Taylor Swift is a tabloid. Patterned over with black-and-white newsprint that obsessively repeats her name, she appears on the purported cover of her sixth studio album alongside its strikingly bold, gothic title, Reputation. As someone whose public persona has Animorphed from country-teen-with-dufus-boyfriend to the face of white feminism to a toned-down, semi-silent and lovable klutz, it’s tempting to wonder: What is Taylor Swift’s reputation these days?

Whatever it is, sex symbol ain’t it.

Despite having a blessed exoskeleton that could propel her to the same level of sexual iconography as Madonna or Brigitte Bardot, Swift isn’t regarded by the much of the world as sexy. Talented? Yes. Fascinating? Absolutely. Polarizing? Indeed. But somehow, Swift, the first woman to win album of the year twice at the Grammys, has managed to achieve a global reputation as a powerhouse without the proverbial sex symbol status her pop predecessors have had to cultivate. You can chalk up most of that to the fact that for the majority of her career, Nashville required she packaged herself as a Disney princess. But even as she’s undone country music’s cuffs over the past three years, she’s never had to sexualize herself to sell. In this respect, Swift is a rare breed.

The reputations of other members of her species—Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Lady Gaga, Britney (back then and today still)—can be characterized by the ancient dictum “sex sells,” with those artists having adopted tantalizing states of undress and erotic narratives throughout their careers. Meanwhile, Swift’s over here stumbling through dance routines, shredding her boyfriend’s button-ups and face-planting on a treadmill in an Apple Music commercial. The closest she’s gotten to being salacious thus far is her 50 Shades Darker video with Zayn Malik for “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” in which she performs the unthinkably scandalous act of…rolling around on a bed while 77 percent clothed. Cute? Sure. Sexy? Well, what do you think?

Swift is not sexy as we have historically understood sexiness—and yes, that includes how Playboy has defined ‘sexy’ in the past.

What she is, however is strategically approachable, and undeniably so. To be one of the top-grossing artists in the world, she has to be just sexy enough to hold interest, but not so sexy as to turn the above-the-mantle Jesus pieces of white-bread middle America away from her. This is no mistake; Swift’s genius in controlling her own publicity and SFW image is well documented. People love her not because she pushes boundaries or refuses puritanical gender roles with countercultural performance art, but because she feels familiar—like someone you know or are yourself. For the majority, twerking with Iggy Azelea in a video for a song about plump butts or conducting a post-apocalyptic sand orgy a la Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” isn’t familiar. (If it is, hi, I am your people.) Being a little shy, a little awkward and a little private when it comes to one’s own sexuality, however, is.

Something more familiar to us than twerking is being forced to not take ourselves too seriously. And then to be self-aware enough to co-opt criticism into creativity? In the age of 24/7 scrutiny, that right there is sexy. It’s the confidence to be so unabashedly yourself that you can write an album like 1989, wherein you troll your critics by becoming the version of yourself the media has invented. It’s the sort of autonomy and independence people crave these days.

Thus, Swift is signaling the start of a unique, wholly endearing new brand of sex appeal. She is not sexy as we have historically understood sexiness—and yes, that includes how Playboy has defined sexy in the past. Her sexiness is clumsiness, self-awareness, confidence, honesty and foresight. It’s songwriting that makes you feel like the two of you have talked every day since meeting in grade school. It’s the sort of sexiness that doesn’t even make you desire intercourse; rather, it’s an appeal to interpersonal intimacy, long gone in the age of digital relationships, and a connection between artist and listener, a penetration of her audience versus an orifice.

It’s because of this nuanced, holistic and crafted model of what sexiness can comprise outside of the physical (personality, values, confidence, raw talent) that Swift has been able to transcend the conversation about her personal sexuality and just be—pause for dramatic effect—a person. As a female in the public eye who surrounds herself with sex-symbol ingénues like models Kendall Jenner and Karlie Kloss, that’s nearly unprecedented. To be judged more for your artistry, terse tweets and album covers than for your physical appearance is a privilege few women have. It’s as if Swift is post-sexual—a futuristic example of what female celebrity looks like in a time when sex—both the literal act and representations of it—is freely available.

She is post-sexual—a futuristic example of what female celebrity looks like when sex is freely available.

But let’s get to the bigger picture. I’m here writing about Taylor Swift’s sex appeal not because the scrutiny of her image matters in the grand scheme of anything, but because it’s an opportunity to acknowledge that expressions of sex are no longer singular or prepackaged. If they were, Swift would have released her own version of “I’m a Slave 4 U” by now. She would have kissed Madonna at the VMAs years ago. She would have posed nude, somewhere.

But Swift is proof you don’t need to connect with an artist on a sexual level to enjoy his or her art. Likewise, female artists do not need to flaunt their sexuality in order to be deemed alluring, empowered or confident—though if they do, that’s fine too. It’s just as healthy for a woman to focus more on friendships and relationships than whose anaconda she’s taming. In Swift’s case, it doesn’t mean she’s negating herself sexually or that she’s not sexual; it’s just that she’s chosen to market herself as someone unconcerned with saleable modalities of human anatomy. In turn, that opens up a space for us to have more important, pressing discussions about things that matter more like, say, her music, her impact or her reputation as a pop-culture role model. That doesn’t make her better or worse than anyone else. It just makes her different.

In reality, Taylor Swift’s sexuality, whether it’s something you understand or don’t, is more likely a product of clever marketing than an extension of her actual desires. Because she’s Taylor, we’ll never truly know her true sexuality, whether her brand of sex appeal is more tactical than truthful or how it informs her music, but discussing those grey areas has her on the tips of our tongues. In the end, it’s possible that any conversation about her and modern-day sex symbolism is raised because she wants us to be asking that very question. She does, after all, have a reputation for starting conversations.