Anything Good About Being A Sex Object?

cans1When I ask my students if they can think of anything good about being a sex object they think there must be something positive, since so many women put a great deal of effort into being sexy, with some aspiring to “sex symbolness.” Here’s what they say:

Sexy women get attention. They feel attractive and admired, so it’s a source of self-esteem.

It’s nice to feel wanted and desired. It’s easier to attract mates or just get sex.

It can be fun to feel sexy.

Sex is a historic source of power for women. Sexiness can gain women resources, whether through marriage or getting men to do favors. It puts women in control over men.

Then I ask if there’s a downside. More comments: 

It can be uncomfortable being gawked at. You can feel like you’re only a sex object – and that’s all, like you’re not worth a lot.

You can feel disrespected. Guys want only one thing. You get used.

When women are seen as all about sex, and they don’t want to put out, they’re seen as bitches.

You aren’t seen as intelligent. You aren’t taken seriously.

Your personality disappears.

It can feel inauthentic, feeling pressured from friends or society to look sexy.

Sexual objectification leads to sex trafficking. Treating young women and girls like they arenothing but objects that exist to pleasure men. They have no lives. They’re all about sex and nothing else. And they’re not given an opportunity to be anything else.

But there are problems when you don’t meet sex-object standards, too:

You feel like you’re constantly being judged, and not coming out well.

You may starve. Or get implants and die (that does happen). You have false hope, and when you don’t meet the standard you lose self-esteem.

So much contradiction. Is there any way to get some of the positive upside without all the downside? I’ll admit to feeling the world would be a bit dull without any spice of sexiness.

How about distinguishing between sexy and sex object. And broadening our notion of what “sexy” means?

Objects are treated as little more than a means to others’ pleasure. They are not people with lives, goals, thoughts or emotions. It’s one-dimensional. A limited box. And who cares how you treat an object?

So if a woman does have – and is seen as having – a life, goals, emotions and intelligence, and sexiness is one part of all that, then she can be a full person – who is also sexy.

But still, can we move outside the narrow notions? Who’s sexy to me? Women and men who are classy, smart, talented, confident, and who make a difference in the world.

I nominate Tina Fey, Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Obama, America Ferrera, Emma Watson, Gloria Steinem, Maria Sharapova, Queen Latifah, French politician Marie-Ségolène Royal, Helen Mirren, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Jennifer Lopez, Queen Rania of Jordan, Sandra Bullock,  Zhang Ziyi, Diane Sawyer, Alicia Keys, and Maria Shriver.

And men? My list includes Jon Stewart, Ezra Klein, Barack Obama, George Clooney, New York Times columnist, Princeton professor and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, Javier Bardem, Stephen Colbert, Ed Harris, Sidney Poitier, Rafael Nadal, Robert Reich, Daniel Dae Kim, Tom Brokaw, Brad Pitt,  JFK Jr., Antonio Banderas, and Jake Tapper.

Yeah, sexiness can be fun and alluring, when moving outside narrow limits. But sex objects are just trapped.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Men Are Naturally Attracted To Unnatural Women
The Constricting Bodice: Empowerment and Imprisonment?
What Happens When You Beat A Sex Object?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social 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. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 26, 2014, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I agree that sexiness does not have to relate back to physical appeal and that it should include a person for who they are and what they are accomplishing in their lives. I for one grew up with this idea that no man would want to be with me because I was too fat or too awkward etc… Thinking in that way pulled me into a disgusting world of fitting into groups you don’t want to be in and behaving in ways that you don’t want to behave all to please others. I eventually turned into a sex object in my late teen years and was very unhappy. I got into college and began focusing on myself in a city where nobody new me or where I was from. Now I feel like I am not only attractive physically but I attract people who are genuinely interested in what I am trying to become. Sexy to me is taking care of your body and being happy as well as getting your life directed to where you will benefit the most in all areas of one’s life.

  2. I think it’s complicated by modern social media and celebrity marketing etc. However, at the risk of being labeled sexist, I would honestly say that men are programmed biologically and mentally to seek sex with women constantly. Men DO see women as sex objects, but not only that, women DO want to be objectified too because feeling attractive and sexy feels good, and it feels good for the same reason that feeling unattractive and unsexy feels so bad: our self-worth is wrapped up in it ! For example, there are women who enjoy being looked at in a sexually admiring way, or sexually complimented by strangers, even on the street. And I think that admiring someone for being sexy, particularly if the admiration is desired, isn’t objectification. Not recognizing a person has feelings, value, or purpose other than sexually arousing you (whether they are arousing you or not) is objectification. Therefore, Being appreciated for sexual attractiveness apart from other characteristics would recognize that someone has other characteristics and isn’t an object!!

    • There’s a difference between seeing a woman as sexy and seeing a woman as only about sex. Sure, all women want to be seen as sexually attractive, probably. They don’t want to be seen as only about sex and nothing else. Did you read the whole post to see the distinction between being sexy and being an object? One is great. The other causes all sorts of problems.

  3. I notice that one way in which change can occur is if we “broaden what is considered sexy”. I doubt if that is really a viable means of making change. I know that societal values has an influence on how we find people attractive, but I actually don’t believe that it is right to tell others what to like and what not to like. It sucks to be the one not desired, but is a reality of life that men and women have to deal with. There are traits that are considered attractive or unattractive to both genders, and just because an individual bare traits that are unattractive (which makes them undesirable) does not mean that they are being oppressed. People have preferences, and popular preference exists.

