All's Fair in Love and Sports

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Cue the Marvin Gaye soundtrack.

Valentine’s Day is once again upon us, the one day of the year where the heterosexual males of the world are either spending time with their significant other, sitting at home unconcerned, panicking because they forgot that’s its Valentine’s Day, or wondering why they are still single. “Well,” some might say, “perhaps it’s because you are not an athlete.”

Indeed, the idea that “male athletes always get the girls” is one that is no stranger to the public conscious. We all have the image of the captain of the football/hockey/baseball team (named Carter) who always seems to be in some sort of relationship, but is the idea that “male athletes are more desired by heterosexual females as potential mates” supported scientifically? Well in honour of Valentine’s Day let’s collectively put down the box of chocolates we are looking to finish in a single day and find out!

In an interesting 2008 study, Schulte-Hostedde et al. investigated the influence of male sports participation on 282 heterosexual female Canadian undergraduate’s willingness to participate in various types of relationships with certain males. The theory that the study was built around is a popular (yet controversial) one in evolutionary psychology called sexual selection theory, which suggests that females tend to be more cautious when selecting mates compared to males.

Females, under this theory, will seek to mate with males who have the best genes, greater physical prowess, and who display behavioural traits that are associated with good parenting and success in long lasting relationships. Male participation in sports has been suggested as a measure (something they can use) through which females can assess males for these characteristics. For males, sport is an area in which they can display these traits.

What did the researchers find?

Using photos of males (only Caucasians weirdly enough), a description of their activities, and a questionnaire, the study found that male team sport athletes were perceived as more desirable as potential mating partners than those in independent sports and non-athletes. So, is there some sort of scientific evidence that supports the cliché that heterosexual females more so desire male athletes in their mate choices? Yes, but one should be wary before generalizing these findings to the larger population of heterosexual females because this study only captured the perceptions of undergraduates who self categorized as Caucasian, who were willing to have sex before marriage, and who did not have any racial preference in their partner selection process. These caveats limit the degree to which you can generalize these findings to the rest of the heterosexual females in the world.

Luckily, this study does acknowledge this. Of course, it is also necessary to address that many individuals have an understandable disdain for studies in evolutionary psychology, as this area has often been attacked for perpetuating sexist stereotypes which can reasonably lead someone to doubt the credibility of findings coming from this area of study. So, for the single heterosexual males of the world, it’s difficult to say whether becoming an athlete and participating in sport will see you having more success in love. Yes, there is some scientific support for the belief that heterosexual females more so desire male athletes in their mate choices of potential partners. However, at the end of the day, if you are looking to hit a grand slam in your love life, you are probably better off just being yourself.


Schulte-Hostedde, Albrecht I., Mark A. Eys, and Krista Johnson. 2008.“Female Mate Choice is Influenced by Male Sport Participation.” Evolutionary Psychology 6(1):113-124.