When it comes to romance, the world around us is full of choice - but do you find yourself only dating a particular type?
By
Anne Lin

13 May 2014 - 9:00 AM  UPDATED 14 May 2014 - 3:10 PM

It's Tuesday night in a nondescript bar and a speed dating session is currently underway. Inside the dimly lit room, a group of well-dressed men have turned up to try their luck at walking away with a new connection or two. Tonight looks like any regular event, except there's just one minor detail - it's customised date night for Asian women.

Shaun Comerford, general manager from Fast Impressions said race-based events are really popular. He said the match rates are much higher because the prospective partners have already ticked one of their boxes.

As one speed-dater explains: "I don't know what it is but I do find Asian women attractive, there's something about them."

Reasons for cross-cultural and interracial dating 

Sophie Song, 29, is married to Han, a 27-year-old Korean whom she met while he was in Sydney on a working holiday. Ms Song admits she has always liked men with brown eyes and naturally black hair, but also had a preference for more feminine looking men and is not attracted to those who have big noses and a lot of hair.

Han and Sophie Song

Ms Song grew up in Sydney near the Blue Mountains with limited contact with people from different ethnic backgrounds but feels her values and upbringing are more in line with the Asian culture.

She says she has always been someone who wanted to get married and have a family and feels the Korean men she's encountered are more "family-orientated".

"Culturally in Australia, men are really taught to shun away from family life. I think that is a popular culture thing. In terms of their society, Korean men are more encouraged to have a family and children and that really struck me,” Ms Song says.

"Men have some kind of idea that [Asian women] can be bossed around and domineered. But I hate to break it to you, it doesn't work that way."

Similarly, based on his past relationship with an Asian woman, 53-year-old Melbournian John Carrol used an online dating website to find a Filipino wife.

John and Edelisa Carroll

Although he had dated Caucasian women before, Mr Carrol told Insight what attracted him to Asian women was the stereotype that they were better carers.

"I had this stereotype that they'll look after me better than a lesser woman would. There is truth to it, I still believe it to be true," Mr Carrol said.

"She makes sure that I eat something, sometimes I have a tendency to go a long time without eating something. The genuine care that she shows. We openly acknowledge that we couldn't live without each other - the first time she said it it made me feel 10 feet tall."

"The other side of the coin, men have some kind of idea that they [Asian women] can be bossed around and domineered and all that. But I hate to break it to you, it doesn't work that way. They have their own dignity, and sense of self worth. They might take more than your average western woman, but you can't just walk over them."

After about three months of chatting with Edelisa, and before they'd physically met, he proposed.

What does science say about who we find sexually desirable?

Ian Stephen, senior lecturer from Macquarie University, says the the English naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin can offer some observations.

"When it comes to attraction there are a couple of different approaches – in the eye of the beholder, beauty defined by culture and what we see in the media, and then the evolutionary explanation," Stephen says.

"The latter sees attractiveness in a Darwinian way, so seeing attraction as a mechanism for choosing a healthy mate. So what it's doing is saying our minds have evolved to recognise aspects of other peoples biology that makes them an appropriate or good mate for us, whether that's recognising good genes or potential to be a good parent with high investment abilities. This area of theory is called optimal out-breeding hypothesis."

Evolutionary psycologist Bill Von Hippel, has studied sexual attraction, and told Insight people are drawn to others whom we think have the best genes, who will in turn help produce children who are likely to do well in the mating marketplace.

Mr Von Hippel says that while there is no evolutionary or biological reason why some people favour a certain race, he says a positive attitude about a group of people and the opportunity to meet someone from a different background is an "enormous predictor of who we end up with".

"In order to encounter different races, you would have to travel long distances. We always mixed, but not far enough to encounter really different people. It's very much a privilege of the modern world that I can meet somebody whose group lived thousands of miles away from my own," he says.

"But with that said, we know that the more inbreeding you have the more mutations you develop, so what that means is outbreeding is optimal. And race can guarantee that you end up with a phenomenon of 'hybrid vigour'. Two different types of corn can be bred together to create a stronger variety. Two humans with no overlap in their genetic history are less likely to have genetic mutations."

Bill Von Hippel

Mr Von Hippel says this is often why we find mixed race people attractive.

Mr Stephen agrees: "So a person of mixed race whose parents are very, very not related, the chances of parents having same disease genes is very, very low.

"If we accept the hypothesis that one of the contributors of attractiveness is having good genes, this then explains why people are attracted to a mixed race. People of mixed race are going to be more attractive. You could also predict that we ought to be attracted to people of other races as then means our children would have this benefit, but that seems to be less supported by the evidence."

Mr Von Hippel predicts that as the world becomes a multi-ethnic place, the eventual consequence is going to be much more multi-ethnic coupling.

But at the end of the day, sometimes you just can't explain who you're attracted to. You might think you have a type, but then fall in love with someone unexpectedly.

READER'S POLL: Do you exclusively date outside your race? Why or why not? Tell us on Facebook.

In this episode of Insight we hear from people who only date those from different racial backgrounds to their own. Host Jenny Brockie asks about the basis for their preferences and finds out whether racial stereotypes are at play. The program also hears from match-making services that specialise in cross-cultural matches. #InsightSBS