“Sexy” Isn’t What You Think It Is

December 27, 2018

Growing up, I thought I’d never be sexy.

I had learned that sexy women were curvy. They had boobs. They had light skin and high cheekbones, pouty lips and straight hair. Sexy people didn’t pay for those particulars either — and if they did, they were supposed to be ashamed. Society just dictates that not everyone is allowed to be or feel sexy. It is the birthright of a select few. And with brown skin, textured hair, and no boobs to speak of, I used to believe that “sexy” had left me out of things.

I also knew that sexy women weren’t overt about their sexuality. They couldn’t be confident in it. The only exceptions were models/actresses who were following a script or being directed by a photographer. Thus, I learned that men could tell you you were sexy. They could give you permission to be sexy. But women, under no circumstances, could decide to be sexy.

We see so much of this in songs and movies where a woman doesn’t notice she’s beautiful/gorgeous/sexy until a man tells her that she is. We internalize that “sexy” has to be bestowed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s even forced upon us. Women are sexualized in the most benign contexts — like breast feeding! — because we’re so used to being told what we are.

When I wrote about performative bisexuality for Elle, Wear Your Voice, and Afropunk, so many cishet men reacted by saying that they “couldn’t help” but sexualize two women making out. Instead I wonder if they’d just gotten so used to being the identifiers of sexy, and to female sexuality belonging to them overall, that they hadn’t considered another way. Cishet men remain the identifiers of sexy when they comment on trans and gender non-conforming bodies. Those assigned female at birth, but who present as masculine, are often considered a “waste”. Those assigned male at birth, but who present as feminine, are rarely seen as real women — and certainly not permitted sexiness, even if they do.

I’m sick of it. Aren’t you?

This year, I am deciding to be sexy. I am deciding that I have always been sexy. I am deciding that sexy belongs to me, that it is bestowed upon myself by myself, and not by anyone else. Waiting to be awarded sexiness from an outside source translates to so much awkwardness in this body. It has made me feel divided from my own confidence and self-worth. It has turned the act of sex away from pleasure and into me performing sexiness, hoping that a panel of judges will say I stuck the landing. And it ultimately gives my power away to cishet men in a way I am no longer comfortable with. As I step into 2019, I no longer have space for that in my life.

I teamed up with Cameron Glover — a sex writer, educator, and podcaster — to create a free sexuality workbook. It’s 20 pages of journaling, visualization, and social media prompts to help women/femmes reclaim their sexy in 2019. We’ll be starting our new year off with this ritual but you can fill it out any time!


Will you be joining us? Connect with me on Instagram or email me at gabby [at] gabriellealexa.com to let me know!

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For any writing inquiries, brand collaboration, or speaking/hosting, you can find me at gabby [a] gabriellealexa.com!

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