On Sexiness

5 05 2011

I get a lot of grief from people regarding my attitude about sex.  I claim to not like it.  Really, if you think about it too much, it boils down to a pretty disgusting exercise.  But my relationship with sex is more complex than I’d like to think it is, because I have had sex.  Sometimes I like having sex.  However, it seems that I think about it more analytically than the average single guy in his early thirties.

I grew up in the AIDS era, when sex education was adamant about the consequences of sex—kids, disease, death.  What I took from those awkward classes in junior high was the notion that if anyone had sex without a condom, they would immediately get pregnant with an FAS baby,  contract syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, HIV and full-blown AIDS, and die.  All at the same time.

This has certainly had an effect on my attitude regarding sex.  More than that, I tend to think critically about how sex is used to promote products and how products are, in turn, used to promote sex.   There was a Victoria’s Secret campaign a few years ago with the tagline “What is sexy?” and the typical image of tall, thin, busty women in nothing but push-up bras and panties.  And high-heels.  Don’t forget the heels.  The implication of the ad is that it’s answering its own question.  What is sexy?  This is sexy.  These women are sexy.  Long torsos and large breasts are sexy.  Bras and high heels are sexy.  Whether the viewer thought this before seeing the ad or not, they certainly thought it after, and it influenced what we as a culture see as desirable.

This is from the "Body for Everybody" campaign. It seems that everybody should just have the same body.

Sexiness is a social construct, and what is sexy changes as culture changes.  Women’s Studies classes and feminist artists alike point to the Venus of Willendorf, a small votive statue from god-knows-when BC that was a fertility and love goddess who is all kinds of overweight by Victoria’s Secret standards.  Comparing that to the current standards of sexiness amplifies the shifting ideas of sexual attractiveness from pre-history to the Pre-Raphaelites to Twiggy to Kate Moss to Molly Sims to, I don’t know.  Who’s “sexy” now?  Katy Perry?

While sexiness in general is a social construct, it is also a personal preference.  Different people have different preferences.  A friend of mine likes short, busty women.  Without fail.  His string of girlfriends since 2000 could easily be interchanged if you simply adjusted hair-color.  I am sure they each have their own personality–I am describing physical attributes only, here.  When I was in college, there was the debate over the attractiveness of Brittany Spears vs. Christina Aguilera.  One of my roommates was adamant about the superior beauty of Spears while I thought Aguilera looked better.  In discussing why we had these differences of opinion, we figured out that he was more attracted to rounded features, and I was more attracted to angular features.  When the television show Dark Angel first aired, my friends were drooling over Jessica Alba, but not me.  Nobody could figure out why I didn’t like her, including me, until one of my roommates’ girlfriend piped in with, “That’s easy.  You don’t like her because she doesn’t look like a bird.”

While I’ve been primarily addressing the heterosexual “male-gaze” version of sexiness, ideas of what makes men sexy have changed as well.  In 1986, Tom Selleck was the embodiment of manly sexiness with a mustache and thick coat of chest hair.   In 2005, Matthew McConaughey and his waxed chest and abs were People Magazine‘s “Sexiest Man Alive.”

Matt? Tom. You might want to ease up on the wax. Just a suggestion.

From what I’ve understood through conversations with women, they are less interested in physical attractiveness or looks as criteria for relationships or even sexual interest.  If a man (or woman) is completely focused on the woman (or man) he’s flirting with and that attention translates into attraction, then sexiness isn’t a completely physical thing.

Today being Cinco de Mayo, my irritation  with things like Erotica Nights and every holiday known to man at present that has been translated into an excuse for drinking and dressing like a prostitute is at its height.  (St. Patricks Day?  Drinking, parade, sexy leprechaun.  Cinco de Mayo?  Tequila, sombrero, sexy dancing girls.  Christmas?  Egg Nogg, Santa Claus, sexy Mrs. Claus.  You get my point.)  I find these displays un-sexy; the opposite of sexy.  It’s all just too much.  The suggestion of sexual availability is far more attractive than blatant advertising of sluttiness.

Remember the Maine, the spark of the Spanish-American War, in your Sexy Sailor Costume.

It may be that I think too much about this stuff.  Too critically anyway.  I don’t think about sex itself in this kind of detail.  I think about sex as a social contract, sure, but not the act as it pertains to something that I engage in on a personal level.  Other people think about that far, far more than me.  I’m always amazed at fetishes.  “How did you figure out that what you really wanted was to dress like a Care Bear while other Care Bear-dressed people massaged your feet?”

Maybe, in the end, for me sex is more personal than I’m willing to advertise at a fundraiser or a Halloween party.  The things that I find sexy do not include porn or Girls Gone Wild videos.  My idea of sexiness can be seen in Vertigo, when Jimmy Stewart has saved Kim Novak after she jumped into the bay.  She’s been unconscious, but he’s brought her to his apartment to recover.  Novak is asleep in the bed, and Stewart is in the other room reading a newspaper.  The phone rings on the nightstand and she rolls over when he answers it.  It’s a two-second cut, and you don’t see anything more than her shoulder and her face and hair.  It’s the simple suggestion of sexual availability rather than blatant neon-sign advertising.

Maybe identifying with the objectification at the heart of Vertigo wasn't the most flattering way to end this blog.

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2 responses

6 05 2011
Cher

It’s okay, I think a lot of people feel this exact way… they’re just usually not men. ; )

14 07 2011
The Human Fiction

It’s partly a social construct, I agree. Sex is hardwired, but the kinds of people we want to have sex with is social.

These days there’s an ulterior motive behind this–a payday for some company. I’m not a Marxist but I like Marx’s concept of “commodity fetishism.” Not only are we made to like certain things and want to be a certain way by advertising, playing on our piddling little brains, we believe that their qualities will be conferred to us by purchasing them, or being associated with them in some way.

So, going back to the Victoria’s Secret ad. Bras and heels are sexy on their own, but OURS will also make you look more like these women and accentuate your plastic-y skin. It’s through US you become sexy. But I guess from a man’s perspective its, “the women in these ads are the pinnacle of sexy. choose women who look and dress like this ad your babies will be successful in life”

In turn, women think that they should act like these women in real life. Whoreish, and this is what men want. This is maybe because, unlike the past, we no longer have any real distinction between ladies and courtesans/mistresses (as opposed to whores in whorehouses). I think Carrie Bradshaw would have been considered an unpaid courtesan back in the day, yet she’s a hugely popular TV personality?

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