Whenever a woman shops at Victoria's Secret, it's impossible for her not to eye those intriguing lingerie sets hanging effortlessly on the mannequins.
You know the ones: They come in a variety of bold colors, and the lace is strategically placed to perfectly highlight the wearer's bust and ass, making preteens and grandparents who wander into the store blush in embarrassment.
These lingerie sets are the mainstream definition of "sexy." And if it weren't for the fact that they cost $100, we'd all probably own five sets.
What's more exhilarating than merely looking at these outfits is imagining yourself actually wearing one, strutting around your bedroom while your boyfriend ogles at you lustfully, preparing to pounce on your half-naked body.
When you imagine yourself as the turn-on, you get turned on -- and your confidence soars.
While turning someone else on may make you feel great in that moment, there's an important difference between confidence and validation -- a difference that many of us tend to forget.
In New York Magazine's "The Everything Guide to the Libido," Kayleen Schaefer discusses a theory called "object of desire self-consciousness."
Coined by Anthony Bogaert, Ph.D., this theory is the perception that you are romantically and sexually desirable in another's eyes, and it's one of the main ways through which we achieve our sense of self-worth.
People don't really have to think we're attractive in order for this perception to make us feel good about ourselves.
According to the theory, the reality of someone finding us desirable is just as good as the fantasy of someone finding us desirable.
Ultimately, all that matters is your perception of what others think about you, not what they actually think about you.
Dr. Bogaert tells Elite Daily, via Skype:
"Believing that my partner finds me attractive, believing that people find me attractive, believing that I am sexy and can turn others on... is something that makes people, on average, feel good. It's probably important within the context of an overall sense of confidence or self-esteem."
When Dr. Bogaert references attractiveness, he isn't just talking about the physical stuff.
What we say and do, how we behave and the gestures we use can lead to the perception that others find us attractive and desirable as well.
Seeing ourselves as an object of desire is a crucial part of what Dr. Bogaert calls our romantic or sexual "script," which is our expectation of the sequence of events that will unfold in a romantic or sexual situation.
This means when we engage with people romantically or sexually, we expect that they will find us attractive, that they will see us as someone to be desired and lusted over.
And if they don't see us that way, it confuses us and makes us second-guess ourselves.
If they do see us that way, it gives us a great dose of validation, both inside and outside the context of the situation.
Our need for this kind of validation is "powerful," Dr. Bogaert tells me. It's especially powerful for women, considering the ways the media has socialized women to see themselves as objects to be desired.
"I think women have a pretty good sense, on average, that guys are visual and are turned on by visual things like having women's bodies look this way and so on. It’s not surprising that women incorporate those kinds of perceptions within the context of sexuality and within the context of romantic activity."
But is the approval from others the most stable means through which we can achieve real, overall confidence?
Not really, says Dr. Bogaert:
"If you're living day to day or moment to moment based on your belief that people find you attractive -- reinforced by that in this moment and not reinforced by that in the next moment -- it can be a temporary boost, but then it can be something that brings you down."
Admittedly, it's difficult to break free from needing the approval of others.
When someone tells us how attractive we are, or when we know someone finds us attractive regardless of how vocal they're being about it in that moment, it just feels so good.
But this kind of validation can be there one day and gone the next, so using it to achieve real confidence isn't necessarily the best idea.
If you remember feeling like you're an object of desire is only really important in the context of your romantic or sexual script, it won't take over your sense of self-worth in other areas of your life, like your job or your relationships with your friends and family.
Dr. Bogaert says:
"Most people want to be perceived as attractive to others, but in some sense, if that particular perception happens, great. But, you know what? It doesn't rule your life, it doesn't rule you going to the store or doing your work or whatever."
Real confidence comes from doing things that allow you to validate yourself, not from doing things that allow others to validate you -- like, for example, prancing around in lingerie in front of your boyfriend.
However, if wearing that lingerie makes you feel good about yourself, regardless of what anyone else thinks about how you look in it, then wear it.
And while you're at it, find other stuff that fulfills you from the inside out, too, like taking up a new hobby and becoming a pro at it, eating well to feel healthy, indulging in your favorite book series and wearing high-waisted shorts, even if your boyfriend hates them.
Don't base what you do on what others will think about it. Instead, base what you do on what you will think about it. When it comes to achieving real confidence, nobody's opinion matters more than yours.