There’s just something about the “bad boy” with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other that some women find irresistible, and a new study may finally explain why. According to the research, many women find men who practice “risky” behavior to be  more sexually open and more appealing for an exciting short-term sexual encounter. However, when it comes to more long-term mating partners, it seems that nice guys do finish first.

For the study, now published in the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, Eveline Vincke from the University of Ghent in Belgium interviewed 239 women between the ages of 17 and 30 about their views of smoking and drinking behaviors in men. All women were Flemish and lived in a Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. The women were shown 10 profiles of men. The profiles addressed both the young men’s smoking and drinking behavior and their other behaviors and hobbies, such as playing sports and sunbathing. The women were asked how likely they were to have a short-term relationship, such as a one-night-stand, or a long-term relationship, such as marriage, with each of the men displayed in the profiles.

Results revealed that most participants rated men as being more attractive as short-term relationship partners when they were portrayed as occasional smokers and occasional or heavy drinkers. However, men who were portrayed as non-smokers and moderate-to-non-drinkers were found to be more attractive as long-term relationship partners.

According to Vincke, there may be an evolutionary explanation for why women would prefer men who engage in these physically harmful and even deadly habits. Before the advent of birth control, sex always came with inevitable, serious responsibilities for women: nine months of pregnancy plus the burden of work involved over at least 18 years of the child’s upbringing. Because of this, women have always been selective in who they choose as both long- and short-term mating partners. However, women value different characteristics, depending on how long they want the relationship to last.

"When searching for a long-term partner," Vincke told The Telegraph, "women prefer a man who has the willingness and capacity to protect and care for children.” This would explain why women are attracted to kind and physically strong men, especially men with resources and status when looking for a potential husband.

On the other hand, in short-term romantic encounters and flings, genetic quality is the most important feature. According to Vincke, “ physical risk taking enhances male attractiveness.” Efforts to demonize smoking and drinking in order to prevent young adults from picking up the habits may have only added to the attractiveness of men who choose to practice these dangerous behaviors, Psychology Today reported.

However, Tristan Bridges, a masculinity scholar and professor of sociology at the College at Brockport State University in New York told Broadly that much of the scientific evidence backing an evolutionary reason behind women’s attraction to “dangerous” men is based on early civilizations and doesn’t really make sense in modern society.

"Our sexual desires are shaped and molded by the societies in which we grow up,” said Bridges. “If a risk-taking masculinity is sexualized in our society, it tells us a lot more about gender inequality in our culture than it does about the biology of gender."

Whatever the rationale behind female attraction towards dangerous men, the study suggests that men are well aware of it and may even use it to their advantage as part of their “short-term mating strategy.” For example, some men may take up smoking only in social situations with the hopes of increasing their sexual appeal.

Source: Vincke E. The Young Male Cigarette and Alcohol Syndrome: Smoking and Drinking as a Short-Term Mating Strategy. Evolutionary Psychology. 2016.