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How long, on average (and with as much other statistical data, e.g. standard deviation, as possible) does physical attraction between male and female in a permanent relationship last?

I believe this is a well-founded question based on the assumption that elderly couples are almost never physically attracted to one another, so almost always there is a point of earliest physical attraction loss. If you think that assumption is false, please let me know.

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You have a confounding variable in your question: You assume that physical attraction declines with relationship length. This may be true (and to my experience and observation it is), but for relationships that extend beyond the prime of the individuals physical attraction will depend on the age of the person also. Generally, an 80 year old person is not perceived to be as physically attractive as a 20 year old, independent of how long this person has been in a relationship. So the attraction will decline with time independent of relationship duration, because of age alone. –  what Jun 18 at 6:23
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Someone once told me of a study which showed that males find the bodies of 14 year old girls the most attractive. I cannot locate that study, but anecdotal evidence for teen beauty is overwhelming. So the effect of aging, mentioned in the comment above, might begin to affect partners from around the mid twenties onwards. Any study investigating the effect of physical attraction within relationships must take this into account. –  what Jun 18 at 6:29
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@what, with all due respect, that sounds like utter crap and I would require some very solid evidence for any number close to 14 years of age. –  jona Jun 21 at 15:42
    
@jona I was told the participants were given images of non-sexual body parts, not faces or whole bodies, and apparently the smooth, unblemished skin and other youthful aspects made the bodies of teenagers most attractive on average. But as I said, I could never find that study, and it may have been made up or misrepresented. Nevertheless it is clear that aging of the body becomes increasingly visible from around twenty years of age onwards, and that was what my comment was all about. –  what Jun 22 at 8:02
    
Must have been one hell of an ethics proposal that got a study basically presenting pictures of minors in a sexual context green lighted. –  jona Jun 22 at 9:57

2 Answers 2

I'm not sure I can give you the data purely for physical attractiveness, but what has been intensively researched is passionate love, which includes physical attraction. Passionate love is usually assumed to include sexual desire, and correlates quite well with rated attraction. As Hatfield writes:

Generally, passionate love is associated with the terms “arousal,” “desire,” “lust,” “passion,” and “infatuation".

I hope that's what you're asking for. Elaine Hatfield (of the "would you go to bed with me?" study fame) has developed the Passionate Love Scale; Tennov has researched Limerence. Other famous names in this regard are Liebowitz and (Helen) Fisher. The counterpart to passionate love is often called companionate love, attachment, or affection.

Qualitatively speaking, on average, passionate love goes down with relation length. As Hatfield says, time has a "corrosive effect". Past researchers conceptualize this in a multi-stage model of relationships, where relationships naturally transition from passionate love into compassionate attachment. A well-known correlate of this is the "7-year itch", corresponding to a globally consistent mode around 4 years after marriage for divorces. However, some people report passionate love after decades of being together.

In all attempts to quantify any of this, there are a number of critical cofounds. @what has already brought up that some objective component of attractiveness might naturally decline with age. I'm not so sure this is that dramatic though, because there are well-known compensatory mechanisms for attraction within relationships that might be more important than e.g. decline of outsider-rated attractiveness with age. After all, what correlates with how attractive you rate someone is not the same as how attractive your partner is to you.
Moreover, there is a reliable difference between studies on younger and on older couples; the correlation between relationship length and passionate love/attraction is very reliable in young couples, but much weaker in older couples, and while younger couples often break up seemingly because passion has waned (as passion and satisfaction are correlated), there are older couples who're passionately in love (here and here). As Hatfield speculates, this might be because couples were passion is stable have a much higher chance to last, but those where it wanes quicker, end quicker. So that's for cofounds. I did not find any clear solution to this problem, and I can't really think of a good way of dealing with the self-selection problem (where longer relationships will inherently qualitatively differ from younger ones because they must have certain qualities to have come that far).
However, the relationship within relationships seems to hold, with a negative correlation within both older and younger relationships.

