Sexualpedia Part 4: Why Do I Like Billionaires?
Sexualpedia is an open-ended series of articles that will explain the source of many common erotic interests using neuroscience, biology, and online behavioral data.
Our first entry in the Men’s Sexualpedia was busty, one of the most prevalent erotic interests for male brains around the world. We open the Women’s Sexualpedia with the erotic interest that may serve as busty’s equivalent in the female brain: billionaires.
“Billionaire” is as prominent in the titles of romance novels and female-authored erotic tales as “busty” is in porn sites: The Billionaire’s New Assistant; Untamed Billionaire, Undressed Virgin; The Billionaire’s Baby Bargain. In the romance titles on Amazon in 2010, there were 286 billionaires (and 415 millionaires and 263 sheiks). The explosively popular erotic novel 50 Shades of Gray features a typical example of a fictional billionaire that stirs female arousal:
“Miss Kavanagh.” He extends a long-fingered hand to me once I’m upright. “I’m Christian Grey. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?”
So young – and attractive, very attractive. He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly. It takes a moment for me to find my voice. “Um. Actually–” I mutter. If this guy is over thirty then I’m a monkey’s uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in his and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate.
“[Your paintings] are lovely. Raising the ordinary to extraordinary,” I murmur, distracted both by him and the paintings. He cocks his head to one side and regards me intently. “I couldn’t agree more, Miss Steele,” he replies, his voice soft and for some inexplicable reason I find myself blushing.
Fabulously wealthy heroes have always been mainstays of romance fiction. The 1740 book Pamela, arguably the first romance novel, follows the courtship of a fifteen-year-old servant-maid by her master, Mr. B, a wealthy nobleman. Jane Austen’s heroes usually boasted aristocratic wealth. If one goes back 20 years or more, millionaires and sheiks replace billionaires as romance heroes (especially in Harlequin books), but a million dollars just doesn’t carry as much weight with twenty-first century women. Billionaire sheiks still have cross-cultural appeal even for Americans; a scene in the first season of the TV show Homeland portrays dozens of beautiful American women auditioning to be a companion for a Saudi prince. Even paranormal romance, with supernatural characters and situations, often emphasize the financial authority of its paranormal characters such as the blind vampire prince Wrath in J.R.Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series who controls vast international wealth.
Material resources are arousing to females all across the animal kingdom. Female chimpanzees prefer males with the largest quantity of meat. Female pelicans prefer males who give them the most fish. The female wolf spider prefers males who bring them the largest insect. The female bower bird famously prefers the male with the most sumptuous and elaborate bower. But it’s likely that the female interest in billionaires is predicated on something even more basic. As Henry Kissinger famously said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Power is a reflection of a man’s rank in the dominance hierarchy, and women (like all female primates) are attracted to the men near the top. When romance heroines swoon and shiver over the sight of billionaires it’s not so much at their lavish expenditures (though that doesn’t hurt), it’s at their vibrant projection of unbridled power. Consider this passage from Ruth Cardello’s Maid for the Billionaire; even though he reeks of booze, the hero’s mere existence incites the heroine’s lust:
His back straightened and she caught her breath, reeling from the full impact of his attention. God, he’s beautiful. His dark gray eyes raked over her, flashing with irritation and then something else. He cut the distance between them in a few short strides. A hint of alcohol reached her as he stopped mere inches from her. She tipped her head back to look up at him.
“Did Jake send you?” he asked as he assessed her. “You don’t look like a model.”
She blinked a few times in surprise as some of her sympathy for him faded. “And you don’t smell like a man who should be wearing an Armani, but I wasn’t going to mention it,” she answered in a huff.
Her words stirred something in him; his shoulders squared and his eyes narrowed. This was a man who was not accustomed to people speaking back to him, but if he was trying to intimidate her, his nearness was creating the entirely wrong reaction in her body. Even in his rumpled suit, or maybe because of it, he was the sexiest man she’d ever seen in person.
She wanted to reach up and run a hand over the rough stubble on his cheek. “I didn’t say you were unattractive,” he growled. “You’re just not reed thin like the women I’m used to.”
That’s it. She put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows in a silent challenge. Time suspended as their standoff continued. His look of annoyance was steeped with an expectation that she should try to appease him in some way.
Study after study has demonstrated the erotic appeal of male dominance. Women prefer the voices of dominant men, the scent of dominant men, the movement and gait of dominant men, and the facial features of dominant men. Scientists believe that the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex may be responsible for processing cues indicating social status or dominance, and it appears that almost all female brains are susceptible to dominance cues. One woman who met Bill Clinton reported, “I met [Clinton] as part of a governmental panel while he was president. I’m a lesbian, but the powerful attraction I felt toward him for an instant made me question whether I really was!”
In the same way that bustyness provides a quick index of youth, health, and fertility (through estrogen-influenced gynoid fat deposits), billionaires succinctly imply status and power, even in the absence of any actions on the man’s part. It’s no wonder that erotic stories involving billionaires tend to involve the domination, seduction, and, forceful ravishing of heroines—women trembling and quivering beneath the masculine authority of the billionaire.
So if men like busty and women like billionaires, is there an erotic place where the two meet? We could find no books with both “busty” and “billionaire” in the title; neither could we find a porn movie or porn site with both words. Billionaires do not seem to hold much erotic charge with men (not even with gay men; we couldn’t find any gay porn featuring billionaire characters); while a heroine’s well-endowed bustline isn’t often emphasized in romance novels, female-authored erotica, or fan fiction. One might guess that a novel titled Carlos Slim and the Double-D Secretary Senorita would be a cross-over erotic hit—or, perhaps, would not find much traction at all.
Dr. Ogi Ogas received his PhD in computational neuroscience from Boston University and was a Department of Homeland Security Fellow. His writing has been published in the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Wired, Baltimore Magazine, and Seed. He used his knowledge of cognition to reach the million dollar question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and battle Ken Jennings in the finals of Grand Slam.