One of my most widely read questions on Quora* has been “Why do women wear revealing clothing?” It’s been nearly three years since I first wrote the answer, but it has been viewed by over thirty-seven thousand people. My twelfth most commonly read response. Not exactly viral, but not peanuts either.
Why the fascination with the question? I think it reveals one of society’s current conflicts — confusing sex with intimacy.
What Drives this Behavior?
The upshot of my answer is that for many women, especially for the single younger set, our clothing style reveals more about our desire to be noticed than our wish to have sex. Some women are conscious of the sexual signals they’re sending, but most are not. Our effort to look attractive is often an emotional bid for a relationship.
Most of the time. Yeah, sometimes we’re horny too, but I’m not referring to those instances.
Is this explanation naïve?
I don’t think so. I have counseled hundreds of people and interacted with many more since I started posting my answers on public forums. I have had the privilege of being entrusted with hearing other people’s desires, hopes, fears, and dreams. To know details that have never been spoken aloud.
We Just Want to be Loved
What I’ve discovered is that we all are looking for the same thing. We want to feel safe enough to be ourselves with the hope that we will be seen, loved and accepted just as we are — warts and all. Something very simple, yet hard to find.
Begins at Home
How we achieve this primal desire is based a lot on our first experiences. Some of us discovered our home was a dangerous place. We may have got the message we didn’t count, or worse yet we were an inconvenience or unwanted. As a result, our early life experiences equipped us with survival skills but left us with only a limited proficiency at intimacy building.
Others of us were fortunate enough to find some semblance of safety so we could begin to trust in our lovableness and goodness. These types of homes better prepared us for future intimate connections with others.
Most of us grew up somewhere in between these two extremes. And because of that, we struggle to place complete trust in those closest to us. The resulting difficulty may range from a few mild interpersonal hiccups all the way to having problems maintaining a long-term relationship.
What does all of this psychology have to do with why women wear revealing clothes?
The Fear of Being Loved
A lot. If we are unsure of our worthiness of being loved, we will default to a safer position. Something that seemingly poses fewer risks. Using the allure of sex offers such a solution, by providing affirmation of our desirability without having to put in the hard work of building a real relationship. We do this because it feels too risky to trust others with our most private selves.
Wearing revealing clothes offers such a fix.
It might draw a lingering look, making us feel beautiful. Or, our attractiveness could lead to a friendly conversation. The kind that makes us feel like we are the only one in the room. Or, if we’re really lucky, maybe our good looks will result being chosen as someone’s beloved.
After all, who doesn’t enjoy the attention of being sought after? It’s a big rush. For those few moments, we feel extra special. Our clothing becomes an expression and a symbol of our psychological desire to be seen and chosen.
A Setup for Failure
But wearing revealing attire doesn’t work that way. To some men, it sends the signal that we just want to get laid.
I don’t think many of us women realize using our sexuality could backfire on us. That we risk being categorized as not marriage material rather than someone he’d like to take home to meet mom. That we are giving the impression we’re okay with a one-night stand.
It’s just as confusing on the guy’s end. Of course, sexual relationships provide the much sought after physical release, but it also meets other secondary needs. It’s a convenient way to confirm the guy’s masculinity. It affirms he’s got what it takes, is powerful, and is in control. Maybe he hopes to find the woman of his dreams, but that seems to be a less pressing matter.
There seems to be a trend in online dating. The more insecure we are about being acceptable as-is, the more likely we are to rely on the superficialities of our sexy appearance, impressive job, good income, or high fitness level as a way to attract others.
Sex Instead of Intimacy
Offering sex initially works as an easy solution. For a few moments, we feel close to another human as we willingly bare our bodies while steering clear of the riskier act of baring our souls.
Does using sexuality work?
I don’t think so. If we lead with a sexual encounter in lieu of taking our time in getting to know one another, then we have short-circuited the process. We have used the pseudo-intimacy created at that moment as a temporary fix to our deeper intimacy needs. In the long run, this strategy is likely to fail by leaving us dissatisfied since there is no shortcut in developing deep connections with others.
To be truly fulfilled, we must commit ourselves to take the slow and vulnerable path of building meaningful relationships. And we will discover through this process that it is very beautiful and definitely worth the risk.
*Quora is an online social forum where people ask and answer every kind of question, including but not limited to political, technical, informational, and personal.
Previously published on medium
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