Am I Sexy?: An Ugly Duckling’s Lament

Baby Kate trying to be sexy, circa 2006.

I have clear memories of all my milestone compliments. The first time someone called me “pretty,” and then, “beautiful.” The first time someone specifically said they loved my nose, my hips, my labia. All the suitors who’ve called me “cute” and all the different tones in which they’ve said it. These memories form a patchwork tapestry of my self-esteem – a guilty admission for me to make, in this world which tells us you’re not allowed to be loved by others until you love yourself first. It hasn’t really worked that way for me.

But all those words represent a nonsexual admiration – if not strictly chaste, then at least wholesome. I remember experiencing different feelings entirely the first time someone called me “sexy.”

He was an older boy at my high school, not a romantic interest of mine but on my horizons nonetheless, because his crush on me was unignorable. I don’t remember why he said it – what specifically he was referring to, and when – but I remember how I felt. I felt confused.

See, I grew up an ugly duckling. This is a fairly common experience, one with which you’re probably familiar, so I won’t go too much into the pain of believing for your entire childhood and adolescence that you are unattractive and that therefore your life will lack something fundamental. I hated my big nose, my chubby curves, my dull skin, double chin, irrefutable plainness. I wanted to be an exotic, unmissable stunner – like my best friend at the time, who got compliments all day every day on her model-pretty face and model-sexy body. (It did not occur to me then that maybe she didn’t like this type of attention, or that maybe she would’ve preferred to receive the more substantive compliments I received all the time on things like my intellect, humor, and writing. The grass is always greener, am I right?)

So to be told that I was sexy activated some deeply-rooted cognitive dissonance in me. I knew what “sexy” looked like in our culture – I’d absorbed it through magazines and movies and television and general discourse, like we all do – and I knew I did not look like that image. It didn’t occur to me that there could be a spectrum of sexy, not just an acceptable window of sexiness you might happen to fall into but indeed a wide-ranging, almost infinite array of qualities some might consider sexy. I know this now, having spent years writing and reading sex media where folks eroticize everything from chubby bellies to big noses to hairy toes to sharp-toothed giantesses and beyond. But I did not know it then.

So “sexy” was a word that did not apply to me, at least not comfortably. I laughed when the word came out of that boy’s mouth directed at me. He must have been mistaken. He must not have spent much time looking at me. He must not know what “sexy” even meant. How else could this word ever be used to describe me?

Ten years have passed and I am still mildly uncomfortable when described as sexy, hot, arousing, erotic, a turn-on. I can accept that my work is sometimes sexy – that someone’s pants might get tight as they read a flowery description of sex I’ve had. I can accept that certain qualities of mine might be sexy – that someone might fetishize my hips or my feet or my lips, focusing in on those parts to the exclusion of all others. I can accept that someone might want to have sex with me – because they like my brain, they want intimacy and closeness with me, or they simply want to get their rocks off. But it still vexes me to imagine that I, as a whole person, in my totality and weirdness and unconventionality, could be sexy.

It worries me that this is true, because if I feel this way – I, a woman who writes about sex on the internet, and is therefore inundated day in and day out with messages from horny, enamored suitors of various degrees of appropriateness – then, truly, anyone could feel this way. My cognitive behavioral therapist is always asking me to look for evidence of the core beliefs that bring me down – like that I’m not sexy – and though I’m faced with an onslaught of daily evidence to the contrary, I still can’t seem to shake this odd belief. That makes me worry on behalf of everyone who doesn’t feel sexy – which I’d guess is most of you. Not everyone has the (debatable) privilege of constant validation that I do. There are countless incredibly sexy people out there who never get to hear just how sexy they are. And that is tragic.

So I’m here to remind you that you are sexy, by virtue of the fact that any and every quality in existence is sexy to someone. I’ve swooned over bald-headed men who longed daily for their hair back. I’ve fantasized about tugging someone to me by the chubby hips I knew they hated. I’ve obsessed over the beauty of “imperfections”: crooked teeth, asymmetrical moles, big noses, gnarled hands, scarred skin.

And in doing so, I’ve learned to believe – intellectually if not emotionally – that I can be sexy, too. Just like pistachio isn’t my favorite ice cream flavor but I believe you if you tell me it’s yours, I can accept that I might be sexy to someone, even if, when I look at myself in a mirror, “sexy” is the farthest word from my mind.

“Sexy,” as a concept, is subjective, flexible, accommodating. One person’s “ugly duckling” is another person’s “scintillatingly hot.” I hope you’ll remember that, even if it takes you a while to actually believe it.

Heartsick & Miserable? Ask Yourself This One Question…

I read something recently that blew my mind, and if I may, I’d like to blow yours too.

