Sexual capital or erotic capital is the social power an individual or group accrues as a result of their sexual attractiveness and social charm. It enables social mobility independent of class origin because sexual capital is convertible,[1][2] and may be useful in acquiring other forms of capital, including social capital and economic capital.[2]


See also: Catherine Hakim § The idea of erotic capital

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 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.[3] In the manosphere, the parallel term sexual market value or its abbreviation SMV is often used.[4]



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. He defines this as a form of health capital, which is itself a form of individual capital.[5] Another definition comes from Capital Portfolio Theory, in which Green argues that sexual capital is part of an individual's overall capital portfolio. An individual can transfer their sexual capital to other forms of capital within Capital Portfolio Theory.[6] From an economic perspective, having high sexual capital is advantageous, since it can help an individual in multiple aspects of their lives. For example, multiple studies have shown that increased physical attractiveness is correlated with higher incomes after eliminating other factors.[7][8][9]


The sociological definition is based on Bourdieu's idea of fields.[1][10][11] This definition builds on Bourdieu's concept of capital.[12] 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.[1] 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.[1]

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.[2]

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 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.


This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.Find sources: "Sexual capital" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (November 2019)

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:[2]

  1. Beauty
  2. Sexual attractiveness
  3. Social attractiveness ("grace, charm, social skills in interaction, the ability to make people like you, feel at ease and happy, want to know you and, where relevant, desire you"[13])
  4. Vivaciousness and energy ("a mixture of physical fitness, social energy, and good humor"[13])
  5. Social presentation ("style of dress, face-painting, perfume, jewelry, hairstyles, and the various accessories that people carry or wear to announce their social status and style to the world"[14])
  6. Sexuality ("sexual competence, energy, erotic imagination, playfulness, and everything else that makes for a sexually satisfying partner"[14])

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.[2] 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.[15]

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.[16]

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),[1][2] or when attractive employees get raises and social connections from bringing in more customers by virtue of their looks.[17]

Cultural and contextual factors

See also: Physical attractiveness § General contributing factors


See also: Race and sexuality

Sexual capital is closely associated with race or racial stereotypes of sexual attractiveness.[18]

In the United States, white men have higher sexual capital than white women, Black women, or Black men.[19] This is also observed in other countries, such as in Japan, where Japanese women often earn more money than their white husbands or boyfriends. The preference for white men among Japanese women is strong enough such that they are often willing to overlook a white man's income when considering him as a potential partner.[19] Japanese men in Japan are stereotyped as controlling, awkward or emasculated, while white women are viewed as mannish or too loud. These stereotypes elevate the sexual capital of Asian women and white men in Japan.[20] Similar patterns have been reported in Taiwan.[20]

Some black men are afforded high sexual status because they appeal to the fantasies of some heterosexual white women,[1] but more generally black men suffer from systemic sexual racism.[21] 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.[11] Sexual racism has also been studied to negatively affect gay men of color.[22][23][24] For Asian American men, socioeconomic success does not bring additional dating or marriage opportunities.[25]


See also: Physical attractiveness § Social effects

Idealized traits can vary greatly between cultures, although there are a few beauty standards that are almost universal. Facial symmetry, for example, is a physically-desirable characteristic that is near universal.[26] However, many physical characteristics, like height and weight, have different ideals based on an individual's culture.[27] Not having a culture's desired physical traits can lead to a loss of sexual capital, which would likely decrease an individual's overall capital portfolio. This phenomenon is especially apparent when individuals relocate to an area with different beauty ideals, as there may be a large change in an individual's sexual capital.[citation needed]


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See also: Religion and sexuality and Virginity § Ethics

Sexual capital can be present in both secular and religious settings.  Willey has shown that in an Evangelical youth group, sexual and erotic capital still play a role in partner selection.[14]  Young adults often find a romantic interest in their church groups, often by choosing a partner who has sought-after traits, or a desirable personal capital portfolio.[14] Within the Evangelical youth groups studied, sexual capital was displayed as virginal capital, in which an individual was considered more romantically desirable by the group when they had not engaged in sexual activity.[14] Additionally, some studies point out how adolescents may reduce their religious involvement around their sexual debut.[28] Pentecostal adolescents in Cape Town were shown to reduce their church attendance in early adulthood, with some resuming their previous attendance after finding a long-term partner.[28] These studies show some of the effects of religion on influencing sexual behavior norms of a community. While limited studies have been conducted on the effects of sexual and erotic capital within other religious communities, much has been written on how religion has shaped human sexuality.

