Why Are We Naturally More Attracted To The “Bad Boy” Archetype?

Is there any truth to the whole “nice guys finish last” saying? We're dissecting why women prefer thrill-seeking, unpredictable, gutsy guys.

By Caitlin Shaw3 min read
Pexels/Саша Соколова

Have you ever wondered why so many of us are attracted to male characters like Chuck Bass, Jess Mariano, Patrick Verona, and Sebastian Kidd? Nearly every American TV series or film features a “bad boy” heartthrob. And this is not a new phenomenon – Shakespeare even wrote his fair share of “bad boys” into his plays (think Othello, Romeo, or Hamlet), proving that the inherent female desire for rebellious men has been a theme in history for centuries. But why?

There are a multitude of reasons why women are naturally more drawn to the bad boys. Before diving into them though, let’s back up and define a “bad boy.” The phrase “bad boy” loosely refers to any man who doesn’t conform to societal expectations or standards – whether that’s a guy who breaks the law, likes to stretch the boundaries of others’ patience, or is so fiercely independent and true to himself that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him.

In Hollywood and fictitious scenarios, the bad boy is also typically an outcast with some sort of dark history (e.g., Chuck Bass’s family included his deceased mother and his neglectful, money-obsessed father). This added complexity not only creates an element of mystery, but it also helps explain a bad boy’s rebellious behavior and questionable decision-making. This is an important contributing factor in why women are inherently attracted to this type of guy.

5 Reasons Why Women Are More Attracted to “Bad Boys”

1. Bad Boys and Masculinity 

According to social research, bad boys are more likely to exemplify masculine characteristics such as being courageous, strong, confident, assertive, and dominant. Bad boys are typically risk-takers who live on their own accord, do not care what others think of them, and are only capable of being unapologetically authentic. Because the bad boy characteristics are intertwined with some of the ideals of masculinity, it’s no wonder that women are naturally drawn to these types of men. And apparently, when a man elicits more masculine traits, the female brain subconsciously assumes they have better genes and wants to turn this bad boy into a life partner.

2. With Problems Comes Resolution

Another frontrunner in the debate of why women are attracted to bad boys is because we view them as fixable. A man with a troubled past who is emotionally inept and utterly self-centered needs a lot of help – and many women want to be that support. Women have an inherent tendency toward caretaking, nurturing, and supporting the ones they love. This biological hardwiring within us is likely attributed to the fact that women are child bearers. Many psychologists believe that it’s evolutionarily advantageous for women to fulfill a caretaking role of some kind because they are in turn protecting their offspring. 

It is this instinctual drive that causes women to yearn for a man who needs nurturing and support. While, of course, all humans need interpersonal relationships, bad boys likely require more emotional tending. Another layer to this desire is that some women romanticize being that “special one” who converts a bad boy into a good one and makes him settle down. In a way, some women view dating a bad boy as a challenge. 

3. Opposites Attract 

Women are more likely to be attracted to bad boys who emulate traits like assertiveness, risk-taking, and volatile emotional management because these qualities are the opposite of femininity. Sociologists claim that we’re more attracted to characteristics that we ourselves lack, partly because we’re subconsciously trying to find a partner who fills those voids and makes us whole. Furthermore, human desire for something or someone will grow stronger the more forbidden it becomes. So for rule-following girls who know that they shouldn’t date a risky guy, the attraction could be stronger.

4. “Good Girl” Freed 

It’s no secret that who we associate ourselves with plays a profound role in shaping our character and public perception. Some psychologists believe that women prefer bad boys because it allows them to fuel their inner longing for rebellion and position themselves in a new way. This is especially true for teenage girls who are trying to free themselves of an innocent image and blossom into an adult. The benefits a girl may experience from dating a bad boy could temporarily outweigh the pain she’ll experience when he breaks her heart. 

5. Not Everything’s So Bad with a Bad Boy 

There are some perks to going out with a rebellious man, one of which being the protection that comes along with his dominant demeanor. Because bad boys are viewed as more masculine, it’s also assumed that they’re stronger (both emotionally and physically) and therefore more capable of protecting a woman. Another perk to dating a rebel is the relationship’s inevitable adventurousness – boys like Chuck Bass and Patrick Verona are most definitely taking their ladies out on some pretty interesting dates.

What Does It Mean If You Like “Bad Boys”?

There are no conclusive answers to what it means on a psychological level if you prefer bad boys. On one hand, you may be searching for an emotionally intense and slightly toxic relationship because you’re imitating your parent’s marriage or trying to distract yourself from some other relational challenge. Some sociologists claim that girls who are solely drawn to bad boys, and not just the casual rebel, but the borderline criminal, could lack a sense of independence and self-esteem. Or, maybe in this moment you’re just looking for something physical, so sexual chemistry is the primary motive causing you to choose a bad boy. 

On the other hand, you could be emotionally sound and completely trauma-free but are attracted to hyper-masculine men who like adventure. So don’t worry, preferring a rebellious guy does not necessarily mean that you have deep-rooted commitment issues.

Closing Thoughts

Now that we just discussed all the reasons why women are attracted to “bad boys,” it’s only right to conclude with a reminder that a “bad boy” is only okay if he’s still a respectful and chivalrous man. It’s completely fine to like more dominant, risk-taking men, and it’s even okay to like men with excitable emotions. But if you’re dating a “bad boy” with a temper, make sure that his temper is controllable and never something that could put you in harm’s way. There is a world of difference between a Sebastian Kidd type of “bad boy” and an abusive, controlling man. Don’t let Hollywood glamorize the bad boy out of its lane – no matter what, it’s important to choose a man who respects you, cares about you, and makes you a better person.    

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