Should we want to be sexy?

September 19, 2007 | Uncategorized | 23 comments

Literacy-chic of the great blog Words, Words recently had yet another post that really got me thinking. In reference to a commentor who claimed that some breastfeeding mothers don’t value their bodies, she writes:

We feel the need to operate within this “sexy-not-mommy, ” “mommy-not-sexy” dichotomy that exists in society…To put it bluntly: breastfeeding breasts can still be sexy, and breastfeeding moms can still have sexy thoughts about their breasts.

I actually started leaving a comment to jump into the debate about whether or not breastfeeding moms can also be sexy, but as I typed a thought struck me: do I even think that being sexy is a worthy goal? I’d never really thought about it before. I’ve groused around on this blog about how our society over-values sexiness, but I’d never stopped to ask if there’s anything valuable about being sexy.

I mulled it over as I went through my afternoon, asking myself if I think that we women should ever want to be sexy. And I surprised myself when I came up with the answer: no, I don’t think we should. I think it’s beneath us.

The way I’ve come to see it, if someone finds you sexy it’s a euphemistic way of saying they see you as an object of lust. I think we’ve been misled to desire to be sexy by our contraceptive culture, which believes that sex is mainly about surface-level pleasure and only very rarely about creating new souls (but you already know that, since I’m always boring on about it, as I did here and here). 🙂 I offer the video below as an example of what I think we women should strive for in terms of physical attractiveness. Of course we want to be visually appealing in one way or another — it’s hardwired into our natures. But there are plenty of ways to do that, as women almost always have up until the present era, that preserve our great dignity as women, humans, and children of God. The women in this video are beautiful. They’re lovely, feminine, graceful and elegant — but they are not sexy. Such an adjective seems far too base, and borders on insulting.

Anyway, this is actually a new thought for me and I was kind of surprised to find myself coming to this conclusion, so I thought I’d throw it out there for comments: is being sexy a worthy goal, or does it devalue us as women? Should we ever want to be sexy?

(Thanks again to Literacy-chic for the great post that got me thinking about this in the first place!)

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UPDATE: I just realized that I have been misspelling Literacy-chic’s name for months. The first time I saw it I misread it as Literary-chic and that just stuck. SO sorry!

23 Comments

  1. Veronica Mitchell

    I don’t think this is a worthwhile discussion until we define our terms. What do you mean by “sexy”? How is it different from “attractive”?

  2. Jennifer F.

    I think of “sexy” as placing a high emphasis on the body (as opposed to the face or overall person), in particular for the purpose of being overtly sexually appealing.

    Think of the way modern celebrities dress — that’s what I consider “sexy”. Think of the way our great-grandmothers dressed — that’s what I think of as being pretty, beautiful, etc. but not sexy.

    “Attractive” is a weird word since it could imply *sexual* attraction. I just couldn’t think of a better word that didn’t also have a sexual connotation. I’ll update the post if I can think of a better one. 🙂

  3. Jessica

    Hmmm . . . a thought-provoking post from a thought-provoking post – I like it!

    Actually, when you frame the question that way, I’d still answer, “Yes, I want to be sexy.” But with this cavaet: I want to be sexy in one particular set of circumstances: when I’m alone with my husband. With him, at an appropriate place in an appropriate time, I’m all for being “overtly sexually appealing”.

    I think the problem comes about when people do “sexy” outside of their martial bedrooms. It’s an appropriate thing to want to be, but only in an appropriate situation. No one should be sexy all the time for the simple reason that no one is having sex all the time.

    But people get confused and try to do sexy in public. SEX IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT. I don’t know why people don’t get that. 🙂

    peace of Christ to you,
    Jessica Snell

    p.s. Breastfeeding isn’t a spectator sport either, but I think it’s entirely appropriate in public, because it’s eating, and eating has always been a public matter. (Unlike sex.) I do think our culture has a problem with realizing that breasts are both sexual and maternal, and, honestly, I think this has a lot to do with the way our society tries to divorce sex and procreation. If we realized that the one led to the other, we’d realize that breasts can serve a dual (but related) purpose.

