Sexy, It’s Not Just an Adjective

Pondering the erotic, the difference between the visual and the cerebral, and what it means to be ‘sexy’
Photo by Amelie.Alternate

Of course I think you’re sexy. You have great tits—and a nice ass!

When these words came out of my (now ex-) husband’s mouth, was when I realized that he has absolutely no idea what sexy means — never did, and probably never will.

He slung the line back at me during our last argument as a couple; one where we both laid out all the hurt and pain we’d experienced over the years together.

I didn’t really feel seen by you, I told him, and I don’t think you ever recognized me as a sexual being. Do you even see me as ‘sexy’?

I had always felt this energy strongly within. I remembered how vivid and alive that side of me had been before him and I settled into a steady relationship in our twenties. After I understood that he wasn’t tuned in — neither to mine nor his own sexual energy — I tried to awaken him to it, but to no avail. His lack of response had left me feeling undesirable, at least in his eyes.

There are only so many times, and ways, you can try to serenade and seduce someone who won’t spare you as much as a glance before you give up, retract into your shell, and start feeling invisible.

— You have great tits and a nice ass! Of course, I think you’re sexy…

His answer was a slap in the face more than a compliment. Beyond that, it confirmed my suspicion that he did in fact not see me. I can’t remember my exact response, but most likely I huffed and puffed; lacking words to describe the indescribable to someone who surely would never get it.

To my ex, sexy seemed to be an image; something two-dimensional. It wasn’t alive, and like most lifeless things, they either fade, we bore with them, or both.

What ‘sexy’ isn’t

It’s not simply visual

How could I explain the concept of sexy to someone like my ex? And, how does one describe the erotic and the sensual in general?

In our case, it was a lost cause, since our road together had come to an end, for reasons far beyond this one issue. I’ve thought about his phrase since though, and each time I chuckle at its banality. There’s something almost comical about the response, yet tragic at the same time; it’s tragicomical.

And what a loss it is to go through life utterly unaware of the erotic—to think that sexy is merely observed with the eyes and not felt.

After we separated I delved into eroticism like never before and allowed it to animate every part of my being; I (re)discovered my sexuality, dedicated myself to live the life of a sensualist, and thus, blossomed into my sexiest-self—without changing a thing about my appearance.

It’s become one of my personal missions to help guide others to connect with their sensuality and sexual power; their life force. So while I may have given up on explaining these concepts to my ex-partner, I’d like to share with you what sexy means to me, starting with what it’s not.

It can’t be measured

To think sexiness can be weighed and measured reflects an overly simplified and shallow understanding of the erotic. It goes along with the idea of rating potential lovers (or humans in general) on a one-to-ten scale: “Her face is a nine, but her body is more like a five,” is another thing I recall my ex saying about a common friend, and this could just as well have been a line from your average teen-sex comedy. Unfortunately, this understanding of sexiness is far from uncommon.

I believe looks and sexiness are two separate things and I’ve met many who measure according to so-called conventional beauty standards — typical nines or tens if I were to place them on that trite scale — who haven’t struck me as especially sexy. On the contrary, I meet those who may not turn the head of your humdrum modeling scout, yet they turn mine, capture my gaze and mesmerize me. I can’t always pinpoint exactly how or why this is. Some simply have it, and their number of inches or pounds, or the shapes of any of their bodyparts have little or nothing to do with the matter.

It isn’t tied to specific body parts

A banal view of what is sexy permeates our culture. In the captions of a recent set of sensual photos I posted on Instagram, depicting only my neck and clavicle bone, I discussed the meaning of the erotic, what’s stereotypically seen as sexy, as well as how social media censorship continues to support an over-simplified view of both. The obsession with hiding (or exposing) genitals, butts, breasts, and the female nipple accentuate the trope that sexiness is tied to individual body parts alone, with little regard for the whole—let alone for what’s beneath.

When we instead view sex as an act involving the entire body, mind, and spirit, we see that sexiness and eroticism are not limited to specific parts, but to how we inhabit them (aka ourselves). In this way, and with this view, every part of a body can be erotic, and still, no part of the naked body is inherently sexual on its own.

At the same time, I tend to marvel at the beauty of the finer details — parts of the body never considered offensive (at least not according to Zuckerberg community standards), but are no less erotic — such as ankles, the metatarsals on the feet, the veins on hands and arms, and the tendons of the neck meeting the clavicle.

Isn’t it curious though, how in many circumstances, something like an underarm is simply a limb, and then, in a different setting the look of one—how it moves, flexes, and pulsates—can be enough to drive you wild. This can be the case with any body part, most of all because it really has very little to do with the part itself.


So, what is ‘it’?

‘Sexy’ is an energy

If I were to describe what sexy is in a paragraph I’d say that, far beyond an adjective to describe the look of an outfit, the shape of a line, or a curve, sexy is a feeling and an attitude. It’s never two-dimensional but exists on multiple planes; it comes from within and permeates an entire being. From there, it may exude and radiate to fill a whole space. When someone enters with it, it’s often felt, and may even linger in their absence.

Sexy, unlike fleeting looks, does not fade or falter, but prevails even when it may morph and change. Sexy is a state of being, it’s fluent, it’s dynamic — it’s energy!

Few describe this energy as well as Maya Angelou does in Phenomenal Woman. Her poem—which is also phenomenal—starts off like this:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.

In the next few stanzas, Angelou describes how many swarms around her without necessarily understanding why. She credits many reasons, from the fire in her eyes, the swing in her waist, and the joy in her feet, to the arch of her back, the sun of her smile and the grace of her style, and so on.

In the third stanza, she reveals that the true secret lies in her inner mystery. It’s clear that her appeal is found in the sum of her parts, and still, it’s (again) about no specific part at all, but about how she inhabits these: with fire, flash, joy, sun and grace—and, most of all, with her inner mystery.

Judging from her words and what I know of Maya Angelou, she was a deeply sensual woman, animated by erotic energy. She seemed to have wholly grasped the meaning of sexy and knew how to embody it. Further, she comes across as someone who, while perhaps irresistible in the eyes of others, lived it for her own pleasure and enjoyment rather than for anyone else.

‘Sexy’ can be ‘tapped into’—and even learned

“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings,” writes Audre Lorde in Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. “It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.”

I love the last sentence and believe it is key since it insinuates that the erotic is something that can be found and then tapped into. I also relate since this was exactly what I experienced after I left my ex and got to experience in so many ways that my own sexiness had very little to do with my tits or ass.

“There are many kinds of powers, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise,” Lorde continues. “The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.”

I agree and have come to see sexiness and the erotic as innate forces that we all have the potential to access. Some naturally and effortlessly connect with these, while in others they lay latent, waiting to be explored.

I encourage everyone to tap into this kind of sexiness, which is not one where we strive to attract the gaze of or to be desirable to others — all though it certainly might have that effect too. Instead, connecting to our sexual powers is a way of connecting to our-selves; it’s a form of self-acceptance, self-love, and care. Accessing this energy can be healing in ways that are equally grounding and liberating. It may also open us up to more pleasure in all aspects of our lives.


@2021 ENA DAHL

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