Do Women See Sexy Men As Sexy?

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Sacha Baron Cohen

When women look at men who are sexily posed or who show skin, they don’t always seem sexy, as I’ve discussed before. Is there any hope?

First, the problem: Imagine watching the Bikini Open “in reverse” so that women are fully clothed while men wear revealing Speedos. What about nearly nude men dancing on platforms? Or a camera focused on a man’s butt as he walks by. All this may look sexy. But women may well see it all as “gay.”

In fact, a sexily posed man may be played for laughs, a favorite ploy of Sacha Baron Cohen.

But then, women are so used to sexualized bodies being meant for men’s “consumption” that women can come to see nude or near-naked men through men’s eyes, too. And of course, sexualized images of men that are meant for men would be gay. (Nothing wrong with being gay, but it’s not a big turn-on for women.)

David-Beckhams-Shirtless-HM-Super-Bowl-Ad-Video[1]

David Beckham, shirtless.

Yet David Beckham can show skin and still look sexy. Maybe it’s because he seems so hyper masculine and hetero that it’s hard to think of him as gay. Sociologist, David Mayeda, has been theorizing on what makes men seem sexy to women. He describes Beckham this way:

Tattooed, rugged, athletic, showcasing a lean musculature and menacing glare, Beckham embodies a (dominating) masculinity… he is globally recognized, financially wealthy, and married to a woman who also holds currency in popular culture. This last point is critical. By being married, Beckham confirms his heterosexuality, and her extraordinary beauty and international popularity raise his standing as a “real man.”

110909--fathers-baby-hmed-2p.grid-6x2[1]So must men be hyper masculine to seem sexy? Not always. Plenty of women find buffed men holding babies alluring. Again, the images are muscular and masculine. Having produced a baby he sure looks hetero. But the loving care signals something of the feminine side: sensitivity, not dominance. He’s masculine in a fatherly way.

Men are sometimes confused by women who want masculinity and tenderness. This just goes to show that many women do like both — perhaps especially combined. And who knows, there may be extra appeal in the sense of a man who appears committed to his partner and family.

Looks like “sexy men” too often fit inside a box that is as narrow as the box for “sexy women.” The current feminine ideal is skinny with big boobs while the current masculine ideal is limited to hard-bodies + dominance. Or toned + sensitive.

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Sexy Don Draper

Luckily “sexy” and “attractive” can also exist outside the “bodily sensual” box for both women and men.

Enter Don Draper who is sexy by way of his face, his confidence, and his success, despite being generously draped in clothing. This is a sort of sexy that may work like a dog whistle. No bare skin to trigger notions of sexuality in men’s eyes, so that leaves women free to notice it.

But it would be nice for both sexes to move further away from our cramped boxes.

As a last note, this is all about imagery. Both women and men can find real-life men and women pretty sexy even if they don’t match these cultural ideals.

This is a repeat, but one response to Eric U’s question. Stay tuned for more.

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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 May 6, 2015, in body image, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. It does seem to be the case that masculinity, ruggedness defines a man where the opposite is the case for women ~ and this post does hammer this point rather well. Time for me to hit the gym 🙂

    • I guess I wasn’t clear enough that I’m talking about images and not people here. Eric U and other men like him have told me that they do hit the gym and it doesn’t seem to help.

      I’ll have to write about more research that shows that women are sleeping for hours looking guys over bulky guys.

    • I think what passes for ‘masculinity’ today is largely a social construct. There’s some ‘biological’ basis to it (you can’t really separate nature from nurture anyway, since we’re part of the environment, it’s an artificial dichotomy), but a lot of it is cultural. Nothing innately feminine about wearing makeup. Even something like dancing. In some cultures dancing is mostly or exclusively a male domain, yet in ours it’s seen as gay or at least not macho to be a male dancer. Even the muscular Rudy Nureyev being gay probably didn’t help. A male ballet dancer certainly has to be athletic and strong, yet ballet is still a predominantly female domain.

  2. An interesting post.

    To me the aspect of sexiness is really about conditioning , based on which how the other person occurs to us. Such occurring can actually lead to a plain Jane being considered sexy. Similarly on the masculine side. There is much to be said about that often used phrase, ‘ Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder….”

