I Can’t Stop Staring At Other Women

He's all eyes.

He’s all eyes.

Looking at other women has become a big problem for me.

I want to learn how to stop. I mean no harm, but it upsets my wife and hurts her. She says I lose touch with reality and become a different person — and don’t even notice her.

That’s from a 42-year-old man whose been married 16 years. He’s totally satisfied with his wife, he says, and has no interest in anyone else.

But he feels he has no control over his ogling.

It happens without control… It makes me awkward and I panic, mostly out of fear of hurting my wife and the risk of losing her.

Why do guys feel like they can’t stop?

All straight guys surely appreciate an attractive lady. But not all of them disappear into a magic spell that makes their partners disappear, too.

I’m not sure why some guys ogle and some don’t — we are all a unique mix of our culture, our social interactions, our biology — and how we put it all together in our heads.

But for guys who can’t stop looking, here’s what seems to be going on:

A lovely figure creates a chemical high in a man’s brain — a minor high compared to drugs, but still enjoyable and addicting. So a lot of guys get into the head-turning habit as teens — a habit reinforced by media bombardment via billboards, TV, movies, “lad mags” like Maxim, and porn, says Kurt Smith, a marriage counselor who blogs at GuyStuff.

And the more your brain repeats a pattern, the stronger the neural path becomes, so that you can come to feel you have no control.

Plus, these guys move into an altered state that’s similar to watching porn — maybe because the girl-watching has become a pornified experience for them?

To paraphrase an article from Men’s Health on men in a pornified state:

Pornographic images seem to activate a man’s visual system in a manner that goes beyond just looking at trees or even people. It’s almost like a high-definition signal compared with a standard signal. Once this signal—Tori Black in the nude, say—hits the male antenna, the brain’s reward system kicks in, producing a rush of feel-good dopamine. This can reinforce the behavior much in the same way that drugs like cocaine would.

At the same time the part of the brain that makes judgments is shut off.

Essentially, the decision-making system is turning itself over to the experience; it’s almost like the men are hypnotized.

This is the classic male stereotype: When men think with what’s below, they don’t make good decisions. Or, the decisions are made for them.

And then the tension between wanting to look and feeling like you shouldn’t just strengthens the compulsion.

How to get over it

Therapist, Kurt Smith suggests:

  1. Recognize that it’s a habit, and not an uncontrollable reflex.
  2. Observe the ways you’re strengthening the habit — thru movies, television, magazines, football games, or internet porn, and stop feeding it to your brain.
  3. Accept and get comfortable with the fact that it is natural to notice women. The goal here is not to eliminate noticing, but rather how often you look and for how long.

Regarding that last point, don’t forget that resistance can make things stronger. So just: Notice. Appreciate. Let it be.

And remember that need can force fate: If you need something badly enough, you will find a way to accomplish it.

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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 March 16, 2015, in men, objectification, pornography, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Athena Clark

    This reminds me of a boyfriend I once had. He didn’t have a problem with looking at women in public (that I noticed), but it almost seemed like he was obsessed with watching porn. I remember once I told him how uncomfortable it made me that he was watching it so often, it’s almost like he started to want to watch it more. I think part of it was adding to his guilty pleasure, while part of it was trying to intentionally hurt me. Of course, we all know, that when something pleases us, it’s having a chemical effect on our brain and sometimes since we like that feeling so much it can be hard to get out of habit of doing something, I think it’s important to know when you’re getting to a point where it becomes unhealthy for yourself, or is negatively effecting the people around you. We are all creatures of habit, regardless of if they are positive, negative, or neutral.

  2. I am a woman on the opposite side of the things of this gentleman; I am the one that is ogling, I guess. This is what my fiancé has told me for years and I don’t realize that I even do it let alone remember seeing a person, let alone another guy. I don’t know what to do. It has been tearing our relationship apart for years. I truly don’t desire anyone other than him but he feels I do when in reality I don’t. He strongly believes that actions speak louder than words. What do you recommend?

