The NMSU study reporting that bad boys get more girls has been a post subject at several sites I regularly visit. The unfounded conclusion some have reached is that women find bad boys more attractive than good guys. Maybe, but this study doesn't prove it. There are several reasons to be skeptical:
- What is the relationship between the number of sexual partners one has and the number of offspring produced in the US (and the developed world where contraceptives are widely available more broadly)? Do these men actually grow up to have more children?
The idea that you need to have the appeal of James Bond to reproduce in contemporary Western society is absurd. Fornification and procreation are no longer basically the same thing--the latter only occupies a small sliver of the former's terrain. Have all the conventional attractive attributes--financial success, self-confidence, good personal hygiene (including dress), intelligence, height one standard deviation above the mean, a symetrical and handsome face, a little more time on the planet than the girl (in the range of 2-8 years), a toned upper body (the more athletic the better)--and producing as many children as you desire is not difficult.
These traits, coincidentally, better describe the traits women actually say they find desirous in men than the dark triad does. Women also find long-term relationships more appealing than men do, which suggests that what most women want in a man and what some women will give to a man in hot pursuit are not the same thing.
I suspect that if intelligence is controlled for, good guys are more desirous of children than bad boys are. This desirability (or at least acceptance) of children is surely one of the most important indicators of how many offspring men actually end up having in the developed world.
- The desire to actively pursue multiple sexual partners is plausibly the single most important factor in how many sexual partners one has. Men who scored higher on the "dark triad" personality traits also expressed more interest in short-term relationships than soldiers of the light did. If good guys are more likely to be in long-term relationships than bad boys are, of course bad boys are going to have more partners. The Boomhauer strategy nets more notches in the belt, but it doesn't indicate greater attractiveness.
- Might psychopaths be more likely to embellish the successes of their own personal exploits than others are? This just in: People who score high on personality traits associated with exaggerating their own personal abilities and accomplishments are more likely to have greater abilities and to have accomplished greater things than others, according to self-reported response data!
Self-reports on the number of sexual partners are especially suspicious. Wherever I've seen it reported, the number of partners males average tends to be at least twice as high as the female average which is, uh, mathematically impossible unless you're a harpy living in Xanth*. A study out of the University of Michigan found one-in-five men and just less than one-in-six women admitted responding inaccurately, and men who reported 50 or more partners were far more likely to lie than other men were. Even if it is the median rather than the mean being reported, such a pattern suggests that there are a few indefatigable women (presumably prostitutes in many cases) while men are more middling, exactly the opposite of what is being insinuated with this report (dark triad traits don't correlate with more partners among women).
- Prostitution, VIP rooms, bar prizes, and the like can all essentially be bought. The bad boys, being more desirous of multiple partners than good guys are, are probably more likely to earn notches this way than good guys are. In the college environment, this translates into poaching freshmen girls at parties!
Questions of psychopath integrity aside, men more desirous of several partners almost certainly do have more partners than men relatively more interested in long-term relationships. And the preliminary results out of Bradley University showing that men with dark triad attributes are more reproductively successful internationally suggests that prior to the widespread availability of birth control, being a bad boy definitely had its evolutionary advantages (although this too is suspicious--if psychopathy is evolutionarily beneficial, wouldn't it be expected to occur more frequently than it does, rather than being about as common as homosexuality in the general population?).
[Agnostic answers: "It's not a dichotomous trait like gayness, so 3% of the male population exceeds some threshold to be categorized as psychopathic. But that's just the tail of a continuous personality trait."]
This still doesn't say anything conclusive about what women want, though.
* It's not clear if these questions only pertain to partners of the opposite sex. Male-to-male encounters could skew the male number upwards, but not enough to account for the entire discrepancy. If 5% of the male population is gay, fully accounting for the male-female disparity would require the average gay man to have 40 times as many partners as the average heterosexual man (assuming lesbians are about as sexually active as heterosexual women). The gay male hedonist reputation is explained by the fact that both parties involved are men, and men want sex more frequently and with more people than women do.