The Real Reason Bad Boys Are So Attractive

We've seen it on TV, in movies, and via our friends or celebrities. Some people can't get enough of a bad boy. In fact, a 2022 Lovehoney study found as many as 43% of British people have fallen for one. Heck, even Taylor Swift isn't immune to their charms. "There's a really interesting charisma involved. They usually have a lot to say, and even if they don't, they know how to look at you to say it all," she admitted to Parade in 2012. "I think every girl's dream is to find a bad boy at the right time, when he wants to not be bad anymore." And, it turns out there's actually some science behind that.

What defines a bad boy? There are a few different definitions, but, in essence, a bad boy is largely regarded as someone who identifies as a man and plays by their own rules. They're not interested in doing what everyone else is doing, and probably won't show much interest in being tied down in a serious relationship. In teen TV and movies, he's the guy sitting in the back of class chewing gum, distracting his classmates. It's important, though, not to get the bad boy confused with someone who's done actual bad things. A bad boy is rough around the edges and a rebel without a cause, but has a good heart deep down. He's not evil, he's not abusive, and doesn't mean any real harm.

Overt masculinity could be why we find bad boys so irresistible

Traditionally, the bad boy is seen as a guy who's overtly masculine and isn't afraid to show it. And that can be what's innately making them more attractive. According to Dr. Madeleine Fugère, a professor of psychology and author, who spoke to Good Housekeeping, "Men with very masculine traits may have better quality genes, so it could be attractive to women on an unconscious evolutionary level." Essentially, think of it as the idea that some women are attracted to men because they subconsciously like the idea of traditional manliness. They may then associate that with traditional ideas and uses of masculinity, such as the idea of being able to provide for them, keep them safe, or create a healthy baby.

Human behavior and relationship expert Dr. Patrick Wanis agreed with this theory, noting that it can be traced back to when men were considered providers and hunters, who would leave the cave to bring back food for women and their children in the early days of humanity. Of course though, this only really explains why some straight cis women are attracted to straight cis men, and doesn't go as far as to explain why some members of the LGBTQ+ community may also have a fondness for the bad guy.

Liking a bad boy could also relate to the good girl in you

Another reason we may fall for the bad boy is how we were socialized as children. Psychologist Dr. Robyn McKay explained to Good Housekeeping that often, those attracted to bad boys are good girls looking to escape from their protected lives. Think young girls who mind their manners and get homework done on time. "Girls possess a range of traits, like rebelliousness. These traits are typically repressed during childhood, as females are socialized to be compliant and agreeable," she explained. "If a girl's inner life is unexpressed, she may be drawn to a bad boy as a way of vicariously expressing her own inner rebel." This theory may also explain why a lot of straight women grow out of a bad boy attraction when entering their thirties. "She has had sufficiently negative experiences to realize that it is better to be happy than waste energy on trying to change a man," Dr. Patrick Wanis said.

Dr. McKay did note though that this is a case of opposites attract, which may go some way to explain why some LGBTQ+ people can also find themselves with an affinity for bad boys. For example, someone without a lot of freedom may like that a bad boy has so much. "Despite the fact that this quality makes him an unsuitable partner for the long-term, it can make him so attractive, it's seemingly worth the potential pain associated," she said.

Or a bad boy could be a pattern (or a lack of one)

Clinical sexologist Ness Copper told Metro another reason many people choose the bad boy could be a family pattern. A lot of people who have a thing for bad guys may have grown up around dysfunctional relationships, and if a child sees their mother continually dating a bad boy who doesn't follow the rules, they may see that as being right for them. "Most people will have learned how they should and shouldn't act in a relationship. Sometimes it can take time to break negative scripts," Ness explained.

There's another theory about patterns (or a lack of) that has nothing to do with family, called The Random Interval Reward System. Evolutionary biologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner founded this theory, discovering that when a reward varies in size and is handed out in totally random intervals, people get addicted. Gambling is a great example of this. You never know if that next scratch card will make you a millionaire, get you $10, or nothing at all. And according to relationship expert Dr. Wendy Walsh, that's exactly what bad boys do. "We get dribs and drabs of rewards," she explained in a YouTube video, noting while a good guy will be consistent, a bad boy may do things like take you on a date, then ghost you. "The fact that he gives his attention in a random way at different intervals makes you addicted," she noted.

A bad boy boyfriend could be seen as validation

The idea that someone can change a bad boy and be that special person they changed for can also be a huge factor. Psychiatrist Dr. Margaret Seide explained to Good Housekeeping that because bad boys aren't usually the kinds of guys who settle down, when they finally do, it can feel like a bigger win than dating a good guy who was looking for a relationship. "You think that if you can land one, you must be pretty, funny, and smart enough to have won this prize," she said. "Unfortunately, due to societal pressures, women are often on an eternal quest for validation and that elusive feeling of being enough."

Those who are most susceptible to falling for a bad boy like this are nurturing, empathic people. As licensed psychotherapist Dr. Marni Feuerman admitted, "They want to see the best in others and have difficulty believing that someone can be truly bad." But they're not the only ones. Dr. Patrick Wanis noted people with emotional or psychological issues can also find themselves attracted. "They subconsciously believe they deserve to be treated badly or don't feel lovable or good enough," he claimed.

But, as Dr. Wendy Walsh shared, those who are truly comfortable with themselves are less susceptible to falling for a bad boy this way. "If you stop and learn to love yourself first, you'll realize how bad boys are the one thing you definitely don't need," she said.