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Post-Orgasm: Why this era of sexy beauty is different

From phallic lipsticks to sleazy smokey eyes, we’re officially in the talking stage with a beauty era that’s dirtier, sexier and subversive, beyond its suggestive qualities


Text: Alice Crossley

Illustration: Maïté Marque

From the ‘clean girl’ to the newer ‘vanilla girl’ and every glazed, glass and dolphin skin trend in between, the last few years have been dominated by looks that have been, well, a little vanilla. But the internet is growing tired of slicked-back buns and barely-there glam — we’re now in the talking stage with a beauty era that’s dirtier, sexier and subversive, beyond its suggestive qualities. Whispers of this began last year when we predicted a shift to sleazy beauty in the form of the Euphoria meets Effy Stonem trend of sleep deprived glitter eyesa new scummy makeunder era and the indie sleazification of skincare driven by minimal-effort brands like 4AM and Emma Chamberlain’s Bad Habit.

More recently, Dazed coined ‘post-shag’ makeup,Vogue encouraged us all to get a little wet with ‘shower makeup’ and ELF released an O Face lipstick. Then came the release of ISAMAYA LIPS, a collection of penis-shaped lipsticks by British makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench, officially ushering in the new era — this time with potential to shift the paradigm of what sexy beauty looks like and what it means, one phallic tube at a time.

While ‘sex sells’ has always been true in the beauty industry, sexy beauty exploded with the release of Francois Nars’s Orgasm blush in 1999. Since then, sex has remained a mainstay in the naming of beauty products; from Urban Decay’s Morning After lipstick to Too Faced’s Better Than Sex mascara and Pat McGrath’s newer Skin Fetish foundation, whilst sex proof has become the ultimate marketing claim by brands such as Jeffree Star and Urban Decay. Despite this, the marketing paradigm shifted in the mid-to-late 2010s with woman-led brands such as Glossier and Rare Beauty opting for a different approach, naming products things like Cloud Paint, Boy BrowKind Words and Positive Light instead — all without a hint of sexual innuendo.

Whether we are having sex or not, we want to exude that post-sex energy through our makeup.

Brit Phatal

The resurgence of sexy beauty is a strong swing of the pendulum, then, back to the ways of Y2K, and comes as somewhat of a surprise seeing as Gen Z are reportedly going through a sex recession. The stats around this so-called celibacy are a little shaky (most are based on a study from 2017), yet the reasoning tracks; experts believe Gen Z are having less sex due to the distractions of social media, a decrease in drinking culture and living with their parents for longer — not to mention the pandemic. Young people are also living in a post-Roe v. Wade society where attitudes towards sex sometimes seem to be becoming more conservative and are far more aware of both sexual violence and the emotional risks of dating, contributing to a more cautious approach to sex. That being said, this all remains generational speculation — for now — and sex-forward apps such as Feeld suggest the appetite for sex is still there after all. So what is actually true?

“Everyone is so online these days that there maybe isn’t as much time to discover yourself sexually, so some young people might not be having those sexual awakenings or experimenting as much”, suggests the Digiverse’s Rukiat Ashawe, who makes sex-positive content. But Rukiat believes the biggest factor in any shortage of shagging is TikTok’s censorship rules which make it almost impossible to create sex-positive content without having your account banned. Sex is often referred to as ‘seggs’ on the app and a recent trend saw the word ‘mascara’ being used as an algorithm-safe word to talk about a spectrum of experiences involving sex and relationships, both positive and negative (leading to much miscommunication over what some videos meant). The rise in ‘mascara’ discourse led some people to feel concerned that Gen Z were teaching themselves to censor and moderate discussions around sex (it’s also interesting that a beauty product was the chosen euphemism here). Not long after this trend blew up on TikTok, people on Twitter were calling for the return of 1940s-style censorship of sex scenes in TV shows and films, a potentially worrying sign that digital censorship is overflowing into real life.

