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An Unexpected Way to Increase Sexual Desirability

New research on the link between food and sexuality.

Key points

  • Daters may draw conclusions about their date’s personality and motives based on the person’s behavior, including the foods the person orders.
  • Research suggests daters open to trying new foods are seen as more sexually desirable and more open to uncommitted sex.
  • Daters might use their own food orders as a signal—ordering exotic/familiar foods to signal their sexual unrestrictedness/restrictedness.
Source: meduzakos/Pixabay

Suppose you go out on a blind date and notice your date refuses to try new dishes—or always turns unfamiliar dishes into familiar ones (e.g., no tomatoes, no mushrooms, no avocados, hold the cheese). By now, you realize you are on a date with a picky eater. If you are a picky eater yourself, perhaps you feel a connection with your date. If not, you might find the behavior unappealing and off-putting.

In general, by observing behaviors, we draw conclusions about others’ personalities and motives (e.g., which is why buying green products increases attractiveness). In the context of dating, these judgments can have important consequences for the future of the relationship. And one such judgment involves eating behavior. According to a 2012 survey, over half of those surveyed found picky eaters a turnoff. Other turnoffs: Being asked to split the bill or their date ordering for them.

In this post, I review a series of investigations by Bradshaw and colleagues that examine the role of food choices and eating habits in impression formation. Published in the November issue of Personality and Individual Differences, the paper explores how willingness to try new foods may relate to perceptions of sexual desirability, openness, and sexual unrestrictedness.

Before we continue, some definitions: The personality trait openness refers to a preference for and receptiveness to new experiences. Sexual unrestrictedness, which is a sociosexual orientation, refers to a greater inclination to have uncommitted, short-term sexual relationships. Those with the opposite sociosexual orientation, or sexual restrictedness, have a weaker inclination to engage in uncommitted, short-term sexual activities.

Let us now review the four investigations conducted by Bradshaw et al. The results are described in the section that follows the one below.

Investigating food and sexual desirability

Study 1 was a test of whether the willingness to eat new foods is linked to being perceived as a more desirable sexual and romantic partner.

Participants: 193 (116 women), heterosexual, average age of 19 years (range of 17 to 37 years).

Method: One-way between-subjects (willing vs. reluctant to try new foods). Participants were randomly assigned to read a vignette regarding an opposite-sex person who was either reluctant or willing to try new foods. To illustrate, the vignette describing a fussy eater read: He “picks at the food with his fork, smells it, and takes a few tiny bites before sending it back.” After reading the scenario, participants rated the person’s desirability as a romantic mate and a sex partner.

Study 2 was a test of whether readiness to consume new dishes affects judgments regarding personality and sexual behavior—specifically, openness and sexual restrictedness.

Participants: 95 (49 men), heterosexual, average age of 20 years (range of 18-37 years).

Methods: One-way within-subjects design (willing vs. reluctant to try new foods). Participants were led to believe they were looking at OKCupid profiles of people of the opposite sex. They then saw profiles of two people with different eating habits. To illustrate, one vignette read, “I’m always up for trying something new and different. I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to food.” After each profile viewing, participants rated the person’s openness to experience and sociosexual orientation (e.g., “How many partners do you think this person has had sex with, within the past 12 months?”).

Study 3 was a conceptual replication of the above. It examined the difference between general willingness to try new activities and more specific willingness to consume unfamiliar and exotic foods.

Sample: 95 (49 women), heterosexual, average age of 19 years (age range: 18-23 years).

Method: The investigation used a “within-subjects (targets’ preferences for trying new things: control [i.e. no information provided], reluctant to try new food, high willingness to try new things, vs. high willingness to try new food, reluctant to try new things) design.” Three profiles were viewed, followed by rating the target’s openness to experience and sociosexual orientation.

Study 4 was an examination of the beliefs linking inclination to consume new food and sexual behavior.

Sample: 133 (64 men), heterosexual, mean age of 19 years (age range, 18-34 years).

Methods: Nearly identical to Study 2, with some differences. For instance, various measures were used to evaluate perceptions of targets’ physical strength, health and immune function, and pathogen and sexual disgust sensitivity.

Source: sasint/Pixabay

Picky eaters, sexual desirability, and sexual unrestrictedness

The results showed, “targets who are more willing to try new foods are perceived to be more desirable and sexually unrestricted than those who are reluctant to try new foods.”

In addition, “targets who are open to new experiences, but not open to trying new foods, are perceived as being more sexually restricted than those who are not open to new experiences, but are open to trying new foods.” In other words, judgments of a target being sexually unrestricted are not related to a target’s general openness to new experiences; they are specifically related to openness to trying new foods.

Lastly, “the relationship between willingness to try new foods and perceptions of sexual unrestrictedness is driven by perceptions of sexual disgust.” To be precise, individuals who are enthusiastic about trying new foods, compared to those who are reluctant, are perceived as “having less sexual disgust ... and less restricted sexual behavior.”


Picky eaters are often perceived as sexually restricted and less sexually desirable. In contrast, adventurous eaters, ones enthusiastic about trying unfamiliar or exotic foods, are seen as more sexually attractive and more open to uncommitted, short-term sexual relationships.

It is important to note daters may be aware of the above associations and thus use their own food choices to signal their levels of sexual disgust and openness to uncommitted sex.

Perhaps this is not good news for those of you who overthink everything because the next time you go on a blind date, you will have another behavior to analyze to death: What did it really mean when your date ordered the most exotic (or boring) dish on the menu?

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