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Sex Tips For Geeks: How To Be Sexy

We'll lead off our dissection of the mating game by describing to be sexy. This is a topic many hackers can use serious help with...

The sad truth (which many of you have no doubt already discovered) is that your bulging, tumescent hacker forebrain is just not going to turn on very many women by itself. Okay, you might get lucky and trip over one of the one or two percent of exceptions. But if you bet your sex life on hitting that jackpot you are going to spend an awful lot of Saturday nights alone.

[Comment from a geekgirl here? "Brains do turn some of us on, but..."]

Most women have broader criteria. As do most men; after all, a lot of us Y-chromosome types are notorious for being more immediately interested in a woman's cup size than her IQ. In order to understand why both sexes have the physical and behavioral turn-ons that they do, we need to take a look at the evolutionary biology of human mating.

While human beings often have sex for pleasure, the instincts that drive human mating behavior have been shaped by a deadly serious game of evolutionary selection. Sexually attractive people are those whose characteristics suggest they are well equipped to help you propagate your genetic line successfully. Good looks are sexy because they correlate with health and a robust immune system; wealth and status are sexy because they signal ability to sink high levels of investment into offspring, increasing their chances of surviving to reproduce.

Men's turn-ons average a bit more physical than womens' because women have a higher energy and risk investment in reproduction (childbirth was quite dangerous in pre-modern conditions); therefore, health and beauty have been stronger predictors of reproductive success in women than they are in men. But women are hardly immune to a handsome face and firm muscles -- in fact a good many hackers probably wish women were much less susceptible to these things.

Cathy observes: "You don't need to look like a male model to be `sexy' in the physical department. Even a single good feature can make you attractive enough to be a sexual success."

To be sexy, hackers need to learn how to emit fitness-to-reproduce signals. That much is easy; what's harder is to understand which signals are more or less under your control and how to amplify them.

Women have this relatively easy. Because so much of mens' mating instincts are cued to a woman's appearance, women have spent the last couple thousand years developing technologies to manipulate their appearance effectively -- everything from lipstick to corsets. Female hackers can find most of what they need to know in the pages of teens and womens' magazines. Don't scorn that stuff; it works.

[Comment from a geekgirl here? Maybe something about how if a push-up bra or whatever keeps the man you want from being dazzled by a bimbo it's well worth it.]

There are a few straight physical cues men can hack effectively. Firm muscles is one; a relatively low investment in bicycling or walking or a slightly higher investment in martial-arts training can fit comfortably into the hacker lifestyle. There's no need to overdo this; most women (especially most intelligent women) don't go for the gross-bulk-muscle weightlifter look. It's also useful to know that, given the shape and exposure patterns of men's clothing, a woman is likely to notice the tone of your arms, shoulders, and chest first and most. For a man in shape, a snug-fitting short-sleeved shirt or tank top is the closest sexual-signal equivalent of exposed cleavage on a woman.

Cathy: "I wouldn't overdo the muscle shirt thing -- it's too easy to give the impression that you're gay. Once you have reasonable amounts of muscle to show off, a simple T-shirt will do nicely -- provided it fits snugly and is clean."

Amy: "OK. This is important. Bathe. Bathe often. Wash your hair and brush your teeth. Furthermore, use the stuff you've already got. Muscle tone takes time. But way more than half the geeks I know have beautiful long hair. Very few of them have figured out that greasy hair is disgusting."

Cathy agrees: "I can guarantee that a woman will never willingly get in the sack with you if she thinks you smell bad. Watch your breath, also. Brush often! Especially after eating garlic or other strongly aromatic foods and before approaching a woman in a romantic situation! If you can't brush, tasting like Certs or Altoids is much better than tasting as though you just ate a dead rodent."

Amy: "Fact: Women love long hair! It's an instant chick magnet. It's better than walking puppies in the park! Wash it and wear it down. Toss it around on your shoulders a lot. When my guy does this, women will just walk up and start touching his hair! Wouldn't you like this to happen to you?"

But in general male hackers have it tougher, because the obvious physical signals are relatively less important and other behavioral and status cues more important. Again, this makes adaptive sense given the sexual differences in risk and minimum investment. In our ancestral environment, the man's key question was "is she able to survive the stress of pregnancy and birth to give me many children?", but the woman's key question is "is he both able and willing to provide for me and the children?". (Usually. A woman already mated might have been asking instead "Should I cheat with him, trying to con provider/hubby into raising his kids, in order to capture maximum genetic variation for my offspring?" in which case her criteria were likely to be tilted more towards physical sexiness as an indicator of health.)

Oversimplifying only a little, we can say that women form an instinctive answer to their primary question based on four traits: kindness, wealth, social status, and talent. How they weight these varies -- but men who are gallant, wealthy, powerful, and able have as powerful a sexiness advantage in the mating game as any supermodel (you can just look at who supermodels marry and/or shack up with to confirm this).

"But Eric," I hear you ask, "How am I going to impress her that I'm kind, wealthy, respected, and talented when I'm just a random geek?"

Well, duh. You've got at least one of these knocked already. You're a geek. You're talented -- you are one of the "cognitive elite" in fact. Don't think women don't notice stuff like that. Your bulging hacker forebrain may not get you laid by itself, but if you combine it with a reasonable box score on the other fitness signals you'll start attracting some attention.

For most hackers, probably the easiest instant behavioral signal in the "talent" category is verbal fluency -- articulate speech with good grammar and a large expressive vocabulary. Lean on this -- but not so much that you don't listen.

Amy: "Yes! Yes! Yes! Men who can speak fluently and intelligently are sexy! And as long as we're on the subject, I may like computers but there are other things to talk about."

