Monday, April 12, 2010

What is "Sexy?"

I've kissed a few boys in my time. I've kissed more boys than McKay's kissed girls- probably triple or quadruple the number. Kissing, and in particular french kissing, was on my list of "things I liked to do." I could kiss and kiss and kiss all day. Even different guys in the same day (!). Kissing was enjoyable, easy, sexy. It made me feel good.

Eventually I started dating McKay. It took him a while to initiate the first kiss (and by a while, I mean like 10 days after we started officially dating versus on the first date). But again, it was fun and exciting. And all that.

At some point in our courtship, McKay thought it would be best if we cut out french kissing from our repertoire. As LDS singles planning to stay virginal until our wedding night, we had already set some limits, but McKay thought an extra one wouldn't hurt. I mourned the loss of the french kiss for those last few months; after all, I had come from a background of kiss kiss kiss kiss and had miraculously stayed a virgin through all that. But I went with it figuring if that's what he thought was needed, then we'll go with that. It wouldn't hurt. Pecks were still ok.

Then we got married and suddenly we were "allowed" to french kiss again. It was... gross. 1) We were out of practice and just sloppy about it. 2) It was hard to "allow" myself to enjoy it again. After being off-limits for months, jumping back into french kissing (and more!) was very difficult mentally.

Is kissing sexy because of how we're wired or is it sexy because of how our culture portrays it? I can see both sides. On one hand, lips have an almost disproportionate amount of nerve endings. They are sensitive to touch, temperature, and according to wikipedia, the size of your lips can be related to the hormones in your body. Is kissing inherently sexy by physical design?

On the other hand, it would be foolish to pretend that our culture doesn't promote kissing as part of a sexual relationship. Even children see that "love's first kiss" is put on a pedestal. Kissing is one of the few sexual activities that can be freely shown in G-rated movies and is common in shows, commercials, movies, books, advertisements. Everywhere. It's probably one of the most commonly seen forms of sexual expression in our culture. So when I was a teenager, was the excitement I felt in kissing a product of media portrayal?

I suppose it could be either, or both. But whether kissing is nature or nurture, by the time I was married, I had desexualized kissing. It was hard for me to make out with McKay even though I was attracted to him. As time progressed, I learned how to re-sexualize kissing. It was something that was important to McKay, and I (mentally) knew it once held a lot of weight in attraction for me, so I worked on it. I had to mentally get myself into a place where I could enjoy it again; I eventually was able to reconnect my wiring to kissing = sexy. Though I'll admit, it sometimes still takes effort to enjoy kissing at 3 and a half years into our marriage.

Where am I going with this? Breasts.

I've heard arguments that by nature, breasts are sexually attractive. I've also heard arguments that it is by cultural socialization that breasts are sexually attractive. And that either way, Americans are going to sexualize them and it's wrong of me to try to desexualize the breast. I'm swimming upstream here.

In my experience, "sexy" is a mind game. Because I've had "practice" in my experience of desexualizing and then re-sexualizing kissing for myself, I know I can desexualize and re-sexualize my breasts depending on the current circumstances. Sometimes when McKay and I are being intimate, Margaret will wake up and need nursing and I have to immediately switch over to "breasts are for breastfeeding" mode. And with a little mental work, I can switch back into "I'm a sexual being" mode once she's asleep again.

Because of my kissing escapades, I've come to be skeptical about claims that "naked is naked is naked" and "breasts are breasts are breasts." Perhaps "french kissing is french kissing is french kissing", but I've been to the place where french kissing is not french kissing. I've been to the place where breasts are not breasts. And sometimes I'm sexual and sometimes I'm not. It's ok, each place is a different part of my identity and person and body image.

I know the human brain has the power to separate arousal and non-arousal. Perhaps I'm too much of an optimist, but I expect other human beings to use their brains and do exactly that on a daily basis as I take Margaret out into the world and find myself breastfeeding at various times and places. It does take a little bit of effort. After all, we are either re-working nature or years of nurture, but it's possible. Naked is not always naked. A bare breast is not always a bare breast. And kissing isn't always kissing.

Oooh- kissing AND breastfeeding at the same time. Now that's some major juggling. :)

This post is participating in the Body Image Carnival being hosted by Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! and MamanADroit who will be posting articles on themes pertaining to body image all week! Make sure you check out their blogs everyday between April 12-18 for links to other participants' posts as well as product reviews, a giveaway, and some links to research, information and resources pertaining to body image.


  1. This is so true!!! I look at myself as my libido goes up and down (from hormones or whatever else) and I know that some things CAN be sexy, but they don't always HAVE to be sexy. We have so much more control over it than we usually give ourselves credit for!

  2. Super interesting perspective. Not one I had thought of before. I've been having a little discussion with some of my friends on this topic and there are just so many people, even breastfeeding moms, who can't make this switch when it comes to seeing other people breastfeed.

  3. I definitely think hormones can be a part of it. With the kissing aspect- all through high school I was your regular hormonal person, but by the time we got married, I was on hormonal birth control. Maybe that affected the way I saw kissing, too? And since being off the pill, there weren't too many months before I was pregnant, and I'm always been pregnant and/or nursing since that point. Maybe my french kissing issues are hormonal-related, too and that's why I still have to work to "get in the mood."

    Whereas switching over to breastfeeding- well, my body is currently pregnant AND breastfeeding. My mama brain isn't too hard to channel.

    As for seeing others breastfeed- I think it depends on the person and how much breast/breastfeeding exposure they've had in their lives. I saw breastfeeding 2x before I decided to do it myself and started going to LLL meetings. There was a time when I was uneasy around breastfeeding, but intellectually I was telling myself, "Stop being so weird! You're sexualizing these women!" I think some people have to see breastfeeding maybe 5 times before they've figured out "Ok. No sexual." And other people need 50 times or more. That's partly why I breastfeed in public- because you don't know if you're time #1 or time #50. And each time is important and slowly we can re-wire America's brains. But we need lots of breastfeeding moms for that- and lots of support.

