The word “sexy” has been used for so many different purposes, it’s almost polarizing (and still makes me cringe when I say it). For one example, “sexy” used to be a bad thing. If you were sexy, you couldn’t also be smart, accomplished, and kind; your one goal or gift was to seduce and be ogled (the horror!). It often came with “too” in front of it: a “too sexy” skirt hem stopped boys from being able to focus in school (how dare we!?), and a woman who was “too sexy” was a danger to all women everywhere. What a load of bullsh*t, huh? No wonder many women have a complicated relationship with the word “sexy” and our own sexualities.
Sans oppressing cultural standards, “sexy” actually means something very different. It’s not an item of clothing or a label that puts us into a box. Instead, it’s a badge of honor to describe a powerful energy we all have within us. I know what you’re thinking: how do you become more sensual to both yourself and potential partners? “Sexy” isn’t just Beyoncé’s Partition music video, Princess Leia’s costume (you know the one), or Dua Lipa’s hot AF performance at The Grammys (although those all definitely can be if they do it for you). So what does “being sexy” mean today? Spoiler alert: it’s a lot simpler (and hotter) than we originally thought when reading through Cosmopolitan in eighth grade.
Embracing what’s pleasurable to you
What’s pleasurable for you is different than what’s pleasurable for anyone else. Also, pleasure is not just about an orgasm or what happens in the bedroom. “What’s beautiful about pleasure is that it’s so subjective,” explained Hani Avital, the founder of female sensuality empowerment platform, Sheelah, to S Life Magazine. “Pleasure is anything that makes you feel turned on and more alive. It can even be having five minutes to yourself as a new mom… is it sexual? No. But this accumulates pleasure, and it ultimately helps you feel more turned on and alive.”
News flash: foreplay is not just the 30 minutes before intercourse. It’s something that can go on all day, every day: how we choose to dress, what we eat, how we enjoy our morning coffee, the way we interact with others, and how we kiss our significant others good morning or look at ourselves in the mirror. To enhance and tap into your sexual energy, focus on pleasure throughout your life, and identify what’s pleasurable for you, rather than for your significant other, best friend, or anyone else.
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Getting comfortable talking about sex
Bottom line: talking about sex should feel comfortable. Many women struggle with various factors of sex and sexuality (62 percent of women are not satisfied with their sex life, while as many as 75 percent of women experience pain during sex), but we’re not talking about it enough. Maybe you worry about feeling ashamed or uncomfortable vocalizing what you do or don’t like to partners. Talking about sex and being comfortable communicating is not only crucial for your own pleasure, but is crucial for other women too. The more we normalize women as sexual beings (did you learn about the G-spot in sex ed? Cause I sure didn’t), it’s subconsciously encouraging other women to explore and take ownership in what pleasure looks like to them too.
Oh, and being comfortable talking about sex doesn’t have to mean telling your social circle about your latest sexapades or writing an article like this one that you know your grandma will read (it’s taken me quite a while to get up the courage to publicly write and talk about sexuality). Instead, it could mean openly communicating what you want with your partner, comfortably exploring sexuality within yourself, or even sharing an insecurity with someone you trust. After all, what’s sexier than a self-assured woman vocalizing her needs?
Making sex less goal-oriented
Yes, there is a huge orgasm gap, and yes, you deserve to orgasm as often as you want. But we often hype up the climax so much (I mean, it is called “the climax”) that many women struggle to get there because of the pressure to achieve it. More importantly, sex turns into another thing to fit in like an item on a to-do list, whether it’s trying to squeeze in a “round” after the kids go to bed or wanting to get to the “end-goal” as quickly as possible during a ménage à moi. Making sexuality goal-oriented turns sex into a finish line instead of exploring all the facets of you and the pleasure potential you have yet to unlock. Focus on your body without having a goal in mind. Give yourself time to explore or take time with your partner to play around. You won’t even care as much about the destination if you really enjoyed the journey, right?
