Her Sexy Texas Cowboy

Harlequin Romances as windows into the desires of women.

Posted Apr 20, 2018

In an intensive research study of female mating psychology, Cox and Fisher (2009) examined the content of Harlequin romance novels. Often considered trashy, these novels, averaging about 188 pages, have sold in the billions across the world. So just as the popularity of McDonald’s ("Billions and Billions Served") might tell us something about the nature of human food-related desires, these authors concluded that maybe the nature of Harlequin romances can provide us with important insights into the nature of the mating-relevant desires of women.

Multiple Female Mating Strategies

For years now, evolutionary psychologists who study human mating have found consistent evidence for strategic pluralism in women, suggesting that female mating psychology is complex and that women utilize more than one strategy in their mating decisions.

Famously, owing to women’s high levels of required parental investment (pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, etc.), women have been shown to often pursue long-term mating strategies, seeking out a solid male who is dependable, who has high status, and who has access to “resources” (today, typically referring to financial resources). Sure, evidence for this portrait of female mating psychology has been documented over the years (see Buss, 2003). Women often do pursue a long-term mating strategy in the mating game.

However, female mating psychology is much more complex than just seeking out a nice and faithful doctor. For a broad array of reasons, all rooted in our evolved nature, women often pursue short-term mating tactics, often seeking out hunky, highly masculinized guys who show little in the way of being good long-term partners. One reason for this common shift in female mating psychology is found in the ovulation cycle: When women are at peak ovulation, they are more likely to get pregnant and, interestingly, they are, at this same time of the cycle, also more likely to be attracted to hunks (see Geher & Kaufman, 2013).

The Cowboy and the Doctor: A Lesson in Female Mating Psychology

In their now-famous review of the content of the titles of Harlequin novels, Cox and Fisher (2009) carve out a detailed portrait of the romantic desires of women. Some of the headlines of the findings are as follows:

  • Love is the most common theme that emerges in the titles.
  • The most common profession named in a title is doctor.
  • The second-most-common profession: Cowboy.
  • 84% of readers of these books are women.
  • More than 90% of readers report reading these books at home.

Bottom Line

Recently, I was fortunate to have Dr. Maryanne Fisher speak to my evolutionary psychology students about this work in my class. This was some guest lecture! The students were, like, Whoa! The talk underscored the main idea of this research, which speaks to an illumination of the romantic desires of women.

Sure, women do show long-term mating proclivities — this is probably why love emerges as such a top theme in these titles. And this is probably why doctor is the most common profession found in these titles. But women must also have an arsenal of short-term mating tactics at their disposal. Why else would cowboy emerge as one of the single-most common professions in the titles of such books as:

  • Never Trust a Cowboy
  • A Cowboy of Her Own
  • A Real Cowboy
  • More than a Cowboy
  • A Snowbound Cowboy for Christmas
  • Cowboy Above the Law
  • Pregnant by the Cowboy CEO (What a great mixture of long and short-term mating themes!)

Bored at work one day while the boss is not looking, and want to learn a little something about female mating psychology? Try Googling “Cowboy title Harlequin.” Have fun!