This is a guest post by Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress and the recently released book Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them. Betsy argues that, contrary to popular myth, the men who consistently captivate women do not fall into the familiar stereotypes: the satanic rake, alpha stud, slick player, Mr. Nice, or big-money mogul. Instead, she has found that legendary ladies’ men are a different, complex species altogether, often without looks or money. They fit no known template and possess a cache of powerful erotic secrets. Through her extensive research, she has learned the secrets that great seducers use to electrify and enthrall women, and she generously shares some of them here.
A select group of men throughout history have an almost supernatural ability to make women fall and stay wildly in love with them. They take seduction to a new level. Often without rank, riches, and good looks, they possess a unique, largely unknown erotic MO.
These love maestros are a diverse lot and include all manner of men—penniless scholars, polo players, preachers, diplomats, adventurers, and ordinary Joes. One “enchanter” of the Napoleonic era, Chateaubriand, was a bandy-legged 5’4″ introvert; another, the toothless, lively writer of Mozart’s operas; and another, “delectable Desmond” MacCarthy, an obscure figure in literary London of the 1920s with “smallish genitals.”
What’s their secret? For starters, they fit none of the standard profiles of suave seducers. Rather than cool he-men with hunters’ logs, they’re more like the legendary Casanova.
Giacomo Casanova, the eighteenth-century Venetian author, diplomat, and fabulous ladies’ man, wasn’t the heartless rake of song and story. He treated women as friends and equals, devoted himself to their happiness, and was more pursued than the pursuer.
If anything, he was a fool for love. At twenty-four, he had a passionate affair with the brilliant “Henriette,” a Frenchwoman in flight from her family, and nearly died of grief when they had to part. He holed up in a remote inn, refused to eat, and was rescued by accident on the brink of death.
Sixteen years later, she called him “the most honorable man” she had ever known. “Honorable” may be too strong a word; Casanova had his vices, such as con games and gambling, but “bad guy” glamour was no part of his allure. Like ladies’ men in general, he was a fascinating moral mix, nice with spice.
These great lovers share several other unexpected traits. Counterintuitively enough, they tend to have a feminine streak, and to have something charisma experts call “straddling characteristics,” minor defects and vulnerabilities.
Gary Cooper, the film icon of American manhood, had an endearing limp and blended artistic sensitivity and delicacy with his masculine swank. His charm center, said his countless life-long lovers, was his “ravishing androgyny.”
As for seductive strategies, master lovers handle these with a difference. Instead of a calculated, offensive campaign, they treat love as an art, an approach that dates back to antiquity. The idea is that a grand amour requires artistry: creativity, intuition, drama, customized moves for individual women, and a sophisticated skillset of psychological and physical charms. As with any art, the principles are elastic. They don’t have to be taken wholesale, and can be adapted to a man’s special tastes and talents.
Aly “Don Juan” Khan, a marquee name of the 1950s, “threw away the rule book,” tapped into ancient love wisdom, and creatively designed his approach to suit his strengths and specific women. His lovers were legion. “You hardly counted,” said a socialite, “if you had not been to bed with Aly.”
Unspectacular in appearance—a sallow complexion, paunch, and receding hairline—Aly radiated “sweetness” and treated women to an imaginative, unforgettable courtship. He gave them “magic carpet” trips to exotic hideaways, and made them feel like “queens.”
He wore his heart on his sleeve. When he saw movie star Rita Hayworth for the first time, he gasped “My God, who is that?,” overhauled his chateau to her liking, and besieged her with phone calls and three dozen red roses a day until she agreed to divorce her husband and marry him.
Physical lures for the Khans of the world are never standard issue. Whatever spells they choose—dress, music, sex, or setting—they endow them with originality, and soup them up for maximum sensual impact.
Italian poet and politician Gabriele D’Anunnzio was a mage of the senses. Although bald, short, and “ugly,” with fat legs and wide hips, he was an “erotic sensation,” in turn-of-the-century Europe, inundated with beauties who begged to sleep with him, and adored forever by distinguished women, including stage diva Elenora Duse.
He knew his strong suits and how to play them. Creative and ardent in bed, he specialized in oral pleasure and supplied women with “stinging kisses” through “long intoxicated nights.” He also understood the erotics of space. A born interior decorator, he designed mind-altering rooms, filled with flowers, rare collections, and lush, red cushions. Asked why he never went to their place, he replied, “And sacrifice my privileged position of sorcerer?”
Mindspells, however, are the heavy magic in seduction. Love is a psychological takeover, a soul heist, and women, studies show, are more aroused by mental stimuli than men. Grand amorists concentrate 99% of their lovecraft on the female psyche, and invest cerebral charms with artistry and imagination.
They are brilliant praisers—inventive, smart, and attuned to what each woman most wants to hear. Intimacy, they “get”; they bond with women, yet maintain a sexy tension between we and me, union and selfhood.
What they do best, though, is conversation, a potent, long-acting aphrodisiac. Women treasure men who can give good dialogue—listen, engage, and interest them. Nineteenth-century Russian writer and love magnet, Ivan Turgenev, was no beauty (tall and stoop-shouldered), but he enthralled women with his “beautiful faculty of talk.” One aristocrat called him “her Christ”; a teenage girl grew ill with love; and dozens fell under his spell.
His most spectacular conquest, though, was the married opera diva and siren, Pauline Viardot. When she came to St. Petersburg to sing, he joined her fans backstage each night on a bearskin rug, and literally talked her into love with him with his eloquence, collaborative flair, and engaging anecdotes. Their liaison and passion for each other lasted forty years.
Turgenev, like every great romancer, was a perpetual suitor. He showered her with love letters, flattery and festive outings, and kept desire taut with variety: calm and rapture, presence and absence, habit and novelty. Above all, he remained infinitely fascinating, evolving during their affair into one of Russia’s best authors.
Contrary to rumor, such men aren’t extinct. While many guys today—casualties of the hookup culture—lack courtship know-how, some undercover Casanovas are getting laid and loved—loved always. They’re sincere, really like women, and intuitively take the amorous approach of the master lovers. They wield charms that accentuate their pluses, and throw their creativity and hearts into it.
No man needs the whole cache of love spells to captivate women. Luke, a Baltimore computer jock and ladykiller, excels in sensual lures (except music) and skimps on verbal praise. Another darling of women, Vance a gourmet store owner, is long on sentiment, yet short on humor and dress sense. As Brian, an arch-lover who is neither androgynous nor “vulnerable,” explains: “the quiver doesn’t have to be fully stocked. If you have eight out of ten characteristics, you’re already about seven steps ahead. It’s a wide open field.”