Class and gender

This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.Find sources: "Sexual capital" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (March 2019)

Scholars suggest that sexual capital is closely tied to social class.[citation needed]

According to Christian Groes-Green, a PhD fellow at University of Copenhagen, sexual capital and other forms of bodily power become important resources among disenfranchised young men in Mozambique when their access to economic capital and jobs is diminished.[29] 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.[29] Per Groes-Green, this puts the young poor men in competition with middle class peers and older so-called "sugar-daddies". Thus, Groes-Green argues that, sexual capital reinforces masculinity in the face of male disempowerment, and it often develops as a response to conflict between hegemonic and subordinated masculinity.[30]


Riggs has cited several studies of gay men's behavior on Grindr, which showed that white users had received more attention on the app than users who did not identify as white in their biographies.[31]  Other studies have shown that men who report a taller than average height, a more muscular body, have more traditionally masculine characteristics, and self-identify as white receive more attention from other members than those who lack these characteristics.[31][32] Receiving more attention on Grindr, measured by taps or messages from other users, has been used by researchers to find the number of individuals who viewed a profile as sexually desirable. This measure could signify higher levels of sexual capital.[31]

Within the lesbian community, gender non-conformity has been thought to increase an individual's sexual capital.[33] However, the reasons behind this are often the product of society's views on gender non-conformity and lesbianism.  Many butch lesbians may have higher sexual capital within lesbian communities, since they actively subvert gender stereotypes, a trait often celebrated within the community.[33]  Conversely, femme lesbians may lack sexual capital in queer spaces.  However, feminine presenting queer women may receive sexual capital outside of lesbian communities, particularly among heterosexual men.[34]

Capital portfolios

This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.Find sources: "Sexual capital" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (March 2019)

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.[6] 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.[35][6]


As sexual capital and related theories by Catherine Hakim have gained public exposure, there has been criticism from several researchers. The arguments have focused largely on how Hakim's theory disproportionately impact women, even though she considers it a universal theory.[36] Female sexuality varies to a greater extent across culture and socioeconomic status than male sexuality.[37] Women from racial, socioeconomic, sexual, or gender minority groups may face additional pressures in what is considered attractive depending on their environment.[34][37] Additionally, Hakim's theory of sexual capital, including the idea that an individual can change their level of capital, is limited through these considerations.[36]

