Leon F Seltzer Ph.D.
Evolution of the Self
Sexy Legs With High Heals/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Sexy Legs With High Heals/Wikimedia Commons
Researchers have spent far less time studying men’s attraction to women’s legs than the typical man on the street devotes to gazing at them . . . and maybe finding himself spellbound by them. So—to heterosexual males at least—what’s so special about female gams?
In preparation for this post, I first examined what evolutionary biologists have theorized about this phenomenon, and found most of their findings limited and inconclusive. Two of scientists’ discoveries, however (see, e.g., “Why do men lust after women with long legs?”, Quora.com), seem to confirm what most men (lay experts that they are!) already grasp intuitively. That is, studies have shown that (1) men prefer women with longer than average legs, and (2) they also favor women who have a higher leg length to body ratio —and, interestingly, the opposite is true of women’s preferences in men.
Still, my later investigation of several Web forums centering on this age-old, so-intriguing topic was much more fertile. And they are what constitute the main focus of this post. In essence, what I learned from these forums is that a man’s bestowing so much attention on a woman’s legs is perhaps best understood as a kind of “visual foreplay” for them.
Curiously, many forum respondents contrast women’s legs to their breasts and buttocks (in the vernacular, commonly referred to as “T & A”). In these comparisons, female gams are generally perceived as more suggestive, sensual, and seductive—whereas T & A are viewed as much more “in your face” sexual. One discussant, for example, sees women’s legs (along with their eyes) as representing the very “core of feminine sensuality,” proclaiming them a “soft whisper,” compared to the “loud trumpet” of more intimate, or private, parts of the female anatomy (see “Why do men find women’s legs so attractive?”, Quora.com).
In another forum (“Why are men attracted to women’s legs??”, Armageddon Online Forums), a respondent, obviously puzzled by his primary erotic preference, notes: “I love everything about the female body. However for some reason, a sexy pair of legs is the first thing that grabs my attention . . . but why??” And, though hardly conscious of it, he partly answers his own question by admiringly describing women’s legs as “slender, soft, smooth and perfectly toned.” Moreover, he and many others allude to the length of female legs as itself contributing to their magnetic appeal and depicting an ideal of feminine pulchritude, which may, in fact, explain why tall fashion models far outnumber smaller ones.
It’s fascinating how many discussants on this topic seem to regard a woman’s legs aesthetically almost as much as they do sexually—as “monuments” of, or “testimony” to, a woman’s general comeliness or beauty. More than a century ago, Freud was so bold as to link the human aesthetic sense to sublimated sexual desire. And though there may be some question as to just how “sublimated” we can consider a man’s attraction to female legs, there’s no doubt that such an attentional focus is at a farther remove from other, more direct, points of male sexual interest—or to the sex act itself. To return to what I described earlier, wondrously gazing at a woman’s legs might have mostly to do with a man’s innate attraction to the sensual, rather than the more explicitly sexual.
Yet, regardless of how this attraction is appreciated, the word that probably best characterizes such an allure is tantalizing—or, in some cases, taunting. Note the words of this respondent: “With clothing, legs can . . . be both revealed and concealed, which makes them almost uniquely empowered to allow women to tease and seduce men and inflame their imaginations. Legs being long, a little can be revealed, then a little more, then . . . and so on, all the way up. It all depends on how much [the woman] wants to show. And sometimes less can be more. In addition, the momentary flash of legs through a slit skirt while a woman is in stride or crossing her legs can burn a potent image into a receptive man’s mind . . . [partly] because they suggest sexual availability” (Quora.com).
In brief, a woman’s legs can at once please . . . and tease. And while the partial display, or exposure, of a woman’s breasts or butt “function” more obviously in this seductive manner, it’s undeniable that for many men a pair of shapely legs alone have the power to effect this enthralled response.
