For me, it’s Steve McQueen on a motorbike, or Paul Newman in blue jeans that match his eyes. Oh, and the young Elvis makes me go weak at the knees. Your own heart-throb might be Brad Pitt or the English actor James Norton.

Colin Firth playing Mr Darcy carried a double-whammy (sex and money), while some women swoon for powerful politicians, even if they’re not handsome.

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Fantasies about male sex symbols are surely as old as humankind. I’d bet the hunkiest caveman drew long looks from the cave girls across the way. Historian Carol Dyhouse would probably say his attraction hinged on his prowess as a hunter. Bring home the bacon and I’ll see you in bed.

Dyhouse points out that men have always looked at women as “objects” – so why not turn the process around? Her aim is “to explore ways in which patterns of romance and fantasy have changed over the last century, reshaping women’s ideas about what they find desirable in men”.

To do this she takes the reader on a rollicking ride through movies, history, literature, romances and popular music, checking out the appeal of men as diverse as Rudolph Valentino and David Cassidy.

In the Fifties, popular Mills & Boon titles featured doctors and nurses – because handsome medical men had everything: looks, status and healing hands.

But what about a different sort of heart-throb? Certain women have always hankered after pirates, brigands, highwaymen, tough warriors and even vampires.

When Lady Caroline Lamb summed up the rakish Lord Byron as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”, she was tapping into the perennial allure of the bad boy that many women can’t resist.

The terrible Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy sold in trolley-loads and, for all its shocking frankness, it tapped right into another, more lurid fantasy.

In the end, of course, the “bad” rich hero is redeemed by the love of a good girl – again. After all, Elizabeth Bennet stood up to Mr Darcy’s nose-flaring, snobbish arrogance. To hell with wet shirts – Jane Austen knew that power and money are the most potent aphrodisiacs of all.

Though Dyhouse’s intention is to show how women’s romantic and sexual fantasies change throughout time, it seems to me they stay pretty much the same.

Dirk Bogarde used to have his trouser flies sewn up to keep him safe from women’s groping hands at film premieres; girls (and older women) throw their panties at pop stars on stage. Unbridled lust is not a male prerogative.

When Dyhouse writes, “as the 20th century drew to its close, women wanted more from their ideal men than integrity, bread-winning and credit cards; they wanted equality, partnership and communication”, I wanted to riposte: “Well, some, Carol!”

She ends with a hopeful thought: “Maybe we can look forward now to a future in which men and women see each other less as gendered objects and, instead, strive to relate to each other as individuals.”

Hmm! In the real world women swoon over film stars and male models in “tighty whities” – just as they always did.

Gold-diggers want money, political groupies are turned on by power, half-dressed girls go to pubs and clubs to bag a footballer.

Meanwhile, some of us are content to stay at home with husbands who may not be rich, mean or brilliant – but know how to build beautiful bookshelves with a great, big drill. – Daily Mail

Categories: Sex