We all know that smoking cigarettes and drinking to get drunk have serious short-term and long-term health consequence. But plenty of young men continue to do both. Why do they do it? Belgian researcher Eveline Vincke had what may seem like a surprising hunch: for sex.
Risky is sexy
Past research had shown that when it comes to short-term sex, women are into risk-taking guys. So Vincke came up with two studies to see if the very fact that cigarettes and drinking are risky is what makes the young men appealing. In other words, she tested out the hypothesis that guys are smoking and drinking because they think women will find them more attractive for short-term sex if they do.
To find out whether women actually prefer short-term partners who smoke and drink, Vincke tracked down 239 female participants between the ages of 17 and 30.
Each woman read short descriptions of different guys' interests and behaviours. Two of them were related to smoking and drinking. Some of the women read about guys who never touched cigarettes or booze, while others read about occasional or heavy smokers or drinkers.
Afterward, the women filled in surveys, rating how attractive they thought the guys were for a short-term fling and for a long-term relationship. The women also told Vincke whether they thought each guy was into short-term sex and if they believed his behaviour to be risky and unhealthy.
Were the smokers and drinkers rated as more attractive? Definitely not when it came to long-term romance! Women were not into heavy smokers and drinkers, the study found. The women knew these behaviours were bad for a guy’s health, so they weren't interested in long-term mates who liked their cigarettes and booze.
Non-smokers and guys who steered clear of alcohol were equally attractive as short-term or long-term partners, the results also showed.
But when it came to a short-term fling, puffing away on a cigarette or drinking, especially if we’re talking the occasional beverage, upped a guy’s sex appeal for these women. They figured that bad guys who smoked and drank would be more sexually unrestricted and into short-term sex.
But was this all a figment of these women's imaginations? Or are smokers and drinkers actually more interested in non-committed sex? To find some answers, Vincke turned to data on 171 guys aged 17 to 30. First, the guys were asked how often they smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. Then they filled in surveys that revealed whether one-night stands were their thing or if they preferred sex with a long-term partner.
Sure enough, the women's perceptions were bang on. Guys who drank more and those who smoked were sexually unrestricted and tended to prefer short flings over long-term sexual relationships, the surveys showed.
One-night stand vs. Long-term love
When it comes to both short-term and long-term relationships, research has shown that in general women tend to be pickier – and that guys will show off whatever it is they think girls want in order to outcompete their mates. And other studies back up the fact that women dig physically risky behaviour in short-term partners.
But when it comes to finding a long-term relationship, research has shown that women are generally after a guy who will protect and look after them and their kids – not one who’s willing to take risks with their health. Wild and risky might be hot for a one-night stand, but for long-term love, kind men with lots of resources win out.
Source: The Young Male Cigarette and Alcohol Syndrome: Smoking and Drinking as a Short-Term Mating Strategy. (2016). Evolutionary Psychology. Jan-Mar:1-13.