The Science of What Makes Dads Sexy

Hot dads may not look as manly, but they have a subtle edge.

A kid can be the best wingman for a single dad. Women tend to be more attracted to men who act paternal, and experts suspect that DILFs are able to compensate for the extra baggage by building nurturing skills instead of muscle. “The sexy dad is absolutely a thing, for most but not all women,” psychiatrist Reef Karim told Fatherly. “He reveals his tender side, is empathic, responsible, caring and probably more settled in life. This is particularly true with an involved father.” 

Indeed, studies have shown that women tend to be attracted to men after observing them interact with babies, and there’s some evidence that women can use a man’s face to gauge whether he has an affinity for children. The research, led by James Roney of the University of California Santa Barbara, involved asking women to look at a series of pictures of men and rate the likelihood that they would be involved fathers. The women were surprisingly accurate in their guesses—and also expressed more interest in pursuing “fatherly” men for long-term relationships (although they preferred less paternal types for quick flings).

Before you scoff at “dad face”, it is noteworthy that Roney and colleagues found that the men that women selected as likely good dads had lower testosterone, on average, and concluded that there seems to be something  about softer masculinity that women prefer for the long-haul. This echoes past research that demonstrates that women like men with muscles in the short-term, but prefer more realistically-shaped partners in the long-term. While this does not mean that women all dig the dad bod, it could mean that what makes dads easy to overlook as short-term suitors make them that much more appealing as long-term ones.

“Men’s interest in children may be a relatively under-appreciated influence on long-term mate attractiveness,” Roney said in a statement.

Now, there are caveats. To be sexy, dad needs to be parenting, too. Given the evidence that men’s testosterone is mediated by their paternal investment, it makes both biological and logical sense that active, involved fathers would disproportionately reap the benefits of the sexy dad trope. Uninvolved sperm donors are unlikely to experience any dad effects. Marina Adshade, a behavioral economist and author of Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love, agrees that men have to be present parents in order to be attractive ones. But if they are, this can be more seductive than a dude who simply likes kids. 

“In an economic sense, you can think of this as a form of signaling,” Adshade told Fatherly. “A man who is already actively raising children has the opportunity to signal to women that he is willing to do the hard to work of raising children.”

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And of course, having kids isn’t always appealing to women. Some women may realize that children place additional financial and emotional burdens upon men, and shy away from guys with baggage. Others are not looking to have children at all. But as a rule, there’s something sexy about being an involved father—especially in the minds of women who aspire to become mothers.

“Women who are looking to have children or who already have children have an instant rapport with men who have children,” Karim says. “There’s an implicit trust and understanding that these men are responsible for something bigger than themselves.”