    I need some serious help as I hate knowing that I am hurting him and having him feel less than what he is; amazing. Please help me or push in the right direction at least.

  3. Haomeijie Liang

    Wow, great academic analysis about this behavior. Yes, this is a habit, which may make women feel uncomfortable. My boyfriend sometimes looks at other women, too. I didn’t feel well, but now I think I’m okay with it. In my opinion, it is reasonable and acceptable to do that, but don’t lost control and overdo. Plus, women do that also.

    • A lot of people say, “Women do it too,” but women don’t go unconscious like so many men do. That’s because women aren’t taught to sexualize and objectify the male body. (To take a couple of examples, how many ads have you seen with a sexy man drawing your attention to a product? And look at everyday clothing – women’s clothing is often cut to show off her body, but men’s rarely is.) Women rarely masturbate to naked pictures of men, either.

      That’s probably why women often complain about this, but men rarely do. Just Google “my husband ogles other women” and you will get plenty of related posts. Then turn it around to “my wife ogles other men” and you will get pretty much the same posts coming up – almost all about husbands staring at women. And take a look at this:
      Do Women Objectify Men?

  4. I do believe that it is out of habit that they do it becuase they probably dont think about it. Or maybe it is that women are often seen as sex objects on media so it is something subconsciously in their mind making them look becuase it almost seems normal. But I do think that women even look at other women and maybe not for the same reasons but because lets say you see a women walking and she has the “ideal body” that is seen on television in which it almost looks unreal it catches your attention. It is kind of like the saying “you can look but you CANT touch”. I mean its true.

  5. Marissa Martinez

    To me this is for both genders. I mean women look at other attractive men too. There is no lying about that. AS for men I think it what caught their eye. It is like saying you see something shining in the water and you try to see what it was. In these case we know what men are looking act. The thing is I think some men don’t know it because they have a priceless treasure in front of them. I agree that watching an attractive woman is like watching porn. They space out and enjoy the show that is in front of them.

  6. This is very true, and I see it happen almost daily. Both men and women stare but I think that women control it a lot more than men do. Staring is normal but theres limits to everything. I think there is a difference between just looking at someone attractive in a way and doing it in a creepy way. Everyone wants what they can’t have, so if they see someone really attractive they want them bad but in reality after they get them they will be doing the exact same thing. When in a relationship I’ve noticed men staring at other women more than i’ve noticed women staring at other men. I think it’s because women are more loyal to their companions than men are.

  7. That’s very interesting and it is very true too because women always being a sexual object and using their bodies to attract men. Over a period of time, men create the habits of looking for sexy ladies, and create the habit of watching porn and addicted to it. But for women are less likely to watch porn than men. For straight women and men are interested in the opposite sex and flirt each other. But women are less likely to flirt men first. Men always the one who start the flirting.

  8. “I don’t mean to imply that there is no sexual component to appreciating and enjoying. Let me know if you Think of a term that would easily get the point across”

    check out, ogle. I know ogle means staring, so that isn’t polite, though I’ve heard women use that term I work with, for guys they’ve had the hots for. I don’t know what other word that hints to a lust element or slight lust element. Enjoy and appreciate sound like, admiring and enjoying the view and scenery, but that’s it, but not thinking of such body in a possible sexual way. It doesn’t seem to convery the eyes linger and mind linger of said body parts.

  9. Staring someone can make them uncomfortable. A person should know his or her limit so that their stare doesn’t force them to react towards them.

    • Yeah it creates problems on both sides: the woman who is being stared at and the woman who’s watching her partner doing the staring.