In Lisa A. Phillips’ book Unrequited, she writes – having studied unreturned romantic obsessions, including her own, for ages in order to write the book – that it is important to ponder what an unrequited love is trying to tell you about your life.

When you are painfully obsessed with someone who doesn’t love you back, Phillips writes, you’re not really obsessed with that person – you’re obsessed with what is missing from your life, which this person has somehow come to represent in your mind.

I read this simple insight while flying back from D.C. to Toronto and actually gasped aloud on the plane, drawing stares from nearby seatmates. I couldn’t help it. It felt like Lisa A. Phillips had just shined a spotlight directly into my soul. I felt simultaneously called out and cleansed. Halle-fuckin’-lujah.

I thought back to the worst unrequited love of my life so far – an innocent-crush-turned-crushing-heartbreak centering on a person I met in 2015 and tortured myself over throughout 2016. While he’s indisputably charming, smart, funny, and lovely, so are a lot of people I meet. The question had haunted me for a while: why did I fall in love with him? What enabled him to get inside my head and absolutely break me? What made him feel so vital to my happiness on a basal, gut level?

I think it has a lot to do with when I met him, and what kind of person I was then. At that time, I had been single for nearly a year, having broken up with my long-term partner in 2014 – and I hadn’t dated anyone or had sex with anyone during that entire year. I was cripplingly insecure, uncertain, and shy. I worried constantly that no one would ever love me or want me again. That anxiety kept me from going out and socializing, which, in turn, kept me from meeting people who might want me or eventually love me. It was a self-perpetuating cycle of self-loathing.

And then along came this boy, dazzling and bright. He swept into my life with all the loud self-assuredness I’d later come to love about him. We went on two not-explicitly-romantic dates and I was immediately smitten: it had been a long time since I’d met someone this funny, confident, and effervescently charismatic. He made me laugh harder than I had in ages, with seemingly no effort. I felt glued to his words. He activated a lightness in me I didn’t know I could still feel.

On top of all that, he made me feel entirely focused upon. His attention was a laser, and when he focused it on me, I suddenly felt important and desirable – two feelings I’d lost sight of in my year of loneliness and celibacy.

As we became friends-with-benefits and then actual friends over the following year, I noticed myself falling into an unhealthy emotional cycle. It mirrored – and often triggered – the ups and downs I experience as part of my bipolar disorder. When I was around him, I felt starry-eyed, ecstatic, elated, like nothing in the world could possibly be wrong and I’d be happy forever. Nothing could touch me. But when we said goodbye – whether it was for a few days or a few months – I crashed, hard. The light he brought into my life had been extinguished, and I didn’t know how to reignite it myself. It felt like he contained all the humor and happiness I’d ever experienced, and I wouldn’t be able to get any of it back unless he was there with me.

And the trouble was, he didn’t always want to be there with me. He didn’t love me. He valued our friendship, but that’s all it was to him. I wasn’t angry at him for not loving me back, because I understood that he couldn’t help it – but I was profoundly sad, because it felt like he owned the key to my happiness and he would only lend it to me on a limited, conditional basis.

What I wish I had pondered more deeply is this: what was missing from my life? And how could I give that to myself instead of relying on him?

I think this concept was what eventually enabled my healing process to begin, though I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time. My crush made me laugh more than anyone else I knew, so I started spending more time with funny friends, upping my comedy podcast intake, and cultivating my own sense of humor even further. My crush made me feel focused on and valued, so I sought more friends who made me feel that way, and also chose to focus on and value myself by amping up my self-care regimen. My crush made me feel sexy and desirable, so I started flirting with people more and going on more Tinder dates to generate more of those feelings (and got comfortable cutting ties with people who didn’t meet my standards in this way). The sex with my crush had been devastatingly good, so I tried to get better at asking for what I wanted with other partners so my sex life would improve overall – and I mixed up my masturbation routine to make it more fulfilling. Basically, I looked for holes my crush could no longer fill for me, and I filled them my damn self (vagina joke only partly intended).

It wasn’t until I started seeing my last boyfriend that I felt entirely divested of that old unrequited love, but I think the work I’d done on myself had laid the groundwork for me to meet such a wonderful person and accept him into my life. If I’d still been stuck on my old crush, I don’t think I would’ve been able to open myself up to someone new. It would’ve felt pointless, because how could someone new possibly be better than the person I’d been stuck on for over a year? But by divorcing that person from the joys he brought me, I became able to see that other people could make me happy, too, if I let them.

I wish I could go back in time and explain this revelation to my past self. Maybe it would save her a lot of heartache. But I think it’s more likely she wouldn’t even listen to me. That’s the nature of unrequited love: other people can spout lessons and truisms at you ad nauseum, and you won’t believe them; you have to learn these things for yourself, experientially. You’re always convinced your world is ending until it isn’t anymore.

What do you wish someone had told you about unrequited love when you were going through it?