    Anyway, those were things I wanted to put in the post, but I wanted to keep it succinct. I have lots of other thoughts and this comment is probably too sporadic to make sense.

  4. I can totally relate to the intimacy with husband and then baby /toddler comes in and needs to nurse. Going from turned on sexy woman to ambivalent lactating mom in three seconds flat... I think it's a superpower for sure. And amazing how different sucks from different people can cause super different sensations and how our brains can make the switch between them. I love this post! Thanks so much for participating in the carnival Heather!

  5. I'm with you, french kissing is gross. How many sexually active couples really do that? It seems like a "sexy thing" only for young couples who aren't getting the REAL thing. LOL. It's fake sex and it's not even appealing after the fact.

    Anyway I have a great idea for you to post about. You know those simulated babies they have the teenagers carry around for a few days, in health class? They are bottle fed. Why not breast fed? They learn to stay up through the night with a baby, swaddle, rock, hold the head upright, answer to the first cry, but they don't learn that breastfeeding is proper or normal. I'm sure you have lots of opinions about that, so let's hear them!

  6. I was very interested in the kissing part of the post, because as I consider reentering the dating world, I was all excited to go and make out with some hotties! Including my STBXH, I've kissed 4 guys, but I think the French kissing was only with 2 of them. For me, I never got tired of french kissing after marriage. My sister is in Iraq and is currently making out with multiple guys each week (day?), and I am jealous! I'm not sure that I will ever have the opportunity to make out, or if I would really go through with it if the opportunity arose, but I sure want to! But after a discussion on nLDS last week, I realized that maybe it wasn't the best, most moral, idea. Anyway, I was glad to hear that you liked it too, that you did it with multiple guys, and you can still have a healthy relationship with your husband ;-)

    Your real point was awesome too. Our brains work quite well at helping us make a distinction between sexy and non-sexy at the appropriate times. Like many other moms, I've gone from intimate to nursing and back easily.

  7. Great example of how things can be sexual or non-sexual depending on what we are doing with it. The kiss is a great example. In fact, it's a perfect example. If I kiss my baby, on the lips even, it is not sexual IN THE LEAST. No one seeing me kiss my baby should be offended by it. No one seeing me nurse my child should be offended by that either.

    On the other hand, if a couple is making out in public, someone might tell them to "go get a room," and likewise if a couple is doing something sexual with the breasts, it's probably better to do it in private. But breasts are not always sexual, and neither is kissing. Why can't people get their heads around that?

  8. I don't have anything to add really, I just wanted to say that I think you are so darn interesting! (That was meant to be a compliment, and I hope it will be received as such.)

  9. huh. I, also, loved to french kiss. When I started dating my husband, he really though french kissing should be saved for marriage. He had never done, and we didn't do it until after we were married. Now that we are married, we...don't kiss. neither of us like to kiss. Like you said, I think both of us rewired ourselves so kissing does not equel sexual. I thought it was because we went straight from holding hands and little pecks before the wedding day to sex the wedding night, and skipping steps makes those steps not fun, but maybe it's just our perspective.
    I totally agree with you about the breasts.

  10. Heather,
    I think what you said about
    "Margaret will wake up and need nursing and I have to immediately switch over to "breasts are for breastfeeding" mode. And with a little mental work, I can switch back into "I'm a sexual being" mode once she's asleep again."
    is very important. I met a mom of five, who has NEVER breastfed, not once, EVER, because, as she says, "I couldn't figure out breastfeeding versus intimacy."
    When she told me this, I was floored. After thinking about it for some time, I realized that is exactly why we need to breastfeed in public; so people can see the difference from the time they are little girls.
    So, thank you for what you do. You are truly inspiring.

  11. I'm sure we don't agree on a lot of topics, but I enjoy reading your ideas. For the "naked is not always naked" argument I'll add in the example of my friends not understanding why I'm not uncomfortable going to see a male OBGyn. For me there is no issue. The act of my doctor examining me medically is completely different from a sexual act. And as my husband said- the idea that we have no control over our sexual response would put us on the same level as animals. I'm not saying everyone has to see male doctors, just why I'm comfortable with it.

    I just wanted to say also, that I appreciate the way you write your blog. I've visited a number of other blogs you recommend or link to, and have found many of them to be abrasive and judgmental. I see your blog more as an exposé on a lifestyle--as in: here are my thoughts and how I live my life--as opposed to the blogs that rant on and on about how ignorant the general population is for not following their natural mama, or attachment parenting philosophies. In my opinion your blog (or type of blog)is more likely to make me consider maybe adopting a practice I've never considered before. Keep up the good uplifting/non-judgemental work:-)

  12. Katrina's husband here... I just wanted to make a few brief comments. First, after years of marriage, I LOVE kissing, and love making out. I think that French Kissing is powerfully intimate and sexy, and I enjoy it even though I can "have more" as a married man.

    Second, I personally think it is unfortunate how off/on we are in our culture about sexuality before and after marriage. Now, each couple needs to do what they think is best, and it is better to be a bit overconservative than do something you will regret. At the same time, I wish that couples could enjoy a more natural progression of making out, enjoying each other, and then have that relationship blossom into full expression of sexuality once they are married. I have heard of too many people who had a hard time "switching gears" on the wedding night.

    I also agree it is important to distinguish the sexual and non-sexual roles the different parts of our body play at different times, and think that breastfeeding is an ideal place to start. I applaud your efforts!


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