(extremely annoyed) Movie Review: Why the “Science of Sex Appeal” is far from scientific!

The other night I was surfing around netflix looking for something to watch when I ran across The Science of Sex Appeal. It seemed like the perfect fit.   It is the sort of documentary you see on the History or Discovery channels and is on how humanity’s sex appeal works.  I was super excited and that made the almost immediate disappointment in the movie all the more painful.  I have so many complaints about this film and they are so vehement that I am going to leave them until the end so they do not cloud the rest.

The description of the movie on netflix is this:

“The seemingly elusive qualities of sex appeal are examined in exhaustive detail through the lens of science in this probing documentary, which documents the evolution and function of every component of human attraction. In this study of the real science behind “chemistry,” you’ll learn how the subtlest sounds, sights and smells can affect sex appeal, and you’ll discover how genetic, hormonal and neurological factors create sparks between people.”

The description is not false, but it certainly is not completely accurate.  They started by looked at the face and go on to the walk, smell, voice and social standing and monetary considerations.  They did go over a lot of interesting experiments that did things like track the what parts of a body an individual looked at or if men or women found masculine or feminine faces more attractive.

On to the bad!  There are tho big complaints I had.  The first is they did not address any variety in sexuality. Second, their example videos were very much focused on the man viewing the woman.  There are sooooo many other complaints I had, such as they did not give marital/dating status, length of relationship, age or anything about the real couples they interviewed.  But I am going to limit it to these since once a thing gets to me like this did I will nitpick it to the extreme and often unfairly.

Throughout the movie there was no mention of homosexuality.  Not even a nod to it or the voice over woman saying “we’re focusing on male-female for simplicity’s sake”.  It was all how do males view females?  When do women like how men smell?  What walks to each gender find attractive in the other?  This was not only extremely heterocentric, but also was very unfair to an (presumably) trusting audience.  It is not an accurate study of “sex appeal” if you are only looking at straight people!  You are looking at baby producing sex appeal.

The little video clips that all these movies use to keep the audience’s interest were frustrating as well, if to a much lesser degree.  They kept cutting back to a women in the bar with her friends and a man alone watching (not in a creepy way, just in a I want to hit on you way).  When ever they talked about some unconscious calculations people do they would always show him performing it while looking at her.  He measured her face.  He analyzed her walk.  It was his brain we did a dramatic rollercoaster look into.  The only time I remember them looking at her doing something is when they talked about why it may be a biological drive for a woman to cheat (they want to marry the “dad” but procreate with “sexy”).

If you want to find some names of researchers this is not a bad place to start.  I honestly do not see much else of worth here.  They ignore so many things, including basics of films like this , that I did not feel comfortable trusting what they did report.  From what they showed the studies seem to have very small samples and they did not report the data they got.  They just reported “the results” without any qualifications (how significant were the statistics?  Was the sample big enough to really be reliable? Where did you get your participants?)

Basically I really do not recommend this movie for more than inspiration on reading to do on your own.  If you are interested in the biological side of sex appeal, then this will give you a decent idea of what words or names to shove into google.  The science was questionable because the move making was questionable.  It was poorly put together for a scientific report, lacking a lot of details it should have had.  It was pretty much 1.5 hours of me pausing the movie to take annoyed notes and frequent breaks so I could at least finish the thing in hopes that they would redeem themselves.

I will be coming back to this film in the post about science’s gender biases in the up coming weeks.  There were some studies whose assumptions and questions, as presented in the film, were troublesome.  So you can look forward to a few more details there.


About Tori

I am a graduate student working on my masters in Women and Gender studies. My masters thesis is on the gender nonconformity and ambiguity in modern film.
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