Permission to Be Gross: 7 Deeply Unsexy Confessions

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Possibly the worst selfie I have ever taken.

I imagine it’s exhausting to be a flight attendant, or a car show model, or any other type of person who has to smile and be pleasant for hours at a time. Being that personable takes tons of energy, and I admire the work that goes into it.

In much the same way, working in the sex-positive field often comes with expectations that you will be “sexy” all the time. I feel a lot of pressure, in both my personal and my professional interactions, to put on a foxy façade even when I don’t feel so foxy.

While I love and admire women who are unafraid to be gross and strange – like Amy Poehler, who famously responded to a criticism of her “unladylike” comedy by snarling, “I don’t fucking care if you like it” – that’s just not me. I don’t have that kind of confidence, I guess. Feeling gross and unattractive makes me feel… well, gross and unattractive.

But I’d like to get more comfortable with that feeling, so that maybe it doesn’t bother me so much when it comes up in the future. So here are 7 very unsexy things about me, posted here with intense vulnerability and blushing and nail-biting but for good reasons. I encourage you to make your own list!

 

1. While I mostly like the way my vag smells and tastes, certain foods affect it in kind of gross ways. Eating sushi – one of my favorite foods! – gives it that strong “fishy” flavor that 1990s hack stand-up comedians so often joked about. I avoid sushi before dates for this reason…

2. I have psoriasis, a hereditary skin condition. Lucky for me, mine is fairly mild. I have it on my scalp, ears, underarms, and a random spot in between my eyebrows (why?!). I use a couple of prescription creams and a tar-based shampoo to keep it under control, but sometimes I’m still flaky/itchy. It ain’t cute.

3. I have a tendency to obsess over people I get romantically and/or sexually involved with. I’m able to keep it under wraps for the most part, so these people typically don’t know I’m thinking about them a lot or looking at their social media pages on the daily, but internally it is a problem and I wish I could fixate less. I think it’s linked to my anxiety.

4. I used to be really sexually selfish and sometimes I still am. I like giving pleasure, but I often don’t unless specifically told/asked to, either because I’m too anxious to initiate it or it just doesn’t occur to me because I’m distracted by my own pleasure. I’m working on it! I want to give more BJs, y’all!

5. I strongly dislike my body most of the time, despite being an advocate of self-love and self-acceptance.

6. I don’t eat well enough or get enough exercise, and I make excuses about both of those things constantly.

7. Sometimes I worry that a lot of my submissive sexual identity actually just stems from sexual uncertainty and insecurity. When you’re paralyzed in fear and worried about what your bedfellow thinks of you, it can be easier to just give up control and let them boss you around; at least then you can feel like you’re “doing something right” instead of fucking up spectacularly.

 

Are there any “gross” or “unattractive” things about you that you’re too embarrassed to talk about? Want to share? It’s kinda cathartic, I promise…

Ask These 3 Questions & You Might Fall In Love

Earlier this year, the New York Times wrote about 36 questions that strangers can supposedly ask each other, which will make them fall in love real quick. You alternate asking each other the questions until you’ve gone through all 36, and then you stare into each other’s eyes silently for four whole minutes. By the end of this process, you’re sure to feel more connected to the other person, if not full-on in love.

I was reminded of this article when I last went to Body Pride, because, in the midst of sharing all these intimate emotional details with one another, I started to feel like I was… kinda falling in love.

Those feelings haven’t particularly persevered, but then again, those aren’t people that I see very regularly. I think that if you developed a crush because of the deep and sudden intimacy fostered in environments like Body Pride, and then you kept spending time with the person on a semi-regular basis, those initial crush-y feelings would inevitably develop into something deeper.

My questions are different from the ones suggested in the NYT article, but they have the same aim. I think if you asked someone these questions, and really listened to their answers, some kind of magic would happen.

1. What are you passionate about?

I can’t imagine a sexier quality than enthusiasm. Everyone reaches their peak cuteness when they’re talking about something they find fascinating and exciting. It doesn’t matter if it’s fashion, photography, blogging, bowling, triathlons, trigonometry, web design or witchcraft: if it turns their crank, then watching them talk about it will be a delight.

True, a relationship might not have long-term legs if the other person’s passion bores you. But if you can’t get excited about the topic of their tirade, you can at least get excited about the way their eyes light up and a smile blooms across their face while they ramble at you about fancy stationery or rock operas or whatever.

2. What are you insecure about?

As a culture, we’re obsessed with the notion that confidence is attractive. And it’s true, it is. But that doesn’t mean insecurity is always a turn-off.

In fact, talking frankly about your insecurities requires confidence, or at least bravery. Whining about your least favorite body parts isn’t hot; projecting your own shit onto other people isn’t hot; refusing to take any risks in life because you hate yourself isn’t hot – but owning up to your issues? That’s hot. Especially if owning up to them makes you decide to actually do something about them.

