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Men: Erotic Objects of Women’s Gaze

Sexy, but all covered up.

Sexy, but all covered up.

A nude woman frolics in silhouette as clothed men sleuth about, guns in hand and feet in chase. These images introduce The Spy Who Loved Me.

Flipping through TV stations the other day, this Bond rerun caught my eye and left me imagining the reverse: a nude man cavorting about as clothed women race in pursuit of criminals. Weird.

The female body is celebrated – or exploited – while the male body is ignored.

Check out People’s sexiest men. Until 2013s Channing Tatum you would be hard-pressed to see anything but face shots, loose T-shirts, and very few rippled muscles. Who could imagine a “sexiest woman” shoot sans bodies.

Searching for a calendar of sexy men at one bookstore, the closest I could find was Barack Obama.

Yeah, yeah, there is the occasional men’s underwear ad, but they are rare.

And when men walk around in the world they’re all covered up.

No wonder women don’t spend a lot of time checking out men’s bodies, ogling them or judging them.

man commented on one of my posts that (to paraphrase):

Not only are men not considered erotic, they are often used to get laughs. In Seinfeld, Elaine referred to the male body as “utilitarian,” implying that the female is much more erotic. George Costanza became a victim of “shrinkage.” Scenes of Johnny Knoxville running around in a thong get chuckles.

Why is the male body so de-eroticized?

One possibility: Men have historically controlled media, and they focus on what they find sexy (about 95% of them anyway). Homophobia further hinders eroticization. As women enter the industry we find more focus on men, but still not much compared with women. Meanwhile, showered with sexy-women images from the time they are small, even women come to find women the sexier of the species.

What if the world were to switch? Suddenly, a universe of men in Speedo’s?

What if women became subject, and men erotic object for women to gaze upon? What if women sought to consume men as objects? Judging them, grading their beauty? Would women feel empowered, experiencing themselves on the “person” side of the person/object divide?

Something to think about.

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What Gossip Magazines & Abusers Have In Common

By Linda Bakke

Star Magazine promotes violence against women.

Ok, that sounds like a tabloid headline, but the more I look over Star Magazine, the more I’ve been struck by a sense of violence directed at women.

The starlets are constantly attacked for any extra weight, cellulite, bunions, ugly fingers or thick arms. It feels like open season. “Kill the Celebrity” is the name of the game.

One section called “Knifestyles” advocates mutilating women through plastic surgery. With the accompanying message, “You’re not good enough.”

In fact, Star uses the same devices that characterize domestic abusers: watching the victim’s every move, humiliation, stressing the negative rather than the positive aspects of the victim (who is supposedly adored), using “it’s her fault” to launch an attack, and transferring the abuser’s dissatisfaction with life and himself onto the victim.

After a while, she starts to blame herself.

Paparazzi hunt celebrities down and we all become cannibals of the spoils, savoring the flaws of “perfect” idols as we bring them down a peg.

But it’s not just about starlets. It’s not just their bodies that are under attack. Yours and mine are, too. If they don’t look good, we don’t either.

The depiction of women in gossip magazines represents the degradation, abuse and mutilation of women. We must recognize how damaging these portrayals are for all of us, women, girls, men and boys.

For we are all encouraged to scrutinize and vilify women for being less than perfect.

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Best Not To Be Popular In High School

Good news for most of us – about 98% of us, anyway. It’s best not to be popular in high school.

After following the lives of six outsiders and one self-proclaimed “popular bitch” cheerleader, that’s Alexandra Robbins verdict in her book, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.

Why?

Well, what is popularity?

Oddly, “What the kids call ‘mean popular’ and ‘nice popular’ are actually what psychologists are coming to call ‘perceived popular’ versus popular,” says Robbins. “The kids who are perceived popular—the kids who are considered the top of the social hierarchy—they’re actually not very well liked, but they’re viewed as being socially successful.”

So part of the reason it’s best not to be popular is that people often don’t actually like you.

Perhaps that’s partly why high school status is not necessarily aligned with happiness. Popular people might be happy and they might not. Also true of geeks. But in fact, Robbins insists the so-called popular kids are often a lot less happy than the other kids in school.

