Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t know jack shit about cars. While I know how to operate one, I don’t even do that particularly well. What I do pride myself on, however, is my ability to pinpoint what exactly makes a man hot. Whether it’s teeny tiny shorts, backward baseball caps or using vibrators during sex, I know the particular activities, styles and abilities that can turn the most average, nondescript man into a heavily desired hunk. And not to gloat, but I typically have the support of other women who agree that these seemingly random qualities do, in fact, scratch a certain itch for them.
Take this past week, when I was explaining to a female acquaintance the idea for the story you’re reading right now, about why it’s so damn hot when a man knows how to drive a stick shift. She simply replied, Oh, yeah, it’s really hot.
The first time I had this feeling, that a man driving stick could jumpstart my own engine, was this past summer. My partner and I were in his hometown for a wedding and our only mode of transportation was his old Subaru Forester with a manual transmission. It has been nearly two years since we started dating and I never knew he could drive stick (though I guess when you date in New York City, conversations about driving rarely arise). But the realization that I was dating someone who could operate a manual transmission, plus the sweet view from the passenger side, sparked a very real attraction.
For starters, I was impressed. Stick shifts are going by the wayside and it’s a rarity these days you find someone who has acquired the skill.
“I think there’s something we appreciate about the simple fact that a man has gone out of his way to learn this unnecessary skill,” Kayla Kibbe, InisdeHook’s resident sex and relationship writer/expert tells me after I picked her brain as to why I, and other women, might feel turned on by this.
“People are intrigued by anyone who has a less common skill,” adds Jonathan Klinger, VP, Car Culture at Hagerty, an American automotive lifestyle and membership company and the world’s largest membership organization for car lovers. “Driving a manual transmission fits squarely into this category.”
To reiterate, manual transmissions are fading out due to technological advances, and those who continue to drive stick do so out of pure admiration for the dying driving style, explains Klinger.
“The popularity of the automatic transmission as a convenience feature dates to the mid-1950s. The manual transmission held strong for a long time as it performed better, was more fuel-efficient and was also a less expensive option than an automatic transmission. Due to technological innovation namely dual-clutch automatic transmissions, that’s no longer the case. The manual transmissions available in new cars today exist almost solely because of their appeal to driving enthusiasts,” he tells InsideHook.
“To an enthusiast, for the longest time, choosing the convenience of an automatic was a trade-off in performance, efficiency and cost. Now, enthusiasts choosing automatics get performance, efficiency and, in most cases, no additional cost.”
However, the skill can also be a detriment. As Mel Magazine reported recently, some men are obsessed with driving stick, to the point where they develop a superiority complex over those who drive automatic transmissions.
“The love of driving manual is extremely tied to the idea of a ‘pure’ driving experience,” Kristen Lee, deputy editor of The Drive told Mel earlier this month. “Cars without manual [transmissions] — and indeed, people who do not or cannot drive manual — are looked down upon by these manual-driving people, because they’re seen as lazy or illegitimate in their automotive enthusiasm.”
It’s an important distinction, and if you happen to be a manual driver, then heed this warning: don’t be a pompous asshole about it. For example, part of my own attraction to the driving style came from my partner’s lackadaisical attitude towards it. While I made a big fuss over his ability to drive stick, he shrugged it off.
Additionally, there’s the fact that the act of driving a stick is pretty blatantly sexual. You’re somewhat aggressively manhandling what is — let’s be honest — a phallic object. The ride is bumpy, and shifting gears adds a layer of unpredictability from the passenger side where, as a passenger, you feel on edge for the majority of the ride. The entire experience is thrilling, titillating, but driving stick also feels inherently masculine, which may add to its appeal — for both men and women.
“I think a certain kind of man takes a lot of pride in being able to do things manually, ‘the old-fashioned way,’ like cutting down a tree or fixing his own car, and men, in general, are encouraged, societally, to privilege the physical on many levels,” notes Kibbe. “While driving a stick isn’t exactly a staggering display of physical strength, I do think it probably feels like a bigger physical accomplishment to a man than driving an automatic — like he’s actually driving the car, rather than just along for the ride.”
It’s the reason why many manual fanatics cling to their sticks, adds Klinger.
“Manual transmissions are popular with many enthusiasts because of the visceral reward they provide. A perfectly timed and executed downshift going into a turn is a badge of honor. It all goes back to the beauty of analog devices — think about playing a record instead of streaming a playlist. You’re involved in every decision and control every outcome. Like a record player, the stick shift demands that you remain involved throughout the drive,” he says.
And for women, a man physically maneuvering a vehicle might sound off similarly ingrained notions of “manliness” and “ruggedness,” explains Kibbe.
“From a female perspective, I think we probably internalize some of that as well and also tend to associate this more physically involved form of ‘drivermanship’ with masculine strength. While it may not be a hunky display of brute strength, it is evidence that a man has mastered a technical skill, which is probably enough to trigger our ‘oh, he’ll be a good provider’ response.”
All of this is not to say that driving an automatic transmission makes you “unmasculine” in any way. As Klinger notes above, drivers who prefer automatics are getting higher performance and efficiency now at no additional cost. There’s really no reason, other than your love for the stick, that’d you chose to spend money on a manual car over an automatic (contrary to what some avid stick shifters would say). We can still, however, appreciate the sinking, sexy art of manual driving and the hunky men who know their way around a stick.