    Though what you say about the need to move away from cramped boxes is right, stereotyping, whether we like it or not, is a powerful meaning making machine for us and difficult to dispense with.

    Shakti

    • Yes, luckily when it comes to real people you don’t have to look like the images to be thought of as sexy. Although those images do you have effects on people’s psychologies, whether it’s seeing peoples attractive or seen yourself as attractive.

      And I am talking more about images, not real people in this post.

    • Jennifer Lawrence is pretty plain even by average standards. Her face isn’t conventionally attractive. But that aura of fame and glamour makes her sexy.

  3. What a brilliant article, you’re so right! It’s never the same as with us…

  4. Being sexy is not always physical…someone’s way of looking or talking …can be sexy too.

    “But it would be nice for both sexes to move further away from our cramped boxes.” …you nailed it.

    • Yeah, and things are different in real life compared with images like these. I’ve talked to some women who say they don’t really like the super sexy looking guys because they think they will be stuck up.

  5. I feel that alot of times women do not find men in speedos attractive because it really is ot sexy. I dont believe that men who are naked are sexy, but rather the way they are built is. For example, a mans naked body does not make me think hes attractive, but if we were built nicely with great features like a back that was muscly or arms that were nice and built, then it would be sexy. Its hard to describe exactly what I mean, however I find that men who are in clothes are even sexier. The way the dress, or the way you can see their arms through their shirt, just stuff like that. Some women also tend to not like men with big butts, but I do. I do not like men who a have flat butts because I know that men who have muscle and are athletic, and to me that is attractive.

  6. “(Nothing wrong with being gay, but it’s not a big turn-on for women.)”

    I wonder how much of this is conditioned. Like there are certainly women who are turned on by male homosexuality, like some men are turned on by lesbianism/female homosexuality, the ‘lesbian fetish.’ It begs the question, to what degree is either repressed/encouraged in our society?

    In ancient Greek and Roman frescoes there were many depictions of orgies involving males engaging in homosexual and heterosexual behaviour, sometimes simultaneously. In Japan today I know many women have this fetish. Maybe because women also internalise homophobia? Lesbianism is fetishised, which is also internalised. I wonder if this too contributes to viewing women as more sexual?

    • I think it’s more that is just a distraction. Based on my own experience when I see a guy in a speedo, or a guy post like Sasha Baron Cohen, he looks gay to me and not sexy. That said, I used to watch a show called queer eye for the straight Guy, and I thought a couple of those guys were pretty hot. Who knows, maybe the distraction isn’t so much that you feel like the pose is meant for men instead of women as that is just disconcerting to see a guy pose like a woman? Maybe a little of both.

      • What’s a distraction exactly? From what?

        Yes, because you’re not used to seeing straight men pose that way. It’s all very subtle, yet at least you’re aware of it. These poses are part of a construction of femininity, like makeup or clothing.

        Oh certainly, being gay doesn’t stop many women being attracted to many men.

      • Instead of looking at a guy and experiencing him as hot you’re distracted by noticing how much he looks out of place posing like a woman.

  7. Yeah it’s because being an object of desire is equated with being feminine, and being feminine is equated with being gay or gay behaviour. Since bisexuality is still probably even less acceptable, and gay men are still stereotyped as feminine, the association is a no-brainer. And a lot of nude sexual depictions of men are done for comedic value. There isn’t a lot of truly erotic depictions of the male form outside the gay sphere. Men themselves sort of fear that, I wonder if it’s a fear that it would be too arousing for them? If women could shed this conditioning they might be able see it, but it’s difficult, just like man would find it difficult to see a woman who’d shaved all her hair yet didn’t shave any body hair as sexy or arousing.

    • I wonder if it’s just so disconcerting to see men acting like women that is just more of a distraction than sexy. There was an or show called “man as objects, reversing the gaze” and some of the pictures show men posing in quite erotic ways, but you are so associated with that type of pose being made by women that is just weird and distracting looking. And that makes it not sexy. If you grew up with semen post like that it probably would be sexy.

  8. honestly the picture of sacha baron cohen just makes me giggle… and yes.. there is something very sexy about ruggedly athletic tattooed men. and men with kids. It’s like something innate that us women know they would be able to take care of us in a horrible situation and fight for our kids. I feel like it’s a very basic biological phenomenon.