That makes sense. When the minds of “mean popular” kids are full of misery – as in making others miserable – how could they be filled with happiness or joy?

But there’s more. Being popular requires fitting in. Cookie-cutter, mindless “groupthink” tuned toward conventional style. Lacking your own thoughts and opinions. Being pretty boring. Pretty and boring, that is.

Then there’s the focus on fashion and gossip. Fulfilling? I think not.

In an interview with The Washingtonian, Robbins declares, “Popular kids don’t necessarily know who they are because they’re so busy trying to conform. It’s the outcasts who are more attuned to who they are. They’re more self-aware, more real.”

Adolescence is a struggle between individuality and inclusion. “Nonconformity is a wonderful trait, and it’s going to be valued in adulthood,” Robbins reflects. “If you’re different in school, that makes you an outsider. If you’re different as an adult, that makes you interesting, fun and often successful.”

Original thought and expression will take you much farther, ranging from more interesting friends and conversation to creative, enriching, and contributing work, whether in business, science, academia, media, or the arts.

Lady Gaga is Exhibit A. Always one to express herself, she did not fit in, was not popular in high school, and was once thrown in a trashcan. But look at her now!

Not-popular people of the world, unite, and be proud.

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Orgasm: It’s All in the Mind

Thirty to forty percent of women have trouble reaching orgasm, thanks to a culture that represses women’s sexuality.

Others can climax via thought alone.

What we’ve learned from the mind-only technique could help women experiencing sexual difficulty.

Using brain scans, Dr. Barry Komisaruk found that some women can climax from “a combination of breathing exercises and fantasy, while others use their imagination and pelvic floor exercises.” He explained, “Some imagined erotic scenarios, but others imagined very romantic scenes such as a lover whispering to them. Others pictured more abstract sensual experiences, such as walking along a beach or imagining waves of energy moving through their body.

“There’s been a lot of focus on the body and our physical responses,” Komisaruk continued, “but for many people, and women in particular, the mind plays an even more important role.”

Physical stimulation seems to be more vital for men than for women, who require the right ambience, mood and relaxation.

As women move toward orgasm the parts of the brain responsible for fear, anxiety and emotion relax and lower in activity. (Men’s emotional centers also deactivate, but less intensely.) At orgasm the emotion centers effectively close down and women move into an almost trance-like state.

That emotion shuts down at the critical point is interesting, since so many women say they need to feel emotionally connected to enjoy sex. Contradictory? Maybe not. Sex therapist Paula Hall points out that “women in particular need to feel relaxed and safe in order to let go and enjoy sex fully,” and feeling emotionally connected and safe might get them there.

Relaxation is helpful for both men and women. Perhaps that is why orgasm comes more easily when they keep their socks on. In experiments, cold feet kept orgasm rate down to 50 percent. Add socks, and the rate went to 80 percent. Cold is not relaxing.

All of this resonates with techniques suggested by sex therapist, Lonnie Barbach. In one recommendation, she tells non-orgasmic women to touch themselves just to discover how their bodies feel, but making sure not to come to orgasm.

Two things happen here. Unworried about meeting a goal, stress is minimized. And as bodily sensation becomes the focus the women cease to be distracted by other things, including worries about coming.

Which suggests some advice to men: If you constantly ask a woman if she’s coming, do you really think she will? Not a good technique for avoiding anxiety.

Jill Morrison discovered her ability the for mind-only climax one day as she lay with her husband before making love. “He wasn’t even touching me, but I felt very relaxed and I found my mind slipping into a wonderful and relaxed sexual ‘zone’ where I could see myself lying in a sexually abandoned position, naked, having let go of all the stresses in my normal life,” she related. “To my absolute amazement, I had an orgasm there and then, without any kind of stimulation beyond my mental concentration. 

“In my view,” she says, “sex for women is 90 percent in the mind. It’s about concentrating purely on the physical pleasure and removing myself from all the complications of relationships. It’s very liberating!” She adds, “The more you do it, the better you become.”

Interesting advice.

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You Are “Less Than”?

How could anyone ever tell you
you were anything less than beautiful?

How could anyone ever tell you
you were less than whole?

How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?

How deeply you’re connected to my soul.

