What makes someone sexy? Good question! After all, what's sexy to one person is 'Are you kidding?' to another. I'm not entirely sure whether it makes me sad, hopeful or a resourceful workaholic (it's my job, after all, to work with potential), but I can usually find something sexy about practically every person I meet. As evidenced by one (admittedly rather bleary) morning, standing outside a hotel in Bordeaux, waiting for everyone else to get their act together, and trying hard not to be seduced by the posh shop windows. Instead, I got seduced by the sight of a man who sauntered up the street toward me. These French really have got that sexy look mastered, I thought to myself, I mean look at this guy! The slightly dishevelled hair, shirt buttons undone, deliberately unshaven. It's all so well done, it's a little contrived really, I sniffed… Except… what was he doing rummaging around in that rubbish bin? Turned out the dishevelled look wasn't contrived after all. I know there's probably a law against fancying tramps/making any sort of sexual comment about the less financially fortunate, but it is a compliment and it does illustrate my point. Which is this: sex appeal is all about attitude and aura and making the best of what you've got. This guy wasn't waiting for money or status or society's approval before he'd let himself feel sexy. He just was and being seen rummaging in a rubbish bin didn't stop him throwing me a killer smile and saying something which sounded deliciously naughty. (Well, given the only French I know is 'Pardon. Je parle pa Francoise' - Sorry but I can't speak French - it could have been 'Sod off', quite frankly, but it sounded guttural and gorgeous.) There's a lesson in there for all of us.
Of course, what people really mean when they ask 'What makes someone sexy' is 'Am I sexy' and 'How can I be sexier?'. So let's just get right down to it, shall we? Here's the real secrets of sex appeal, along with how you can use the evidence practically to help boost your sex appeal.
You've on the right track if …
• Both sides of you match. The more symmetrical your face and body, the more sexually attractive you are and the more attention you get. It's not the result of nasty brainwashing by society either - even babies go ga-ga for symmetry. Far more manipulative than the media is Mother Nature. She consistently protects the healthiest of the species by making sure those from the strongest gene pool (in this case, the symmetrical) are seen as the most attractive. While no body is ever truly symmetrical (so stop stressing about your left boob/testicle being smaller/lower than the other right now), appearing 'matched' helps immeasurably. Female bodies are actually programmed to appear 30% more symmetrical on the magical high-conception day after ovulation. Not that it matters terribly much if you're symmetrical the rest of the time, mind you: you were probably shagging anyway! People with symmetrical bodies usually lose their virginity much younger and have more sexual partners than their lop-sided friends. (Which supports my own personal theory that the more attractive (aka symmetrical) you are, the more opportunities you have had to have sex and the higher your sexual scorecard. So all you smug bastards who look wide-eyed when asked and say, 'I've only ever had three' could effectively be saying, 'Only three people have asked me'.)
Lesson: Wear matching socks. (Not much else you can do to influence this one).
• You look like your genitals Err, perhaps I'd better explain this one properly. Sex obsessed creatures which we are, anything which reminds us of sex usually gets us going. A female with full, glossy, red lips is a turn-on because her lips mimic what (he fantasises anyway) is hopefully happening elsewhere: the vagina also 'plumps', moistens and darkens in colour when aroused. Phallic shaped foods like courgettes and bananas also subconsciously influence desire. Which goes a long way to explain why a. hotdogs are so popular (let's not even go there about the sauce); b. people cling to the myth about oysters being an aphrodisiac and c. the 'just got out of bed' look never goes out of fashion (we like to imagine anyone attractive in one - with us of course). In the same vein, a 'fertile' face is seen as a beautiful one. Clear, fresh skin, shiny eyes, youthful plump lips, a cold nose (or is that just dogs?) - a healthy-looking face like that tends to come attached to a body which is bursting to conceive. That's right, good old MN again, guiding us to the people most likely to keep the planet populated!
Lesson: Feel zero guilt when spending up big on lipgloss and load it on.
• You've got a big mouth Researchers created computerised versions of the average female face before getting test groups to rate their attractiveness. The first set were awarded an average attractiveness rating. In the next set, researchers increased the eyes and lips by 10% with this result: the faces were seen as younger and more beautiful. Once these features were exaggerated further however, the faces were universally judged as sexier. Look at the makeup on a typical glamour model: lots of heavy eyeliner to enlarge the eyes, pale, pouty lipgloss to accentuate the lips. Exactly the look you should aim for if you want to inspire lust… and if all you're searching for is a short-term fling. If you're after a long-term love affair, then a totally new set of rules apply! Prepare to bury the 'all men are bastards' theory forever (it's ridiculous anyway!): it's personality, not looks, which men go for in a long-term partner. A sexy face might inspire lust, but it's the girl with an average face and a nice personality who hook up long-term with. Why? It's her again! MN wants men to choose women whose idea of heaven is staying at home to raise their babies rather than dancing half-naked on a podium at a dance party.