  9. Your article shows there is different ways to interpret sexy. Thanks for openning up our worlds. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  10. Does the term “sexualized bodies” really have much meaning beyond being part-and-parcel of over-commercialized sex….which, like almost anything that is over-commercialized, can become a caricature of the desirable essence it exploits and loses sight of? Just a thought.

    • Yes. It tends to be hiding a body part because it’s considered sexual — maybe the hair or even the eyes in some Muslim countries. Or selectively hiding and revealing the breasts or buttocks in our own country. It doesn’t have to be commercial, But that is a huge way intends to be in our culture. But just walking around in the world it’s not uncommon for women to wear clothing that selectively hides and reveals the breasts — or that hug the breasts or buttocks.

  11. “But it would be nice for both sexes to move further away from our cramped boxes.”
    It would indeed…

    Did you see the “Gender Rolls” video currently making the viral rounds? (Pretty sure I first saw on Soc Images.) Your post just reminded me of that.

  12. Women finding the female body more than the male body could be socially conditioned. We shouldn’t forget that in ancient times it was the male body that was admired.
    Leaving the oversexualized female body and the ignored male body out of the attraction, when it comes to an attractive face, what seems more attractive to women, a male face or a female face?
    I think this could point out if the same sex attraction for straight women is conditioned or not.
    The faces arent sexualized, so there isnt any influence by the media on women’s preferences

    • I’m absolutely certain that women finding the female body is socially conditioned. Even men have to learn to be visual. And we just happen to have a lot of things that cause us to think of the female body and sexy, while ignoring the male body.

      I haven’t seen research on this question: when it comes to an attractive face, what seems more attractive to women, a male face or a female face?
      Here are my thoughts.

      First, researchers asked both men and women (all straight) whether they would prefer to look at the face or body of a person who they would either have a chance to 1) be in a long-term relationship with or 2) a one night stand.

      Men: If it was a one night stand men we’re half and half divided over whether they wanted to see face or body. If it was a long-term relationship, three quarters wanted to see face. Other research suggests this is because the face reveals much more about a person down the body does.

      On the other hand, regardless of the circumstance, All women were more interested in seeing the man’s face.

      In my own personal experience I can strongly appreciate a beautiful woman’s face, But I’m not attracted to a woman’s face. I am attracted to a man’s face. His face isn’t sexually arousing but I am attracted.

  13. That’s pretty interesting to think about! As for someone like me who watches WWE and see all the masculine men to certain degree wearing shorts or tight pants never grabbed my attention. I never even noticed how their bodies look like, I mean, tall, short, or sexy? But, I have noticed few of them who are fat, probably because they were different than the standard. And I didn’t care about that too. However, I am amazed by the models “Divas” who would be fighting and they are super sexy, which recently I figured out that some matches were not logical as compare to the men’s fight. I guess WWE took advantage of them in matches like Jingle Bells and Halloween. WWE even had Divas Musical Chairs :).

    • Interesting to hear your experience. I’ve only seen WWE in little clips here and there and I’ve never paid any attention to the men’s bodies, either.

  14. I almost missed this one. I was thinking about what you just said and it strikes me that when men pose “sexy” – it’s usually way less about them as object and more about them as subject. I think of Beckham- yeah, he’s hot- but it strikes me that he’s more about touting his prowess and buffed body and virility to show it off as opposed to try to arouse women. Whereas with the typical female sexy poses it’s for the benefit of the one doing the gazing. Obviously not across the board, but there appears to me to be a pattern.

  15. I am thinking that once again there might be a sort of tension between what we desire in an unconscious way and what it is seen as correct according to social and cultural patterns… Going backwards… If women might fantasize with women while they are dating guys… Why they can´t just assume that desire as a bisexual tendency …

    I mean which is the real difference between having it in your mind and doing it.. At the end, both things imply that you like that, even more if those things turn you on….

    In the previous post there were some odd comments to the forum you linked to… Whilst trying to justify certain fantasies and saying something like: “No, there is no reason to be worried. Getting turned on by lesbian porn is normal for most woman that watch porn. Your thoughts and fantasies does not make you lesbian or bisexual”…. I mean, what?…

    Thanks for sharing, dear Georgia. I love this installment… Best wishes. Aquileana 😀

    • It could be that bisexuality is much more common than we realize but that we aren’t in touch with it, Perhaps due to repression/denial from living in a homophobic culture.

