Does Sexual Objectification Lead to Bad Sex?

Turning women into sex objects heightens the erotic experience, right?

A growing body of research indicates the opposite: for women and, surprisingly, men.

A new longitudinal study out of Pennsylvania State found that when women lost their virginity, they lost self-esteem, too. Before they had sex, the body image of the women in the study steadily improved. But after a first sexual experience it dropped. Why? The study found that in bed women became self-conscious and critical of their bodies.

Tracy Clark-Flory over at Salon.com points out that this loss of self-esteem likely spells a loss of sexual pleasure. While women are supposedly enjoying sex, an awful lot of us are distracted, worrying that we don’t meet sex-object standards. Breasts are too small? Butt is too big? Cellulite, anyone?

Or as Clark-Flory puts it, “You think, ‘Do my breasts look OK from this angle’ instead of, ‘Wow, this position feels fantastic.’”

Even if you are proud of your body, self-scrutiny can distract from lovemaking. Caroline Heldman, assistant professor at Occidental College, writes that women who are hyper-aware of their appearance see sex as an ‘out of body’ experience, but not in a heavenly way. They view themselves through an imaginary camera lens, focusing on how they look in one position or another, as if they were porn stars. And their sexual pleasure suffers.

Heterosexual men should pause at this news. It’s likely they would enjoy themselves more if their partners were present and actively engaged, instead of dealing in distraction.

But objectification of women can also interfere  more directly with straight men’s enjoyment of sex. Men who consume porn often say they come to objectify women in a way that has them expecting a particular body type, leaving them disappointed if their partner looks different from the images they’re used to.

“I prefer women with a C- or D-cup, full-figured but definitely not overweight. I don’t want some small spindly girl either,” a young man explained in Pamela Paul’s Pornified. “Briana Banks is the ultimate. She’s not only blonde, she’s got the right chest size.”

In Pornified, psychologist Gary Brooks explains that he is concerned that many of these men lose the ability to be aroused by their partner’s positive features, and try instead to “re-create the images from porn in their brain when they’re with another person in order to maintain their arousal.” Adds Mark Swartz, clinical director of the Masters and Johnson clinic in St. Louis:

You’re making love to your wife, but you’re picturing someone else. That’s not fair to the woman, and it’s miserable for the man.

Some men may think objectifying women is a harmless pleasure, but the Penn State study and others suggest it’s a buzzkill.  Think this information could spur a movement to end objectification?

I originally wrote this piece for the Ms. Magazine Blog, where it appeared May 10, 2011

Popular Posts on BroadBlogs
Cartoonish vs Authentic Sexuality
Men Watch Porn, Women Read Romance. Why?
Women Want Emotionally Connected Sex. Why?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on July 27, 2011, in body image, feminism, gender, men, objectification, pornography, psychology, sex, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Anneshirley Nyako

    Porn is unhealthy and objectfying.
    Humans are sexual creatures. There is no problem giving into your human nature to experince sexual gratification. This blog, commentary, criticism, or whatever you like to call this, is not saying humans should not have sex.

    In fact humans should hsve sex. However demonic inhumane sex is another thing, and inside porn however fantasical it may be is strongly damaging and humans partaking in it either during or watching, get the full amount of the consequences.

    During a porn scene, they have two types of women. Women who are extremely attractive, which in porn industry standards that means malnourished bodies that have prudent hip bones and rib cages, fake breasts, blonde straight fake hair, artificial eye lashes, eye color, and nails. And then they have a “plain jane” archetype that is everything the first archetype isn’t. SHe may fuller in thighs, mid section, and have real breasts. She may even be wearing little to no makeup, and has what most would determine as “average” hair.

    Most of these women are white women, being forcefully penetrated in their mouths and in their genitals. They clearly cry out in pain, but when questioned by the male, they say they love it and want more.

    This paradox is a double edge sword. It puts the white woman as an object to be played with as rough and carelessly as possible. It destroys the act of sex and intimacy and turns it into how hard he can penetrate her. Depending on how attractive she is, the negligence of her pleasure is increased.

