We all want to be sexy – but what does it mean? What makes someone sexy? Are people just born that way or can you increase your ‘X factor’? And could being sexy ever be more trouble than it’s worth?

First questions first: what does sexy mean? It means to be desirable: someone whom other people, particularly those of the opposite gender, are attracted to. We like to (or want to) be around them; we want them to notice us and like us in return.

What makes someone sexy? Usually we think of someone with a gorgeous face and great body, like Megan Gale or Miranda Kerr. But if that’s all there is to being sexy, why is Megan Gale dating Andy, of Hamish and Andy fame? He’s reasonably good-looking but he isn’t the sort of guy you’d expect a super-model to go out with. I think it’s because Andy has a second type of sexiness: he’s personally attractive.

What makes a person personally sexy? As with gender-specific aspects of physical appearance, we are also attracted to attitudes that, in our mind, are the best attributes of the other sex. Peculiar traits that women might find desirable in men involve action: leadership, ambition, and making bugs go Splat! Especially female traits that could capture a male’s heart involve relationships: commitment, restoration and intimacy. These ideals are fluid, though: some of them are hard-wired into us, some are dependent on what society tells us is desirable and, of course, much depends on what we personally find attractive.

There are also essential attributes anyone can have that all people like, such as a sense of humour, intelligence and a genuine interest in other people; however, the most important is self-confidence. If you are sure of you who are, it stands out more than any other characteristic. Then again, if we see that a person is confident but doesn’t care about others, we’ll quickly lose interest in them. All these attributes have to be real: you might fake them for a little while but not forever.

To be self-confident you have to know who you are. This means you need to know the answers to questions such as: where do you call home? This is less about what suburb you live in; rather, it’s about who matters most to you. Who would go to the ends of the earth for you? Other questions you need to know the answers to are: what matters most to you? Who or what is worth living for? The answers to these questions – who you are, where you belong, where you’re going in life and why – will give you confidence because they give you a strong self-image, a foundation for a healthy self-esteem.

But most of us are surrounded by other people, family and friends, who react to who we are and what we do. So how do people react if you’re sexy? Will their reaction always be positive? Well, as the saying goes: Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. Think of advertisements, trying to get our attention so they can get us to buy their products. What do the ads use to get our attention? Most often it’s someone who is physically sexy. We connect them to the product so we unconsciously start to think that sexy people use it; sexy people are attracted to others who use it.

To someone who is physically sexy, we respond physically. We look at their faces and bodies, the parts of them we find attractive and we find ourselves wanting to touch them, to hold them, to kiss them… We don’t ask ourselves if they’re someone we can trust with our money or our friends. We don’t wonder if they are a person we can respect, or if even we would like them as friends. Of course they might be a nice person but all we think about is how hot they are: this is especially true for guys. Looking at a sexy woman, guys think less about a relationship and more about sex – that’s why so many men’s magazines are full of pictures of beautiful women almost wearing bits of fabric that we might call clothes. These – both the publications and the behaviour – devalues both women and men. That is the downside of sex appeal.

If a person is physically sexy, they catch our attention; but if someone is personally sexy, they keep it. That’s because we enjoy being around people who are confident and friendly and interested in us. Think about your friends: why do you like them? Is it because they have a pretty face or because they make you laugh? Because they’ve got a movie star’s body or because you can rely on them? This doesn’t mean that you think your friends are sexy or that they think you are: it means that friendship has nothing to do with looks. In a relationship looks do matter but if there’s nothing more than physical attraction no relationship will survive. Anyway, the longer your relationship lasts, the less important looks are. What is more important is that you respect and trust one another; that you can laugh and cry and live together as best friends, 24-7. This is the kind of person you want a relationship with; the kind of person that, just before you go to sleep, your last thought is of them and it makes you smile. That’s the kind of sexy that can make a relationship last for a lifetime.