Sexy, Sexuality, and Sex

One of the issues that I run into most frequently as a sex educator is that people seem to think that I must have sex all the time. It often manifests as this sort of tension, as if people need to guard themselves and their loved-ones from the impending sex that is almost certain to happen, in one form or another, if I’m around. The good news is, that’s not going to happen. I only have sex with one person, and I do it in private, and, for the most part, I don’t even talk about what we do. For me, sex is something private. Sexuality, is not. Not always, anyway.

There is a similar confusion, on a much larger scale, in the world around us all the time. The confusion that if someone looks “sexy” to us, they must, therefore, be available to have sex, with us. Wrong again. Sexy is just an idea, and a very personal one.

Sexy is not sex. Sexuality is not sex. Sexuality, sex and the idea of “sexy” are three very different things, and I think that understanding that may just be the key to getting everyone to relax about all three. Especially when someone else’s sex and sexuality has nothing to do with you. So, let’s go in, shall we? We’ll start with the big one.

SEXUALITY IS AN ASPECT OF YOUR CHARACTER.

When you think about people on a biological level, you come up with a core of things that we all do. Eat, sleep, get sick, drink, etc….  It’s a fairly mundane list of things that are vital to our survival. Stepping back from survivalist biology, you get a softer list of things we all do and / or want: connect with people, have fun, adventures, learn, love, and the like. How we do those things is different for all of us. Some people like Renaissance Faires, some people like tennis, but there is little debate that it’s all fine. Whatever makes you feel connected, engaged, inspired, activated and happy, is fine. Sexuality is in that list of things. We all have a sexuality. It is different for all of us. Some of us like BDSM, some like group sex, some like toys, some like it sweet and simple. Some people want it several times a day, others are good with a couple times a year, or not at all. And that’s all okay too.

But we don’t know how to think about our sexuality in terms of our more refined character attributes. I’ve had a lot of luck encouraging people to think of it like you would think about your – or someone else’s – sense of humor. Your sexuality, like your humor, is unique to you. But it is very much a part of you. There’s not much you can do to change it, nor is there any real reason to.  But going to see Super Bad or Anchorman (two of my favorite movies) with people whose sense of humor doesn’t work in that low-brow, tit-and-fart-joke way is not going to make for a good evening. Likewise, just because I happen to have a low-brow, tit-and-fart-joke sense of humor doesn’t mean that I run around all day making stupid jokes and acting like a comedian. No more than having a powerful sexuality means that I am having sex all the time, in all the places.

Yes, geeky aesthete that I am, I was once ashamed that I love movies like Anchorman. I got over it. I am who I am.

Accepting that everyone has a sexuality, and that it has nothing to do with you, is vitally important. And being able to understand your own sexuality on those innate terms is just as important. Because we need to accept that everyone has one. And that, just like a sense of humor, it doesn’t matter if you understand someone else’s, unless you’re doing it with them.

However, if you are doing it with someone, it is vitally important that you know what your sense of sexuality is, and how it works. Because if they’re not compatible, they’re not compatible. There are people I love dearly, but will not go to the movies with because we have such different taste. (I walked out of The English Patient. If you liked that movie, we should not go to the movies together.) There are people I love dearly who I am utterly incompatible with in terms of sexuality. They will always be friends, and never be lovers.

Now, because our sexuality is a huge, innate and important part of us, we brush up against it all the time. Most of us have been in a situation in which we were working closely with someone, all our cylinders were firing, and we thought “oh my god, do I have a crush on this person, shit, are we flirting, wait, is this getting sexual?” Yes and no. Things like our intellect, our sense of adventure, our humor and even fear and hope all have little tentacles that touch our sexuality. And because we are not taught that sexuality, sexy and sex are three different things, we think we need to act on those feelings sexually. Or feel guilty for even having them. Or worse, shut them down. We think that being “turned on” is inappropriate.

Wrong. Do you feel bad when you laugh at someone else’s joke? Enjoy a meal that someone else cooked for you? No. I would argue that when you are fully engaged, your sexuality will be touched, and you will be, as they say, “on fire.” And that’s a good thing. As long as you don’t confuse it for the need to have sex, and act in a way that does harm to anyone’s boundaries. Being “turned on” is not inappropriate, but how you act on it might be. This is why you have to learn the difference.

Got it? Sexuality is an innate drive in all people that manifests differently and is one of many attributes of our character that make us who we are. It interacts with many things about us, but does not control them. It is no different than sense of humor, athletic ability, artistic sense or anything else, except that society has shrouded it in shame and mystery. (Probably because it’s more fun, and more distracting than any of those things, but that’s another article. For right now, we’re just dealing with the innateness of it.)

SEXY IS AN IDEA

Sexy is an adjective, and an incredibly subjective one at that. Sexy is a collection of ideas, deeply personal, that when presented to you trigger your sexuality. Sexy is not part of you, rather, it is an external manifestation of ideas that awaken your sexuality. Sexy is not sex. You can experience things that you find sexy, and not have sex. You can be hyper aware of your sexuality as a result of things that you find sexy, and not have sex.