    The human beings watching it learn several things. If you are a woman, especially white, by example of the woman on screen, you are to enjoy the painful sex, even when you are in tears. It says to the young female, that you are erotic, sensual, sexy, if you reach those physical standards. It does not acknowledge your body type. It in fact, focuses on a purely impossible image of “human body image idealism” and forces the watcher to conclude this is what beauty is. This is what the normal standard reflects. I can fix myself to look like this. And unfortunately, as society begins to focus more on looks and appearances, sex and intimacy lose their fundamental enjoyment, and it becomes an a test of how close you can fit into one dominate cultures ideal. It also, makes white women seem passive, and promiscuous. Allowing several men to use her body at once while never disagreeing with otherwise.

    To the men watching it. Something is to be said by the men who reach sexual climax by watching women clearing be treated less than dogs during the most arguably intimate moment two human beings can share st once. Though what they incision is clearly brutality, their bodies are physically responding to it as pleasure and goodness and intimacy. Those two confusing messages, one of abuse, yet physical l

    Pleasure makes the male observers excuse the behavior. They may even consider recreating these activities in their own lives. However. Porn is not real.

    It is a fantasy.

    Yet human beings craving for intimacy and sexual gratification turn to porn to relieve it, internalize it and try to recreate the fantasy in reality, which is damaging to not just the indvidual but the psyche of humans on what is considered healthy good sex.

    And it also questions the role or a real man. Tje men in porns are always white unless you choose otherwise. They are always older completely dominating heir younger, sexually addicted girls. It makes it okay for men to hit their lovers during sex. To call her names. It says white men this is how to please your woman. You, as a man, most only go after these types of women. It places white men on a hierarchy and underlying suggests that men of only this caliber hsve this type of sex with these type of beautiful women.

    STDs like HIV AIDS Ghonnerea, Clamydia and herpes are currently on the rise and hsve been the highest ever in human history. Trying to make fantasy a reality is damaging our society. That is why porn is unhealthy on a whole spectrum, and dehumanizing on a large scale. It uplifts promiscuity, abuse, and casual sex, and in reality increases rape, sexual violence, rather than sexual gratification

  2. I do believe how society objectifies women is wrong. It makes women feel self conscious about their body at all times. Some of my girl friends will not ever leave the house without make up on, even if we are just running to the store. Some women wear uncomfortable bras with extra padding to make their breasts look 2 sizes bigger. No woman should feel compelled enough to suffer through discomfort all day in order to trick people into thinking they have larger breasts. Unfortunately this self consciousness stems from the unrealistic expectations of men. The ideal women they describe usually get their features from multiple plastic surgeries. It is not fair to say that all men want their partners to look like porn stars, but most women think they do.

  3. I do believe that objectifying women is bad and can lead to the woman not enjoying the sex. But i do think that both males and females should be somewhat aware of how they look when they are having sex but not to the point where they are not enjoying the sex. Just so they won’t turn their partner off during sex. This goes for both males and females.

  4. I find it very interesting that after a woman loses her virginity she loses some self confidence as well, but I can see how that would be true. It’s very sad that in our society men have all of these crazy expectations for woman that can leave us feeling insecure when we cannot satisfy their expectations when it comes to appearance. It’s terrible how it affects us and doesn’t allow us to enjoy ourselves during sex because we are too worried if we “look sexy” enough. It makes me wonder what things would be like if we could take away porn because clearly porn is what sets these obscene standards for what a woman should look like during sex.

  5. Adorina Betgorgiz

    According to this article, objectifying women is one main reason that women’s self esteem goes down and they start worrying about body acceptance instead of enjoying the sex while having sex. One reason that women get objectified is porn; men’s expectations of ideal woman changes and its to a point that they won’t appreciate their partners positive points but instead they will picture their ideal women (one of those in porn) while having sex in order to stay aroused. While this, unlike what men think, is hurting women’s self esteem. Just as Tulip Santos mentioned, I too, wonder what would happen if porn was taken away from men because clearly porn and all those “hotties” and “busty” women in pornography are to blame for women suffering a low confidence.

  6. Jenna Francisco

    I believe that men do rely on porn for their own sexual fantasies and agree that it causes them to objectify women similar to how women are starting to read Fifty Shades of Grey and using it to objectify men. With more of the media and porn showing women with “busty hotties, similar to what Adorna Betgorgiz said, and perfect photoshopped bodies in magazines, men do expect more and women lose confidence because they aren’t able to live or look up to the standards. Because media has impacted our lives and caused men to objectify women, it has caused women to objectify themselves and their bodies as well making them go through unnecessary lengths of gym time and harmful portions of meals. We become more concerned about how we look during sex instead of the overall connection and intimacy. Most women probably prefer having sex during the night or in the dark so that they don’t have to face the flat-chested, cellulite-infested, or even just a mole that they own. Sex is more of a show or a porn that the media are trying to rpoduce rather than an intimate connections in our society.