Lesson: Looks count but it's your personality which makes people stick around.
• You walk young Along with swinging hips and general 'attitude', there's another crucial element to harness if you want to be seen as sex-on-legs: flexibility. Flexibility is what makes people appear to 'walk young' - an instant winner in the sexy stakes, says US human behaviouralist David Lieberman.
Lesson: Loosen those limbs.
• You make pots of money. If the 'all men are bastards' theory isn't true, the 'all women are bitches' one just might be. Countless studies show women continually go for good looks and money and if forced to choose between the two, money wins every time. I strongly objected to this research, convinced it was inaccurate. I'm not money-obsessed and neither are my girlfriends, so I asked a broad selection of men (aged 15-80) what the real story was. I'm embarrassed to report they and all said this is true of 80% of the women they meet. Maybe it's the old baby theory again (he earns enough to support you), I'd rather believe that than greed.
• You look like a girl, even if you're a bloke Just like men, women go for different types depending on what she wants from the relationship. This was again, all rather nicely illustrated by an experiment which allowed women to control the features on a computer generated face. By moving a bar, she could make the man's face more masculine or feminine looking. Most of the time, the feminine face won her heart because they trusted and felt safer with this sort of look. During ovulation, when women are at their most fertile, the sweet guys didn't even get a look in. Bugger nice, they all said, this is about sex, and they pushed the bar in the other direction to choose the most masculine face possible. But it's not just a case of going for the traditional bad boy look at the time when you're most likely to feel like a bit, evolutionary theory says this is the guy with the most testosterone. Which of course means a guy who'll father healthy offspring and be physically strong enough to protect them from the dangers of outside world. Post ovulation, when lust takes a backseat and logic settles in, the women again rejected the masculine men. Then they were voted too aggressive and womanizing: 'a man like that would want lots of sex and seek it elsewhere if he didn't get it at home'.
Lesson: The message for both sexes is clear: we're attracted to one type of look/person for sex, another type/look to marry. Customize yours to suit.
• Your score on their sexual lovemap. We fancy people who look or act like other people we love or have loved. From the moment we're born, our brain continuously feeds us physical data about people close to us. It divides these characteristics into 'people I like and were nice to me' and 'people I don't like who hurt me', then it tries to generalize. If two-thirds of the people you've disliked had bushy eyebrows, you'll be suspicious of everyone who has a hair or two extra. If it was the opposite, your tongue will be on the floor at the sight of them. When we meet a potential partner, our subconscious checks against the 'liked people' list in our heads and tries to find the closest match. The more 'chemistry' we feel, the more matches we've found. We do the same with gestures. The way she brushes the hair from her neck, the dimple he gets when he smiles, all affect our opinion of who's sexy, who's not. Lesson: Don't take rejection personally. It's not just about you, it's about their past. (All the more reason to take risks and go for what you want!)
• You stick your bum out Women spend their lives trying to reduce the size of their buttocks - yet the more pert and rounded they are, the stronger the sexual signal to men. Bottoms are so integral to sex appeal, zoologist Desmond Morris believes they're even more important than the two matching bumps on our front. Females of all other primates send sexual signals via the colour and smell of their bottoms, which, since they walk on all fours, are in full view of potential mates. Humans have evolved to walk upright and we tend to face people, which means our bottoms aren't on constant display. Breasts provide us with a front-on sexual signalling device. Not only do they mimic our buttocks to attract a partner, our nipples tend to stiffen with desire to show we fancy them. (Unfortunately, a cold breeze has the same effect which confuses things somewhat, but the thought was there).
To show your bottom off to its best advantage, turn your back to someone you fancy, put your hand on one hip, shift your body weight so the hip with your hand on it juts out furthest, then turn your upper torso around and make eye contact. Just as good: put your hand in the back pocket of a tight-fitting pair of jeans or (absently) slide both hands over your hips. The overall show-off-your-bottom award though goes to… high heels. Heels lengthen legs and shorten bottoms. According to the Harper's Index (yes, bizarre as it sounds, there is an index for measuring this), the average increase in the protrusion of a woman's buttocks wearing heels is 25 percent. (This, remember, is a good thing.) They might not have their own ass-index, but a tight, toned male bottom also rates extremely high on the 'Cor!' sex scale for women.
Lesson: Stop asking 'Does my bum look big in this?' and start asking, 'Does my bum look big enough?'
