Be Sexy, Not Sexual – Ya Think?

51DeDEY9d7L._SL500_AA300_Good girls are sexy, bad girls are sexual. Can that message wreck havoc on women’s sexuality?

Miss Universe can pose for Playboy, but she’d better not have sex with an actual playboy.

Sexual girls may be “sluts” and “ho’s” but all girls are bombarded by sexy-women images — that tell them what they’re supposed to look like. Combined with a high school hierarchy based on looks, the message gets thru that a woman’s worth rests largely upon her ability to attract.

Some seek confirmation that they are, indeed sexy, and therefore, “worthy” by drawing the male gaze.

Walking down the street a young woman meets male approval. Or, she may try sexting. All for his pleasure and her self-esteem.

Some have sex with men, hoping to feel beautiful. But a young woman who tries that is back to being a bad girl because now she’s sexual. Except that she’s not. She’s being sexy for someone else’s pleasure — a sex object who doesn’t enjoy sex — even as she enjoys looking good.

Kerry Cohen, psychotherapist and author of Dirty Little Secrets: Breaking the Silence on Teenage Girls and Promiscuity says,

The problem is not necessarily that girls are victims of predatory males. It’s that they are victims of very narrow definitions of sexual desirability. And in the course of confirming their desirability – and hence their worthiness – they end up completely removed from their own sexuality and experience of sexual desire.

So how can young women get in touch with their sexuality on their own terms? Dr. Cohen has some suggestions:

1. Talk about Desire. When girls ask parents how they will know they are ready to have sex, desire rarely comes up:

We tell them that sex will get in the way of their happiness and growth. We tell them they must be in love. We tell them that good sex happens only when you are in love… (We must acknowledge) that girls have sexual desire, and everything can change.

2. Talk about Outercourse. Think second and third base, she says, or phone sex, so that young women can explore and test intimacy and communicate with their partners. Plus, women get more orgasms through outercourse than intercourse, anyway.

3. Talk about Masturbation. Women need to get in touch with their own bodily pleasure. It’s hard to know what you like, or communicate what you like, unless you get know your body and how it responds.

4. Talk about Emotions. Sex and sexual feelings are too often removed from emotions in our society, says Cohen, even though they are entwined. Young people need to think about various types of sexual acts and whether they are interested in them, or even prepared for them.

It’s about time more women enjoyed sexual pleasure instead of just being sexy for someone else’s.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on May 13, 2013, in feminism, objectification, psychology, sex, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Bravo! This type of thinking is essential towards better sexuality for women.

    • A lot of people seem to feel insulted at the thought that women often feel less sexual than men, as though it’s some insult to women, yet over 40% of women experience sexual dysfunction. It’s not a problem with women’s bodies, but evidence that our society needs healing. We need to be more sex-positive toward women.

  2. Surely women do all of the things you suggest except tell anyone?

    • I guess they don’t tell men, but they do talk about it. See the “popular posts” and some of the links within the post. And check out the book I reference by the psychotherapist who deals with this problem.

  3. Great post Georgia, Kerry Cohen talks in a way that I can very much agree with. It’s great to know that there are good, wise voices out there for young people as they begin their sexual journey!

    Thanks for sharing :)

    Rohan.

  4. Love the point you make about being sexual for young women is about being sexual for male pleasure. It would be interesting to survey what parents thought about this way to educate girls into sexuality.

  5. Georgia, YES!!!! We need to be for our own pleasure, not someone else’s, unless that pleasure is mutual. Sigh. So much societal crap gets in the way of this.