There are other, traditional ways for men to push the "talented" button. Being a musician or poet is one, and not to be underestimated either. Accountants may do well on the wealth axis but you never hear about Romeo reciting bookkeeping entries to Juliet. For a population with the average IQ of hackers poetry composition should be a relatively easy skill to acquire, and probably more of us than not have the neurological talent for music to begin with.

Cathy: "I don't know whether Eric's right about poetry composition being easy, but that doesn't really matter. Women like having original poetry recited to them, even if it's bad -- it shows you've been thinking about her, and not just about how to get into her pants. If you don't think you're up to trying to write poetry, ask her who her favorite poets are, and practice reading their poems out loud alone until you have the courage to read/recite them to her."

Amy: "However, love sonnets composed in Perl are amusing for at most five minutes, and then only if they haven't been floating around the net since 1994."

Kindness. That's not really difficult either. Being courteous and respectful is something women notice right away -- and being a good listener is something they'll damn near fall in love with you for, over time. Note, however: trying to fake "good listener" is very dangerous, and likely to backfire. Which is why I've often told guys that if you want to have sex with a lot of women, you have to like women first (at least enough to listen to them).

Amy: "My husband always runs up and opens the door for me. He's not a sexist or chauvinist, but he is very considerate. What a yummy change from all the poor-mannered losers I used to date! Believe me, modern women still go all melty over manners and breeding. Dig deep into those backup tapes and find the etiquette your mom taught you. Mom was a woman and she liked you to behave like a gentleman. Maybe other women will too!"

Cathy: "Faking `good listener' backfires if she figures out from your body language or verbal tics (such as the infamous `Yes, dear' of the henpecked husband) that you're not really listening. You wouldn't like someone you were trying to communicate with to brush you off with a canned response, would you? Neither do we."

[Comments from one or more geekgirls on what special thing kindness means to you]

Wealth. This is probably the most difficult fitness signal to simulate if you don't actually have it; expensive is expensive. But you could probably afford to dress a little better than you do. Even if you wear hacker-casual clothes, picking well-made high-end brands with good detailing will pay off when she looks at you.

Amy: "Current wealth status isn't as important as future earnings potential. A few tricks... You don't want to present yourself as a loser. You want to look like the geek whose options are still vesting. Even if your car is a clunker, clean it up. If all you wear is Levis, trash the ones with holes. Wash your clothes as religiously as you check Slashdot. If you don't have money, it pays to show that the stuff you do spend it on is quality. But don't pretend you're rich if you aren't. There's nothing cheesier than a poser."

Cathy: "You can follow this advice even if the budget is limited. Land's End and L.L. Bean offer quality polo shirts, jeans and chinos for reasonable prices and have regular overstock sales on their Web pages and otherwise. At the very least, make sure the shirts and pants you have fit properly and are clean and free of (noticeable) holes."

Social status. Now this is where it gets interesting -- because women can detect this even when you aren't in a context where it's obvious. Being an alpha male in some status hierarchy changes your body language, your sex-hormone levels, and the smell of your sweat. Women home in on men with these traits something fierce -- ask any rock star.

Cathy: "Or ask Eric. His recent notoriety has definitely increased the amount of female attention he gets -- even from me. :-)"

But it isn't that important to a woman's receptors exactly what the status hierarchy is. It could be anything from the neighborhood bowling league up to the government of a world superpower. Or it could be the developer community of a well-known program. What she smells is success, not the specific kind of success.

In fact this effect is so important in human behavior that males actually form all kinds of odd status hierarchies just so they can have a shot at being top of the heap, even when they know in advance that top-of-the-heap won't convey much in the way of power or wealth reward. Clubs and organized hobbies are like this. The hacker culture itself was purely like this until the late 1990s. At bottom, these are all instinctively founded on sexual-selection games.

When we discuss the Art of the Pickup in a later essay, I'll explain how self-confidence is your most important ally when you're chatting up a woman. We're really talking about the same effect here; the signs in body language and physiology that we read as "self-confidence" are also correlates of being an alpha male.

Self-confidence is sexy because for hundreds of generations it has been an indicator of actual status and achievement that was accurate most of the time. Hackers often have trouble believing this; many of us have spent too much time at parties watching women go home with self-confident jerks. But it's true. The modern world no longer features mammoth-hunting, constant intertribal warfare, or manhood ordeals; as a result, there are a lot of overgrown boys out there with exaggerated pseudo-alpha opinions of themselves that women reflexively mistake for actual fitness.

Amy: "It's a simple algorithm. If you act like you know you're cool, people (read: chicks) will buy that you must have some reason for thinking you're cool. Therefore, you must be cool. This lets you climb the coolness ladder and you quickly really become cool. And chicks love guys that are cool. If you doubt this, buy a leather jacket, grow your hair out, and hang out at tradeshows."

It's not necessarily that those women are stupid, it's just that their instinctive templates for `sexy' haven't caught up with reality. Until selective pressure teaches women to have different instincts, there will be little point in trying to fight this.

Cathy: "Actually, some of those women probably are stupid. If they were more intelligent or more sophisticated, they would see past the pheromonal facade created by misplaced self-confidence more often."

Instead, the right counter-strategy for hackers is to work on your self-confidence while you cultivate the other sexy traits that should be readily available to people wired like us. Tone up the bod a little; be articulate; develop some sexy expressive skill like music or poetry; be courteous and a good listener; dress a little sharper; and look for some status hierarchy where you can rise to or near the top.

Trust me, if you do these things women will fall all over themselves trying to get at you. It's wired in about as deeply as your tendency to stop thinking when a woman displays her breasts or legs at you, and for much the same reasons.

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Eric S. Raymond <>