Are Tattooed Women Really More Promiscuous?

New studies challenge deeply held stereotypes.

Posted Dec 14, 2015

pio3/Shutterstock
Source: pio3/Shutterstock

Not long ago, walking in San Francisco with an acquaintance on a warm afternoon, a woman who looked to be in her late twenties crossed our path. She was wearing jeans and a top that revealed a tattoo on her lower back, a colorful bird in flight.

My buddy said, “Check out the tramp stamp.”

The term “tramp stamp” was new to me, and so was its implication that compared to women without body art, those with tattoos are sexually looser.

It got me wondering: Are they really?

Men think so. According to one recent survey, compared with ink-free women, men were more likely to approach tattooed women, and more likely to believe that they were sexually available. Meanwhile, according to another report, women with tattoos are more sexually active, meaning they might, indeed, be more available to men.

Let's explore both findings:

Men Think Tattooed Women Are More Available

French researchers sent 11 young women, with an average age of 20, to various beaches in Brittany on hot summer days. All of the women wore two-piece bathing suits of the same design. They were instructed to spread beach towels, lie prone, read a book, and not initiate contact with men.

During one-hour observation periods at 20 different beaches, the women were tattoo-free. During other similar hour-long observation periods, they sported identical temporary tattoos of a butterfly. The researchers, 20 yards away, discreetly observed what transpired.

Among women without the tattoo, an average of 11 men struck up conversations. When the women displayed body art, the figure rose to 26. It took men an average of 35 minutes to approach women without tattoos—but those who approached women with tattoos did so after just 24 minutes.

Subsequently, on the same beaches, the researchers pointed out the women involved in the study—some tattooed, others not—to a total of 440 young men, with an average age of 22. They asked the males if they thought the women would consent to date them, and if they thought the women would be open to sex on the first date.

The men were 20 percent more likely to think they could date the tattooed women than women without tattoos—and they were 28 percent more likely to think the tattooed women would have sex on the first date.

Are People With Tattoos More Sexual?

So we know that men are more likely to approach tattooed women; more likely to think they’d be open to dating; and more likely to assume they’re open to sex. But are those beliefs true?

Polish researchers explored the issue in a recent survey of 88 young adults, both men and women, 60 of whom were ink-free, and 28 of whom had tattoos. They found that people with tattoos are slightly more sexually active than the non-inked—but not enough to make any real difference.

Compared with participants without body art, those with tattoos had first intercourse a little younger, had a few more lifetime sex partners, were somewhat more sexually active, and were a bit more adventurous (i.e., they had more sex outside their bedrooms). However, none of these findings, not one, reached statistical significance. They didn't even come close. “P” values averaged 0.70, far in excess of the upper limit of statistical significance, 0.05. As a result, we must view these findings as flukes, and conclude that while tattooed folks may be a bit more sexual, their sex lives are pretty average.

In addition, this study did not distinguish sexual activity by gender, so it’s not clear if tattooed women are more sexually active. Maybe it’s the tattooed men...

So, are tattooed women more promiscuous? No.

Women engage in all manner of body adornment—earrings, make-up, hair styling, different fashions, and even cosmetic surgery. They do this to enhance their self-esteem and to feel more attractive and desirable. But while there may be an association between feeling desirable, and feeling desire, there’s no reason to believe there's a cause-and-effect relationship. Most women take great pains with their appearance, yet recent studies suggest that up to one-third feel low libido or none at all.

Tattoos, then, are simply fashion statements. If new earrings and other fashion statements imply nothing about women’s sexual availability, why should tattoos? Women with ink are like other women—except for their taste in body decoration.

Please comment: If you’re a man, in your experience have tattooed women been more into sex? If you’re a woman with tattoos, do you think you get more attention from males because of them? And if so, how do you feel about it

References

Gueguen, N. “Effects of a Tattoo on Men’s Behavior and Attitudes Toward Women: An Experimental Field Study,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2013) 42:1517.

Nowosielski, K. et al. “Tattoos, Piercing, and Sexual Behaviors in Young Adults,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2012) 9:2307.

Laumann. A.E. and A.J. Derrick. “Tattoos and Body Piercings in the United States: A National Data Set,” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (2006) 55:413.