What You Find Hot and Why

“Seeking big belly girl for fun fantasy.”

“Married woman wants discreet relationship involving bondage play.”

“GWM seeking bottoming relationship. Be tall, tan and masculine.”

We’ve all seen ads like these in print and online, where it seems that every potential desire is represented – from the vanilla “tall dark and handsome” to those attracted to amputees. Why is it that we are individually wired the way we are? Why does one person seek out rough sex and the next person require sex that is very gentle and slow?

In the 1980’s, sex and gender researcher John Money coined the term “lovemap.” A lovemap is the erotic template you develop early in life, and later respond to sexually. Specifically, Money defined it as “a developmental representation or template in the mind and in the brain depicting the idealized lover and the idealized program of sexual and erotic activity projected in imagery or actually engaged in with that lover.”

This concept of a lovemap has relevance to preferences involving characteristics like gender, ethnicity, height, and weight. A lovemap can be highly individualized and specific, even regarding the temperament and personalities of preferred partners. It can also cause someone to have a negative reaction to certain traits or behaviors; for example, a person might be turned off by what he or she perceives as physical force or aggression.

The environment in which sexual arousal takes place can also be affected by previous experiences. For instance, if a person is uncomfortable having sex with the lights on, this could be a result of a negative experience in a previous relationship and now wanting to avoid that risk. Another person might have bonded with a former partner in a life-altering situation, and might have an expectation that future partners will cause some sort of extreme impact upon his or her life. Past experiences can thus become part of one’s erotic template.

Money’s theory of a “vandalized” lovemap explained the desire to express one’s sexuality in socially unacceptable ways. Essentially, Money attributed paraphilic behaviors to exposure to a traumatic event during the “imprinting” period, a period of developmental vulnerability when erotic templates are formed. As a result of this exposure, the individual may begin to associate his or her arousal with some theme or object present at that point in time.

Very often couples end up together because they share mutual erotic templates, or have traits that appeal to one another. The discovery of these commonalities usually occurs during the pair-bonding time of courtship. Each person projects on to the other his or her specific template. If there is not congruence between lovemaps, the couple may have to negotiate issues that arise within the relationship as a result.

Obviously, there are times when individuals will veer outside of their common attractions in order to experiment, or because another trait of the partner is more important. If a person is uncomfortable with his lovemap, he may feel compelled to work with a therapist to develop acceptance toward it. As long as the behavior doesn’t endanger one’s self or someone else, it can be extremely successful to focus on gaining comfort with the lovemap through therapy, as opposed to “breaking” or changing the template. Regardless, it can be helpful for us all to examine who we are attracted to and what patterns we have established.


 is the resident sexologist at Adam & Eve and also runs a private practice and media consulting business.  She has a Doctorate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.  Her professional affiliations include AASECT, SSSS, and the American Board of Sexologists.  She also has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and completed a postgraduate degree in Marriage, Family and Addictions Recovery Therapy.

© Copyright Dr. Kathleen Van Kirk