Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


4 Unexpected Secrets of Sex Appeal

Increase sexiness without any physical alterations.

Key points

  • Men rate women as significantly less sexy when they have seen their photographs before meeting in person.
  • A study found that men were more likely to obtain women’s phone numbers for a date when carrying a guitar case vs. a gym bag or nothing.
  • An open posture (taking up more space with one's body) enhances men's and women's success in both online and speed-dating.
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock
Source: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

We tend to believe that in order to boost our sex appeal, we need to alter our physical appearance, whether through diet, increased muscle tone, makeup, or sexier clothing.

But consider these four extra-ordinary strategies to boost sexiness — no physical modifications required.

1. Selflessness Is Sexy

Helping others is typically intended to benefit those in need, but there are numerous benefits to the individual who provides the help as well. Helping can inspire a good mood, alleviate a bad mood, and increase the likelihood of reciprocal helping (see Kassin et al., 2011). Another way we benefit from helping others is in becoming increasingly appealing to potential partners. Moore et al. (2013) found that “selflessness is sexy” (p. 182); helping behavior attributed to both male and female targets increased their attractiveness as long-term sexual partners. Helpful men were also perceived as more attractive for a short-term encounter.

Why is helpfulness sexy? The authors propose that being helpful may signal both the presence of good genes as well as a willingness to share in parental care or to share resources. In this research, individuals described as helping an elderly neighbor with shopping, mentoring children at a local school, or volunteering at a homeless shelter were consistently rated as more attractive than counterparts who engaged in behaviors not associated with helping.

2. Become a Sexy Stranger

Classic research shows that familiarity leads to liking, known as the mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968). However, recent research reveals that familiarity is not always desirable in a mate; while women prefer familiarity in a partner, men prefer unfamiliarity. Men rate women as significantly less sexy when they have seen their photographs before meeting in person (Little et al., 2013).

Why are strangers sexy? The researchers interpret these results as consistent with the potential evolutionary benefits to men of mating with more than one partner. Intriguingly, new research shows that women also prefer unfamiliar male partners, under certain circumstances. Salvatore et al. (2017) discovered that women in the most fertile portion of their menstrual cycles found men from other ethnic backgrounds (but not men from the same ethnic background) more attractive as both short- and long-term partners. The authors speculate that strangers are sexy due to the desire for genetically diverse offspring or to the unconscious motivation to avoid incest — because, yes, disturbingly, we are generally attracted to our opposite sex relatives.

3. Get Creative

Showcasing your creativity may enhance your sex appeal. Once again, women’s fertility status may be an important determinant of the attractiveness of creativity. Haselton and Miller (2006) found that women in the most fertile portion of their cycles preferred creativity to wealth in potential male partners.

Why is creativity attractive? The authors believe it may signal good genes or intelligence. They also propose that creativity in women may attract men; however, they did not test that possibility in this study. Musical creativity may also be attractive to women. Guéguen et al. (2014) found that men were more likely to obtain women’s phone numbers for a date when carrying a guitar case than when carrying a gym bag or nothing. Again, these authors postulate that musical talent may signal good genes or intellectual ability.

4. Open Up

An open body posture can convey one's romantic interest (Moore, 2010), but it can also inspire romantic interest in others. A more expansive pose (taking up more space with one's body) enhanced both men's and women's chances of success in both online dating and speed-dating interactions (Vacharkulksemsuk et al., 2016).

What makes openness sexy? The posture may signal dominance but also a willingness to share resources (Vacharkulksemsuk et al., 2016). It may also be associated with confidence, which is considered an essential aspect of sex appeal by both men and women (Smolak et al., 2014; Lamb et al., 2015).

Consider these unanswered questions: Is it selfish to use selflessness to increase sexiness? And if it is selfish and not selfless, is it still sexy?

You may also be interested in these unexpected ways to make yourself more attractive.

Portions of this post were taken from The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships. Copyright 2015 Madeleine A. Fugère.


Guéguen, N., Meineri, S., & Fischer-Lokou, J. (2014). Men’s music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context. Psychology of Music, 42(4), 545-549.

Haselton, M. G., & Miller, G. F. (2006). Women’s fertility across the cycle increases the short-term attractiveness of creative intelligence. Human Nature, 17(1), 50-73.

Kassin, S. M., Fein, S., & Markus, H. R. (2011). Social Psychology (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Lamb, S., Farmer, K. M., Kosterina, E., Lambe Sariñana, S., Plocha, A., & Randazzo, R. (2016). What's sexy? Adolescent girls discuss confidence, danger, and media influence. Gender and Education, 28(4), 527-545.

Little, A. C., DeBruine, L. M., & Jones, B. C. (2013). Sex differences in attraction to familiar and unfamiliar opposite-sex faces: Men prefer novelty and women prefer familiarity. Archives of Sexual Behavior, doi:10.1007/s10508-013-0120-2

Moore, D., Wigby, S., English, S., Wong, S., Székely, T., & Harrison, F. (2013). Selflessness is sexy: reported helping behaviour increases desirability of men and women as long-term sexual partners. BMC evolutionary biology, 13(1), 182.

Moore, M. M. (2010). Human nonverbal courtship behavior—A brief historical review. The Journal of Sex Research, 47, 171-180. DOI: 10.1080/00224490903402520

Salvatore, J. F., Meltzer, A. L., March, D. S., & Gaertner, L. (2016). Strangers with benefits attraction to outgroup men increases as fertility increases across the menstrual cycle. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 0146167216678860.

Smolak, L., Murnen, S. K., & Myers, T. A. (2014). Sexualizing the self: What college women and men think about and do to be “sexy”. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38(3), 379-397.

Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Reit, E., Khambatta, P., Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., & Carney, D. R. (2016). Dominant, open nonverbal displays are attractive at zero-acquaintance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(15), 4009-4014.

Zajonc, R. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2, Pt.2), 1–27. doi:10.1037/h0025848.

More from Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today