Seggs-censorship and legitimacy of a sex recession aside, post-pandemic “people are craving intimacy” and have “a thirst for sexual expression”, explains multidisciplinary makeup artist Brit Phatal, “whether we are having sex or not, we want to exude that post-sex energy through our makeup”. Brit even finds a secret sexiness in the clean girl aesthetic, “While it might be lacking in creativity and personality, it isn't missing the essential element of sexy makeup: functionality. Going minimal, bare-skinned, and raw shows self-confidence; that you are ready for anything and have no fear of makeup transferring onto someone else’s clothing or bed sheets.”

This resurgence of sexy beauty can also perhaps be traced to Gen Z’s rediscovery of Pamela Anderson, following the controversial Pam & Tommy series and the follow-up Netflix documentary, which saw razor-thin eyebrows and messy updos take over TikTok — after all, you don’t get much sexier than Pam revealing she uses a G-string in place of a scrunchie. Or maybe it’s influenced by Chloe Cherry, Euphoria breakout star and sex worker who inspired Gen Z’s reexamination of the ‘sexy bimbo’ look. Chloe and her trademark “dissociative pout” helped Urban Decay transition away from its Instaglam aesthetic post-Naked palette and gave MAC’s Christmas campaign some much-need edge. It’s not just beauty that’s getting sexier either, fashion is too. Lace is this season’s must-have material, underwear as outerwear has been trending for a while and this year’s fashion week shows weren’t afraid to show a nipple or two.

That being said, an uptick in sex in beauty and fashion doesn’t guarantee a revival of horniness IRL nor necessarily mean that a trend can fulfil a genuine need for physical intimacy and desire. “Gen Z is way more into aesthetics than subcultures which is why they speed through these microtrends so quickly — there are no subcultural foundations”, explains Rukiat. She references 2022’s bimbofication trend and the initial Y2K revival as an example of a fleeting time when fashion and beauty felt driven by sex and sexiness but the focus on aesthetics rather than culture or community meant the trends were dropped as quickly as they were picked up, potentially preventing any lasting cultural impact.

But for Scotty Unfamous, sexual wellness educator, content creator and award-winning romance author, the marrying of sex and beauty does have potential to enact real change. “The stigma around sexuality does a lot of people a disservice, so if making a phallic lipstick or giving a product a spicy name adds to the spreading of breaking down taboos, that’s great”, she says. But Scotty also points to the limitations of marketed sex positivity in making a real impact, “a lot of it is very surface level, used for disruption tactics to sell more products”, she explains. 

Give me a mascara that doubles as a vibrator, or a cream blush that doubles as a stimulation balm, then you’ll have my attention.

Scotty Unfamous

This is where LIPS by ISAMAYA has the potential to shake up the beauty industry. Pre-Glossier, beauty brands were largely dominated by straight men in the C-suite, making them the drivers of sex marketing. ISAMAYA is a woman-led brand, providing makeup through the female gaze and daring to explore how beauty can provide an outlet for expressions of female desire that might otherwise be seen as somewhat taboo (her previous collection Industrial references kink and BDSM). The new lipstick line pokes fun at stale male-oriented marketing by daring to appropriate the penis without any reference to male pleasure; these lipsticks go around the mouth, but never in them.

For the duration of the collection, ISAMAYA is also supporting Planned Parenthood, helping provide sexual and reproductive healthcare and sex education in the US — bridging the gap between performative marketing and surface-level titillation and advocating for sex education and the protection of reproductive rights (though the amount donated per £80 lipstick is unclear).

So what lies in store for the future of sexy beauty? Critics of ISAMAYA’s new line have pointed out that both the lipstick and the imagery of women posing with penises still feels pretty heteronormative and patriarchal (the campaign features two women and one man), whilst Scotty Unfamous believes the beauty industry could push its connection to sex positivity a lot further: “Give me a mascara that doubles as a vibrator, or a cream blush that doubles as a stimulation balm, then you’ll have my attention”, she says. But whether or not other beauty brands follow ISAMAYA’s lead or Gen Z are inspired to have more sex than their parents, one thing's for certain — get ready for an era of beauty that’s bound to make you blush.

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