      At the same time, the human body does not seem to be visually arousing unless the culture acts in certain ways, as I described in this post: Why Aren’t Men Objectified? https://broadblogs.com/2015/05/13/why-arent-men-objectified/

      Finding things visually erotic seems to be a cultural construction. And since we create sexual imagery that makes the female body erotic, but not the male body, it’s not surprising that Women would find the female body erotic but not the male body.

      Why not find the male buttocks as arousing as the female buttocks? They look alike. But we give sexual significance to one in a way that we don’t get to the other, Culturally. So why wouldn’t a woman who prefers being with men, find the male buttocks sexually arousing? You have to learn these things.

      • “Finding things visually erotic seems to be a cultural construction. And since we create sexual imagery that makes the female body erotic, but not the male body, it’s not surprising that Women would find the female body erotic but not the male body.

        Why not find the male buttocks as arousing as the female buttocks? They look alike. But we give sexual significance to one in a way that we don’t get to the other, Culturally. So why wouldn’t a woman who prefers being with men, find the male buttocks sexually arousing? You have to learn these things.”

        I don’t know…for women to not be bothered and enjoy lesbian porn, which some say because of the hot bodies, seems to suggest women finding women’s bodies not just arousing, but sexually attractive. You don’t have to act on it to be bisexual. A virgin boy doesn’t mean he’s not straight because he never had sex with a girl. He’s straight because he find’s women’d bodies sexually attractive and men not so. To me, sexually attractive is on the door step of sexually arousing. It’s a matter of context, mood, sexual thoughts, right set of mind to turn the sexually attractive body to being arousing. Without sexually attractive, there shouldn’t be sexually arousing, no matter the conditioning. Which is why, I feel even if men were sexuaized. You’d find less homophobic men and men appreciating men’s bodies more. But I still think you’d not find men watching gay porn, as men might find men’s bodies attractive or more so than before, but not sexually attractive. So men’s bodies still wouldn’t be seen as erotic or a turn on.

        I mean, gay men have all this condtiong coming at them with women’s bodies, and lack of male bodies to see as far as ads go and media. Yet, gay men still find men’s bodies erotic and sexually attractive and arousing and women’s bodies not sexually attractive or arousing. Sure gay men can find women quite beautiful, and even sexy maybe, but most don’t seem to get more than that. And gay men aren’t watching lesbian porn or preferring that. It makes it seem like women don’t have a visual orientation since their arousal is not selective relative to their supposed sexual orientation. Women can just go with the tide or what society tells them or gears them and nothing seems predisposed, While men, seem to have an innate visual attraction and arousal to women. Sure men don;t have the visual arousal in tribal cultures, but men still aren’t directed away from women’s bodies visually and toward men by society. And if women get turned on by women’s bodies because of society teaching them that and making women’s bodies erotic, even though not desiring women’s bodies. Well then my question is…why is desire and arousal seperate for women? It doesn’t make sense.

        Why are they getting aroused, when it doesn’t have anything to do with the body parts creating lust and desire toward them as in women’s bodies and lesbian porn? That’s like being hungry and feeling hunger, but yet not wanting to eat the food that sparked the hunger. For men arousal and desire are interconnected and one in the same. A man is aroused, because he desires said body and body part. A man desires said woman and her body, because she and her body turns him on. A man isn’t getting physically or mentally turned on, especially mentally turned on, just for shits and giggles. There’s a purpose and visual lust behind the turn on. It’s not because something is sexual or society says it’s sexy, but because that sexually attractive body or women, is someone or something he yearns to touch, because she looks so sexy and attractive or he has sex on his mind that moment or sparked the mood of sexual thoughts first and then sees said sexy women and body, which the sexy moments he already had, go into imagination toward her body.

      • Males appear to have less sexual fluidity than women. I’ll talk about why that seems to be in a later post.

        Desire and arousal aren’t separate. It’s just that men have to learn to be visual. Gay culture does do a lot to help men be visual. But men have the added Factor of associating the penis with ejaculation and pleasure, in a way that women don’t. (Women are much more likely to orgasum from outercourse than intercourse.) So seeing a guy with a hard-on would probably be more arousing for man and woman. And you are equating arousal or desire with visual. It doesn’t have to be that way.