So, what is sexy? That is as complex and individual as our sexualities. I find brains sexy, seriously. I will get more “turned on” by a good conversation than any body part or porn film I’ve ever seen. I also find shoulders very sexy, I don’t know why. I have a thing for bald men, always have. Short men, always have. I don’t know why. Show me a small, geeky, bald man who can carry on a conversation, and I’m tingly. I don’t know why. I do know that I can be around those men and not have sex. Because I know the difference between sexuality, sexy and sex.

Likewise, I know what my lover thinks is sexy, and I will happily play to that. But in almost all cases, “sexy” is a thing that we experience outside of ourselves, as a reaction to external stimuli. Even if it’s just a fantasy, we are fantasizing about external things.

There is no such thing as something that is universally perceived as sexy. One persons “sexy” is another person’s “squick.”

What we find sexy does tend to change with time and exposure. There are things that I found sexy when I was younger that I find wholly unappealing now. Things that I find sexy now that I hadn’t even been exposed to earlier. And most importantly, things that I found sexy when I was in a relationship with someone, that were contextually connected to that person, that I no longer find sexy. Case in point: I have a well-documented dislike of body hair. For a couple years, I dated a guy who has as much hair on his back as on his front, and in both cases it was as much as some farm animals. Somehow, because I was so into him, I actually found his hair sexy. I fantasized about it. As soon as that relationship was over, I went back to my previously scheduled dislike of body hair. Sexy is an idea attached to external stimuli that triggers your sexuality. There is no standard for it.

Why does it matter? Well, lots of reasons, but the most important is that just because you find someone sexy, does not mean that you can or should have sex with them.There is nothing wrong with being aware that you find something sexy. It is not an invitation, nor is it an insult. In many cases, it’s not even intentional. Thanks to the diversity of things that people find sexy, things that trigger people’s sexuality, we cannot respond to everything we see that triggers us by having sex.

Another case in point. One of the sexiest things in the world to me is watching my fiance play with our daughters. Seriously, it triggers me in a big way. Wanna know what I don’t do? Have sex with him when he’s playing with our daughters. This is the exact same logic that causes me not to expect sex from every hot guy I see at the gym. Or every short, geeky bald guy that I have a conversation with. I may think about it, but I don’t do it.

Sexy and sex are not the same thing. Being aware of your own sexuality and having sex are not the same thing.

SEX IS A THING YOU DO

Which brings us to sex. Ah, sex. I like sex. Sex is a thing I like to do. Sex is a consensual activity with one or more people that usually, but not always, results in orgasm or other forms of sexual gratification. That’s about the only thing I can think that most sex acts would have in common. Not much to say here except that sex is a physical act. It is not an innate part of your being any more than playing tennis is. (Though the desire to do so, your sexuality or athletic ability, is.)

Do you love playing tennis? Does it just come naturally to you and you feel great when you’re doing it? Do you think about it a lot? When it’s a nice sunny day,  do you think “damn, I’d like to be out there playing tennis?” Well, then you understand the difference between sexuality, sexy and sex.

Yes, the three are connected. Ideally, when you’re having sex, it’s because your sexuality was genuinely triggered by things you find sexy and you were in a safe situation to have sex. But you can feel sexy without having sex. You can see sexy things without having sex. And you can feel confident knowing that your sexuality is an important part of you that deserves to be understood and accepted. And that other people’s sexuality has nothing to do with you, no more than their sense of humor does.

I wish people understood the innate nature of their sexuality more than they do. Then again, I also wish people laughed more than they do.

Come to think of it, sense of humor turns me on. But I have no interest in having sex with Will Ferrell, even though he makes me laugh when I’m sad. Must be the body hair. But he turns me on, thank goodness my fiance can take care of the sex part.

___

I started thinking about this particular post when I was writing about a photo that someone took of me that I think is really sexy, but in an unconventional way. Thinking about why helped me clarify the difference, in my mind, between sexuality, sexy and sex.

 

Alyssa Royse

Bio: Alyssa Royse is a hot mama in her 40's raising a teenage daughter and 2 young step-daughters. She is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and PR hack who is now working entirely to promote healthy sexual freedom for all humans - because sexual agency is a human right, and also an important part of health and wellness. A popular speaker and guest writer, she can be found most often on her eponymous blog, AlyssaRoyse.com, on her new startup venture, NotSoSecret.com and as the co-host of the weekly radio show Sexxx Talk Radio on The Progressive Radio Network. (Downloads available on both prn.fm and in iTunes.) When she's not thinking and writing about sex, she is generally playing with her big, queer, bi-racial family, traveling, reading or at the CrossFit gym sweating. Yes, she would probably love to come speak at your conference, or write something for you, contact info is on her blog. No, she does not want to date you, her dance card is blissfully full.

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1 Response

  1. Ellen Eades says:

    I was talking to my partner about this yesterday. He does a lot of stuff with the Seattle sex-positive community and the Fetlife website. Apparently a common choice on the survey of what you’re into is “Yes, but not with you.” I think this is a really important idea to get across to people — that whatever your personal sexuality may be, it’s your choice who to share that with, if anyone.