    We shouldn’t try to change what is considered sexy or what being a sex object is. We should be changing how much we value it. We should lower the importance of being “sexy” when finding mates.

  4. I’ve often wondered what the difference between sexy and sex object was, especially going into the first relationship where we both felt incredibly sexually and emotionally attracted. I have to admit that it was tough discovering what I wanted. Of course, I knew I wanted to be valued and respected, but quickly found that being sexy with someone you trust erases the sexual objectification. When there is love and trust in a relationship, there isn’t a worry about being treated as an object. Outside a loving relationship, it’s a whole new story.

  5. Jelissa Blanco

    I think just being looked at can be negative as well as positive, as mentioned above. Although looks aren’t everything there are so many benefits. For example if you aren’t qualified for a job and your “sexy” you have a huger chance getting the job as appose to someone who isn’t as good looking. I also think it can be hurtful to know that people only like you because of your looks, and not your personality. There must be some sort of insecurity with that. I also think it’s unfair. The media plays a big role into shaping ones opinion on what sexy exactly is. Everybody has different taste

    • Being good looking nearly always helps men. With women is mixed. Depends on the job. Plus, sometimes women aren’t hired because their looks make them seem like they’re not smart enough to do the job, or men think they will be a distraction, or women are jealous.

  6. Jennie Asuncion

    I find the discussion between the difference of being a sex object and being sexy particularly interesting. Being a sex object is something derogatory. Pretty much, you are simply just a commodity used for sex related things, whether it be something to fantasize and gawk over to the actual act of sexual intercourse. Being sexy is however the total opposite. Someone who is sexy is empowering, confident, and making a difference in the world. They set positive examples and are even people others strive to be. I learned that though the two phrases sound very similar, they mean completely different things, one being positive and one being negative. Crazy, if you think about it.

  7. The issue of being considered a sex object is that you are used for sex and though to not have feelings. If you disconnect the women as an object of sexual desire from her own personality that can be sexy you have (in my opinion) the makings of a solid relationship. Being appreciated for physical desire can feel good but being considered sexy for what lies within is more powerful. But with the standards that are in place in society today, what is considered “sexy” needs to be changed although that is difficult. As a lot of people have said before sexy should be based purely on the physical image but rather on what lies inside the person- smarts and kindness.

    I think that those who are sexy are people who feel comfortable in their own skin and exude an air of confidence- not huge breasts or long hair. People like Tina Fey, Angelina Jolie (who happens to be drop dead stunning) and Lena Dunham all combine a positive outlook on life and try to make the world a better place by being themselves.

  8. I think its really interesting that there is such a contradiction for what a woman should want to be. I think all the comments are accurate that if you are a sex object, people won’t respect you. But if you don’t have sex, they also won’t respect you. I think a big underlying issue is that there is a lack of respect. With whichever decision the woman makes, they are ultimately disrespected. This makes it so women are completely confused as to how to act upon what they want, especially when with almost every decision they will see a negative outcome.

  9. I love being sexy for my man, but not being a sex object….. but being loved by him. Sex is so much better when love is involved! ♥

  10. I agree that there is a problem with different people’s definitions of the words “sexy”, “sex object”, “object”, “love”. The dictionary offers defnitions for all these words and terms, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Based on each individual person’s life experiences they are going to have different personal meanings to these words. It is important to express what you think these words mean to you so that you may find like minded people. It all starts with talking about things that are normally very uncomfortable. Talking about it is the first step. People will always disagree with each other, but at least then you will know if the person you are talking with is someone you are interested in having any type of relationship with once you get all of that stuff out on the table. Thanks for writing this 🙂

  11. I think a lot has to do with definitions of sexy… so if sexy could just be redefined a bit. Of course redefining sexy would mean mass media would have to change their approach to what is sexy. Personally, I would really like to see people equating intelligence and vibrance with sexy instead of breast size.

    Really adore Segolene Royal and was hoping that she would become France’s first woman president. Francois Hollande, in my view, was a real jerk for having dumped her. Then again, he dumped her replacement (a Paris Match journalist) for a “sex symbol” movie star…

  12. Actually, this is what I love about getting older. My own sexuality feels more authentic to me, based less on what culture has trained me to see as sexy. All that movie sex just seems so funny and inauthentic to me these days, almost like out-dated special effects. 🙂

    • Yeah, it can go either way. If you’re tied to/invested in being a sex object, then aging is terrifying. If you’re not, then aging is not a big deal, and can be freeing.

      • It reminds me of something the Pope (previous, I think) said. The problem with porn is not that it shows too much, but that it does not show enough. That corresponds closely with your description of what’s problematic about sex objects, Georgia.

      • Ah, moving out of the one-dimensional.

  13. When you asked for the downsides, I’m surprised that old age wasn’t at the top of the list. Nothing more terrifying than growing old when your self-esteem draws a lot on your sexiness. Every grey hair, every wrinkle is a blow.

  14. I agree- not about throwing out one’s sexuality- but perhaps rather than using it to be a sex object- -having it be an integrated part of the self, which can include enjoying one’s own sexiness. The sexiest people I know are the one’s who make themselves the subject in relation to their own sexiness/sexuality rather than allowing themselves to just be object.

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