Video: Sex survey

By Jane Weaver Health editor
msnbc.com
updated 5/5/2005 3:52:22 PM ET 2005-05-05T19:52:22

Maybe Americans really aren’t so vain.

We may live in a Botox-worshipping, ‘extreme makeover’ world, but when it comes to relationships most of the 27,000 women and men who took the Elle/MSNBC.com Sex and Beauty Survey seem to love their partners — and themselves — the way they are.

Among participants in the survey, 93 percent spend fewer than 10 hours a week in front of the mirror, although women admit to dropping an average of $79 every two months on beauty products and procedures, nearly twice as much as men.

While obvious hygiene lapses like bad breath and body odor have ended affairs, two-thirds of women and over half of men say physical traits aren’t relationship deal breakers. But porn is affecting the standard of beauty with 23 percent of men saying it had changed the way they felt about their partner’s appearance.

So what are the rules of attraction?

The survey — which was posted on MSNBC.com in February — sheds light on men’s and women’s attitudes about grooming habits and personal hygiene hang-ups. The average age of female respondents was 33; male, 38. Over 60 percent of replies were from women. Nearly half were married.

What the participants revealed is that our relationships are more than skin deep, with 36 percent of women and 44 percent of men saying their mate doesn’t need to change. Sure, appearance counts — 51 percent of women said they wouldn’t date someone too short — but it turns out people aren’t as finicky as expected.

“People seem pretty well-adjusted, and pretty forgiving on both sides,” says Carlene Bauer, Elle articles editor. “We’d assumed that people had more specific pet peeves.”

Of course, there were some gender double-standards. Women don't seem to care about a partner's weight, but men aren't crazy about a hefty mate. And a trip to the dentist is a must.

How shallow are we?
Women are certainly more preoccupied with their physical appearance, with most spending an average of 5.8 hours a week primping and grooming, compared to most men who need only 3.6 hours. Of the 1,000 women who spend the most time in front of the mirror — 11 hours or more — over a third are under 30. The younger women are also more likely to be late for a date or other social engagement because of their beauty habits.

Both sexes worry about their appeal when they haven’t showered or brushed their teeth, but women don't like to be caught without makeup (29.9 percent) while men feel unattractive if they aren’t in shape (43 percent) or haven't shaved their faces (21.7 percent).

Feel like making love
Other than showering and brushing teeth, when it comes to sex early in the relationship, 78 percent of women would say no if they had not shaved their legs and/or underarms. Men are concerned about clean genitals (46 percent) and “good” underwear (57.8 percent). Both sexes hesitate to get it on if they haven’t been pumping up at the gym.

Enough’s enough

There’s a reason fad diets are so popular. Women may be more likely to break off a relationship because a partner isn’t up to snuff — 59 percent versus 40 percent of men — but more men are bothered by weight. More than 31 percent of men said they had dumped a partner who was overweight, compared to 12 percent of women.

Women tend to be picky about bad breath and crooked teeth, but a daily bath is most important to them, with almost 14 percent saying buh-bye because of a partner’s body odor.

Quest for the perfect breast
Porn is mainly a male pursuit. Almost 43 percent of men say they look at it compared to 4 percent of women — but many couples end up watching it together.

Of those who watch it, 24 percent of men and 15 percent of women say it has influenced their physical standards. While sharing their Jenna Jameson fantasies, almost equal numbers of men and women — about 10 percent — said porn gave them ideas about breast size and shape. But of those men who watched porn, 28 percent said they had suggested implants to a partner.

Of the porn fans, more men than women — 16 percent compared to 8 percent — were inspired by the perfect bikini wax. Maybe because women know how it feels.

Yet for all the tolerance most participants showed to their partners, Bauer says the most complaints they got from those who wrote addressed one bothersome trait the magazine editor's forgot to include: back hair.

Got wax?

The magazine's editors contributed to this report.

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