        By the way, I’m going to be on retreat this weekend and not have a lot of time to get to my blog.

      • I am only thinking that the sexual imagery that makes the female body erotic might have a “cultural” or better said “social” aim… (Social reproduction, statistically saying)…

        But I still find odd that it also applies to a strategy of reproduction of those called Normal social behaviours… And that, furthermore, it might had a twisted “dark” side… Hence that it might apply to females, who like or might like females.

        At the end, even if there is clearly a symbolic imaginary that makes women “look Hot”, (no matter which are the eyes of the beholder)… the unconscious desire is the driving force, I think…

        Thus, it is contradictory that the same society that abhor homosexuality creates symbolic female appealing models in order to beckon those same “potential” homosexual tendecies…

        Don’t you think it could be an indirect strategy of Natal control?… Wink o_O

        Thanks for the reply!!!. All the best to you, dear Georgia. Aquileana ⭐

        PS. Check out this letter by Sigmunf Freud. “Homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed”: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2009/10/homosexuality-is-nothing-to-be-ashamed.html

      • I’m guessing that the powers that be didn’t realize that we could stroke those tendencies. But days a lot of guys like it.

  16. In my opinion, it’s interesting how to define sexy men from women’s perspective, while most men seem to hold the agreed standard for sexy women. For me, personally, if a man wears tights or walks with shaking butt, I would consider he could be a gay very possible as you descried in your article. And if a gay is holding a baby, I would think he could be a real nice husband or father because his behavior is so gentle. Also, I do not always think that nude man or muscle man could be very sexy. I believe that there is a boundary for me, which is hard to describe. Sometimes, if a man with muscle wears properly instead of being naked to show his muscle on purpose, I think he might be more attractive and sexy. Thus, I agree with “women who want masculinity and tenderness. This just goes to show that many women do like both — perhaps especially combined.” I think that this is the different standards for different women to define sexy men. Some may like masculinity, while others may prefer tenderness. Like you mentioned, I think some like both. For example, I got a female friend, who thinks that a muscular man is most attractive when he takes care of his baby. However, she also dislikes the pure mascular man or too gentle man who she thinks a little gay somehow. Anyway, for women, it’s hard to tell what kind of men is standard sexy.

  17. I definitely think women see men as sexy. Absolutely. Given, each woman has her own interpretation of what sexy truly is. Tall, Dark, Handsome, Mysterious? Dadbod? I think each man wants to be seen as sexy rather than not, I mean it’s a compliment right? But overly-sexy men can also be seen as not masculine due to the fact that there is this cultural standard for women to be the only ones seen as truly sexy. Sexy can easily be associated with feminine and can deter from the masculine form that most men would actually like to portray. I think it’s actually really interesting. If I was a man, I would definitely want to be seen as sexy.

  18. Through out the years, women have been objectify by our society. This has been increasing more as the years pass. Since we tend to see women almost everywhere from television, magazine and billboards they mostly are showing some skin or are posed in a sexual manner. We have implemented ourselves by society that women are the sexy ones and men are not as much. If a man wants to been as sexy, he might be seen as a homosexual in our society because as mentioned we do not find it normal for guys to be sexy. I believe since we find women’s body as sexy, corporations are using them just to lure people into buying their products, which it works and we know about it and yet continue the cycle.

  19. I definitely believe that women see sexy men as sexy. It’s widely accepted that a man like David Beckham is sexy because of the way he looks. He has amazing hair, a banging body, and a gorgeous smile. What isn’t sexy about that? But I also don’t believe that women are so shallow as to not see men being sexy in other ways. It’s not necessarily how a man looks that makes him sexy. Sure it helps, but it’s the way he carries himself and how much confidence he has in himself that makes him sexy. Take Tom Hiddleston for example. He is very rarely pictured half naked or greased up and topless, but to me, he’s the epitome of sexiness. He looks well put together, he’s intelligent, and he seems like an all-around nice guy. He looks like the kind of man that will hold the door open for a woman, that would be kind and polite to your mother, and treat you like a woman (or any person in general) should be treated. Plus, he looks amazing in a tailored suit! These traits, more than anything, are sexy to me.

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