What do women look for when selecting a sperm donor, and how does it differ from what they desire in a relationship partner? In two studies of women, aged 18-25 and 30-40, respectively, researchers assessed the characteristics women value when selecting males as long-term relationship partners versus selecting males as sperm donors.1 The women were randomly assigned to rate a series of characteristics desired in their “ideal man” as a sperm donor or their “ideal man” as a relationship partner, including physical traits (e.g., height, body shape, hair and skin color, overall attractiveness) and demographics (e.g., age, education, income, ethnicity, religious and political affiliations). They also provided information about themselves on these traits (i.e., their own eye color, etc.). In addition, the women rated the importance of a series of traits related to good genes (e.g., physical fitness), resource indicators (e.g., earning capacity), parenting indicators (e.g., likes children), and partnering indicators (e.g., loyal and romantic) for a relationship partner or sperm donor, depending on their experimental condition.
Women who were assigned to think about characteristics of sperm donors were more likely to value a partner’s good genes and rated physical attractiveness as very important. However, those women who were instructed to think about long-term relationship partners valued parenting ability and whether the hypothetical guy would be a good partner. In addition, women preferred sperm donors that were physically similar to themselves (e.g., same race, hair color, eye color), but physical similarities were less important for relationship partners.
The results of this research clearly show women’s preferences for a man’s characteristics shift depending on whether she’s thinking about him as long-term partner and father or just a withdrawal from the sperm bank.
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1Zeifman, D. M., & Ma, J. E. (2013). Experimental examination of women’s selection criteria for sperm donors versus life partners. Personal Relationships, 20, 311-327.
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.