  4. Ragamuffin

    I’m not sure I agree. Finding your wife sexually attractive (i.e. “sexy”) is not equated to lust or being treated as an object. Yes, I think my wife is pretty, beautiful and so on. But I also think she is sexy and have no problem describing it in that manner.

  5. Jennifer F.

    I’d still answer, “Yes, I want to be sexy.” But with this cavaet: I want to be sexy in one particular set of circumstances: when I’m alone with my husband.

    You know, when I hear this, my first thought is to think, “Yes. That sounds right.” ……But let me play devil’s advocate for a sec: does that not perhaps lead us down a slippery slope of objectifying ourselves, even within marriage, and placing undue emphasis on raw physical attractiveness?

    Let me tell you why I throw that out: recently I talked to a good friend who has a toddler and a newborn. She was talking about how much she loves her children, likes being pregnant, etc. so I asked if she thinks she’ll have any more children. She quickly answered “no”. When I asked why she said that she has a hard time losing weight after pregnancy and already has too many stretch marks. She said she hates for her husband to see her undressed because of her thighs and the sagging skin and stretch marks on her stomach. When I asked if this was the only reason they weren’t going to have any more children she said that it’s 90% of the reason.

    If that were an isolated incident I’d blow it off, but I have heard that kind of mindset really frequently, the idea that looking hot is more important than bringing new life into the world — and I myself used to subscribe to it.

    Anyway, what do you think about that? Can wanting to be sexy lead down a dangerous road, even in marriage?

  6. Bob Catholic

    I agree with ragamuffin: the context is essential in this discussion. I find my wife, breastfeeding mother of five, extremely sexy. And, me thinks, God likes it that way! 🙂

    I think JP2 makes a similar point in his discussion on the theology of the body!

    BUT thanks for the post!

  7. Joshie

    I think we need to take this conversation back one step mentally…and I think it is because the word “sexy” in modern jargon equates with lust and the act of sex- whether in or out of marriage. The real question I see here is how should a woman present herself; whether single or married; in essence- how is the good and beauty of the female body (and person) to be displayed? What’s the purpose of the female body…a sign of the call to union, to love- with man but ultimately between mankind (the Church) and God. A woman should want to reveal THAT with how she dresses and presents herself. We want to avoid any presentation that invites making the body (and thus the person) and object to be used for sexual pleasure and not a person to be loved. That can get tricky when it comes to erotic love in marriage…I still haven’t read Benedict’s XVI document on erotic love- but that may help.

  8. Abigail

    “Sexy” in a sacramental marriage? Hmmm.. You know, I wouldn’t like it if my husband called me “sexy.” Instead, he tells me that I’m beautiful. Since I’ve gone through four pregnancies and now have stretch marks & and a sagging belly, that is something I need to hear repeated when we are alone a lot. “Beautiful” is an attainable standard for me. I can hit it with a smile for him in the morning with yet unbrushed teeth, or in my favorite pair of heels on movie night. Beautiful is about being cherished and uniquely yourself. I’ll leave the “sexy” label for misguided 19 year olds.

  9. Ouiz

    Good question, and one I’m sure I’ll be pondering for quite awhile, but I’d have to say my first reaction is like Jessica’s — that is, I’d reserve that adjective for a specific place and time (that being with my husband in an appropriate setting). He already thinks I’m beautiful, and already cherishes me and shows how much he loves me throughout the day… but that little extra ‘something’ is quite appropriate, I think, in a marriage.

    Just my two cents!

  10. Literacy-chic

    Not to quibble over terms, but would it change any if we used the term “sensual” instead? “Sensual” is about the self, whereas “sexy” is about the spectator (arguably). Great; now I need to rewrite my post! 😉 But it might not make any difference to you either way–what do you think? Can breastfeeding breasts be sensual–that is, be part of the overall attractiveness and enjoyment of conjugal pleasure between husband and wife, especially for the wife? (as long as nipple soreness, etc., are not issues) Thanks for calling me on this, btw. It is tricky using terms that have been so degraded by common usage that they communicate too much and too little simultaneously! Better not to be complacent with language use!

