The Psychology of Dating a ‘Bad’ Boy or Girl

by Lovehoney

on 18 Aug 2022

Confidence, passion and adventurousness are the most desirable traits of the bad boy and girl, our survey finds.

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If not ourselves, we all know someone who’s ended up dating a ‘bad’ boy or girl because they couldn’t resist their red flags and irresistible charm. Our recent survey has discovered that 43% of Brits admit to falling for the allure of a ‘bad’ boy or girl. Women (49%) in particular are more likely to have a soft spot for these devious characters than men (35%). But why do so many of us find ‘bad’ boys and girls attractive?

To answer this, and discover how many of us have succumbed to the wiles of a ‘bad’ boy/girl, we’ve surveyed 2,000 UK adults. We’ve also partnered with sexpert Ness Cooper and relationship expert Callisto Adams to provide insight into the psychology behind our attraction to these partners and how to choose a healthier relationship.

What do we find most attractive about ‘bad’ boys’ and girls' personalities?

We all love a ‘bad’ boy or girl, but what are our favourite things about them? We asked Brits what they found most attractive about stereotypical ‘bad’ boys and girls and discovered that the most desirable trait for both men and women is confidence (35%). Passion (28%) and adventurousness (25%) follow closely behind. With the excitement and thrills that go hand in hand with these characteristics, it's no wonder we are drawn to relationships with ‘bad’ characters.

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Brits seem to agree on the top three qualities of a ‘bad’ boy or girl. However, analysing responses amongst different age groups reveals nuances in our definition of a ‘bad’ boy or girl. Brits aged between 35-44 (23%) and over 55 (24%) find a free-spirited partner to be the most attractive ‘bad’ boy or girl. However, the generation beneath this is more likely to be attracted to a sexually dominant ‘bad’ partner. 26% of Brits aged 18 to 24 find being dominated in the bedroom desirable.

The rise of the internet and social media has provided younger generations with exposure to a wide variety of kinks and fantasies which an older generation may not have had access to. People aged 18-24 may have been influenced in their perception of what a ‘bad’ boy or girl is because of this. This age group may also be more comfortable with expressing their sexual fetishes than older generations because the internet has normalised certain preferences and opened up conversations about sex.

Almost one in six Brits believe sex with a so-called ‘bad’ boy or girl is more passionate

It seems our attraction to dating ‘bad’ characters is not just driven by their confidence and charisma but also by their sexual prowess. Almost one in six men and women (15%) admitted that they were more sexually attracted to a ‘bad’ boy or girl than any other partner. The same number of participants (15%) also admitted to experiencing greater passion in the bedroom with a ‘bad’ boy or girl than in other sexual relationships.

Men, in particular, found these relationships to be more sexually adventurous (16%), enabling them to experiment with and explore kinks like bondage and sex toys.

It is no wonder we are drawn to ‘bad’ characters when they have a reputation for being good in bed. Who can blame us for chasing relationships driven by sexual attraction and satisfaction?

Why do we date ‘bad’ boys/girls?

It’s clear that many of us are guilty of choosing the ‘wrong’ person, but why do we make these questionable dating decisions? To find out, we’ve spoken to clinical sexologist Ness Cooper:

They present a false identity: “When we go into a relationship, it’s quite common to live in a bit of a fantasy where it takes time for each other’s true selves to surface. This means we can be dating what now seems to be the ‘wrong person’ for a while until we have fully got to know them. Sometimes the true self of the person we’re dating is so different to the fantasy we saw that it can be quite a shock when we then realise that they’re wrong for us.

Emotional bonding: “Often this person can cause hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, cortisol and adrenaline to be released through red-flag habits they use to control the relationship dynamic, such as love bombing”

Your attachment style:When we find someone who positively fits our attachment type, we can form a health symbiosis and your internal world beliefs support each other. However, when our attachment types fit together negatively, we can form an unhealthy relationship where each other’s negative traits fuel each other to the surface.”

You’re following generational patterns:Most people will have learned how they should and shouldn’t act in a relationship. Sometimes it can take time to break negative scripts. So, for example, if one of your parents always fell for the wrong person, it may be that you learned your dating script from them and need to change those habits.”

Whatever your reason for being drawn to a ‘bad’ boy or girl, to break this pattern and form healthier relationships it's important to understand the source of your attraction.

‘Bad’ boy and girl icons

We’ve all been guilty of infatuation with a TV villain, but who do we find most attractive and why are these characters so desirable?

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Sexologist Ness Cooper shares the following insight as to why we’re so attracted to these ‘bad’ characters:

“When we fall for fictional characters, some of us may be more prone to fictosexuality, fictoromance, and fictophilia, where the person can fall in love with fictional characters and become invested in their storyline as it may help us release feel-good hormones such as dopamine.

“With characters in dramas and other shows, we can follow along with their romantic developmental stages and become invested. However, we only gain a glimpse into these and only see the thrilling and dramatic parts, unlike when experiencing a real-life relationship which, at times, will lead to experiencing the mundane and everything else in between.”

It's important to remember that TV shows demonstrate an idealised version of characters that isn’t reflective of reality. Real-life romances, especially with ‘bad’ boys or girls, are far more complex and often not sustainable.

How to choose a ‘good’ boy or girl

Meeting the ‘wrong’ one is a piece of cake, but how can we make sure we are choosing someone who is ‘right’ for us?

Relationship expert, Callisto Adams, has shared her top three questions we should all be considering when on the hunt for a new partner:

1. How free would I feel to address a problem with this person?

2. How healthy are their behaviours and general mindset?

3. Am I making this choice because of loneliness or because I genuinely would love being around this person?

Considering these questions when meeting a potential partner will help ensure you are more likely to have a healthy, fulfilling relationship.


The data used in this research is from a survey carried out in June 2022 of 2,038 UK adults over the age of 18 who have previously had sex.

Gender splits within this survey are based on the genders that respondents choose to identify as.

Expert commentary was provided by:

Ness Cooper - Clinical Sexologist

Callisto Adams - PhD Certified Dating and Relationship Expert


Written by Lovehoney. For collaborative posts between Lovehoney team members and guest authors
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Originally published on 18 Aug 2022. Updated on 18 Aug 2022