“Before Sunrise,” by Sandy Manase/Deviant Art
Source: “Before Sunrise,” by Sandy Manase/Deviant Art
In a large variety of ways, contemporary culture, as well as mass media, have served to further intensify men’s fascination with women’s legs. And much historical evidence suggests that female limbs have always “exhibited” the ability to incite men’s carnal desires—at times, to the point of infatuation or fetishism. Especially on TV and in ads, legs today are presented in a manner that can be seen not simply as provocative but as, at times, almost salacious. Shows like “Dancing with the Stars,” or Olympic events like ice skating and women’s (girls’?!) gymnastics, can have the mixed, “non-athletic” consequence of leaving some men salivating.
Images of curvaceous female gams often seem deliberately calculated to encourage such prurient interests. Which may be why bare legs are so frequently “on parade” in commercials for men’s toiletries, sports cars, and alcoholic beverages. If many male turn-ons don’t extend that far beyond their adolescent visual preoccupations, Madison Avenue is only too happy to cater to these earlier fixations. And the least flagrant way they can do so is through focusing a male’s attention on a beautifully curved pair of well-toned legs (though, hopefully, just short of the point that the product being marketed is forgotten altogether!).
Moreover, in diverse ways our highly materialistic culture seems almost to demand that women “heighten” their natural femininity to make it more enticing. To conform to societal standards, women are pretty much expected to shave their legs, which unquestionably increases their smoothness and erotic appeal. On top of this, skin softeners are promoted widely to further embellish such kinesthetic allure. And giving giving oneself a tan, or donning nylons or pantyhose, or wearing high heels, can enhance this effect still further.
As one forum commenter—and leg aficionado—puts it, such glamorous coverings give women’s legs “an even smoother, sheerer texture and conceal minor blemishes, suggesting physical perfection.” And high-heeled shoes “flex the muscles of the legs with each step, emphasizing shapeliness and fitness.” Additionally, “short skirts or slit dresses . . . draw the eyes to the legs and emphasize them.” And addressing fellow males generally, this same contributor opines: “If you come to associate women’s legs with sex during puberty, that will probably stick with you for your whole life.” And, even more empathically, “A male who grows up surrounded by all this can be forgiven for developing an obsession with women’s legs” (“Why do men lust after women with long legs?”, Quora.com).
Additionally, many exercises touted especially for women promise how much they’ll improve their legs’ muscle tone, and so increase their seductiveness. In short—and frankly, this is rather sad to say—all manner of things are promoted that almost compel women to regard their bodies as sex objects, presumably to help them most effectively appeal to a male’s senses—that is, sight (emphasizing shape, lines, and curves), as well as texture and touch.
Paradoxically, these aggressively marketed “enhancements” cut two ways: They can be seen as prompting women to further sexualize—even “objectify”—themselves (with clearly negative implications for their self-esteem), even as they hint at how they can gain additional power over all-too susceptible men. And if what Swiss-born writer Madame de Staël famously proclaimed some 200 years ago—namely, that “the desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man”—then, oh-so-rivetingly, women may be caught in the same biological bind as men are.
Finally, it ought to be noted that forum respondents frequently stress the intimate relationship between a woman’s legs and the more “pivotal” parts of their anatomy. And they do this quite aware that though a woman’s seminal opening may grant them the highest degree of sexual gratification, their legs yet offer them a “purity” of visual pleasure comparable to it. One commenter, for example, comically admits: “If I had to pick one thing I like best [about a woman’s body] it would be [her] legs—in part because they go up and make an ass out of themselves”—a most curious pun that, at least indirectly, intimates how the higher up a man goes, figuratively, in making love to a woman’s legs, the closer he gets to what so many discussants rhapsodize as “absolute heaven.”
And this same contributor, glorifying what so many males find bewitching about the female anatomy generally, confesses that “there isn’t one inch of a woman’s body that doesn’t amaze and intrigue me. Every curve is a mystery yet to be revealed.” And—speaking specifically to “leg people”—he’s led to ponder: “Maybe it’s more about the journey than the destination” (“Why are men attracted to women’s legs??”, Armageddon Online Forums).