Sexual capital

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Sexual capital or erotic capital is the social value an individual or group accrues as a result of their sexual attractiveness. As with other forms of capital, sexual capital is convertible,[ citation needed ] and may be useful in acquiring other forms of capital, including social capital and economic capital.

Individual capital, the economic view of talent, comprises inalienable or personal traits of persons, tied to their bodies and available only through their own free will, such as skill, creativity, enterprise, courage, capacity for moral example, non-communicable wisdom, invention or empathy, non-transferable personal trust and leadership.

Social group two or more humans who interact with one another

In the social sciences, a social group can be defined as two or more people who interact with one another, share similar characteristics, and collectively have a sense of unity. Other theorists disagree however, and are wary of definitions which stress the importance of interdependence or objective similarity. Instead, researchers within the social identity tradition generally define it as "a group is defined in terms of those who identify themselves as members of the group". Regardless, social groups come in a myriad of sizes and varieties. For example, a society can be viewed as a large social group.

In economics, capital consists of an asset that can enhance one's power to perform economically useful work. For example, in a fundamental sense a stone or an arrow is capital for a caveman who can use it as a hunting instrument, while roads are capital for inhabitants of a city.



The term erotic capital was first used by British sociologist Catherine Hakim in the early 2000s. Hakim defined it as separate from and building upon French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of economic, cultural and social capital. She says erotic capital is independent of class origin and therefore enables social mobility, and argues that this makes erotic capital socially subversive, which results in the prevailing power structures devaluing and trying to suppress it. [1] In the manosphere, the parallel term sexual market value or its abbreviation SMV is often used. [2]

Catherine Hakim is a British sociologist who specialises in women's employment and women's issues. Her development and publishment of the "preference theory" and "sex-deficit theory" has groundbreaking implications on modern women's empowerment issues. She is currently a Professorial Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Civil Society (Civitas), and has formerly worked in British central government and been a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics and the Centre for Policy Studies. She has also been a Visiting Professor at the Social Science Research Center Berlin.

Pierre Bourdieu French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher

Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher and public intellectual.

The manosphere is an informal network where commentators and blogs, forums and websites, some seen as men's spaces, focus on issues relating to men and masculinity. It is also seen by some as a male counterpart to feminism or in opposition to it.



One economic-related definition is based on the human truth capital theory of Gary Becker, and predicts that people invest rationally in exhibiting their sex appeal when they can expect a return on their investments. This he defines as a form of health capital which is itself a form of individual capital. [3]

Gary Becker American economist

Gary Stanley Becker was an American economist and empiricist. He was a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago. Described as "the most important social scientist in the past 50 years" by The New York Times, Becker was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1992 and received the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. A 2011 survey of economics professors named Becker their favorite living economist over the age of 60, followed by Ken Arrow and Robert Solow.


The sociological definition is based on Bourdieu's idea of fields. [4] [5] [6] This definition builds on Bourdieu's concept of capital. [7] Green defines sexual capital as accruing to an individual or group due to the quality and quantity of attributes that he or she possesses which elicit an erotic response in another, including physical appearance, affect and sociocultural styles. Some of these attributes may be immutable, such as an individual's race or height, while others may be acquired through fitness training, or artificially, through plastic surgery or a makeover, etc. [4] There is no single hegemonic form of erotic (sexual) capital. On the contrary, currencies of capital are quite variable, acquiring a hegemonic status in relation to the erotic preferences of highly specialized social groups that distinguish one sexual field from another. Importantly, this means that erotic capital is best conceived as a property of the field, and not an individual form of capital. [4]

Affect is a concept used in psychology to describe the experience of feeling or emotion. The term "affect" takes on a different meaning in other fields. In psychology, affect mediates an organism's interaction with stimuli. The word also refers sometimes to affect display, which is "a facial, vocal, or gestural behavior that serves as an indicator of affect".

Height Measure of vertical distance

Height is measure of vertical distance, either vertical extent or vertical position . For example, "The height of that building is 50 m" or "The height of an airplane is about 10,000 m".

Plastic surgery is a surgical specialty involving the restoration, reconstruction, or alteration of the human body. It can be divided into two categories. The first is reconstructive surgery which includes craniofacial surgery, hand surgery, microsurgery, and the treatment of burns. The other is cosmetic or aesthetic surgery. While reconstructive surgery aims to reconstruct a part of the body or improve its functioning, cosmetic surgery aims at improving the appearance of it. Both of these techniques are used throughout the world.

A second definition is developed by Hakim, treating erotic capital as the fourth personal asset. This definition is a multifaceted combination of physical and social attractiveness that goes well beyond sexual attractiveness that is the focus of the 'fields' perspective. Unlike Green's conception of sexual capital, Hakim's erotic capital is an individual capital with no necessary referent to a field. [8]

Extensive supporting evidence for the concept of sexual capital, defined as beauty, physical attractiveness, and good looks, is provided in Daniel Hamermesh's latest book, Beauty Pays, where he reviews the research evidence on the economic benefits of being attractive in all contexts, including higher education teaching, politics, sales and marketing, and everyday social interaction. Hamermesh assumes these economic benefits must be due to unfair discrimination, a position he takes from Deborah Rhode's new book, Beauty Bias, a feminist lawyer's critique of the social benefits that accrue to attractive people, and the disadvantages experienced by unattractive people, most particularly the obese.

Deborah L. Rhode is an American jurist. She is the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, the director of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, and the director of Stanford's Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship. She coined the term The "No-Problem" Problem, and has authored over 250 articles and over 20 books, including Women and Leadership, Lawyers as Leaders, and The Beauty Bias, and is the nation's most frequently cited scholar in legal ethics.


Catherine Hakim argues that erotic capital matters beyond the sexual field, and beyond private relationships. Her research suggests that erotic capital is important in the fields of media, politics, advertising, sports, the arts, and in everyday social interaction, and consists of six elements: [8]

  1. Beauty
  2. Sexual attractiveness
  3. Social attractiveness
  4. Vivaciousness and energy
  5. Presentation
  6. Sexuality

Catherine Hakim's theory of erotic capital argues that erotic capital is an important fourth personal asset, alongside economic capital, cultural/human capital and social capital; that erotic capital is increasingly important in affluent modern societies; that women generally have more erotic capital than men, and that erotic capital has social benefits and privileges that benefit the female gender. [8] This definition of erotic capital has been contested by some sociologists who reject the idea that erotic capital / sexual capital is something individuals possess, like a portable portfolio of resources, with no implicit link to the particular sexual field in which such characteristics are deemed desirable. [9]

Sexual capital may be related to both sexual and mental health, as when individuals with low sexual capital show diminished ability to talk about or negotiate condom use with a partner possessing greater erotic capital, and develop negative emotional states as a consequence of feeling unattractive. [10]

In broader theoretical terms, sexual capital is important for social theory insofar as it is one among other types of capital, including social capital, symbolic capital, and cultural capital which influence the status accorded individual members of the larger society. Sexual capital is convertible to other forms of capital, as when actors parlay sexual capital into financial capital or social capital (e.g. Marilyn Monroe), [4] [8] or when attractive employees get raises and social connections from bringing in more customers by virtue of their looks. [11]


Several studies suggest that sexual capital is closely associated with race or racial stereotypes of sexual attractiveness. [12] Some studies show a more complex relationship between erotic capital and race. For example, some black men are afforded high sexual status because they appeal to the fantasies of some white gay men. [4] Susan Koshy argues that Asian women have gained sexual capital in the West through glamorous accounts of western male – Asian female sexual relationships in the media and arts. [6] James Farrer argues that white men living in China have enhanced sexual capital arising out of associations of whiteness with modernity, sexual openness and mobility. [13]

Class and gender

Scholars suggest that sexual capital is closely tied to social class.[ citation needed ] Groes-Green argues that sexual capital and other forms of bodily power become important resources among disenfranchised young men in Southern Africa when their access to economic capital and jobs is diminished.[ citation needed ] Groes-Green further argues that the emergence of sexual capital is linked to gender relations, e.g. when poor young men build sexual capital by grooming their looks and improving sexual performance in order to satisfy female partners and in competition with middle class peers and older so-called 'sugar-daddies'. Thus sexual capital reinforces masculinity in the face of male disempowerment, and it often develops as a response to conflict between hegemonic and subordinated masculinities. [14]

