Does Porn Objectify? Experts Disagree

tumblr_m70k61SGzh1qgadmfWhen men view porn do they see women as mindless objects? Psychologist, Kurt Gray and his colleagues wanted to know.

Humans have needs, goals, emotions, the ability to act, and hopes and dreams for the future. Mere objects don’t.

So the researchers showed men pictures of women in various states of dress and undress and asked how much “agency” they had, meaning self control and the ability to plan and act. They also asked about their ability to feel fear, desire and pleasure.

The study focused on these two areas because research on the mind shows that that’s how we categorize humans.

Turns out, the more skin women reveal, the less they seem agentic, but the more they are thought to feel.

Men seem to see nude women as a completely different sort of human from themselves. Naked women are “feeling” but not “thinking.” More “animalized” in nature. Interesting that sexualized women have been portrayed as bunnies, pets, cougars and sex kittens.

The researchers conclude that women are not mere objects, after all.

Yet “objectification” isn’t always understood as “unthinking and unfeeling.” It often means seeing people — usually women — as one-dimensional beings that are ALL about sex. If a man is getting off on a woman’s pain or pleasure, that’s a part of the porn experience. He may be drawn to her pain, and at the same time not care that she wants it to stop. So long as he is aroused, that’s all that matters. Regardless, sex objects exist to serve the desires of others.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines objectification as: treating someone as lacking agency, autonomy and self-determination, and as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes; treating a person as something that is owned and whose experiences and feelings needn’t be taken into account.

Even men who use porn a lot frequently describe it as objectifying women. Fortunately, many can still make a distinction between objectified porn stars and the multi-dimensional women in their lives. And as the researchers point out, it’s fine to be all about sex and feeling if you’re in bed with your lover. Just not when that’s ALL women are about ALL the time. But some women complain that when they’re trying to make love they feel more like objects that are just being used. That’s another symptom of the problem.

As Scientific American concludes, “There is, it turns out, more than one kind of ‘objectification.’”

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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 February 1, 2012, in feminism, gender, objectification, pornography, psychology, sex, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Tharnitha Sivasangary

    It seems that porn may affect more or less the approach they have or retain when they (men) have sex, this maybe a stagnitaiton on the intimate side of the relationship, in that its turn to touching, feeling, and doing not thinking and experiencing as a couple. I would say I can see how men won’t necessarily take a generalized perception from porn to women, in that they have a sense defined line when it ultimately comes down to reality and fantasy, so to say.
    This statements sort alters but is generally something have observed and agree with to an extent, when clothing and respect come in to play. My perception has changed a bit to due to this posting, in the level of insight, men categorize rather define, rather women define, in how suggestively one dresses. “Turns out, the more skin women reveal, the less they seem agentic, but the more they are thought to feel.” I feel this article or rather post, as given more of a gained insight on the perception of women, and I am glad to see that men find porn objectifying women. Its seems though that if unnatural sexualizes women, and that’s where I find the research frightening, in terms of the expectations they place on their partners, versus the reality of it all.

  2. After reading this, I never thought much about the idea of porn. Being a male myself, I always thought porn was considered a sin or a crime, but indeed that humans have needs, goals, emotions, and hopes and dreams for the future. The way treating woman as objects to me was something I always would go against. Self control is truly important, but I think the best thing for any male is to not know anything about it, which allows them to be able to control those urges and desire. It’s one thing to have desire for pleasure, but it’s another thing to reach those desires, from means that lower the value of a women.

  3. It is hard to see how a video that displays a woman having sex with multiple men at once or being raped could not be seen as objectifying women. Although their are many different kinds of porn and just as many types of people who watch it for any number of reasons. While I understand what the researchers in this study accomplished and that they seem to have identified men’s view of a sexualized women as more “human” than “object” I cannot deny my own personal experiences and experiences of friends. There are men out there who consider a women nothing more than sexual ojects and the pornographic film industy does feed into their warped view of a females role in society. I am by no means opposed to the free speech of people who care to express themselves; the porn industry is protected by the constitution and I respect that. I am by no means a “prude” myself but I do believe that in regards to the whole totality of the pornography industry and what it has become, it continues to do much harm to women’s rights than it does good.

  4. Very interesting, research on porn? I myself think that PORN in the number one force in the world that can undue everything we as a civilization have mastered. It takes very little involvement to grab its foothold in our souls and cause problems. This one thing can cause compulsion to the extent of destroying families. It always starts as an interesting concept, people think they can control their urges, but the reality of it is that many people, or let’s say men, can’t handle the complexity of what they have begun. The women of the porn world are beautiful to the extent of being fake beautiful. A man sees this and then the rest of the time is always comparing everything around him to that one “nasty” girl he saw when he was alone. There is never a time when he isn’t thinking about the images in his head. They all converge into a make believe world that empowers his privacy. Women are unfortunately never going to compare to that ever lasting image in his brain. Divorce rates are soaring and men everywhere never think the gem they have found is the one, because their subconscious is always reliving the women he has viewed. It’s amazing how many times men think about sex in a day. My wife is amazed. I can’t be that one crazy guy that can’t get her out of my mind. Boys are starting this activity at a much earlier age. The worst part about this is that the imprint on these make believe images instead of imprinting on their wives. Making that image of their wife ever compared to something unobtainable. Come on guys turn off the computer screens and spend a little more time making that ONE, in our life, happy. If we spent half as much time in our relationship as online, we might actually realize how important that girl in our lives really is. She would probably be just as happy with your effort.