  7. Ending the objectification if women? Nice thought but I highly doubt it will happen in this day and age. It may be possible in very forward thinking places like California or New York, but as long as there is porn and models, I highly doubt women won’t be compared to them in the minds of their men. I’m not saying that there isn’t a few good ones still out there, but they are getting harder and harder to find in this over-sexualized society. If we want to end the objectification of women we need to stop putting these models and pornstars on pedestals.

    • With any luck both women and men will be able to critique the objectification, see how it harms them, and work to see in new and healthier ways.

      Since I’ve had experience with this, I believe it’s he problem can be mitigated by individuals, if not society in the near future.

  8. During reading the article, it reminds my first intercourse with my partner. I agree with the opinion that women tend to lose sex-pleasure after the first experience, on the other hand, self- body criticize and low self-esteem goes up instead. Because before having first intercourse, women often use imagination to dream and create fantastic picture of sex. Also women feel high pleasure during the first sex because what they only focus on is sex, love and ecstasy. They just feel good about what they do without worry or being distracted anything. But after that, they gradually care or be aware of several things such as how their body is looked like by partner, how moan good, angle, face expression or even how fake an orgasm. What I dislike about porn videos is that they create wrong image and unrealistic women’s figure. Porn star women usually have too perfect body, action, reaction or face which lead men sex drive. The purpose of porn videos is just make men to want to do that. But what I make me feel bad is many men cannot think separately from the created “fake” sex in media when they do it in real. Men expect or even require almost same actions, reactions or physically appearance to their partner and this is the worst result that porn causes. They should notice that the purpose of porn videos and shouldn’t expect what porn star do in videos to their partner. They have to treat their partner by their own love. In this way, women also don’t have to care about body, action, reaction or some other things that distract women’s pleasure anymore. Unreal image leads to bad sex.

  9. It’s really unfair how men think that objectifying a woman is okay when it’s not. When it comes to body image women are put into a box. They say we should be this thin, this tall, have boobs this big, long blonde hair, be a virgin but have sex like a pornstar. when it comes to sex you shouldn’t be thinking about how big or small your partners body parts are, you should be enjoying that intimate moment you guys are having. When you want a women to look a certain way during sex it will lead to bad sex because first off us women are very self conscious about our bodies. The first thing we’re worried about is cellulite, body size, smell, and comparison to other women sexually. What if the tables were turned?

  10. Elizabeth Wright

    I remember reading a study on how women (on average) tend to not have orgasms when they first “hook up” with a guy. The gap between how often men and women have orgasms during sex gets more and more narrow, depending on the length of the relationship. I feel that this is relevant to the topic of women being objectified during sex and of the self esteem of women going down after having sex for the first time.
    A woman, having sex for the first time, is likely to be extremely distracted by her insecurities and ideas of what sex and of what their body should be like. Thoughts such as, “Do my thighs look fat?” or “Are my boobs big enough?” can make a woman’s first time feel like an eternity.
    I believe that negative thoughts (as well as sexual objectification) gets better the longer a couple have been together. A couple is able to get more and more comfortable with each other’s bodies as well as their own. This would, however, require a loving and understanding relationship, where neither person criticizes the body of the other person.

  11. I don’t believe that all men that watch porn objectify women and think about that certain person when they are having sex with their significant other. In my opinion I don’t think that it matters what your partner looks like the only thing that matters are your feeling for that person that’s what makes you get arroused and have good sex. The only men that objectify women are ones that have self esteem issues themselves and they have to have that ideal women to feel good about himself.

  12. This is a great post. The fact that most women in this culture have less libido and are not as easily aroused as men -when biologically women are designed to have multiple orgasms- is a cause for concern. Aside form the fact that no one is taught to how to pleasure a woman -least of all how to pleasure ourselves- women also deal with objectification as jet another reason for a turnoff. So that even when the frivolous mandate of religion: to have only sex with a husband for reproduction purposes, is overcome, we still have the media setting an unrealistic standard for women that breeds low self-esteem. Seems like pleasure for women has been undermined as another tactic for control.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: