The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Women's Intimate Apparel as Subtle Sexual Signaling in Heterosexual Relationships


Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Current literature on women’s sexual signaling focuses on modes of attracting potential, new sexual partners, but limited literature examines women’s subtle sexual signals in committed, romantic relationships. Subtle sexual signals are inherently private and are only visible to the intended audience; a woman might use these signals to elicit or accept a sexual response from her partner or to increase her overall attractiveness, or attractivity. No studies examine women’s use of and attitudes about intimate apparel – i.e., sexy underwear – as subtle sexual signals in romantic relationships. In this study, I sought to identify women’s use of intimate apparel as a proceptive or receptive behavior as well as the effects of relative mate value, relationship commitment, relationship satisfaction, and sexual functioning. A total of N = 353 women in the United States aged 25-45 who were in committed, heterosexual relationships completed the survey; 88.7% of the sample indicated wearing or having worn sexy underwear. Results indicate that women who report higher mate value tend to wear sexier underwear, despite their sexual activity in their current relationship. Therefore, intimate apparel may not be a form of proceptivity but a method of increasing attractivity and relationship maintenance, which might be termed underlying receptivity. Findings suggest that these women use intimate apparel to feel sexy, desired, aroused, and to prepare for sex with their partners. This study is the first to examine intimate apparel in relationships and as a subtle sexual signal of proceptivity and receptivity.

Participant recruitment costs provided by the Angela Peterson Scholarship for Spring 2019.