Women's use of intimate apparel as subtle sexual signals in committed, heterosexual relationships

PLoS One. 2020 Mar 13;15(3):e0230112. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230112. eCollection 2020.


Current literature on women's sexual signaling focuses on modes of attracting potential, new sexual partners, but says little about 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. In this study, we 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 report wearing sexier underwear the day taking the survey if they anticipate sexual activity that same day. However, during the most recent sexual activity, women did not report wearing sexier underwear if they initiated (proceptive) that activity. While relative mate value was not directly related to sexiness of intimate apparel, women who report higher mate value tend to wear sexier underwear. Women's use of intimate apparel might be viewed as a method of increasing attractivity and underlying receptivity to aid relationship maintenance, though caveats regarding measures and alternative interpretations are also discussed. 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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clothing / psychology*
  • Clothing / statistics & numerical data
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.10316015

Grant support

Funding for participant recruitment was provided by the UNLV Angela Peterson Scholarship to author LKC. In addition, UNLV funded the journal publication costs. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.