    • I don’t think that any of this really goes one way. Men might “objectify” women, but women idealize men. It’s hard for both people to live up to each others standards. I’m not saying that either is right. But you can look at “Twilight” as a kind of porn “meant” for women. It encourages an unhealthy attachment to fantasy. I think it’s okay to have fantasies and even act them out (as long as your partner is okay with it) but it is still important to be able to make the distinction. I disagree when you say that porn is going to be the demise our society because I do not view it as a destroyed legacy, I view it as a changed legacy. We are only going to grow from our experiences, we just have to decide which way to go.

  5. I really agree with this topic because a lot of men view women differently. Its sad that the women in porn are viewed as cougars, sex kittens, etc but the women who actually do porn put their selfs out there like that, they like to be called various names so the men goes along with it. Its no excuse for the name calling and women should not be categorized as “objects” we are human not sex objects. Its just really sad that people view women in that way.

  6. K. Gildersleeve

    I did not see how the statement “The researchers conclude that women are not mere objects, after all.” was supported. I could not find anything upon which to draw that conclusion. Then it is contradicted by the statement…”Fortunately, many (men) can still make a distinction between objectified porn stars and the multi-dimensional women in their lives.” actually noting that porn stars are objectified, which is the debate in question.
    Objectifying is de-humanizing in my opinion, using a person as a thing for their gratification. It is superficial, impersonal, self-centered, and it never satisfies, unless you get more. Just like an addictive drug. It can leave uncontrollable cravings of increasing intensity. It separates people from each other and can damage relationships and the ability to be intimate and vulnerable. A toy, a tool, a game…. a need so intense a person would trade their career, reputation, family and fortune to get more.
    The media is a great teacher of modern culture, and in my opinion the money making media is certainly programming viewers to see women (mostly) as sexual objects, and increasingly getting more graphic and pornographic, and frequently using pornography in mainstream movies. Teaching us to objectify each other. This makes me sad and angry, because this is the environment in which children are being brought up. I would rather see us teach the younger generations how to see each other as fully feeling, thinking, loving, unique human beings with whom to share equally the experiences of attraction, sex, love and intimacy that comes when we see each other for who we are, not when we use each other for our own solitary gratification.

    • First, as I said “researchers disagree.”

      • The first researchers determine that women aren’t “objects” because they include at least the feeling aspect of being human.

      • Others say that, for example, a man may be aware that a woman is feeling pain, yet not care that she wants it to stop. Not caring is a definition many use for “objectification.”

      • I point out that just because porn stars are objectified, the real women in men’s lives may not be (so porn-users may not objectify ALL women). Some men are better than others at making a distinction between real life and porn. I also point out that some women feel their partners are treating them like objects – an example of not making that distinction.

      • Does porn Objectify ? : The answer is yes – but who does it objectify ?
        Many people had reanalyzed that old statement and figured out that from watching at porn the focus, from pleasure to pain, from attractiveness to niceness it is all revolving the female (mainstream porn) and the men is quite often portrayed as a mere penis a prop to get her off …

        “…treating a person as something that is owned and whose experiences and feelings needn’t be taken into account.” Sound like the males at porn – all the feedback you got at the mainstream about experience is the ejaculation and the feedback on feelings is horny.

        “Even men who use porn a lot frequently describe it as objectifying women.” – because you are being taught it does it.

        Porn objectify all parties but in different ways, there is no porn that won’t objectify. The problem that women complain about is that it is more male-audience focused due to the fact that you get into the male shoes, the video all about showing the girl …
        As I wrote in one of the other posts – the solution is to get more porn videos that are featuring more about the male (showing his face, his glamor, his beauty. his pleasure).

      • I write posts ahead of time so that just in case I get really busy I’ll have something in the bank. Here’s the title of one of those posts: Objectifying Women Objectifies Men

        I can see how turning men into nothing but a penis could sexually objectify them. And that’s not a positive thing. Sexual objectification hurts everyone.

        That said, if men are viewing themselves as actors, acting on an object, that changes things a bit. Perhaps they can be both actors and objectified at the same time.

        And this isn’t about blaming men. We go up in a culture that teaches all of us to objectify women. Both women and men learn to do it–Women often learn to do it to themselves.

        Do Women Buy Into Objectification?
        http://broadblogs.com/2014/02/05/do-women-buy-into-objectification/

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