Sexy vs. Slutty: Let’s Talk About The Big Difference Between The Two

By Dr. Taylor Burrowes··  8 min read
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sophia loren sexy not slutty

Sexiness isn’t limited to one type of wardrobe or sexual prowess. Sexiness and sluttiness are more accurately expressions of a woman’s energy and way of being, not just her clothes.

What Do Modest, Sexy, and Slutty Really Mean?

Contrary to popular opinion, modesty and sex appeal aren’t mutually exclusive at all. In fact, the ideal woman has a beautiful blend of both. Who doesn’t want to be the Ideal Woman?

These qualities are descriptive of her presence and the quality of the character she displays that defines her as an attractive, healthy, feminine woman who is respectable, selective, and classy. 

When you think of a slutty woman what comes to mind? What about when you think of a sexy woman? What about a modest woman? Can you define the difference?

Consider these mental images for a moment. They’re probably three very distinct mental images, am I right? 

Qualifying these categories visually is hard because they’re very subjective terms. It’s difficult to pinpoint what’s objectively modest, sexy, and what “goes too far” toward slutty. It depends on personal taste, culture, your value system, and even your body type and the situation. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint what’s objectively modest, sexy, and what “goes too far” toward slutty.

The same outfit might look appropriate on one woman and very inappropriate on another, depending on the venue and event she is wearing it to, her body language, positioning, body shape and size, and her personality that shows through the outfit. 

Look at these photos for example. Not everyone is going to agree on which ones are sexy, attractive, or inappropriate.  

spice girls halloween costumes slutty
bella hadid nude catsuit slutty

The first picture is raunchy, and women who wear this style give an impression of sexual promiscuity. Even the nude catsuit worn by the supermodel appears slutty when taken out of context. It may pass as appropriate at a high fashion event, but I’m sure if worn by a regular woman to a regular venue she would appear “overexposed.”

white sweater pink tiered skirt bow necklace white pearl clutch sexy

black midi dress slit reformation sexy

white ruffle mini dress sexy

I think most would likely agree these last three outfits are sexy.

The goal is to feel like your personality and your clothes match, but your clothes should also match the occasion and venue. 

You may not always want to look sexy, but we should put time and attention into appearing appropriate and pleasant. Being sexy usually means being feminine, girly, classy, clean, and attractive. You can be modestly dressed and still be sexy, and you certainly don’t have to dress over the top (a.k.a. slutty) to be sexy. 

Being sexy usually means being feminine, girly, classy, clean, and attractive.

It bears repeating that modesty and class are not just about what you wear, but how you carry yourself, the way you act, and the energy you exude when you interact with others. 

What’s with All the Negativity about Modesty?

It’s the extreme examples of the stereotypes of “modest” and “slutty” that are problematic. Modesty gets associated with homely and unattractive women and is defined by chaste behavior. But modest women don’t have to be any of those things. They don’t need to reject sex or consider flirting or sexual tension to be bad or wrong. It’s healthy, good, and appropriate to accept healthy sex and tasteful sexiness.

She's selective and has higher standards.

A modest woman is chaste, but she isn’t an unattractive woman. A chaste woman is a lovely, feminine woman who also chooses not to have casual sexual partners because she's selective and has higher standards.

Eva Mendes wearing beautiful dress how to dress modest
Photo credit: New York & Company

Do We Have To Choose?

Healthy femininity shouldn’t be an either/or conversation between diametrically opposed extremes. Healthy femininity is meant to exhibit a cohesive relationship between complementary aspects of our own dynamic womanhood. 

A healthy, feminine woman is both modest and sexy. The problem is the general public’s misconception that asserts modesty lacks sexuality and that sexiness is vulgar. Neither is accurately understood or portrayed. 

We have to correct this logical fallacy and return our womanhood to a healthy balance of sexiness and modesty – or, as we can also think of it, mystery. Healthy feminine sexuality is implicitly sexy, sensual, and passionate. It’s not explicitly vulgar, profane, or obscene. 

Healthy feminine sexuality is implicitly sexy, sensual, and passionate.

Reconfiguring these concepts in this way will help many start to understand how they can co-exist in a healthy, effective balance. Otherwise, if we continue to proliferate these falsehoods, then we will be further contributing to the problematic Madonna-Whore Dichotomy that has been plaguing our distorted conceptualization of femininity and inter-sexual social dynamics for some time. 