  6. Angela Hughes

    I personally believe it has a lot to do with progressive westernized thinking in terms of sex. The idea of what is sexy in today’s world is far different than how it was lets say in the 1940s. If your not showing a whole lot of skin your not worth looking at. Now, although they did have pinup illustrations and other forms of sexual images of women back then, it was much more innocent. If you look at the images of “sexy” women today, they are wearing very provocative clothing and posing in ways which to the male eye would say she loves looking this way and she does it for you. In the 1940s they had pictures of naked women then as well don’t get me wrong, but it was this image of a woman being beautiful/sexy while still showing her sweet side. She is attractive but not one of “those” types of girls. Although part of the images or way of dress was to please men, it was also to feel good about yourself. I look at today and see all the progress we’ve made but I see negative setbacks that have only increased. The sexual allure of women is still promoted as always, except in the 21st century it seems to be far more promiscuous and all about appealing to the opposite sex rather than themselves. I mean think of Victoria Secret Shows. Lingerie and hosiery is a feminine necessity for the most part, but these catwalks and huge media coverage on things like VS seem to focus on what men want. There is a constant need to look appealing for others and there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel as though you can make people’s heads turn, but it should be for the right reasons. You should evaluate your look and ask yourself if you do it because you feel beautiful and empowered or just because it makes those around you stop and stare.

  7. Juan Leonardo

    I totally agree with this article. Nowadays, society has formed a new image of sexy as being a slut. Woman wearing less clothing, showing more parts of their body are being the perfext example for what people call ‘sexy’ nowadays. While the definition of ‘sexy’ itself, which is: tending to arouse sexual desire or interest, doesn’t necesserily mean slutty. This new image of sexy in the current society is double-binding women for they can only either be slutty, or not being sexually attractive. For me, being sexy is not simply achieved by wearing less clothing and showing more body parts. Instead, sexy can be shown by one’s personality. Like what the article stated, one can be sexy by talking about their emosion or sexual desire, not by being a sex object and being sexy for someone else.

  8. Elizabeth McMurray

    Dr. Cohen offers some great suggestions for talking to young women about sexuality. But I think it’s sad that many girls will be confused about sexuality well before they’re ready for the types of conversations Dr. Cohen recommends. Even baby and toddler clothes now train girls to dress in ways that attract an inappropriate gaze. In mirroring the fad of young women who wear pants with words written on the butt, some baby and toddler clothes for girls have images or words on the butt. Before they can even talk or have a say in the matter, girls end up announcing, “Hey, look at my butt!” It’s unfortunate and, if it’s a pattern that continues, it will make it very hard for young women to get in touch with their sexuality on their own terms.

  9. Haley Conroy

    I completely agree with this post. I feel like most girls/woman of not all have experienced the back lash of being ‘sexual’ versus ‘sexy’ regardless of how the term sexy is supposed to seem as a good thing, when girls stay less sexual they are tagged of the labels of being a tease. I do believe that open communication about the listed 1-4 is important to help improve the sexual experiences for woman, I’m not certain that woman will actually take action.

  10. greekatheart66@aol.com

    I loved this article. It really helped me personally to realize that sex shouldn’t just be enjoyable to men. Although women are seen as sex objects, they should be able to learn and explore their sexually just as much as men and not be looked down upon. If a man masturbates, its totally normal, but if a woman masturbates, she seen as a whore. Women aren’t allowed to be sexual because it is not in their so called nature. It is also confusing for women to see images of women on the media barely clothed and men find it attractive but women dress like that in reality they seen as whores.

  11. It depends how women think or see. Women have sex for many purposes. To feel love, happiness, may get high-self seteem or self-value, to keep a long-term relationship with loved one, or just have pleasure, etc. As dr. Cohen says, get to know ourselves, such as talk about emotions or masturbation is the best way in order to think about our sexuality in a positive way. In my opinion, women who have high-self esteem are more likely to enjoy their sexual pleasure, on the other hand, women who have low-self esteem tend to consider themselves as a sex object.

  12. Thanks for the interesting article! When I was reading this, I thought of the double-bind situation, which we have discussed a lot in class. In many relationships, girls are usually willing to do anything to satisfy their partners’ sexual desire. It’s because they fear if they cannot satisfy their boyfriend (husband), then their partners will cheat on them. (Probably!) However, if they show too much experience, that will raise the questions to their partners about their behavior in their past relationships. I also agree with Dr. Cohen’s advices. Sex to women is more about feeling than the intercourse itself. I learn this from my gf. : D

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