The song “How Could Anyone,” has had a worldwide healing impact. The lyrics have touched AIDS orphans, cancer survivors, disabled teens, and women and girls redefining beauty.

These words by Libby Roderick have touched me, too.

I first heard them soon after I’d broken up with a boyfriend. This man had said nothing outright about my being “less than,” but sent heavy cues by his occasional gaping at women who took up all the space of his vision while I disappeared.

When I asked about it, he said, “Well, yeah, other women are more attractive than you.” And added, “There’s an archetypal image that men are just naturally drawn to.” Archetypal Playmate, that is.

Men are naturally drawn to something unnatural? Plastic-chested, unnaturally starving and airbrushed? The current ideal is actually both new and strange.

In his eyes I felt less than beautiful. And less than whole.

But this song made me reflect on whether I wasn’t whole or whether he simply had a partial view.

Just what is whole, really? What is beautiful?

False, synthetic, shallow?

Genuine, sincere, heartfelt, deep connection?

When we meet those who dwell on the surface, living with limited sight – whether ourselves or others – forgiveness begs. For blocked vision brings suffering to the seer.

And remember:

Every loving thought is true

   Everything else is an appeal for healing or help

                                                      From Accept This Gift

It’s not that we’re not whole. But in obstructed vision, we aren’t entirely seen.

How Could Anyone   http://www.libbyroderick.com/cd_new.html
Words and music by Libby Roderick c 1988
From the recordings “How Could Anyone” and “If You See a Dream”
Turtle Island Records Anchorage Alaska
www.libbyroderick.com     libbyroderick@gmail.com

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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

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Why Did Nancy Garrido Help Kidnap Jaycee Dugard?

jaycee-dugard-4Jaycee Dugard told Diane Sawyer in an ABC interview that after kidnapping her, Nancy Garrido was intensely jealous. So why did she do it? Beyond the question of how she could commit such an atrocious crime, I’d like to focus on why Nancy Garrido made herself miserable by actively acquiring a sexual rival.

I don’t know the specifics of why. Nancy clearly wanted to please her spouse, even if that entailed personal anguish. But in asking why Garrido assisted in her own torment, we might as well ask why women too often stay in distressing, and even abusive relationships, in some ways imitating her – if on a lesser scale.

Everyday women mimicking Garrido?

In one section of Why Women Have Sex, psychologists Cindy Meston and David Buss talk of women reluctantly agreeing to bring other women into their relationships in order to keep their men. As one put it:

Right now, the guy I am with is into swinging. I am not comfortable with that lifestyle… I just pretend he is my master and I am to follow his every command and it makes it easier for me to get through the night… He keeps asking me to have a threesome with my best friend and I keep acting like it is okay, but I am dreading it.

Others tolerate the incest that partners inflict upon their children. Some endure marital or relationship rape and battering.

That’s quite a range. But all of these women are allowing their hearts and souls to be hurt, and sometimes they are letting others be harmed, as well.

Why?

They may feel they love these men. More than they love themselves – or anyone else for that matter. A sick sort of love swimming in injury.

They may think they have no better options. They don’t deserve much and can’t expect better. They aren’t lovable or attractive enough, or they can’t survive on their own. They can’t find a better man. And their partners willingly prop up the downbeat assessments. And so they desperately try to please, and appease, their men in hopes of gaining love.

Poor self-esteem anchors their submission.

But they also hold their own sex in low regard. Women who endure pain to give their men pleasure see men as better-than and more deserving than women. And so they sacrifice so their men may have all.

Some stay in relationships due to “sunk costs.” Having invested so much – emotion, all of the work gone through to create only small changes in partners, resources – they can’t bear to give it all up with nothing to show.

But if we’ve learned something is the cost really sunk? We could take what we’ve learned and move on.

For whatever reason, too many women don’t realize they don’t have to put up with crap.

Too bad Nancy Garrido never figured that out.

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Women Want Emotionally Connected Sex. Why?

Women want emotionally connected sex.

Not all women, all the time, but University of Texas psychologists, Cindy Meston and David Buss interviewed over 1,000 women around the world for their book, Why
Women Have Sex
, and what did they find? Both women and men have sex because they are physically attracted, for pleasure, because they are in love, or just because they’re horny… the list goes on. But most women want emotionally bonded sex.

