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That Tattoo Makes You Look Promiscuous

• June 07, 2013 • 4:00 AM


New research from France finds women at the beach were more likely to be picked up if they had a butterfly tattoo on their back.

Does your tattoo make a statement about you? If you’re an attractive woman, it apparently does, regardless of your intention.

And that statement is: “I’m easy!”

That’s the implication of new research from France, which found men are more likely to approach a woman lying on the beach if she has a butterfly tattoo on her lower back.

The guys in this study didn’t think the body art made her more attractive. But they believed it increased the likelihood of her being receptive to their romantic overtures.

The “stereotype of promiscuousness associated with tattoos” may or may not be accurate, researcher Nicolas Gueguen of the Universite de Bretagne-Sud writes in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. But this study suggests many men clearly believe it, and act accordingly.

The men “thought they were more likely to have a date” with her if she wore the body art.

Gueguen describes two experiments which took place on beaches in the south of France (as all experiments should, don’t you think?). For the first, 11 young women (age 20 or thereabout) who were judged as above-average in attractiveness made 20 trips to the beach.

Wearing a two-piece bathing suit, each woman read a book while lying flat on her stomach. A male associate discreetly watched from a nearby location. When she was approached, she told the stranger she was waiting for her boyfriend, and the associate quickly arrived on the scene to play that role.

For half on these sandy sojourns, the woman had a temporary butterfly tattoo on her back. On each visit, the associate noted how long it took before she was approached by a man, ending the session after one hour if she was left alone.

The results: “Significantly more men approached (the women) when they exhibited a tattoo,” Gueguen reports. In addition, contact was typically made earlier in the allotted hour.

To get a sense of what motivated the men, Gueguen sent his 11 volunteers and their male associates back to the beach. This time, the men interviewed male beachgoers, pointing to the woman from a short distance away and asking them their thoughts about her.

Their opinion of her attractiveness was consistent, whether or not she was adorned with the tattoo. But the men “thought they were more likely to have a date” with her if she wore the body art, and further thought they had a better chance of having sex with her on that first date.

Previous research provides some preliminary evidence their instincts are sound. A Polish study published last year found adults with tattoos or piercings “had their first intercourse statistically earlier, and were more sexually active.” Another recent study by Gueguen found that French college students with tattoos and/or piercings “reported earlier experiences of sexual intercourse than did non-pierced and non-tattooed students.”

But as he notes, this raises a chicken-and-egg question: Does a tattoo really signal greater openness to sex, or do tattooed women simply get solicited more often, increasing the odds of them becoming sexually active? That remains to be studied, along with the impact of having multiple tattoos.

In any event, women should keep in mind that by getting a tattoo, they are sending a signal—one that gets picked up by males on the prowl. You may see a butterfly, but he sees an opportunity.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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