A Line Must Be Drawn

This stark contrast between overt sexuality and covert modesty has had serious implications on our young women’s psychology as they’ve been coerced to choose one persona over the other. Both are very limiting and likely to produce significant tension from cognitive dissonance.

As a retired sexual trauma recovery therapist, I can tell you the harsh rejection of feminine sexuality we see with the example of the homely, unattractive, modest, sexually repressed woman is similar to a sexually traumatized woman who dresses to be overlooked and dismissed to feel safe from sexual attention. This woman is an asexual caricature who detaches herself from her femininity and sexuality to feel less vulnerable because she sees her beauty as a weakness that puts her at risk of harm from predatory men.

In the converse, some victims may display highly promiscuous behavior, including seductive and provocative dress and promiscuity. The healthy goal is to avoid the extremes and to help women to function in the middle with a tasteful and selective expression of their feminine sexuality. Finding this sweet spot allows women to embrace their beauty and sensuality within appropriate limits. 

The goal is to avoid the extremes, functioning in the middle with a tasteful expression of feminine sexuality.

Unfortunately, women have been encouraged to go to these extremes without understanding its distortion, why it’s unhealthy, and how they can instead learn to balance their sexual power with their sexual vulnerability. 

Being asexual and looking unattractive doesn’t keep you safe and healthy, and appearing obscene and acting promiscuous doesn’t make sexual exploitation – even by your own doing– a healthy or good form of “sexual liberation.” There will always be logical consequences to ineffective choices, even well-intended ones. We’ve seen much of its impact play out in the high incidence of unsuccessful relationships and unhappiness in women. 

Finding a Healthy Balance

Finding this sweet spot between mystery and sexuality is a much-needed skill that will allow women to embrace their beauty, sensuality, and sex appeal in a safe and healthy manner, while maintaining control and good judgment. 

We can’t expect anyone to know what to do if we aren’t allowed to judge people’s behavior or choices. 

It’s important that we don’t further delay a much-needed course correction on the feminine experience from being conflicted and confused about what’s healthy and appropriate. We have to do this by talking about what’s right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, liked and disliked. We can’t expect anyone to know what to do if we aren’t allowed to judge people’s behavior or choices. 

What Do Sexy and Slutty Look Like?

Here's a more in-depth visual guide to the differences between dressing slutty and dressing sexy.

Let's talk about what can make us look "slutty."

A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you.

- Francoise Sagan

Slutty clothing leaves very little to the imagination. If we conceptualize femininity as the meeting between mystery and sexuality, slutty clothing is completely lacking in mystery. The clothing leaves nothing to the imagination. Men don't need to see the whole store on display to figure out what they're getting.

In these examples, you can see what I mean. The dress is very short, and shows off cleavage. The jeans are so low we're worried something might fall out. Sure, you may feel great showing off so much of your body, but it doesn't look like you take yourself very seriously.

Love Cass
Photo credit Lovecass
Alexis Ren casual
Photo credit Alexis Ren

Another hallmark of slutty clothing is that it often looks cheap. I'm not saying you have to break the bank to look good, but don't just go for the first dress that shows off your cleavage. Part of being sexy is showing you have taste – which is also reflected in your taste in friends and partners.

Photo credit IVROSE
Fashion Nova

Photo credit Fashion Nova

Now, let's talk about how to dress sexy.

Your clothes should be tight enough to show you're a woman but loose enough to show you're a lady.

- Marilyn Monroe

The key component in dressing sexy is mystery. You don't want to look frumpy or overly covered, but you're also not giving everything away. That's why structured, tailored, and flattering clothing is always the way to go. Choose clothing that's elegant, tasteful, and feminine. Simple patterns or solid colors in classic silhouettes will accentuate your natural figure while showing off your good taste.

Gaala Paris casual
Photo credit Gaala Paris
Marala Fontan

Photo credit Mara Lafontan

If you're going to go sexy with one part of your outfit, make sure to leave another part covered. For example, a sexy neckline on a longer dress communicates that you're fun and flirty but also want to be taken seriously. You can still look amazing without showing off everything.

Olive and Ivy dressy
Photo credit Coco and Lola
Photo credit House of CB

Closing Thoughts

Let’s return to social graces and a refined sophistication that doesn't require women to either reject their feminine charm altogether or to go all in and lose their inhibitions by using more explicitly masculine sexual cues to feel empowered and garner attention. Being a woman is a gift, but it’s our responsibility to honor that with self-respect.

  Society  Femininity
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