2017 Update: This piece was written four years ago and it’s interesting to see how my approach to writing has evolved in that time. This is no longer the kind of topic I would spend time on, but for those who are interested, the survey results do tell an interesting tale. Feel free to read, but should you consider lambasting the author in the comments, realize he’s no longer the same person. 


I’ve been having some issues with my right shoulder, and they were serious enough that my doctor sent me to get an ultrasound to check for a rotator cuff tear.

So today I went for the ultrasound, and an attractive young technician leads me into a room. “I’ll need you to take your shirt off,” she said. So I did.

“Oh,” she seemed at a bit of a loss for words, checking out my torso. “Uh, well.” Then she blushed. “You look… Just take a seat right over here.” Then she proceeded to act a little goofy during the procedure, like my shirtlessness was somehow distracting her.

Okay, that totally didn’t happen. She was exceedingly clinical and professional the entire time.

But the good news is, no rotator cuff tear!

This isn’t Jersey Shore, and life isn’t an Axe Body Spray commercial
I’ve never watched Jersey Shore, although I did interview JWoww once. Side note: After that interview I decided I was done with reality TV stars for all time. Anyway, I understand that Situation dude would pull up his shirt to show off an alien that was about to burst forth, or something, and women would flock to this grease-coated reprobate to engage in acts of coupling that would certainly give me nightmares if I took the time to ponder it.

Too late. Ewwww!

Okay, there is a reality that some men will engage in endless hours in the gym and engage in Herculean efforts of dietary restriction in order to achieve the allegedly coveted six-pack abs, believing it’s the ticket to opening all the birth canals o’er the land. And maybe there are some women for whom the only requirement for seeing them naked is you sporting a visible rectus abdominus, but not only are they in the minority, I would submit that perhaps these Snookis of the world should not be high on your list of people you wish to impress.

Hopefully I wrote that in such a way that it won’t result in some hate-blogging at Jezebel.com.

If you’ve got belly flab, and think that getting ripped is going to miraculously increase your frequency of fornication, I have some bad news for you. All else being equal, simply having abs isn’t going to make much difference in women’s desire for you. I’d argue that the gainfully employed gentleman with the sparkling personality and some belly fat will have better luck with the opposite sex than the rippling ass-clown with the personality of a tire iron who sponges off his parents.

And I did a survey of a hundred women to back up this claim.

But before we get into the survey results, I’ll share my personal anecdotes. Let’s see if I can manage to talk about my sex life and not have it destroy my sex life when my wife reads this.

And here is the first warning: I’ve never actually used my abs to try and get laid. I’ve been ecstatically ensconced in a close relationship with the same woman since 1989. I haven’t been going to nightclubs and pulling up my shirt to determine who flocks to me, or strutting down beaches to hit on the bikini-clad and see what happens. There’s your disclaimer.

But my abs did get me laid once.

Emphasis on “once.” I can think of one specific time when it was a hot day and I wasn’t wearing a shirt around the house. My wife was at her computer and I went to ask her something. She started answering my question and then seemed to get a little distracted.

“You’re looking at my abs, aren’t you?” I said. She blushed a little and then — we interrupt this post for none of your damn business.

Several years of being able to see my abs (with some breaks, largely due to injury), and that’s the only time. Instead, it’s things like cooking, being a good dad, being emotionally supporting, being funny, engaging in meaningful conversations, cleaning toilets, cuddling on the couch and handing over the TV remote — it’s a full package of non-abs stuff that turns her on.

And I have a feeling most women are the same way. So I did a survey of heterosexual women to find out. (Note: I’m in favor of equality for all, but in targeting this survey I, being heterosexual, analyzed what I have personal experience with.)

Survey Says…

Age of respondents

  • 18-30 = 10%
  • 31-40 = 34%
  • 41-50 = 35%
  • 51-60 = 16%
  • 61-70 = 4%
  • 71-80 = 1%

Question 1:

In terms of sexual attraction towards a man, how important are rippling abs to you?

  • Don’t care = 28%
  • They are nice = 72%
  • They are a must = 0%

Question 2:

What is the minimum requirement you have for physical attractiveness (body only) in a man?

  • I don’t care about his body = 10%
  • As long as shoulders are broader than waist, I’m good = 31%
  • As long as his belly doesn’t stick out, I’m good = 36%
  • He must at least have a flat belly = 21%
  • He must have visible abs = 2%

Question 3:

Ranking from most to least important, what do you find most attractive in a man? (Answers ranked below in order of preference)

  1. Personality
  2. Face
  3. Moderate-sized muscles
  4. Bank account TIED WITH Flat belly
  5. Rippling abdomen
  6. Huge muscles

Question 4:

If a guy has ripped abs and a nicely muscular physique, will you still be attracted to him if he is a total jackass with the personality of a doorknob, or if he lives in his parents’ basement showing zero ambition to succeed in life?

