What is Sexy? #whatissexy #writing

I was going through several image repositories yesterday, looking for the ‘right’ model or image for a book cover I was contemplating. I put in “sexy man” and added different qualifiers as I went along. “sexy bald man” “sexy older man”….

I have to say, the results were startling. At first. For each set of search parameters, I found that less than 10% of the results were sexy to me. The other 90% varied from ‘eh’ to “that’s sexy?” to “Oh hell no”. Which made me wonder…

What is sexy?

My philosophy professor in college was of the opinion that everyone thought the same thing attractive and sexy. He also was of the opinion that everyone was looking for the one person who fit that mold. I debunked that myth and I can remember him staring at me slackjawed.

And since looking at all those images that to me were not sexy, I had to figure this out. What makes something sexy? And why is that a problem?

Merriam-Webster defines Sexy as:

  1. sexually suggestive or stimulating : erotic
  2. generally attractive or interesting : appealing a sexy stock

As usual, that’s a wide definition, but it ignores one central area that I think should be added. That sexy is not universal. It’s a very personal thing.

What makes something sexy?

That’s a question that can bring about many answers. There is a vast majority that will say something like “If it turns me on, it’s sexy”. Okay, that’s one definition. But for me, it does not fit completely.

For instance, if chocolate turns you on just because its dripping itself from your partner’s body, that does not make chocolate sexy. It’s the fact of chocolate being on skin and licking it off that turns the crank, most likely.

Also, that second part of the definition catches my attention. Generally attractive or interesting. Some people find a man holding a baby gently to be sexy. Some people find intelligence to be sexy (I know I do nom nom nom).

And, according to photo sites, men with straggly-ass beards are sexy. Not to me, but apparently they must be to some because there were tons of those.

So what is the problem?

The problem lies in visual marketing. You can tell what advertising companies consider ‘attractive’ and ‘sexy’ as that’s what we see in ads. You can tell what Hollywood thinks since so many female actors have to starve themselves to get a part. And we have been bombarded with it so continuously for decades that, unfortunately, the American audience sometimes doesn’t even know what they consider sexy as they’ve bought into what they’ve been sold.

So how does an author create a visually stimulating cover without turning someone off?

You can’t. No matter what you put on your cover, someone’s going to find it unsexy or a turnoff. And as much as people say “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, we do. It’s our first indication of the quality of the book and the appearance of the characters. So, for me, if a cover has depictions of men with straggly-ass beards? I’m probably not going to read the blurb, let alone the book. (No offense to men with straggly-ass beards. But if the book is a romance, I will have a hard time being emotionally attracted to a character with tons of facial hair.) Some people won’t read a book if the cover happens to have a woman with an abundant figure on it. Some people won’t read a book that has two men on the cover.

Hell, some people won’t read a book no matter what’s on the cover.

What can we do about it?

First off, we need to accept that what we find sexy or attractive is personal. And that we cannot please everyone. And since trying to do so can give you an ulcer, don’t try.

If you’re an author, as long as the cover pleases you, go for it. Ask associates to make sure you aren’t missing something, but you have to go by your definition of sexy. Yes, you’ll tick off some readers, but honestly? If you aren’t ticking anyone off, you aren’t doing it right.


Writing involves some uncomfortable truths at times and the fact is, no matter how much you might try not to insult anyone, at some point you will. Whether you want to or not. How many times has Huckleberry Finn been on ban lists? No, HF is not sexy… this was purely about good books ticking people off. Then again, you might find HF sexy and who am I to judge?

What do you think is Sexy?

So let’s get to the heart of the matter. What do YOU think is sexy? Yes you. The person who is reading this. What is sexy to you? Please comment below with your opinions on what is sexy. Everyone has something different.

I’ll start.

For men: Intelligence, good sense of humor (and isn’t that subjective?), a full head of hair, lithe build, good self esteem, kindness to both humans and animals

For women: knowing who she is, good self esteem

Now it’s your turn… come on. You know you wanna 😉

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