Quantitatively speaking, a much-quoted figure is Tennov's "18 months to three years". Exceptions are assumed to be comparatively rare, but also known to exist.
I can't give you the standard deviation on this, but I can give you something better: a regression model. One is by Sprecher & Regan, page 172, one by Hatfield, page 404.
Of course, this will not give you the single point in time where passionate love suddenly ends; but this is not realistic either. In relationships, attraction usually doesn't suddenly stop, it wanes. Graphically speaking: passion over time

However, I also found a much more optimistic picture for physical attractiveness over time in a large (almost 2000 people) sample: passion over time 2

What is clear even here however is the "7th-year itch".

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This is not answer to original question. First: I can see analogy that someone asked how iq is related to work success and you answered i dont know but i can tell you how school success is rated to work success. after that you didnt explain how iq is related to school success and how iq is related to work success.; Second: it is very deceptive because the form of answer is what person who asked was looking for. –  ICanFeelIt Jun 22 at 8:04
    
Great answer, @jona, +1. What I find most interesting is how little the decrease in romantic love – from 4 to 3 after 33 years – and physical attractiveness – between 7.9 and 8.2 – is. Apparently, although there definitely is a decline in perceived attractiveness / passionate love, this is so minor as to be irrelevant (to the partners). After all, my partners, when I started dating them, where much more diverse in perceived attractiveness than the decline in any one single partner. –  what Jun 22 at 8:15
    
However, the optimistic study from 2000, while it's the only one directly reporting Attractiveness, seems to be in disagreement with some of the other research, right? I think this might be deceivingly optimistic and caused by the pre-selection of those couples who've lasted. Or maybe Spanish people just age really well. Either way, more research is necessary. –  jona Jun 22 at 9:55
    
@ICanFeelIt, I must admit, I do not understand your comment and I don't see how I could improve my answer to your satisfaction so you'd undo the downvote you gave me. –  jona Jun 22 at 10:18
    
It seems you only got 250 rep of my 500 bounty! I'm confused and sorry about that :-( I didn't want to take away the incentive for additional answers prematurely, but didn't read the information on how bounties are awarded carefully enough. What a stupid system! Anyway, I'm still very happy about your answer and appreciate the effort you put into it. Thank you! :-) –  what Jul 1 at 7:28

I think here is study you are looking for: Sex Differences in the Implications of Partner Physical Attractiveness for the Trajectory of Marital Satisfaction

Report from 4 independent longitudional studies.

This is not so easy question to answer. For sure there are difference between male and female in M and sd. Especially it is determined by interpersonal dynamics (Koch, Mansfield...)

The second difference is in love style (Sternberg, Triangular theory of love)

Also it is known that attractivnes at age 16 is also important (Benzeval, Green...)

Andy many other variables is important for this simple question...

0) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24128188 1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19817035 2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangular_theory_of_love 3) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0063975

EDIT: Im sorry for bad formating. I am on work now so I wanted to reply quick. In first study (you have to download the study and read it) you have a lot of predictors of martial satisfaction including atractivnes of wife) at beginning of relationship and later. So you can track how physical atractivness decline and other predictors raise in concept of martial satisfaction)

Other articles are here to describe other influential variables which are not described in first article.

Please read the first article, you have APA full text in the upper right corner.

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The formatting of this answer is dreadful (so much that I don't think I could edit it because I don't understand what's intended) and neither of the articles linked directly addresses changes in physical attraction over time for all I can tell. –  jona Jun 21 at 15:49
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APA hates me, but here is a link to the full text: docs.google.com/file/d/0B-5-JeCa2Z7hcTlXQjV1NEMzblE/edit To me, they seem to discuss attractiveness only as an IV predicting satisfaction (see p. 6-7). They do not present change over time. They present change in martial satisfaction. –  jona Jun 21 at 16:09
    
...and both partners reported their marital satisfaction up to 8 times over the first 4 years of marriage (it is combination of longitudinal transversal study) –  ICanFeelIt Jun 21 at 16:27
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The question is not about martial satisfaction. The question is about attraction. They also collect the partner's physical attractiveness, but they don't report it (they only use it as a predictor for satisfaction, as I said). –  jona Jun 21 at 16:30
    
You have in parentheses: ... (and with as much other statistical data, e.g. standard deviation, as possible) –  ICanFeelIt Jun 21 at 16:40

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