Further thoughts on feeling sexy. And also on dating.

Nessie Monster‘s comment on my post about what it means to me to feel sexy helped to alter my approach to the topic just enough to have a bit of a break-through on it. Her perspective also focused on the performativity of sexiness, but does so in a way that just made things click. The key phrase for me is “feeling desired”. I kind of touched on the desire to feel desire in my post as as well, in discussing how important people’s visceral sexual reactions can be to me – just being told that I am am sexy/attractive generally doesn’t get through to me unless the person giving the compliment backs their claim up with evidence of arousal/genuine desire (which can take many, many forms, but it is pretty essential to me.)

My big realization, though, was that I only genuinely feel desired these days when I am actively participating in the creation of the desire. If someone happens to find me attractive when I have not intended to be attractive to that person, it’s not much of an ego boost to me. I don’t even really feel like their attraction under those circumstances has anything to do with me, per se; it has to do with what they see me as, which is often distinctly different from my own perception of myself. When strangers flirt with me, I am always confused as to what they think they see in me, and I’m certain that they’re mistaken, that I’m not what they think they want.

This might itself still be a confidence issue, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just a desire for a greater degree of control over my sexiness, in some way. Because when people respond to intentional actions (including more passive actions such as presenting in a certain way) on my part that express myself sexually, it can be the biggest charge ever. I imagine that some people feel a certain amount of power in being able to unintentionally turn people on; but I only get that feeling when it’s intentional. And I don’t think that’s really a problem.

Except that, well, at it’s heart, I think that this construction of feeling sexy still rests in a lack of self-confidence. I need to be deliberately involved in stoking someone’s desire for me in order to actually believe that what they desire is actually *me*, and not some other idea they’re using me to approximate. And I don’t know where that self-doubt is coming from. Certainly having spent so many years on dating sites hasn’t helped – the number of people (usually) make who zero in on one or two of my (usually physical) characteristics and show zero interest in me beyond that is depressing to say the least. And even with the people who seem more genuinely interested in the whole person that I am, I am frequently disappointed by the goal-oriented trajectory of dating-type relationships. I thrive on more open and organic modes of meeting and getting to know people, where no one has a primary goal for what the relationship will settle into, or whether it will necessarily include sex.

And I’ve been struggling to find expectation- and goal-free places to seek new relationships that still carry the possibility of romance (since, for instance, developing relationships with straight women would remove that pressure to state immediately whether this was leading to sex, but also remove the possibility that mutual attraction and/or romance could develop). Why must I know when I meet someone new into which category they are going to fall?

I’m not even sure why these things (the things that do and do not make me feel sexy, and my frustrations with dating) are related enough to have talked about them both here in this way. These have just been things I’ve stumbling over pretty constantly for quite a while, with no apparent solutions in sight.

Bleh. I’ll get back to more intellectual and less intensely personal stuff soon, I promise.


  1. Intensely personal is okay! Working out and articulating these types of feelings is an accomplishment in itself.

  2. This is a really interesting topic, thanks for discussing it so personally. I totally relate to feeling great about being sexually desired as long as you intended it that way, and also about mistrusting attraction that comes out of the blue. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to me that people like me for the reasons that I like myself, in general and not just sexually. If someone likes me for qualities that I value and enjoy about myself, that creates a deeper sense of connection, whereas if someone likes me for things I don’t value about myself, or even things I dislike and want to change, that creates a sense of discord and discomfort. There’s a tremendous value in feeling like the person you’re with sees and likes not only you, but the best version of you, the you you most want to continue being.

    So, if I’m trying to look sexy and someone sees me as sexy, I assume that means they find the same things about me sexy that I do; it means that, going forward, they’ll continue to enjoy seeing the kind of sexy I enjoy performing, and that they’re attracted to the sexy-me that I feel most comfortable being. Whereas, if I’m not trying to be sexy and someone sees me as sexy, I have to wonder where that’s coming from: what about me is appealing to them right now, and is it something that I like about myself or something I dislike? Or worse, something I don’t even feel is part of me at all, but that they’re projecting? If someone is generally attracted to femininity, we’re not a good match, as I don’t feel comfortable performing femininity… but maybe they saw something about me in a particular moment that struck them as sexy-feminine, and that’s what they’re responding to. If so, that’s a fluke, and not an indication that we’re going to enjoy connecting sexually further on.

    1. Oh wow! I’m glad it’s not just me that makes those kinds of distinctions :)

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective! It really helps me to work through all of the thoughts and feelings I’m having on the topic.

  3. Heyy, I’m glad I tripped a few thoughts. Better understanding is always good. :)

    I think your need to be actively creating desire in someone else so that you can be sure it’s actually yourself they’re interested in, not some construct they’ve made based on appearance alone, makes perfect sense. It would seem to be a very easy way to spot/exclude those who aren’t actually interested in the real you. Especially in the context of online dating. You have to do a lot of searching amongst the chaff for the wheat in there.

    I had another thought about self-confidence and sexiness the other night. I was reading a bit of the Hite report and one comment was from a woman who said that to have penetrative sex fulfilled her higher purpose as a woman. That made me so sad – does she really think her gender only has value to the degree it lets her meet the sexual desires of men? That must lead to so much missed richness in life.

    Anyway, that led to the thought that if ‘feeling sexy’ according to the mainstream understanding of it (ie the ability to spark desire in others, intentionally or not) is to be such a huge part of your ‘self-confidence’, how can you really be self-confident? You’re fundamentally setting your own value according to someone else’s outside valuation, which you don’t have any real control over, so how can it really be your own? I would’ve thought that self-confidence by definition has to come from within, from your own sense of how you measure up by the values you hold most dear. This is even more important when the things that constitute ‘sexiness’ are set primarily by outside forces. If you hold sexiness as an important value and you swallow whole the imagery that the dominant culture provides for it, you’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable position because they can change it at any time.

    The only ways I can see around this are either to a) create a new image of sexy that is actually in line with what you consider most attractive in other people or b) decide that you’re not going to put your self worth in someone else’s opinion of you, which is really hard to do!

  4. Thought provoking and appreciated. I rarely even think about feeling sexy or perceive others as sexy – in the traditional sense of the word. I think the connotations growing up around sexiness and objectification have tainted me. So now I look for a whole person with whom I am attracted on all levels and hope for others to perceive me the same.

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