• You've perfected one supersexy look Some people seem born knowing how to turn legs and loins to jelly with one look. The best look I've ever received was from a guy sitting opposite me in a restaurant. I was having a business lunch, he was there with friends and I noticed him because he had the sexiest mouth I've ever seen in my life. Over the next two hours he drank 3 glasses of wine, ate salmon fishcakes but skipped dessert (doesn't have a sweet tooth), divulged plans to buy a house on the river, would love to come to Peter's place for dinner next week and if the neighbour's cat pees on his front porch one more time it's history. Not that I was looking at him or eavesdropping or anything. I was hardly noticed he was there. OK, in between staying supremely focused on the work issues I was discussing with a colleague (not), I might have darted a few (65 billion) little glances at him. He looked at me just once. His eyes slid up, caught mine and then, maintaining eye contact, he sat back, put down his knife and fork and simply stared at me. His lips curled in a half-smile which made me drop my eyes to look at his mouth and that's when he caught his bottom lip with his teeth, released it slowly and then, when my eyes went back up to his, smiled. It wasn't a 'Would like to get to know you' smile. It wasn't even an 'I've watched you watching me' smile. This was predatory: a we-both-know-I-could-make-you-faint-with-pleasure smile. I suspect he was right because I damn near fainted on the spot, without him even touching me. Now, that's what I call sexy.
Mr Sexy Stranger had it down pat. Happily, it's something everyone can learn. Practise in front of a mirror. Yes, you will feel like a right twit but who cares if you can waltz around making people swoon all over the place.
Lesson: Copy what he did or invent your own. Choose from the many eye contact techniques in the book, then add your own individual mouth, hand or hair movements until you've come up with your own signature 'sex look'.
• You've chosen your moment Certain events and situations make us more attractive to someone. If someone's just been dumped, lost their job or been through a rough time, they're much more likely to find you sexy than when life's going well. When your self-esteem is low, you underestimate your own attractiveness and over-estimate other people's. You're vulnerable, need a cuddle and are less fussy about who gives it to you! Being scared also has the same effect - but for different reasons. Research shows when our bodies are flooded with adrenaline, we're more likely to fancy whoever is with us at the time. Which makes mountain climbing or skydiving a damn good option for a date (though a rollercoaster ride or seeing a good thriller will also do the trick). Lesson: This also means it pays to be around immediately before and after things like job interviews and dreaded public speaking events. If you fancy them, volunteer to hold their hand.
• You don't go overboard on the compliments Once, while making a TV show, I had to be filmed walking in and out of the front doors of a busy bar. Needless to say, this took rather a long time since it's pointless even bothering to ask big groups of drunk people not to look at someone repeatedly making an entrance surrounded by three whopping great cameras. Anyway, the first time I walked in, a guy sitting near the bar said to me, 'I read somewhere that you're 35 but there's no way you are. You're having us all on.' Given that I was 39 at the time, I was obviously flattered and the next walk was a lot bloody jauntier, let me tell you. Problem was, he insisted in telling me the same thing every single time I came through the door. All 10 takes were ruined by his you-don't-look-your-age line, to the point where you had to assume he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. My suspicions were confirmed (and ego dashed to the ground) when another man came bursting through the doors to claim him. 'He escaped,' he said, 'He's not meant to be unaccompanied'. Excellent.
You get my point though. When someone tells us we're sexy, young-looking, funny, clever - whatever - it has the optimum effect the first time it's said. Keep harping on about it and you not only dilute the compliment, you get the opposite reaction to the one intended: instead of liking you, they find you annoying.
Lesson: Only compliment people once on that particular attribute.
• They know you fancy them We fancy people who fancy us. If you know someone thinks you're brilliant, you instantly up their attractiveness to make it more of a compliment. It also forces you to consider them as a prospective partner and - perhaps most importantly - provides some (often much-needed) feedback. You've got to have hope or you give up. There's no point in being attracted to someone when we know without a doubt, there isn't a chance in hell of ever waking up to find their face beside yours on the pillow.
Lesson: Let people know if you think they're sexy.
• You're happy to get your gear off Few of us are completely happy with our body and proud to prance around naked. Yet nothing is sexier when it's let's-get-naked time than someone who shows off their bits and let's their lover admire them, rather than cowering under the covers. There's loads on getting over a bad body image on pX, but I just want to have a little word here about size hang-ups. Most particularly that size hang-up guys. I know you've heard it before but I'm going to tell you again (and you have to listen to me because I'm a 'sexpert' remember?): people don't fall in love with bits, they fall in love with the person they're attached to. Make this your personal mantra if you are concerned you're too small. There's loads you can do to even it all up - any good sexual manual will fill you in on the specifics - so do your homework, but then forget about it. (To solve any misconceptions once and for all, here are all the statistics you could possibly want. An average flaccid (relaxed) penis is about 4 inches long, 1 ¼ inches in diameter and has a circumference of 3 ½ inches. An average erect penis is about 6 inches long, 1 ½ inches in diameter, with a circumference of 4 ½ inches. While we're on the topic, penises don't seem to be proportionate to body size either. The tall, muscle-bound body builder doesn't necessarily have a large penis. If anything, there appears to be an inverse connection. Evidence suggests small, slender men often have proportionally larger genitals.)
Lesson: Relax about your body. The only time size is a problem is when it's turned into one through paranoia.