In my life, I’ve only had maybe two or three really open, honest conversations with people about our mutual insecurities. And far from whiny or boring, it was revelatory. There is something incredibly powerful, for your own self-image and for your relationship, about discovering that other people have the same bullshit negative self-talk that you do. Like the NYT article says: “mutual vulnerability fosters closeness.”

3. What was the last thing that made you laugh really, really hard?

Occasionally someone will try to tell you a story or a joke, but they’ll start laughing so hard that they can’t even finish a sentence. Their face goes red, their voice gets hoarse, maybe some tears stream down their cheeks. They keep going back to the beginning of the sentence to try and get through it, but they just can’t, and it’s hilarious.

It’s also fucking adorable.

We all spend most of our time fairly stoic, moving through the world in a calm and orderly way, even if we’re total freaks and weirdos underneath. When you meet a new beau, it might take several dates – or even several months – before you really break through that crust of composure and get to the kooky good stuff underneath.

But if you ask them about the last time they laughed so hard they couldn’t breathe, and then they tell you that story… you’ll get a little preview of their zaniness. A glimpse of how it looks when they let loose, lose control, lose their shit. And that’s cute as fuck.

Bonus reading: Alexandra Franzen has some good lists of 100 questions to spark conversation and connection + 10 of the best first date questions ever.

I Showed My Face on the Internet & Nothing Awful Happened

I am a sexy ghost. A faceless apparition. My Twitter avatar is a picture of my boobs. My bio photo is my knees, adorned in sex toys. The name I go by is not my real name, obviously (although: admit you would be at least somewhat impressed by my parents if they had, indeed, legally named me Girly Juice).

There are two main reasons I have always hesitated to show my face in any capacity connected to this blog:

1. I worried that potential future employers, distant conservative family members, shitty misogynist trolls, etc. would stumble across my pictures and use them against me in some way. These worries, if I let them get too far, always morphed into melodramatic waking nightmares in which I ended up homeless, alone, and disgraced. (I know. I’m ridiculous. I told you, I have anxiety.)

2. (And this is an even sillier and more embarrassing reason…) I’m insecure about how I look, and I worried that if people saw what I looked like, they wouldn’t think I was sexy or pretty, and it would cause them to discount my opinions and stop reading my blog.

When Caitlin and John came to my house to interview me and film me masturbating (which is a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother blog post), we got onto the topic of sex blogging and anonymity. Caitlin point-blank asked me why I kept my identity (and my face) so private in the blogosphere, and I went on a meandering ramble about closed-minded office jobs and facial recognition technology and sex-negative assholes… and my tirade was so aimless that at the end of it, I was left thinking, “Why don’t I show my face? Is there a real reason, or is it just my stupid anxiety-brain?”

I have so many friends in the sex-positive corner of the internet who reveal not only their faces but their names, their real-life accomplishments, their identities. And I’ve always been jealous of them, because they can be their whole selves. When their readers and fans love them, they really love them, not some reductive persona.

A few months ago I tweeted that I was toying with the idea of showing my face, and some douchebro replied something like: “Don’t. I like mysterious women.” It reignited all my old doubts about how anonymity might be more alluring to readers than my actual face and body. What if you thought you were reading the sex stories of someone who looked like Jamie Dornan and then you peeled back the curtain and it was actually Gilbert Gottfried under there?! (That’s not to say that I think I look like Gilbert Gottfried… or that he doesn’t have some perfectly lovely characteristics… but you see what I’m saying, yeah?)

When I got dolled up for the Feminist Porn Awards, I came downstairs and there was no one in my house. (This is quite unusual; I live with three other people and two of them work from home.) I got frustrated that there was no one around to tell me, “Hey, you look good!” and that combined with the overall sex-positive, yay-for-sex! attitude that tends to pervade Feminist Porn Week… so I impulsively posted some selfies. Of my face.

And people were really fucking nice about it.

Like, literally every single person who sent me a reply was incredibly sweet and supportive. No one made me feel like it was a particularly big deal or shocking reveal. Everyone was just… great. And it’s one of my most-favorited tweets to date.

I’ve posted a few more Twitter selfies since then (and not just of my cleavage or underwear or disembodied lips), and the results have always been the same. My followers are complete and utter sweethearts. They have made me wonder why I was so scared of doing this for so long.

And they’ve also shown me that my constant self-criticism about my looks is unfounded. I don’t look like a magazine model, and I never will, but lots of people still think I’m pretty. No one, so far, thinks my face or body are incongruous with my femme-sexpot internet persona. It’s just not a big deal. At all.

Sex bloggers and other sexy-on-the-internet types: do you show your face? What’s your reasoning behind showing or not showing it?