Why?

Conventional wisdom looks to evolutionary psychology which says that women are genetically driven to be more monogamous so that fathers will stick around and provide resources, helping children to survive. So perhaps women pass up casual sex with whomever in favor of the connected sex that would provide those good-for-baby resources.

Yet not all women are terribly monogamous. And in some cultures, none are. Women who belong to tightly-knit, interdependent tribal groups often have sex with many men, often outside their marriages or partnerships. In these places the entire tribe raises children so paternity is unimportant and women’s sexuality is not guarded. These sex-positive cultures produce women who are highly orgasmic and who greatly enjoy sex.

But when these societies are destroyed (as with the Cherokee and Iroquois) immersion into a sex-negative culture (for women) can quickly turn their sexuality around.

Today in the U.S. a sexually interested and active woman may be called a slut, whore, ho’, tramp, skank, nympho, hussy, tart, loose, bitch, promiscuous, and perhaps most tellingly, freak or super freak.

Women leaving the frat house Sunday morning may be chided for taking the “Walk of Shame” as frat boys returning from the dorms stroll the Walk of Fame.

Slang for our privates? “Cock” versus “down there.” Put another way, cocky versus unspeakable.

And who gets screwed, f’d, banged, nailed and rammed?

Meanwhile, women are the sex objects in our culture, with busts and butts ogled in word, picture, and x-ray vision, offering men a trove of sexual stimulus. What do women have to look at? Not much.

But as sex objects, women may also become more focused on how they look in bed (whether good or bad) than enjoying anything erotic.

Add to this the sexual violence that so frequently ends in lost sexual interest.

All of this leaves women less responsive, with a University of Chicago study finding 43% of women experiencing dysfunction.

Any wonder men are more interested in random acts of sex, while women are more inclined toward emotional bonding? In the arms of someone she loves a woman may feel free from slut-shaming. She may focus on intimacy and not how fat or thin she is. She is freed from worry about being screwed. And if she has difficulty achieving orgasm, she can still revel in her man’s love-filled attentions.

On top of this, women are more often taught that “sex is okay if you love him.”

Of course, women have varieties of social experiences and personalities, so despite the culture, some will certainly be up for sex with anonymous others.

The longing for bonded sex emerges from sources other than the horrors listed above. And certainly, many men want loving, connected relations, too. Justin Garcia, an evolutionary biologist at Binghamton University, observes that, “Having deep relationship with someone can be really magical and people all over the world experience that… (it) can really change someone’s life.” But for all the reasons listed above, sex-for-fun may not be so fun for a lot of women, which can leave other options out.

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Virtually Attack Women, But No Nudity

A gamer creates an avatar resembling himself and plots to kill a three-dimensional, lifelike woman. The avatar grasps an axe and raises it to strike. He hears the thud as the axe slices her head. He hears her cry out in pain. He sees her split skull and feels the sensation of blood on his hands and face.

I’ve just paraphrased one part of Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Alito’s opinion on whether video games of this sort should be protected as free speech in sales to minors. Yes, he uncomfortably concludes.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wonders why Playboy is off-limits to thirteen-year-olds, yet interactive games that allow those same boys to actively, if virtually, bind, torture and kill a woman are perfectly fine – so long as she’s not topless.

Justice Antonin Scalia counters that violent scenes have long been part of the American tradition.

True enough. One Super Bowl Sunday America went ballistic over Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple. Justin Timberlake’s choreographed battering beforehand went unremarked. No nudity on the national networks, but Law & Order: Special Victims Unit weekly dwells on the rape, battering and torture of sex victims.

Developmental psychologist James Prescott looks to America’s preference for sexual violence over sexual pleasure with wonder. “Apparently, sex with pleasure is immoral and unacceptable, but sex with violence and pain is moral and acceptable,” he reflects.

But why?

New York Times columnist, Timothy Egan sees prudery at base. “Ultimately, the back-and-forth by the high court reinforced the notion of a nation that will always be a little skittish about sex, while viewing violence as American as apple pie,” he writes.

