Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bringin' Sexy Back

Here I am, joining the Bright Maidens once again!

What is the difference between being desirable and being sexy? I make perhaps a bold statement when I say that I think these might have once had the same meaning. I propose that what we think of as “sexy” really was re-defined when the sexual revolution began.
No idea who she is, but she has "sexy hair"!

When we hear the term “sexy” today, we automatically think of Victoria’s Secret models, certain types of (usually) revealing clothing, even “sexy hair”! The key point is that when we hear the word “sexy”, our minds instantly jump to a bodily image.

Initially, this makes sense. The word sexy derives from sex, which is a physical action. Dictionary.com even agrees with me (although I think using the word in the definition is illegal... at least in the literary world):
sexy (adj):
  1. concerned predominantly or excessively with sex
  2. sexually interesting or exciting, radiating sexuality
  3. excitingly appealing
According to our present societal ideals, however, sex is only a physical action, a desire that is natural and should be embraced without regret. This liberates us all to be sexually free, because we don’t have to worry about any* consequences – emotional or physical. We can easily rip the physical bonds as we move from partner to partner, and detach from the biological purpose of the act.
*Any, excluding untreatable STIs, since you know, we’ve taken care of that whole pregnancy consequence with abortion and contraception.

But sex is also an emotional interconnectedness that you share with your partner. You’re not just becoming one physically, but you are uniting emotionally and spiritually. Sex isn’t just for pleasure, as the sexual liberation folks would have you believe. It is also unitive and procreative. When I was discussing this post with Elizabeth (good thing we get paid to work, huh?), she had this to say:
The "sexually liberated" say sex is for pleasure, and if you WANT to, sex can be for procreation... like procreation is the potential side effect. I argue that PLEASURE is the POTENTIAL side effect and that only happens if you WANT it to.
I'm pretty sure that she just took the point I was trying to make and made it ten times better, but much more succinctly, so I'll just leave it at that.

Does it seem like I’ve gone off on a tangent here? Perhaps I have, but it has a point, I promise.

This disconnect on the meaning and purpose of sex in our culture today is what leads to this distortion of what it means to be sexy. Because culture has defined sex as only a pleasurable, physical act, then being sexy can logically only be defined as being physically pleasurable to another person.

So how does being desirable differ from this? I believe that being desirable can occur on many different levels, similar to how I think being sexy used to mean so much more than it does today.

Being Physically Desirable

We, as good, modest, holy Catholic ladies can be physically desirable. Not Victoria’s Secret model desirable, but desirable nonetheless. When it comes to being physically desirable, I take a more “au naturale” approach. No, I’m not a nudist (Adam and Eve took care of that one for us). In fact, quite the opposite, as I like to be a bit more covered than the average 25 year old.

I am, however, a nudist when it comes to make-up. I don’t really like make-up, and so I don’t usually wear it (OK, to be honest, I will put on mascara about twice a month). I have had many friends – female friends! – who have told me in both subtle and abrupt ways that sometimes you have to use make-up to “snag” a man’s attention… to show him that you can be desirable. Yes, men’s brains are wired differently, but if I have to use make-up to snag a man’s attention… what will he think of me when the make-up comes off?

Wuv, twue wuv!
My goal, if I am so called, is to find a good man who is interested in a long-term kind of deal with me (yea, that whole marriage thing). I want him to be attracted – from the beginning – to natural-me. This face I wear all day looks the same in the morning when I wake up, and it looks the same when I go to bed (well, the expression on my face in the morning might be a bit different from my daily cheerful expression…). I want him to see that face and find it desirable in the morning and the evening and all day. I have actually had this conversation with quite a few men who agree with me! They don’t understand why women wear make-up, because they find their natural beauty so much more desirable.

I do not mean to imply that every woman who wears make-up is trying to be “sexy” or catch a man. I know many women who wear make-up because they say it makes them feel beautiful. At the same time, I know and have known women who will not go out of the house unless they’ve “put on their face”… they won’t even let their boyfriends see them without make-up. I am not present in each of these women’s minds, so I cannot say if their intention is to be desirable or to be sexy, but I think this idea reflects societal pressure to always have on our "game-faces".

