Men’s Thoughts On Male Nudity: Some Squirming

Sly Stallone

Sly Stallone

I recently asked students for their thoughts when looking at a nude-ish picture of Sly Stallone.

Have attitudes changed since sociologist, Beth Eck, found that guys were pretty uncomfortable looking at male nudes 12 years ago?

One-third of the guys were complementary, acknowledging that Sylvester Stallone has a great body. Which is more positive than the responses Eck had heard.

But overall, they were much more uncomfortable with male nudity than women were when they looked at female nudity. Here are some of the guy’s words:

Dear God!

It makes me cringe

I don’t like this picture (many guys said that)

It’s too much skin

It’s just too much

It’s okay when (Cindy’s) looking at me. I feel weird when he does.

He looks gay

I don’t like looking for too long

Is disgusting

It makes me uncomfortable

Eww, Yuck!

I don’t know for sure why men are so much more uncomfortable looking at male nudity than women are when looking at female nudity. But I suspect it involves one or more of these possibilities:

  1. The image provokes feelings of homosexuality. They’re uncomfortable with a man who is (apparently) coming onto them
  2. His objectification diminishes men
  3. Guys are so used to sexualized images being meant for their gaze that the whole thing is just disconcerting

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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 16, 2016, in men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. If the image evokes homosexuality then awesome. We homosexual men love the male body and have every right to exalt the object of our desire.

    • Well your point plays into my point: our society has grown so accustomed to seeing objectified images as being meant for the male gaze that sexy men can be experienced by women as being meant for the male gaze, So that the sexy men can come across as “gay.” That’s great for gay men but a distraction to straight women.

      • We live in a aggressively heterosexist world and when I look at, for example, bodybuilding advertisements literally 99% of it is directed at heterosexual people in an explicit way. Whether or not women look at these nearly naked muscle men bodybuilders are usually portrayed as if trying to appeal to women’s desire. You will usually see them in heterosexually charged scenarios that usually suggest attraction or even the idea they are about to have sexual intercourse. There is also a subtext targeting heterosexual men when they see these muscle men which is in the lines of “look like this and you’ll have sex with lots of women”.

      • That’s true. We do live in a heterosexist world that mostly sees women as the objects of allure.

    • I dont think so. I am a guy an think it is funny.

  2. I found this to be surprising and sad. I did not expect men in a women’s studies class to be so uncomfortable with a photo of a male nude. I expected many to comment on Stallone’s muscles, expressing admiration and/or jealousy. Learning of these responses brought me down from the clouds where I assumed college students in California (not frat bros), especially those in a women’s studies class, are pretty much over confining ideals of masculinity that make them insecure and afraid of seeming feminine or queer. I think this reaction can be explained with homophobia and a lack of exposure to sexualized nude/partially nude men. I’m certain this image would not be a big deal if people of all genders (and ethnicities and body types) were routinely sexualized by the media. Not saying this is the way to go, but seeing something that is normally hidden is more likely to produce such a negative reaction than seeing something that is seen everywhere.

  3. I find it interesting that these students had such negative things to say about this image. At first glance it is obvious that Sylvester Stallone is posing as “The Thinker” in an artistic fashion. He is amazingly physically fit in this picture, and I think this might also be a reason that men are uncomfortable with male nudity. Society’s representation of what a male should look like is unrealistic just as it is for women. As a woman, I do not find this picture disturbing or arousing. I see this a work of art. His body is a work of art that he has worked very hard to make it look this good. I do not believe that if a straight man found this picture appealing, it could mean he is gay. If a woman found another woman pretty, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are lesbian, no it just shows that they see what is there. It is socially acceptable now to be able to feel this way and it is just that, nothing more. It is the characterizing of people and grouping them as straight or gay that makes people think this way. It ultimately comes down to how someone will react to your opinion and how they will generalize your observation as appealing or disturbing.

  4. I guess some people just have so little exposure to men’s naked bodies, maybe because of the way the images are spread around. The way that Sly Stallone’s picture is framed is a reference to “the Thinker” by Auguste Rodin, except they edited it by having Stallone look directly at the viewer. He doesn’t seem to be showing off his sexual organs, but rather the only thing that would be threatening would be his butt or the amount of muscles that he has. I was under the assumption that “bro” culture respects bodybuilders or praises lifting weights as a way to become more sexual. Maybe this idea that lifting weights leads to women liking you sexually is also a factor in people feeling uncomfortable, because they are uncomfortable with their own bodies in terms of muscle mass. I wonder what the reaction to maybe a naked fat or skinny male body would be, versus a naked fat or really skinny woman’s body.
    My experience with the naked male body stems from the first time I ever went to a figure drawing class, which was when I was 14 years old (they actually have an age limitation now), and I was so surprised to see what a human male body actually looked like, it’s really liberating to be able to see the human body in a non-sexualized manner. It’s an intense practice to focus on how to construct and proportion the body through drawing techniques and still remember to translate and interpret “a human essence.” I used to struggle with having a naked man stare at me or start talking to me while I was drawing them, so I would change my position in the room to avoid eye contact, but it is cool to me now how comfortable everyone is with the naked person chilling in the room. I think if this was a more common practice, for people to engage with nude human bodies in a non sexual manner it would teach people a lot about viewing the figure. Maybe the way people can get a similar experience is to see and appreciate figure paintings, or Greek sculptures, when there was less of a sexual context behind bodies.

