Sexy Friends Deter Unwanted Male Advances, Study Finds

It is an age-old problem and a common scene in Hollywood films: women minding their own business - perhaps having a quiet drink in a bar - and being harassed by lotharios with more testosterone and bravado than brains.

But now scientists may have come up with a solution to allow women to avoid the unwanted attention - make sure you have sexy friends.

A team researching how males and females act socially with one another have found that certain female fish who are not in the mood to mate deliberately hang around with "more sexually attractive" female fish in order to deflect attention from randy males.

The researchers, from the universities of Exeter and Copenhagen, in Denmark, believe that the research could be applicable to other species as well.

Lead researcher Dr Safi Darden, of the University of Exeter, said: "It is now becoming apparent that males of some species choose to associate with relatively less attractive males to increase their chances of mating. We wanted to see if females also chose their same-sex companions based on attractiveness, but in this case, to reduce unwanted attention.

"Our results support the idea that social structure can develop around relative attractiveness and mating strategies. Although we focused our study on one species of fish, I would expect that this strategy would be seen in other species where females face similar levels of unwanted sexual attention from males."

In the experiment, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, the team studied the Trinidadian guppy, a species of small freshwater fish found in waterways on the Caribbean island.

Female guppies are sexually "receptive" for a few days in each month. During this time they emit a sexual pheromone that attracts males and allows them to glide into a position that facilitates mating.

Male guppies are well known for frequent and sometimes constant harassment of females - even when they are not receptive. This puts a significant burden on females, sometimes preventing them finding food and escaping from predators.

Scientists monitoring the amount of time different fish spend together found that non-receptive females spent significantly more time with receptive and "more sexually attractive" females and that by doing so they received far less attention from males.