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Why are men attracted by the colour red?

A paper published in the online science journal PLoS ONE in 2012 reported research showing that one common explanation was probably wrong.

Earlier research had established that women associated with red objects or red surroundings are seen as more desirable and one plausible explanation was that human males have a biological predisposition towards the colour red making it ‘sexually salient’.

The hypothesis was that women use the colour red to announce impending ovulation and sexual receptiveness, and it was thought this might be associated with genital colour, making men more attracted in consequence.

The new research at the University of Kent, however, set about determining whether men really do prefer women with red genitals and their conclusion is summarised in the title of their paper: Red Is Not a Proxy Signal for Female Genitalia in Humans (by Sarah E. Johns, Lucy A. Hargrave, Nicholas E. Newton-Fisher).

The experiment involved showing heterosexual male subjects 16 pictures of female genitalia which had been obtained by modifying the colours in four different pictures so that each original was presented in four versions: pale pink, light pink, dark pink, red.

The men were asked to rate the sexual attractiveness of each picture on a scale from 0 to 100.

Summarising their results, the researchers state:
"We found a relative preference for pinker genital images, with redder genitalia rated significantly less sexually attractive."

They further point out that this effect was independent of the prior sexual experience of the men doing the rating or variations in the shape of the female genitals.

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