Being Intellectually Desirable

I think part of why I do not personally wear make-up is because I want to be intellectually desirable to men. I don’t just want to be someone he likes to look at all day long! I want to be the kind of person with whom a man would want to have in-depth conversations – yes, even arguments heated discussions! I want a man to desire my mind, not just what I have to physically offer.

I see you reading on the bus, you sexy thang!
As a woman who holds a graduate degree in a scientific field, I can say with experience that sometimes my intellect can be very off-putting to men. I'm not really sure if they find my mind threatening to them personally, or if they've just never met a girl with brains before, but they have definitely not found me intellectually desirable. I have been at the receiving end of sexist comments from men in my area of study because of my mind (let’s just say that this girl was the only one from the chemistry department to graduate Summa cum laude in 2009… which shut down those comments pretty quickly). At the same time, I have had many male friends who don't seem to be deterred at all (maybe their mommas are super smart?!), and we've had excellent intellectual discussions.

I don't mean to imply that men are smarter than women in most cases. In fact, quite the contrary. Men and women are just different. Physically. Emotionally. Intellectually. We were created to be that way, so that we complement each other. I am attracted to men, even if it is just a friends-only attraction, who challenge me intellectually, and I want to feel the same in return. I want men to feel intellectually stimulated by me. I want to be intellectually desirable - intellectually "sexy". Yet, my intellect is not physical. Nor is my heart, my thoughts, my quick witted humor, or my feelings, for that matter. We have to come to a realization that we are not just longing for certain things physically, but also emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

Two Roads Diverged

This is where being sexy has lost meaning. To be desirable is to be wanted, to be pleasing, to arouse a longing, to stimulate some sense or feeling within a person. It does not have to be a physical wanting, pleasure, longing, or stimulation. It can be a desire for my body or my mind, my heart, my cute morning facial expressions - everything that makes me ME. Men can be attracted to these things with their bodies... but also with their hearts and minds and everything else that makes them men. However, society has decided that sex, and thus sexy, is all about the physical pleasure. 

So here is my challenge to society. Since it's hip to re-define things these days, let's re-re-define "sexy". Let's take sexy from a one-dimensional definition and add back in the emotional, spiritual, mental, and personal levels to sexy. Let's do a re-make of Justin Timberlake's song and bring sexy back... but for real this time.


  1. Great post! You write about so many different aspects so wonderfully!

    Very intrigued to read your make-up part. I'm one of those ladies who doesn't leave the house without it!

  2. Brilliant! I second Trista's comment! I love how you broke this down.

    I agree... most men wouldn't know it if a woman was wearing make up or not. Sometimes we dress up and "get pretty" for other women. It's our competitive side. I bet a man would be able to tell the difference between fresh face and Lady Gaga face, but it would be tough for him to distinguish between fresh face and mascara and lip gloss face.

    I wear make up because I think it makes me look better, which makes me hold my head up higher. Perhaps that's a chink in my armor.

  3. I like this. Especially at my age, we need to hear that a) Sexy isn't everything, and b) Sexy isn't just what the world says it is. I do occasionally like to wear make up, but I still break out, so it really just aggravates my skin.

    I'm a lot like you (only definitely not graduating summa cum laude with a science degree!), because guys usually find my intellect and my faith intimidating. It's the cross of a good woman to have to bear with the tides of life until she meets a man worthy of her. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

  4. @Trista - thank you! I hope the make up part read ok - I wrote it as a commentary more on why we wear make up, so I hope it didn't read as a critique! Even I put on make up (once a month, maybe) to feel beautiful for something special.

    @E - I think I agree with you. Men might notice a short skirt or low-cut top, but they really can't tell the difference between a made up face and a natural one, for the most part. I think we do a lot of this because we care what other women think - because women notice more than men! I think Jen at NCR wrote about this awhile back, and how modesty helps women's friendships become so much stronger, because they lose that competitive edge, for the most part.

    @Christina - I hear you - I really hate foundation because I think it causes more break outs than it hides (and I still break out too - thank the Lord for modern medicine!). And I can't see at all how men would find your intellect intimidating... not at all... people find you intimidating? Nope, not at all ;) Keep telling yourself that - that's what I tell myself too, and I think it's true.

  5. Great post! Desirability is NOT merely physical, but intellectual, spiritual, etc.

    *I especially liked your sexy librarian pin. Much appreciated.


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