My Naked Body Is Not Sexual, Stop Equating Skin With Sex
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Politics and Activism

My Naked Body Is Not Sexual, Stop Equating Skin With Sex

My body is not always sexual, but it is always my home.

My Naked Body Is Not Sexual, Stop Equating Skin With Sex

My naked body is not sexual.

Do I want to be sexy? Sure. Do I like it when people I like think I'm hot? Heck yeah. Is my naked body aesthetically attractive? OK, sure.

But my naked body is not inherently sexual.

Me being naked is not an invitation for you to take carte-blanche to see me sexually. Me being naked is not your invitation to ogle me.

"Naked" isn't a four-letter word. Naked doesn't equal "fuck."

Do you realize I am always naked under these clothes? I am always naked under my clothes. My entire life, I am naked. And that doesn't make me always sexual.

My body is my body. It's the place where I live, it's how I get from work to school. My body is my home. It's how I can see the leaves changing in the autumn, it's how I enjoy blueberries on top of vanilla ice cream, it's how I can dance. And yes, it's sometimes how I experience other pleasures too.

Sexuality is great. I daresay not one of us doesn't want to be considered sexy by our partners and crushes and lovers. But sexiness and nakedness are two entirely different things. By equating them, you say that every time I am naked, I am instantly unavoidably undeniably sexy — or worse, trying to be sexy. And by "sexy," you don't mean, "a beautiful human, as all humans are."

Otherwise, that wouldn't be a threat, that would be a lovely platonic ideal.

"Seeing me as sexy" doesn't mean to you an aesthetic appreciation or a joy in the beauty of human bodies. That would be beautiful, not threatening.

No, by seeing me as sexy as soon as you see skin, you mean something else: something inviting, something more active, something that lets you think what you want and say what you think and believe I deserve it, because I'm "asking" for it, merely by existing in a body that now happens to be more visible.

When I ran to the Huron riverbank following a swing dance with a bunch of hot sweaty friends and we all stripped and jumped into the river, I didn't want to be "sexy." I didn't want people to look at me and violate my self-sanctity with thoughts of actions they'd like to do to me. I just wanted to be in the water with my friends.

When I was so sick I could barely stand and my boyfriend helped me get to the shower, I didn't want to be sexy. I just wanted help to bathe.

When my mother was in the exam room with me as I was getting undressed for a medical procedure, I didn't want to be sexy. I just wanted to be well.

Does that last one strike you as funny? "Oh, ew, of course she didn't want to be sexy around her mother!"? No, of course not. And I wasn't. Because naked does not equal sexy. My body is the same body, whether it's showering by myself or showering with a partner or skinny dipping with friends.

Context is what's sexy, not bodies. When the situation is a consensual sexy situation, then it's totally OK to see me as sexy. In context, it makes sense, it's situationally appropriate, it's what I want.

But to see me as sexy in that active, leering, thinking-you-now-have-permission-for-whatever-you-like-just-because-you-see-skin way, when a mutual-desire-for-sexiness is not the context, that's encroaching at best and violating at worse.

Where do we draw the line? If seeing all of my skin automatically equals this inherent objectification, what amount of skin do I have to cover up to be seen as a fully respectable human?

Can I be wearing just a thong?

Can I be topless?

Can I wear a bikini?

How about a one-piece?

What about a dress?

OK, a T-shirt and jeans?

A modest blouse and slacks?

A floor-length baggy dress?


As soon as we equate sexiness with skin, the line to seeing me as "human" versus "sexy" becomes quite blurred. How much skin do I have to show before I cross that line, and you get self-granted moral permission to see me how you want regardless of my consent?

When we equate naked with sexy, we start equating skin with sexy. Seeing my skin is no more an invitation to leer at me than seeing me naked.

I think human bodies are amazing and beautiful and, yes, sexy. And that's great. I've been around a lot of naked bodies. I'm a dancer, and dancers are often both comfortable in their skin and often change in the same rooms as each other. I've seen my fair share of gorgeous humans getting naked around me — there was a time when this person I had a huge crush on was changing in the same room, and HOO BOY let me tell you, talk about sexy. Their body was even more gorgeous than I had thought.

But I didn't have permission to see them in that way. I didn't have their consent to look at their body and imagine touching it, or it touching me. And they were a person whose human-ness and personhood I valued (as I should all humans, really) — they were a person, they were a friend. So this beautiful person got naked in front of me and guess what? When they talked to me as they were doing so, I made eye contact, didn't check them out, and didn't make any comments about their body. I focused on them and their words, not fantasies that I didn't have permission to engage in.

Understanding that sexiness is about consensuality and context is vital. I've been in romantic relationships that have lasted for years, and even then, when I'm hurrying to shower and get dressed in the morning to rush to work, I don't want my partner to see every time I'm getting naked as an invitation. Sometimes I damn well just want to get dressed.

Conflating skin and sexiness really fucks up our culture and our kids. It encourages shame: our children, too young to know what sexiness and sex is, associate their bodies — a thing they can't get away from — with shame: it's something to be hidden. Nakedness becomes this big deal. The secrecy encourages insecurity. How beautifully freeing could we all be in our own skin, if we saw other people's naked bodies and it wasn't a big deal? They were just living in their bodies, being at home.

That's what I want. My body is my home. And I don't want to be sexy all the time. I just want to be home. I just want to be here. Safe, in my home.

When my sister, Caedy, traveled to Barcelona and went to a nude beach for the first time, she had a liberating experience: "Nude beaches are SO freeing. Nudity is literally our natural state, and it was so freeing to be in my natural state without feeling like I needed to be hidden inside the privacy of my own home. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by naked bodies, and have it not feel sexual or "sexy" at all. In fact, if anyone were to stare at anyone else in a checking-them-out way, THEY would have been the weird or creepy ones, not us for being naked."

Caedy reflected that in America, nudity is more equated with sex because that's where we see it: "In advertisements where women are overly sexualized, porn, etc. Our society needs places where bodies can just be bodies (and all different types of bodies!) without it being tied to sex. Like how we can go to art museums and see nudity in art and it's not weird to stare at Michelangelo's statue of David.

But when we as a culture sexualize nakedness, I am unable to be safe in my own skin. Anytime I show it, I have to accept that I might be issuing an inadvertent or even unwilling invitation for others to treat my body as they want, regardless of me. And because we've just indiscriminately sexualized skin, I never know how much is too much, and how much is just fine. I've worn a baggy sweater and boyfriend jeans and been catcalled, and I've been buck-naked around friends and not one made me feel uncomfortable. There are no rules in society for how much is too much. We just sexualize skin and leave the invitation up to the perceptions of the observer.

We all have an actual home. How unsafe would we feel if your home was only yours if the lights were off — but as soon as you turned the lights on, anyone who saw them could come in the front door, regardless of your wishes? Worse, what if you didn't know what the unspoken invitation was? What if sometimes it was only if you turned on all the lights, so to be safe, you just turn the living room light on — but then next week, turning on just the living room light still brings someone in. So then you only turn on the lights when the curtains are drawn — but now you live in oppressive darkness, and next week, light through the curtains still brings them too.

No, it's only OK to walk into someone's house when they've extended to you an invitation.

That's when it's OK to see someone as sexy, to take their skin as an invitation: when they actually extend you one.

Please stop seeing my skin as sexual. Is it sexy? Sure. But you seeing its existence on my body is not license to treat me as anything less than fully human.

My naked body is not sexual — none of ours is. They're just our homes.

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