  11. Melanie B

    It seems that everyone agrees that lust is a sin, even between husband and wife.

    The debate is really semantic. People seem to disagree not whether sexual desire is proper in a marital relationship and only within a marital relationship but whether the word “sexy” necessarily has connotations of lust? For some commenters, it seems the answer seems to be yes, for others no.

    I bounce back and forth on that one. Maybe the confusion over the meaning of the word merely reflects the more general confusion about sexuality in our culture. When we don’t have clear ideas it’s hard to have clear language and vice versa.

  12. Jessica

    Well, I’m sure that being sexy, even in marriage, could lead down a slippery slope . . . because EVERYTHING can lead down a slippery slope. 🙂

    But when the “sexy” stuff between husband and wife is held in the context of their loving, godly relationship, I really think it’s a good thing. (For one thing, to put it as delicately as possible, if a husband isn’t turned on by his wife, no babies are going to be made.)

    The Proverbs say something along the lines of “may the breasts of your wife intoxicate you always”. Through pregnancy and past childbirth, I imagine. But . . . “intoxicate”. I think that we were made to absolutely delight in each other’s bodies. Not to be obsessed with, as our culture seems to want us to be. But, in the moment, when making love to our spouse is exactly what we ought to be doing, I think we ought to be doing it whole-heartedly, and whole-bodily.

    I think “sexy” gets its bad connotation because our culture takes something that should be private and occasional (that is, at the proper occasion) and makes it public and constant. I don’t think it’s bad in and of itself. Sex doesn’t work unless it is, at least for a moment, physical and overwhelming.

    I guess I just don’t see avoiding “sexy” because it might be dangerous in some marriages. If it becomes dangerous, or looks like it’s going to, then you deal with it. It’s like eating. Eating could lead to gluttony, but we don’t avoid it for that reason. Avoiding it is a different sin, eh?

    Anyway, that’d be my immediate response to that question. I’m sure I’ll keep thinking about it though!

    peace of Christ to you,
    Jessica Snell

  13. Peter

    Great to see you tackle thinking about such a topic Jen. A word of warning though, when I posted on “Sexy Motherhood” (http://cumgranosalis70.blogspot.com/2007/05/sexy-motherhood.html) the rating of my blog went right up to “R18+” and I started to get some hits from fairly dubious google searches.

    Nevertheless, we can’t abandon this precious gift to the abuses of it. Keep thinking and posting my friend!

  14. Anna

    Jen F,

    My own take on this: “All things in moderation – including sexiness”.

    I once took a college class on the history of African-American music. They showed a video of some tribal African music (showing the roots of African-American music), talked about how it always went along with dancing and movement, etc. One small aside during the movie pointed out that the young African women danced in ways that were intended to be sexy, in order to attract men to court them.

    I always thought our society lost out by being so hung-up on sex that this might seem like a morally bad thing. (Remnants of Puritan theology, anyone?)

    There’s a balance to be maintained. The purpose of being sexy (instead of just beautiful) is to attract potential mates. If you’re already married, being sexy in public may not be terribly appropriate. (But maybe if you’re on a date with your husband it still is?) If you aren’t married, being sexy in public ought to be socially recognized as seeking courtship. Of course, we don’t think that way, because we, societally speaking, dumped courtship in favor of sleeping with anyone who looks good, so that sexiness becomes a way to attract a sex partner instead of a way to attract a spouse (i.e. someone who will love you even when you’re not sexy), thus demeaning both ourselves and any innate goodness to sexiness.

  15. Devin Rose

    I don’t like using the word “sexy” when I speak with my wife because of the lustful connotations, so I instead tell my wife that I find her very “alluring”.