      • My eyes have a tuition of beauty which means i just enjoy noticing woman that stands out somehow. I believe the term is called “Looking over your shoulder”. I feel that it’s something that both genders do no matter where they are. I call it as letting your eyes and neck have a nice workout, but I believe that method will change later on in life. I understand that when your married it suddenly can change, but I don’t feel like it is something that is wrong. A person can look at something if they would like too, but there’s a difference if they look more than once. I have notice that women always look at other men while we are out together and I do not complain about it I think it’s cool. I will win by not repeating the same action as she did. It’s better for a man to look at beautiful women when he is out alone taking care of business. There is always a good looking woman at a gas station believe it or not.

      • As I said to someone else: Yeah, both women and men are interested in the opposite sex, And both flirt. But women don’t seem to objectify men in the way that men objectify women. Not because we are better, But because we aren’t taught to. I talk about it more in this post:

        Do Women Objectify Men? https://broadblogs.com/2014/05/05/do-women-objectify-men/

  10. I think ‘staring’ is so normal, and it goes both ways. Apparently the issues arise when one is in the relationship… I think both men and women stare alike; but, for example, something like the Playboy industry really encouraged this conduct in men; whereas the Playgirl industry took much longet to get on its feet. I once read there was an instinctual urge to flirt in everyone alike, could staring be the beginning, or at least related to this instinct? Well, I guess it depends on how one defines flirting.

    • Yeah, both women and men are interested in the opposite sex, And both flirt. But women don’t seem to objectify men in the way that men objectify women. Not because we are better, But because we aren’t taught to. I talk about it more in this post:

      Do Women Objectify Men?

      That’s probably why playgirl was constantly going bankrupt. I don’t think it even exists anymore — even while pornography for men proliferated: playboy, penthouse, hustler, barely legal…

      Also, not all men behave in the way I described in the post. In fact, in my own experience only four men have behaved that way, and I have and in relationships with a lot more than four men.

      But thanks for your thoughts. Interesting to hear a variety of perspectives. 🙂

  11. A great analysis! And indeed it is a natural impulse in men to find the female form attractive. No doubt women have the same impulse, but possibly to a lesser degree because of their less aggressive nature and their role in the procreative and nurturing process way back when procreation was instinctive.

    I’m not up on the most recent theories/hypotheses, so I am open for correction.

    At the same time the part of the brain that makes judgments is shut off.

    As you probably know, the power pornography has on the human mind (and likely other species as well), of course, likely was recognized as soon as humans evolved self consciousness and abstract thought (prehistorical, pornographic art is even found on cave walls).

    Some ancient semitic peoples of the fertile crescent, such as the Phoenicians/Canaanites, for example, thought that if the priestesses in the temples performed promiscuous sexual acts with the priests (and possibly worshipers as well), it would excite Baal Hammon, the god of fertility, to bestow his blessings to the land.

    I will say, however, that I think pornography has its place in society, especially in the area of therapy for the physically/psychologically sexually-dysfunctional, but sexually distressed mind. (I hope that sentence wasn’t too mangled.)

    Thanks, Georgia, for this very interesting post.

    • It’s true that both women and men are capable of finding the body sexually attractive. But women rarely have their brains shut off, And not all men do, either. I mentioned to someone else that I’ve only had that experience with four of the men that I have been in relationships with — and I have been in relationships with far more than four men.

      On the point about ancient peoples, it can be hard to interpret what was going on and there are a lot of different ideas about it.

      It seems that the earliest peoples worshiped a goddess because, Since women have babies, it seemed that life came from the female. Once they understood men’s role the myths changed: the female goddess bore a son who grew up to be her consort, and from them worlds were born. There is some evidence that during this time people were quite peaceful — some had no weapons in the more egalitarian plant raising societies, where deity were on equal footing, too. As patriarchy rose, the goddess was downgraded to a fertility goddess. While male sky gods reigned supreme, sometimes becoming the one and only God. When women goddesses are downgraded to fertility deity, people sometimes did what might be thought of as sympathetic magic: imitate what you want to happen. People wanted fertility for humans, animals and plants, And so depicting fertility in the goddess and priestesses was expected to increase fertility.