While Hakim argues that sexual capital can be exchanged and modified by an individual, this is only possible for the average person in certain sociopolitical contexts.  An individual is bounded by their society's views on sex, sexuality and social norms.  In some cases, like in a neoliberal secular society, individuals have a wider freedom of choice in how they present their sexuality and eroticism.[36] Bay-Cheng argues that in neoliberal societies, an individual's motivation for their behavior, along with the behavior itself, is used to evaluate their sexual capital.[38]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Green, Adam Isaiah (2008). "The Social Organization of Desire: The Sexual Fields Approach". Sociological Theory. 26. Philadelphia: American Sociological Association: 25–50. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2008.00317.x. S2CID 144338029. Archived from the original on 5 January 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hakim, Catherine (2010). "Erotic capital". European Sociological Review. 26 (5): 499–518. doi:10.1093/esr/jcq014. S2CID 198118608.
  3. ^ Hakim, Catherine (2011). Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom. Basic Books. pp. 16–18. ISBN 978-0465027477.
  4. ^ Boysen, Benjamin. "Houellebecq's Priapism: The Failure of Sexual Liberation in Michel Houellebecq's Novels and Essays." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 43.3 (2016): 477–497.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b c Green, Adam Isaiah (2014). Sexual Fields: Toward a Sociology of Collective Sexual Life. University of Chicago Press.
  7. ^ Hamermesh, Daniel S; Biddle, Jeff E (November 1993). "Beauty and the Labor Market". Working Paper Series. Working Paper Series. doi:10.3386/w4518.
  8. ^ Biddle, Jeff E.; Hamermesh, Daniel S. (1 January 1998). "Beauty, Productivity, and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre" (PDF). Journal of Labor Economics. 16 (1): 172–201. doi:10.1086/209886. ISSN 0734-306X. S2CID 158876583.
  9. ^ Hamermesh, Daniel S; Meng, Xin; Zhang, Junsen (1 July 2002). "Dress for success—does primping pay?" (PDF). Labour Economics. 9 (3): 361–373. doi:10.1016/S0927-5371(02)00014-3. ISSN 0927-5371. S2CID 153613004.
  10. ^ 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. S2CID 144177617. Archived from the original on 5 January 2013.
  11. ^ a b Koshy, Susan (2004). Sexual Naturalization: Asian Americans and Miscegenation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-8047-4729-5.
  12. ^ Bourdieu, Pierre (1980). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-2011-3.
  13. ^ a b Hakim, Catherine (6 September 2011). Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02747-7.
  14. ^ a b c d e Willey, Robin (12 February 2013). "The Evangelical Sexual Marketplace: An Ethnographic Analysis of the Exchange and Conversion of Erotic Capital in an Evangelical Church". Canadian Journal of Family and Youth. 5 (1): 1–37. doi:10.29173/cjfy18946.
  15. ^ 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 (1–2): 137–158. doi:10.1177/1363460712471109. S2CID 143070896.
  16. ^ 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. 49 (4). American Sociological Association: 436–451. doi:10.1177/002214650804900405. PMID 19181048. S2CID 32929594.
  17. ^ Hakim, Catherine (24 March 2010). "Have you got erotic capital?". Prospect Magazine (169). Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2010.
  18. ^ 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. S2CID 144496242.
  19. ^ a b Fresnoza-Flot, A.; Liu-Farrer, G. (2022). Tangled Mobilities: Places, Affects, and Personhood Across Social Spheres in Asian Migration. Worlds in Motion. Berghahn Books. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-80073-567-5. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  20. ^ a b Seilhamer, M.F. (2019). Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital: Taiwanese Narratives of Struggle and Strategy. Encounters. Channel View Publications. p. 173. ISBN 978-1-78892-303-3. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  21. ^ Smith, Jesus G.; Morales, Maria Cristina; Han, Chong-Suk (2018). "The Influence of Sexual Racism on Erotic Capital: A Systemic Racism Perspective". In Batur, Pinar; Feagin, Joe R. (eds.). Handbook of the Sociology of Racial and Ethnic Relations. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. Cham: Springer International Publishing. pp. 389–399. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-76757-4_21. ISBN 978-3-319-76757-4. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  22. ^ Conner, Christopher T.; Okamura, Daniel (31 March 2021). The Gayborhood: From Sexual Liberation to Cosmopolitan Spectacle. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-7936-0984-7.
  23. ^ Howard, Khoa Phan (8 September 2021). "The Creepy White Guy and the Helpless Asian: How Sexual Racism Persists in a Gay Interracial Friendship Group". Social Problems. 70 (2): 361–377. doi:10.1093/socpro/spab052.
  24. ^ Riggs, Damien W. (6 December 2017). ""Not Into Chopsticks or Curries"". The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men's Communities. Lexington Books. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-4985-3715-5.
  25. ^ Kao, Grace; Balistreri, Kelly Stamper; Joyner, Kara (1 November 2018). "Asian American Men in Romantic Dating Markets". Contexts. 17 (4): 48–53. doi:10.1177/1536504218812869. ISSN 1536-5042. S2CID 70349580.
  26. ^ Grammer, Karl; Thornhill, Randy (1994). "Human (Homo sapiens) facial attractiveness and sexual selection: The role of symmetry and averageness". Journal of Comparative Psychology. 108 (3): 233–242. doi:10.1037/0735-7036.108.3.233. ISSN 1939-2087. PMID 7924253. S2CID 1205083.
  27. ^ Singh, Devendra (1995). "Female judgment of male attractiveness and desirability for relationships: Role of waist-to-hip ratio and financial status". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 69 (6): 1089–1101. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.69.6.1089. ISSN 1939-1315. PMID 8531056.
  28. ^ a b Burchardt, Marian (2011). "Challenging Pentecostal moralism: erotic geographies, religion and sexual practices among township youth in Cape Town". Culture, Health & Sexuality. 13 (6): 669–683. doi:10.1080/13691058.2011.566356. ISSN 1369-1058. JSTOR 41148834. PMID 21462006. S2CID 27232949.
  29. ^ a b Groes-Green, Christian (2013). "'To put men in a bottle': Eroticism, kinship, female power, and transactional sex in Maputo, Mozambique". American Ethnologist. 40 (1): 102–117. doi:10.1111/amet.12008. ISSN 1548-1425.
  30. ^ 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 February 2021. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  31. ^ a b c Riggs, Damien; Abraham, Ibrahim; Callander, Denton (2017). The Psychic Life of Racism in Gay Men's Communities. Lexington Books. pp. 67–79. ISBN 978-1498537148.
  32. ^ Callander, Denton; Holt, Martin; Newman, Christy E. (1 February 2016). "'Not everyone's gonna like me': Accounting for race and racism in sex and dating web services for gay and bisexual men". Ethnicities. 16 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1177/1468796815581428. ISSN 1468-7968. S2CID 147130084.
  33. ^ a b Weber, Shannon (2015), "Lesbian communities", The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, American Cancer Society, pp. 649–719, doi:10.1002/9781118896877.wbiehs266, ISBN 9781118896877
  34. ^ a b Brooks, Siobhan (2010). Unequal desires : race and erotic capital in the stripping industry. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 9781441678867. OCLC 676700473.
  35. ^ Green, Adam Isaiah (1 September 2011). "Playing the (Sexual) Field: The Interactional Basis of Systems of Sexual Stratification". Social Psychology Quarterly. 74 (3): 244–266. doi:10.1177/0190272511416606. ISSN 0190-2725. S2CID 145534038.
  36. ^ a b c Green, Adam Isaiah (1 January 2013). "'Erotic capital' and the power of desirability: Why 'honey money' is a bad collective strategy for remedying gender inequality". Sexualities. 16 (1–2): 137–158. doi:10.1177/1363460712471109. ISSN 1363-4607. S2CID 143070896.
  37. ^ a b Boislard, Marie-Aude; Van de Bongardt, Daphne; Blais, Martin (March 2016). "Sexuality (and Lack Thereof) in Adolescence and Early Adulthood: A Review of the Literature". Behavioral Sciences. 6 (1): 8. doi:10.3390/bs6010008. PMC 4810042. PMID 26999225.
  38. ^ Bay-Cheng, Laina Y. (1 October 2015). "The Agency Line: A Neoliberal Metric for Appraising Young Women's Sexuality". Sex Roles. 73 (7): 279–291. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0452-6. ISSN 1573-2762. S2CID 143647756.

Further reading