  16. Literacy-chic

    Of course, there is the tendency for “being sexy in public” to mean “trampy,” “trashy,” “slutty,” “skanky” or whatever your derogatory adjective of the day happens to be. Notice that guys don’t have this problem. By invoking “sensual,” I was trying to suggest something internal–a feeling–rather than external–a look or (artificial?) act. How we dress is something different, in my mind. I like the term “alluring,” but it still focuses on the external (which can be good in some contexts, as you suggest!). I really liked this comment:

    The Proverbs say something along the lines of “may the breasts of your wife intoxicate you always”. Through pregnancy and past childbirth, I imagine. But . . . “intoxicate”. I think that we were made to absolutely delight in each other’s bodies. Not to be obsessed with, as our culture seems to want us to be. But, in the moment, when making love to our spouse is exactly what we ought to be doing, I think we ought to be doing it whole-heartedly, and whole-bodily.

    Right on! 😉

  17. Emily (Laundry and Lullabies)

    I find myself agreeing with Jessica and Chez Ouiz on this one. “Sexy” as a term may just be too loaded given our culture, but sexual delight within the context of marriage – I can’t see how that is anything other than a very good thing.

    Perhaps “sensual” IS the better word – not quite so loaded? (Although I’m not sure I agree with literacy-chic’s assessment of sensual being about self vs. sexy being about an observer.)

    I find it interesting, Jen, that the video you posted as an example of “not sexy” includes artwork that (in it’s original form) is HIGHLY sensual.

    Today’s Hollywood-esque sexuality is over-the-top and (as Jessica noted) quite public and constant. It is not to be emulated. But for my husband, in our home, in our bedroom, I want to be just as sexually appealing as Venus and Aphrodite.

  18. lyrl

    My husband is an architect, and in college I spent a significant amount of time with architectural students. They commonly refer to architectural features (like, say a particular spiral staircase) as “sexy”. It doesn’t have to do with wanting to have sexual relations with the object, it’s a way to describe a kind of sleekness, a sensuality (to steal literacychic’s word).

    By contrast, I do NOT consider sexy to be a woman who wears shorts so tiny her cheeks hang out, or a skirt so small she can’t bend over modestly, or is showing cleavage you could drive a bus through. This kind of sleazy display does not have the smooth sensual appeal of a nicely-done spiral staircase 😉

    Sorry I don’t have any thoughts on the actual question of the post, but I thought it might help to explore a little more the depths of the confusion over the definition word “sexy”.

  19. Jocelyne

    Great discussion!

    Do I want to be sexually attractive? Yes, but only to one person, and not too much at this point, as we’re not married and are both committed to staying chaste. 😉

    But in general, I have no interest in being perceived as “hot” by the various men I encounter in my daily life. I try to dress both modestly and attractively, and not in order to inspire lust.

    Good men who are trying to remain chaste appreciate this.

  20. Maria

    Yes, I think we should want to be “sexy” or “sensual” or whatever term we want to use. God created us as embodied souls, and we just can’t ignore our bodies as if they weren’t a real part of our personhood. Further, God spefically created our bodies in as sexual way, as male and female. Rigt from the beginning, we’re clearly told:

    “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” (Gn. 1:27)

    So as we read that God created us in His image, we also read that we are created as male and female. This means that somehow in our sexual complementarity, we image God. God stamped a sign of Himself right into our bodies by creating us as male and female, as sexual beings. This image of God we reflect is the mystery of the Trinity, of God’s nature as a life-giving Communion of Persons. Our sexual complementarity allows us to form a life-giving communion of persons that is meant to be a visible sign of God’s nature as Trinity. Sexual intercourse itself makes visible in our physical word a sign of God’s supernatural mystery of the Trinity. We often think that we image God through our reason and our will, but we also essentially image God in our sexuality.

    The image of God as Trinity is revealed through our bodies in sexual intercourse (within marriage obviously). I think we should therefore want our bodies to be sexually appealing to our spouse. Sexual appeal is part of our bodies’ created purpose.