      Also, you find that among tribal peoples — who live like the earliest humans — the female body is not sexualized. You see breasts and butts and it’s no big deal. But in ancient symbols breasts and butts are exaggerated, Perhaps for purposes of focusing on fertility symbols or acknowledging the magic of life creation.

  12. Great post! I like that you listed tangible action steps.

  13. The therapist Kurt Smith has summed it up very precisely. One can, of course, take effective measures to put a check to a certain habit.

  14. Great noting that there is a difference between our natural inclination to see beauty and be physically attracted in others even when in committed relationship and the unhealthy compulsive ogling, which can be triggered by habit, conditioning, and objectification. As someone who has been in relationships with men who have exhibited the first, that doesn’t bother me, while the other- definitely feels uncomfortable… perhaps the underlying subtexts are why.

    • Same here. I totally get noticing and appreciating attractive people. But one can go overboard. But luckily, there is hope.

      • “Great noting that there is a difference between our natural inclination to see beauty and be physically attracted in others even when in committed relationship”

        “Same here. I totally get noticing and appreciating attractive people. But one can go overboard. But luckily, there is hope.”

        Ah, it’s sad how tame and repressed some women’s sexuality is. “Noticing” “Appreciating” attractive people. “Seeing beauty and physically attracted to others. Physically attracted seems to to hint more, but then again for women, that can be a on a chemistry basis and therefore find a man’s body sexually attractive because of how she feels about him, so his body though she’s physically attracted to him, can probably have nothing to do with her physical lust for his body or checking him out.

        I just hate the term “admiring and appreciating attractive people” like people are walking around and looking at each other like nice, pretty pieces of artwork, to admire and purely aesthetic. I people watch sometimes, but that’s just because there are so many “different” people around and some are interesting while others odd looking , etc. Ever go to a state fair and you’ll understand what I mean. Anyway, no I don’t really notice and appreciate attractive people as in men and women.

        I am secure with my sexuality and can acknowlege to some extent if a man is good looking or goofy looking, if brought up. It’s most often though if both are on the far ends. Can’t really aknowledge guys more in the average range. It’s more like on the polar ends of looks. Like I can tell Ryan Gosling is a good looking guy, Hemsworth and Paul Walker are good looking guys. Because they have the pretty boy facial features and I can tell easily how Gene Simmons is an ugly dude in the same sense. Anyway with that being said, I really don’t notice guy’s looks when out and about, and its pretty much women and girls who are pretty and cute and notice their bodies.

        But i mean I’m polite and don’t stare, but I can’t make it sound all innocent and aesthetic like “see beauty and appreciating her attractiveness” like she’s a piece of art. Well an attractive woman’s body is definitely like a work of art. But well, there is definitely a sexual component to it. Not aroused, sometimes maybe a little, but some lust for said girl, though maybe not directly. But in the back of mind in the “if dated her or with her, how nice her boobs or ass would be to feel and have sex with her” It’s not in the forefront, but there somewhere in the back of the mind. Though there are some girls so pretty or beautiful that a sexual part is not in the fore front, because I’m mesmerized by their beauty, and it may be lust, but its more in an emotional context or romantic context.

      • I don’t mean to imply that there is no sexual component to appreciating and enjoying. Let me know if you Think of a term that would easily get the point across

  15. “Notice. Appreciate. Let it be.”

    That was essentially what I had to offer, but you gave a more detailed guide with some concrete steps.

    I did something very similar when I got married, but I found it pretty easy to start good habits by capitalizing on that new-relationship honeymoon high. It’s probably going to be much more difficult for that guy to change his way 16 years into marriage, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

  16. Sounds like the same cognitive processes I use on the stuff I need to change. Works for me – even when I kind of wish it didn’t.

  17. Exactly, its a habit. We are creature of habits. I would go further saying that almost everything we do are habits. Eating junk foods, being lazy, avoiding something, chasing something, watching porn.
    Some habits are beneficial, some are harmful. We cant eradicate a habit, we can only substitute it with another habit

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