  18. Hi there, like you say in the post, too much muscle can be too much, but a bit is quite nice. Personally I go for a workman/rugby player type look 🙂

  19. I agree with your post, and Love your blog. I like a toned guy and men who are too bulky turn me off. But something I want to mention is I really hate the whole “men care about looks, women care about personality and humor or money” myth that a lot of men tell. I think it’s important that both sexes feel sexually attracted to each other. I as a woman don’t get involved with men who I am not attracted to but I am also attracted to a wide variety of men.( My current BF is Chinese). I have a problem when he mentions that I should lose weight. But he never bothers to do the same for me and his excuse is “don’t i do enough for you? I am a good bf and I take you on trips and buy you stuff” I told him that he didn’t need to do that stuff for me and I love him no matter how much money he spends on me. I see this as a sign that society is very wrong about what women want. It bothers me. I love the look of men. I love male bodies and sex with men. This revelation seemed so new to him. When it comes to a relationship personality is the deciding factor. I don’t need money or humor for a casual fling.

    • I’m glad you like my blog. And everything you said makes perfect sense. Like you, I don’t have a type, except for a dislike of bulging “Iron Man” muscles. And I do like a healthy physique. But for me, personality is crucial.

  20. My husband does not fit my “type” at all body wise, though his smile is a killer. It’s his smell and personality/intelligence that did me in.

    Eye-candy wise I like fit men and women who aren’t too toned. I like them tall and lean. Not lean as in skinny or thin, but lean as in the Masai kind of lean. Tall is probably because I am tall.

    My husband is shorter that I am by about three inches and he has more of a wrestler type of body – with a lot more kilos. Me, I’m tall (180 cms), average weight, long legs, yoga muscled, small boobs and getting close to 50. We are both average looking face wise. I could work out all day long and still end up with lean muscles. My husband needs only work out a little and his muscles become MUSCLES.

    We have one of each in our sons. Both somewhat tall. One of the leaner type and one of the wrestly type. Both fairly average looking.

  21. Well for me, I’m more likely to check out a girl’s body if I find her pretty so her face is a big factor to whether I’m interested in her body. So it makes me wonder like you said, if women are more likely to check out the cute, good looking guy with the average or nice body compared to the average or not good looking guy, even though he has a great physique.

  22. Guy’s get bulging muscles usually not to look great or really for women. But because of an alpha male like purpose. To be the strongest, baddest, most intimadting dude there. And it’s true, I really don’t want to mess with these jacked guys as they do or some can or do liik pretty intimidating. But that has the negative effect as it can be initmidating for women who they obviously, if they are straight don’t want women to be intimidated by. I think women like natural builds though like you said, but I think just as many like the fit, not muscular build of guys as much as the lean, lanky cosmo build as well. Because I’ve had quite a bit of glances when lifting weights as the gym with a bunch of girls there at times as well as out in public or at work sometimes.

    And sometimes it was suprising because I’d be working out at the gym along side the big muscar, ripped guys ( which makes sense though as women don’t usually care for big muscalr guys as much). However, I worked out at planetfitness the other week and there were guys there with builds more like the cosmo guy’s and still got discreet glances by some. Which was surprising, because by definition standars, I’m pretty decent, but not toned or big like some guys there who lifting more frequently and take working out more seriously than me, So my physique isn’t toned like these guys yet I get noticed at times. I don’t know how much a man’s face or if the girls finding me cute or if a girl finding a guy cute or handsome, hot, etc, if that overrides or makes her take more attention to his body, than the guy with the better physique, but who they don’t find as attractive looks wise?

    • In one study, all women studed were found to care more about face than body. But face suggests a lot about what a person is like (even if it may be misleading). Not sure how much is pure esthetics and how much is a (supposed) peer into personality.

  23. If it was a natural build women prefer, they’d prefer neither the men’s health OR, Cosmo bodies as like I said. Many guy’s have bigger muscle mass than the cosmo guy’s even if they hardly lift weights. Those guys are very toned but pretty small as far as muscle mass goes.

