Sex doctor: The look of love - what we see in people

As someone who specialises in sex and relationships, I've spent a great deal of my life pondering exactly what is it that makes one person attractive, and another not. Looks clearly play a part but even the extraordinarily beautiful aren't to everyone's taste (Angelina Jolie being a case in point: a goddess to some and "lips like a fish" to others). Besides, we all know good looks wear off after the third date or two hours into the first meeting, if you're particularly bright and they're exceedingly dreary.

A good body gets our attention but only if it's achieved and maintained reasonably effortlessly. Someone who frets like a pining puppy if they miss going to the gym two days running is decidedly unattractive, as is the person who opts for steamed fish and vegetables when it's taken you three months to land a table at a restaurant offering gourmet treats worth selling the kids for. Some of the sexiest, most desirable people I've met have neither perfect faces nor perfect bodies. A few, in fact, have very obvious "flaws": squashy noses, big bellies, crooked teeth.

But while traditional good looks aren't necessary, there are certain qualities that are. It's a heady combination of key ingredients that determines who grabs our attention and crucially who keeps it. First, is a lust for life. This is usually, though not always, coupled with a love of sex. If you love people and are curious about them, you'll be sexy. It's that simple. If you're boring or the rest of your life is boring and uninspired, no-one assumes you'll leap into bed with energy, enthusiasm, and a cache of naughty tricks up your sleeve. You need to be excited by life to be seen as exciting by others.

Also jostling for top position in the attractiveness stakes is confidence. Being cocky, albeit not ideal, is still way more appealing than being massively insecure. True, we might label people as opinionated, arrogant or even rude if they express strong opinions, but at least they get noticed. We all respect and admire people who stick up for their beliefs and fight their own battles.

A sense of humour is such an obvious factor in attraction that it's hardly worth touching on. Without the ability to laugh, make others laugh and tease with a wickedly irreverent mischievousness, no-one's getting or going anywhere, let alone jumping into a cab back to your place. Ditto a certain level of intelligence. Stupidity has never been and never will be a turn on (unless of course you're not terribly bright yourself, in which case meeting someone even dimmer than you could do more for your self-esteem than a week with Paul McKenna).

But even blessed with all of the above, there's one critical component to be added to mix before we're totally convinced someone is desperately attractive. Attention. Looks, lust, ego, humour they're all powerful people magnets. But unless somone pays attention to us, they're likely to be tossed into the "attractive but unattainable" basket, snuggling up beside George Clooney. Don't get me wrong, we can be almost rabid with lust for people like this but it's detached and not real. We recognise there's no real point to it it's pretty unlikely George is going to be calling the office and asking us for a drink anytime soon. The most attractive people in our world are the ones we interact with and who like us. Getting lots of attention especially if it continues in the face of fierce competition is a powerful aphrodisiac. And this is why the less attractive man, whose eyes don't even flicker from yours when Kate Moss legs it past your table, will nearly always triumph over his handsome but roving-eyed friend.

'The Sex Doctor', by Tracey Cox, is published by Corgi (7.99)

Visit LoveHoney for relationship tips and advice from Tracey Cox. Every week, Tracey answers questions from visitors to the site.