Sweat Is Sexy Now

During the year leading up to my first puberty, an alluring Old Spice ad frequented the TV. The blue laser lights of a club flashed on-screen to reveal a dancing woman in a tank top and tight leather pants. As she moves her hips, her skin glows. From afar, she has a model shine — only in close-up do we see curated droplets of sweat.

“WHEN SHE’S HOT,” the screen reads, “IT’S SEXY.” She grinds her torso, the wettest it’s looked yet. “WHEN YOU’RE HOT,” it continues, “YOU… STINK.”

Old Spice High Endurance Clear Gel. KEEP COOL. SMELL GREAT. The woman bites her finger, staring into the camera, as if to tease — or taunt — the male viewer at home.

The message was clear: As long as I was male — something at the time I believed to be a life-long curse — I had to fight the impulses of my body. I needed to be clean and fresh. I needed to be neutral.

Of course, if I’d known I was a girl, I might’ve internalized a different message: Sweat is okay for a certain type of woman. To be granted the privilege of glistening, you must look like this 2005 beauty standard. And, even then, you shouldn’t sweat too much.

My second summer as an out trans woman, I’d finally reached a level of comfort in my body to let myself sweat. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed the months of June, July, August, and September. Even living in New York, dripping with humidity, I felt good.

Over half a decade later — years filled with beach trips and dance parties and queer friends and lovers of various genders — I can hardly remember the time when sweat was something gendered and something to avoid.

And this summer, my no-longer-new love of sweat is finding bigger platforms than ever. As critic Meghan O’Keefe wisely tweeted, “Honestly what’s lost in the Hot Rodent Men discourse is that it’s not their faces as much as it’s the fact that they’re a fresh crop of stars who are actually DTF after a decade-plus of puritanically virginal superheroes with bland faces and zero chest hair. It’s the sex, stupid.” It’s the sex and, specifically, it’s the sticky sex. It’s a sex that finds the human body to be arousing, rather than something to hide.

Challengers and Love Lies Bleeding set the tone for the summer with grimy, drippy, excretions that dare you to lick them off their stars. When Josh O’Connor is hot, it is sexy. If he stinks too, all the better. Katy O’Brian is allowed to sweat like a human being, not an Old Spice ad — the film’s surrealism exists to heighten her bodiness, not diminish it.

Then, of course, there’s Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s upcoming Sweat Tour. And, yesterday, bisexual pop genius Tove Lo dropped her latest song and music video, “HEAT,” a collaboration with SG Lewis that creates a big queer dance party that feels like a warm-toned version of something out of a Matrix sequel. The people in the video are a range of genders with a range of body types. They dance and ooze and suck sweat off each other like sustenance.

While I’m thrilled about this public embrace of sweat, the circumstances around it are more concerning. Maybe the shift is due to more queer artists getting bigger platforms or maybe it’s because last summer was the hottest recorded summer in 2,000 years and this summer might be even hotter. Shame is always an option, even in dire circumstances, but the hotter our world gets the easier it is to embrace the consequences. For now it’s sweat, in five years will sunburns be chic?

Climate disaster has already and will continue to steal lives. We are running out of time to save our planet while our world leaders continue to take a gradual, liberal approach that’s insufficient. They won’t be the people who are most affected. Money and power can buy protection from our changing climates’ cruelest impact. Whether or not some of us embrace our increasingly sweaty bodies should be the least of our concerns.

Or maybe I’m being too dour. Just this week, Laura van den Berg wrote about her own love of sweat and how it connects with her Florida childhood of decades past. People have always sweat. Embracing that sweat is a good thing whether or not we should also mourn — and keep fighting against — our climate crisis.

I like the idea of a group of queer people sweating at a climate protest. And then afterward going straight to a dance party without any self-consciousness.

Let’s keep sweating in the sexy way — while making our politicians sweat with nerves.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 566 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Ok i love that it’s becoming a broader theme !
    Tove Lo’s previous hit Disco Tits was already referring sweat : “I’m sweat from head to toe/I’m wet through all my clothes”. Also, IDLES late 2023 single Dancer : “And the sweat” is repeated throughout the song (having been to a concert of theirs i can say it WAS sweaty as hell). Finally the article reminds me of the first time i heard Marie Davidson’s Work It remix at a sweltering pride march a couple years ago : “sweat, sweat to be a winner/ I wanna smell you even from far away”. Anyhow

  2. I know ur bi (not biphobic but ewww u like men sweat) but I do be huffing puffing pit sweat like a bong While some out there doing poppers loose butthole gay shit (lesbian ain’t stone top if they take that bottom drug)

  3. My experience with the media in the 80s and 90s suggested that sweat is icky and smells bad if it’s being absorbed by clothing, but if it’s dripping down bare skin it’s sexy? (I mostly tuned out from the mid-00s onward.) I mean, okay, whatever, I’m personally mostly indifferent either way, aside from being not fond of the feeling of my shirt getting soaked.

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