Capital portfolios

Because desirability in a sexual field may depend on more than merely sexual attractiveness, Green (2014) develops the concept, capital portfolio, to capture the particular combination of capitals that make an individual or group more desirable than others. Capital portfolios typically involve a combination of sexual capital with economic, cultural and social capitals. As an example, to the extent that women, on average, value financial resources (i.e., economic capital) in their male partners more than sexual capital, and men value sexual capital more than economic capital in their female partners, so one may conclude that heterosexual women and men seek out distinctive capital portfolios that include a different, gendered balance of capitals. [15]

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A sexual field is an arena of social life wherein individuals seek intimate partners and vie for sexual status. Sexual fields emerge "when a subset of actors with potential romantic or sexual interest orient themselves toward one another according to a logic of desirability imminent to their collective relations and this logic produces, to greater and lesser degrees, a system of stratification". The term builds on Pierre Bourdieu's (1980) concept of field and has been defined as a "set of interlocking institutions" and an "institutionalized matrix of relations" that confers status upon sexual actors based on individual variation in sexual capital. Relative to those with a sexual capital deficit, actors in possession of sexual capital reap the rewards of the sexual field—including the ability to select desired sexual partners and the acquisition of social significance.

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  1. Hakim, Catherine (2011). Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom. Basic Books. pp. 16–18. ISBN   0465027474.
  2. Boysen, Benjamin. "Houellebecq's Priapism: The Failure of Sexual Liberation in Michel Houellebecq's Novels and Essays." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée 43.3 (2016): 477-497.
  3. Michael, Robert T. (2004). "Sexual Capital: An extension of Grossman's concept of health capital". Journal of Health Economics. 23 (4): 643–652. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2004.04.003. PMID   15587691.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Green, Adam Isaiah (2008). "The Social Organization of Desire: The Sexual Fields Approach". Sociological Theory . Philadelphia, PA: American Sociological Association. 26: 25–50. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2008.00317.x. Archived from the original on 5 January 2013.
  5. Martin, John Levi; George, Matt (2006). "Theories of Sexual Stratification: Toward an Analytics of the Sexual Field and a Theory of Sexual Capital". Sociological Theory. 24 (2): 107–132. doi:10.1111/j.0735-2751.2006.00284.x. Archived from the original on 5 January 2013.
  6. 1 2 Koshy, Susan (2004). Sexual Naturalization: Asian Americans and Miscegenation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 15. ISBN   978-0-8047-4729-5.
  7. Bourdieu, Pierre (1980). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN   978-0-8047-2011-3.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Hakim, Catherine (2010). "Erotic capital". European Sociological Review . 26 (5): 499–518. doi:10.1093/esr/jcq014.
  9. For more, see Green, Adam Isaiah (2013). "Erotic Capital and the Power of Desirability: Why 'Honey Money' is a Bad Collective Strategy for Remedying Gender Inequality". Sexualities. 16: 137–158.
  10. Green, Adam Isaiah (2008). "Health and Sexual Status in an Urban Gay Enclave: An Application of the Stress Process Model". Journal of Health and Social Behavior. American Sociological Association. 49 (4): 436–451. doi:10.1177/002214650804900405.
  11. Hakim, Catherine (24 March 2010). "Have you got erotic capital?". Prospect Magazine (169). Retrieved 6 June 2010.
  12. Gonzales, Alicia M.; Rolison, Gary (2005). "Social Oppression and Attitudes Toward Sexual Practices". Journal of Black Studies. 35 (6): 715–729. doi:10.1177/0021934704263121.
  13. Farrer, James (2010). "A foreign adventurer's paradise? Interracial sexuality and alien sexual capital in reform era Shanghai". Sexualities. 13 (1): 69–95. doi:10.1177/1363460709352726. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 October 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2010.
  14. Groes-Green, Christian (2009). "Hegemonic and subordinated masculinities: Class, violence and sexual performance among young Mozambican men" (PDF). Nordic Journal of African Studies. 18 (4): 286–304.
  15. Green, Adam Isaiah (2014). Sexual Fields: Toward a Sociology of Collective Sexual Life. University of Chicago Press.

Further reading