  • Not at all. Never. = 75%
  • A one-nighter would be okay = 21%
  • I would date him for a while = 3%
  • I would marry him = 1%

Age ranges and responses
It’s interesting to note that age seemed to have very little impact on the responses. There was no trend that I could notice. It’s humorous that the one woman who was in the 71-80 age range insisted that for her to be attracted to a man, “he must have visible abs.” You go, grandma.

Let’s break this down
Well, 69% of respondents are in the 30-50 age range, so that colors things a bit. Only 10% are under thirty, so a much smaller percentage still are in the “college girl” age range, if that’s you’re thing.

Still, this survey was filled out by my regular readers, which means they’re into fitness and I would imagine into guys with abs because I’m not exactly shy with the shirtless photos on my various websites and social media pages.

And even then, the data show abs aren’t getting men laid. Abs aren’t a must for women, but are considered nice to have. Well, of course some people consider them nice. Just not a requirement.

As question 2 shows, 67% are okay with a moderate amount of belly fat, as long as you have some decent upper body muscles so you have something of an inverted triangle shape to your torso. Only 21% demanded that you have a flat belly. And let me tell you, for a guy, a flat belly is way easier than achieving abs. Those last 10 pounds are brutal.

I was not at all surprised by the answers to question 3. Personality really does trump all, followed by “face” being #2. What’s interesting, and not surprising to me either, is that “huge” muscles come in dead last. There is a lot of data to show women prefer moderate-sized muscles, and that showed up as #3 on this question. However, it doesn’t mean we should go around fit shaming bodybuilders. It’s interesting that “moderate-sized muscles” beat “flat belly.” I’m not surprised “bank account” ranked lower; I’m pleased that women continue to gain independence and equality. Women aren’t looking for a guy to support them, but just don’t want a guy they have to support. Also worth noting is that “ripped abs” came in second last.

If you do have the ripped abs, yet are otherwise a raging douche balloon, 21% of women will have a one-nighter with you, but if you’re looking for a relationship, you’re screwed. Er, not screwed, on a regular basis at least.

Okay, so abs won’t get me laid. Now what?
I do have actual advice for the under-fornicated. Take heed.

First off, remember question #3. The top two things a woman like in a man were personality and face. Well, guess what? The pursuit of six-pack abs can have a positive impact on your personality. It can also turn you into a jackass, so be careful.

And going after abs, or a flatter belly, is more than just about dropping fat from your frame. It can be a positive change to the core of your being. It requires dedication, time management, planning, ambition, patience, passion and persistence. It’s a learning process, and a big part of what you’re learning is who you really are. If you’re a doughnut-scarfing couch potato and gradually transform into a diet-conscious workout warrior, you will become a different person as part of that process. It doesn’t just transform your body, but can transform your entire life. Check out this feature I wrote for AskMen called, “The ROI of getting in shape.”

One thing that comes through this process is confidence in yourself. I know that women dig confidence (Note: NOT arrogance.) Getting in great shape is hard. It is a massive challenge that, if you can do it — if you succeed — will give you tremendous confidence in your own abilities to accomplish other goals in life.

Before I got in shape, back when I was 50 pounds fatter and had scrawny muscles, I was cruising through life. Then I transformed my body and this changed everything else. The skills developed through getting in shape had a profound effect on the way the rest of my life unfolded. I married an amazingly beautiful and brilliant woman (she’s a doctor), got an MBA, am raising two successful and happy kids, and I went from my first published article to one of the most read fitness columnists in North America in just a few years. I’ve also interviewed a number of well-known celebrities, including one of my heroes, and I had the confidence to not have a nerdgasm and crap my pants. Getting in shape was the catalyst for all this. It changed my personality at a core level, making me more capable, confident and ambitious. It can do the same for you.

It can also change your face.

Did you read that ROI of Getting in Shape piece? I interviewed Dr. Gordon Patzer for it; he is the world’s leading authority on physical attractiveness. In the article he said, “Slimming down will certainly make their face more aesthetically pleasing,” Patzer told me. “If their features are well-defined, then this is considered to be more attractive. Weight loss creates a more ‘chiseled’ look.”

I’ve noticed this myself. I have dimples and even a hint of a cleft in my chin that weren’t there when I was overweight. The leaner my abdomen, the better my face looks. My wife agrees.

So that’s the good news here. Getting ripped abs can get you laid, although not in the direct “pull your shirt up in a nightclub and wait for the women to show up” kind of way. It can make your face look better, which is a bonus, but most importantly, if you’re lacking confidence and ambition, the simple pursuit of fitness — and being successful at achieving something so difficult — can transform who you are in a positive way. Again, if you don’t go all arrogant jackassholish, these are personality changes that a lot of women find attractive.

I understand women also like biceps.

This piece was first published on my old site on June 10, 2013.

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 James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.