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Taking care of your body
Sex, pleasure, intimacy–it’s all just ways of focusing energy on the body, rather than what we usually put our energy into (AKA the mind). Anything that brings love, attention, and energy into the body and out of the overthinking, to-do list-making mind can increase sensuality. “We become very detached from our bodies, and sensations can become dulled through everyday life and stressful situations,” explained Karen Beale, PhD, professor of psychology and certified sex educator. “It is very important to exercise (go on walks, stretch, etc.), as well as be in touch with how our bodies are feeling at any moment. When we are in touch with our bodies, we start treating them better and start feeling better in them. That sensuality translates to sexuality.”
In other words, eat nutritious foods, move your body often, and rest: not out of dislike for the way your body is (AKA not to look differently), but because you love your body so much that you want to give it the best. “Sexiness starts with feeling healthy, eating well, drinking water, getting enough sleep, and cultivating enriching relationships,” agreed Ailsa Keppie, somatic sex educator and intimacy coach. In other words, think of sensuality as an important piece of self-care. Not only is sex good for your health, but being healthy is good for sexuality.
Turning yourself on
Did anyone else learn that being “turned on” always comes from an external source? For example, you believe it’s a partner’s job to turn you on, or you need something like porn or an episode of Bridgerton to get you in the mood. No shame if Regé-Jean Page does it for you (same), and you absolutely should be intimate with people who care about your pleasure. But let me introduce you to a revolutionary concept: arousal and desire come from within, not from an external source. This is good news, ladies: we have the power to take control of our bodies, desire, and arousal.
“Being sexy comes from the inside,” explained Irene Fehr, MA, CPCC, certified sex and intimacy coach. “Women know this intuitively. When we’re experiencing pleasure in our bodies, we feel sexy. We relax, and the lights go on in our bodies.” In other words, being “turned on” is not something that happens to you; it comes from within you. To turn yourself on, live your life in a more pleasurable state (see above), get to know what makes you feel good, and (just as a bonus) never forget to check yourself out when you pass by mirrors, knowing “sexy” comes from you.
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Being in the moment
Raise your hand if you’ve ever mentally gone through your to-do list or checked the clock to see how late it’s getting during sex. Everyone? OK great. As normal as it is, the key to tapping into your “sexy” energy is being present in the moment. Get out of your head and back into your body by indulging in the senses. Noticing what you smell (a lit candle or massage oil), see (bonus points if it’s your own bad self), hear (music, the rain outside, etc.), or taste (let your imagination run with this one) will help you stay present to get the focus back on how you feel. In fact, Keppie defines “sexy” very simply: being in the moment. “It’s that feeling of embodied aliveness in your body as you bring awareness to your pleasure.”
You can (and should!) practice scent-focused mindfulness outside of the bedroom. Being present as much as possible will build sensuality overall, so start being more aware of each of your senses in every moment throughout the day. “Our bodies are sensual pleasure machines,” Fehr explained. “All it takes is slowing down and being in the moment. Enjoy the hot water in the shower, mindfully taste your cup of tea, sensually touch your own body–all just because it feels good.”
Loving your body
PSA: how much pleasure you feel (and deserve) has absolutely nothing to do with your pants size or breakouts on your face. However, it has everything to do with how you feel about your pants size and breakouts on your face. It’s no surprise that confidence correlates to sexy, but it’s not just about how you come off to other people: loving your body increases your pleasure too. “Being sexy is more than just an action or how you come off to others,” Dr. Beale explained. “It is about the confidence that comes from within; the confidence that comes with knowing who you are as a sexual being.”
If you judge your body for not looking like J.Lo’s or don’t think you have as much body-confidence as Lizzo, don’t worry. It’s not as much about loving the way your body looks (although you should actively, passionately, and unapologetically work on that too). Instead, it’s about loving what your body can do, knowing that it deserves pleasure, and trusting your body wants the best for you (like, IDK, unlimited orgasms). Otherwise, if you’re not “being sexy” for your body, what’s the point?
What does being “sexy” mean to you?