    Of course, our society has gone so far of the reservation on this issue, that most folks haven’t the foggiest idea what sex really means or what it is about. Most want to be sexy for all the wrong reasons. But I think it is important that we shouldn’t deny or diminish the goodness of our sexuality because it has become a source of sin. Instead we should strive even more deeply to live out our sexuality in the way God created us to do so. This is a much harder task, of course, than just deciding to ditch the “sexy thing,” but one certainly worth striving towards.

  21. Kristen

    Not to throw this very fascinating question off to a theological tangent…but…

    man and woman together are supposed to image the Trinity…so there is a relationship in the theological sense between our sexuality and Eucharistic union. So, “sexy” or “sensual” should probably also include a spiritual or emotional component to truly embody the mystery of God’s love within marriage.

    I’ve been married for a long time now, and I was surprised to discover that a long discussion between my husband and I on spiritual or intellectual topics strengthens my “unitive” feelings toward him in such a way that it is similar to sensuality.

    Just because sex is all about the physical in Hollywood is no reason for us to truncate our experience of intimacy as the supernatural reality that it can be.

    I’m not suggesting that we float, nor do I have Gnostic ideas about foreplay. But I’m just saying that I feel more complete in a spiritual sense in loving union with my husband, and I think that is as God intended.

  22. Maria

    Kristen, I totally agree. Sex without a spiritual component is lacking. But we were also created as physical beings so we shouldn’t downplay that aspect of sexuality either. Both need to be rightly included and cherished. Our society errs in one way by overplaying the phsyical, but we should be careful that our reaction to this error is not a dismissal of the phsycial, but a correction of the emphasis put on it.

  23. David

    I ran across this article because a friend of mine who actually is your #1 fan posted this ecard on facebook: “Than God said let there sexy intelligent awesome people. So he made the Irish”. I understand that this is a joke but it really bothered me that my friend would actually see sexy as being a good attribute. It rubbed me the wrong way so I wrote her and tried to explain it to her.

    I finally sent her this article which she said she already read and said she agrees. That for some reason the word didn’t register the sensitivity it should have in the someecard she shared. I had already signed up to someecard and made a new card with the word beautiful instead of sexy in it.She posted that card. This article said what I was saying to her.

    People must ask themselves would you like someone to say your sexy or your beautiful. You have a sexy body or you have a beautiful body. For some reason I don’t cringe when I hear the word beautiful body but I do when I hear the words sexy body. Sexy separates the dignity of the person from the act of sex and focuses on just sex for the sake of sex. Beautiful focuses on the whole person.

    I looked up sexy in etymological dictionary and the word came about in the early 20th century. Around the time oral contraception was first being introduced into our society.Originally “engrossed in sex;” sense of “sexually attractive” is 1923, first in reference to Valentino. An earlier word in this sense was sexful. Sound likes useful. Look at valentino’s movies. Not good. You even can find lesbian scenes in his movies.

    I than wondered about the term sex in and of itself. Does the word sex conjure up something similar to the word sexy. Does the word sex make you think of just the act of having intercourse? Does it speak to a deeper meaning behind the act of intercourse? What about the word conjugal act or conjugate? Conjugate from the 1520 means to yoke together. Isn’t that better than using the word sex. Let’s see what the word sex means and when it came into use. Males or females collectively,” from Latin sexus “state of being either male or female, gender.” “Commonly taken with seco as division or ‘half’ of the race” [Tucker], which would connect it to secare “to divide or cut” (see section). Meaning “quality of being male or female” first recorded 1520s. Meaning “sexual intercourse” first attested 1929 (in writings of D.H. Lawrence); meaning “genitalia” is attested from 1938 It doesn’t say anything about yoking together. The emphasis is on division. The emphasis is on sex. The word sex meaning sexual intercourse came into use when early 20th century 1929 1938.

    Look at the films that were playing in the 20’s and 30’s. That was when the so called sexual revolution really began. When we moved from yoking together with the other to section off divide one another. Why the emphasis on male female into sections. The two shall become one flesh. I think this might pertain to what Kristen said about it being spiritual. The word sex seems to only focus on the bodily act and not the spiritual as does the word conjugate or intercourse. Words mean things and they influence us whether we are aware of it or not.

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