  24. Guy’s in cosmo are not average though.They are very toned, but very slim build. So according to women then, they prefer and find those bodies more attractive than the average fit male body. Becausw what I mean by that is, many men even fit one’s, aren’t usually that lean and toned. Those guy’s don’t really have much muscle mass. I know big muscles aren’t attractive. But a lot of regular build guy’s arms are bigger than these cosmo men and waists thicker, even if slim and your average men even if fit have broader shoulders. These guy’s shoulders are more narrow. I’m slim, but have a little stockyness, not a ton. But 32 inch waist, 5’8, but pretty defined, but broadshoulders. I do lift, but casually, I don’t do protein shakes or hit the gym hard trying to get muscly. And I’m definitely not jacked or huge. I’m pretty much average, but defintedm yet my shoulders and arms are bigger than those cosmos guys without me trying to get big muscles, they just are. And that’s true for plenty of guys.

    A lot of guys have a muscular leg, broadshoulder builds even if slim. I don’t know it always seems just as many women I see, seem to like the regular fit male body as much as the lean, lanky build that cosmo shows. I though there were studies about how the v shape on men is like what the hour glass shape is for women. Meaning men with the v shape build showed health and signified strength and why across cultures its been an attractive frame for women to see on men. Just like the hour glass shape on womnen is attractive to many men, as its a very feminine, and signifies fertility or something like that. So biological related.

  25. I loved toned guys, but bulging muscles can start to look grotesque at a certain point.

  26. Yeah I don’t like men that feel like I’m hugging a rock. I care much more about a man’s brain though, than his body.

  27. I’m with the majority of women on this one. I obviously can’t generalize, but I did date one guy who was perfectly muscled and ripped. The downside of that was that he valued that about his appearance so much that he wanted me to do the same… too much pressure that I decided I did not want to live up to.

  28. Big muscles were never a thing for me. It always sort of made me feel like I was going to be crushed…. I don’t know… I just don’t find it attractive (which does not mean that men with muscles are any less deserving of dignity and respect).

    I find that I need to speak to a guy before I can really be attracted to him. Sure, some guys look good, but I need proof you have a kind heart before I am physically attracted. Celebrities are the same way. I have to see proof that an actor is a good, caring person before I put posters of them on my wall.

    • “I find that I need to speak to a guy before I can really be attracted to him.”

      Me, too. I like men who are emotionally open, able to communicate, and who care about others.

  29. Oh, and just to be fair, I prefer women who have small to average breasts and large hips. For example, Shakira is one of the sexiest women I’ve ever seen…though I think she’s gotten a little skinnier lately. Belly dancer physique is pretty good in general.

  30. I’ll go even farther and say that I prefer “beefy” men. Large, bulging muscles are a no-go for me, as is a overly toned look…nothing against those guys personally, but their physique often reminds me too much of the jocks that used to bully me in high school. I am far more attracted to men with an average build who have a little bit of pudge to them. The fact that they’re willing to let their body relax and not get upset that they aren’t Adonis’ themselves usually (not always) means they aren’t going to judge a woman who’s not a perfect 10 as “lesser” or “unworthy” of attention. A good example is my lover, who is about 50 lbs overweight; when we watch porn, he always picks out the Amateur stuff because the performers look “real”.

  31. I’m definitely not a fan of muscles on a silhouette or from a distance. However, regardless of what I might say my idea body shape is for men, unfortunately it’s the chemical reaction I experience around them that decides if I’m attracted to them – and men with muscles do tend to give off chemicals that provoke a reaction in mine.

    • Different strokes for different folks. The guys who spend a lot of time at the gym will be glad that women like you are out there.

      But the fact that magazines that target women and not men portray less muscles also suggest the feminine preference.

      Luckily for most guys, most women prefer a more natural look.

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