Naomi Wolfe’s The Beauty Myth adds insight. In the 1960s pornography portrayed beautiful women playfully and joyfully enjoying sex. By the 70s this sort of imagery suggestively seeped into popular culture.

As Wolf described it, mainstream beauty pornography looked like this:

The woman lies prone, pressing down her pelvis. Her back arches, her mouth is open, her eyes shut, her nipples erect. The state of arousal, the plateau phase just preceding orgasm… for Triton showers, a naked woman, back arched, flings her arms upward… for Opium perfume, a naked woman, back and buttocks bare, falls face down from the edge of the bed… The reader understands that she will have to look like that if she wants to feel like that.

But later, something shifted as beauty pornography was replaced by a glorification of violence against women. Again Wolf highlights the imagery in advertisements, which sound very much like those we see today:

In an ad for Obsession perfume a well-muscled man drapes the naked, lifeless body of a woman over his shoulder… In an ad for Hermès perfume, a blonde woman trussed in black leather is hanging upside down, screaming, her wrists looped in chains, mouth bound.

By the 80s violent sexual imagery centering on abused females had surged. Film titles like Dressed to Kill, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and 9½ Weeks filled movie theaters while female corpses, in sexy bras and panties, piled up in thrillers. By ‘89 The New York Times was discussing sadomasochism in kids’ comics.

Why the shift? Wolf maintains that sexual imagery follows politics. As women gained power as a result of the feminist movement, male anger and female guilt about taking power created a backlash. Something “needed” to be done, like socialize and eroticize male dominance.

On the one hand, depictions of women’s freely given and enjoyed sexuality was restrained. On the other, men were reassured that women weren’t so powerful. And everyone got the message that women were most attractive when they were dominated and powerless.

Wolf points out that court rulings have enforced these values from the top-down. Women taking pleasure in sex has been named obscene, while sexualized violence against them has not – so long as they are clothed.

Wolf makes an interesting argument.

Oddly, even as more and more women and men today have taken on values that support women’s equality, this way of seeing has become such a taken-for-granted part of American life that it has come to seem natural and normal to most of us, including many feminists.

Something to think about.

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Women Want Good Sex, Men Want Cuddling

What makes happy long-term relationships?

Everyone’s happier when touching, kissing, hugging, and sex fill our lives. Surprisingly, hugging and kissing are more important to men’s happiness. Men who snuggled were three times happier than non-snuggling husbands. So much for the stereotype that men don’t cuddle.

Psychologist, Aline Zoldbrod, talks of the importance of touch.

Touch from a person you love and trust is a major emotional resource and a way that people can regulate their emotions when they are upset. Couples who use touch to comfort, to compliment, and yes, to seduce and arouse, are bound to be happier.

Surprisingly, cuddling has less impact on women’s contentment, perhaps because culturally, women have a greater range of emotional outlets than men.

Instead, sexual satisfaction had a bigger impact on women’s happiness, and typically, the sex got better the longer a couple stayed together. Yet, as TIME put it, “a man’s happiness rose 17% with each additional point he rated the importance of his partner’s orgasm.” Caring husband, happy wife? Happy wife, happy husband?

Why would sex so often get better for women over time? Women often talk of the importance of love and connection to sexual enjoyment. With time, the couple can become deeply bonded. But they can also become more skilled. Safety and relaxation are important to a woman’s orgasm and long-term relationships can enhance both. Finally, over time the messages of a sex-negative culture for women can slip away in the security of marriage, where all agree that sex is virtuous.

Co-author and clinical sexologist, Michael Sand, said the study is important in showing that long-term relationships can be filled with “healthy, vibrant sexuality.”

In another reversal of stereotype, men were happier, overall, in their relationships
than women. Maybe it’s not so surprising. In modern marriages, men still have more
power and more say. Women are more likely to nurture and care for their spouses.

But both men and women felt greater relationship satisfaction the longer they stayed together. Are happier couples simply more likely to stay together? Or do the deep bonds that form over long-term relationships create the contentment? Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Interesting, all. And hopeful.

These findings are based on a survey from the Kinsey Institute of 1,009 heterosexual couples from five countries who were middle-aged or older, and in long-term relationships.

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