Is meat sexy? That’s not an attempt to fit into the all-too-horny news cycle, we promise—it’s literally the focus of new research out of Australia. In a study focused on “sexual motivation,” two marketing researchers concluded that the answer is yes: When straight men have sex on the brain, they want meat more, because they think it makes them more desirable to women.
Over 1,600 male and female participants from Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom took part in the three-part study, which involved looking at “sexy images” or imagining “romantic” situations and then choosing between meat and non-meat foods. (To cut down the number of variables, the researchers excluded participants who didn’t identify as heterosexual, and anyone who didn’t eat meat.)
The research was conducted by Eugene Y. Chan and Natalina Zlatevska, who are marketing professors at Monash University and the University of Technology Sydney, respectively. The pair outlined their findings in a manuscript for the journal Food Quality and Preference .
Your mind might be in the gutter, but the “sexy images” didn’t involve any actual nudity. They were described as similar to Victoria’s Secret or old-school Abercrombie & Fitch ads. After participants saw either “sexy images” or scenery, in the first part of the study, they chose between beef jerky and vegan jerky. Men who had seen images that were sexy chose beef jerky more than men who had just seen scenery. Women, overall, were less likely to choose beef jerky, even if they had seen sexy images.
The second and third parts of the study provided similar results. Men who had participated in “sexual scenarios” chose meat more than men who’d seen or imagined non-sexual imagery. Women, however, chose meat and non-meat items about the same, regardless of sexual content.
Altogether, the study concluded that when the thought of sex has been floated, men want meat more. According to the researchers, that’s because of evolutionary tendencies: since men use status markers to seem more desirable to potential mates—and since meat has long been tied to strength, status, and masculinity—it follows that men would be drawn to meat after thinking about mating.
“The link between meat and status is grounded in evolutionary drivers of consumption,” Zlatevska said in a statement to MedicalXpress. “Cavemen consumed meat in order to be strong, healthy and powerful enough to survive the harsh environment. Royalty and the nobility also consumed meat because it signified wealth.”
Meanwhile, the finding that women were less drawn to meat after seeing or thinking of sexual imagery might be because women rely less on status to appeal to men and more on things like beauty and health, the researchers concluded.
Since both Chan and Zlatevska focus on marketing, they see the applications of this work mostly in terms of food ads. Ads for meat emphasize masculinity and sex appeal, they wrote, which strengthens the links between meat, social status, and desirability. (That’s obvious in campaigns like Kraft’s Devour, which uses sexual suggestion to sell frozen dinners meant for men and recently cut down a Super Bowl ad since the original was a little heavy-handed with the porn references.)
“Our research suggests an unintended consequence of today’s sexy ads,” Chan wrote to MUNCHIES in an email. “They might stimulate people’s sexual appetite, if you will, and in turn increase men’s liking for meat, which at an extreme is bad for our physical health and for environmental sustainability.”
So, since sex and meat are so closely linked, they pointed out, ads that use sex appeal to sell sustainability—or lower meat consumption—might be shooting themselves in the foot. By relying on horny advertising, they might actually just make men more hungry… for meat.