  5. I think that the reason why men respond negatively towards male nudity and not towards female nudity is because we are all taught to objectify women and see them as sexual objects. Because we are conditioned to think that the female body is sexual, men think that it is socially acceptable to ogle naked women. However, when it comes to naked men, it is an entirely different story. Men are supposed to be strong and dignified, and their bodies have not been sexualized like women’s bodies. So, images of a naked male cause negative reactions because it “feels wrong” because men have the mindset that when you look at a female body, it is because you are sexually attracted to it. There is no other reason. So, when you apply that same logic to a naked man, men assume that if you look at another naked man, it must be because you are a homosexual. It is a complete double standard. If men think that it is okay to objectify and sexualize another human being, then that opinion should apply to both men and women. If we are comfortable with a naked woman, a naked man should be no different. It should also be noted that naked female bodies do not always elicit a positive response. If it is shown in a sexual manner, then society accepts it. However, if a woman is pictured breast-feeding, the majority of society is still repulsed by it. It all goes back to the fact that we are taught to sexualize women’s bodies.

  6. I’ve always been so confused as to why guys seeing other men naked automatically assumes homosexual intent, even in photos. Do men not feel empowered or flattered when they see pictures like this one that portrays them in an attractive light? Do they feel threatened? Or do they simply feel objectified, and are upset over being sexualized in the same way that women are (in which case, I feel it’s sort of a taste of their own medicine)? Of course, coming from a woman, I can’t necessarily connect with the feelings of my male peers, but I personally would feel flattered seeing someone like this representing my gender. I guess I’m mostly bothered by the fact that the men who feel uncomfortable with these depictions of male nudity automatically link it to something sexual, even when it’s not intended to be.

    • I was surprised to learn that a lot of men look at pictures of sexy women and feel like these women are coming onto them — even though the woman can’t see them at all! So when the turn around comes, it feels like the guy is coming onto them – even though the man in the pictures can’t see the guy!

    • I think an open appreciation of the male body by other men is long overdue. It’s a difficult hurdle to get over, though. Personally, I enjoy looking at the male form – I’ll go as far as to say that I even get a vicarious thrill at looking at a fit man with a large penis. I think this is because I wonder if women would find that image desirable. This, despite the fact that I am not fit and am decidedly under endowed. I guess there may be some masochism there – wondering how I’d be evaluated in the eyes of a woman viewing both me and the well hung guy. One thing’s for sure, though: I wouldn’t admit this except anonymously.

  7. Hei Yiu Hailey Wong

    Under the influence of patriarchy and resulted social norm, men (and even women) often have a completely reaction towards male and female nudity. As the reading suggests, guys are uncomfortable after seeing the nude-ish picture of Sylvester Stallone, while being totally fine with Cindy’s. It has been so long that we lived in a society with men being the dominating ones. They are the main “stream” of the society, and that’s why being considered as the main audience of any pictures, marketing and entertainment. They, and even women, internalized that women, but not men, should be the sexy and sexualized ones, seeing female nudity as usual and common. It is therefore not difficult to imagine that they will act so weird when encountering male nudity, which is not always the case. Also, with male being the “main audience” (androcentrism), it is not surprised that the guys would associate pictures of nude male, in this case Sylvester Stallone, with gays and homosexuality and being uncomfortable or even disgusted(for those who are super conservative) by it, when he is coming towards them. It might take time to change the attitude, as society is in progress towards equality and recognizing underlying problems of inequality and women sexualization; it is already nice that some of the responses from male are positive, appreciating the “great body” that Syl has.

  8. Isabella Nieto

    There seems to be more room for women to acceptably find different male facial features and body types attractive than there is for men to do so, because of the overwhelming preponderance of the “Barbie” stereotype for women. There isn’t an equivalent unifying stereotype for male movie stars or models. For men it doesn’t really matter how they look because its almost all the same. More people are opposed of men being nude vs. women being nude. There are more negative reactions towards nude men than nude women. Society has created this wall between both sexes. But as I was reading this post I couldn’t stop but think how powerful society has to be to impact men. Men who see nude men are instantly grossed out and negative towards the pictures of nude men. When I see a nude man or a woman I simply think they are modeling or posing and move on. There is definitely tension with how men are emitting these thoughts when they see a naked man. Being a homosexual doesn’t mean you are that if you see a picture of a naked man and notice the good looks. It’s really disappointing because we have created these thoughts throughout the years. Men are taught to get aroused when seeing a woman and that its okay. If they see a male and are aroused thats just wrong and not okay. Woman seeing naked men or women, that’s okay. Its always opposed and opposite. I hope one day society can be more accepting of how men see women or men and aren’t judged as harshly as they are nowadays.

    • Women and men seem to be hurt and helped in different ways. In some ways women are hurt more buy more narrow body standards. Luckily, real men don’t seem to care quite so much. And we certainly socialize with women and men differently when it comes to experiencing nudish women and men.

  9. As a woman whenever I see a picture of another woman naked, I look at her and I am able to admire her beauty and I’m not threatened by the thought of being attracted to her. I think this has to do with the fact that it’s very common for society to sexualize women and illustrate them naked and as “sexy”. As a result of women always being portrayed this way it’s not weird for me to look at her and feel uncomfortable about it, because its the most frequent way I see women (as illustrated by the media). However, if it were uncommon for women to be seen this way I’m sure I would feel uncomfortable looking at these images of women because society would then be telling me that what I was looking at was inappropriate and not intended for me to admire. That’s why I think the guys reacted the way in which they did. Because unlike the female body which (society has decided) is intended for both men and women (women to admire and strive to be like someone else and men to desire) the male body is not depicted this way.

  10. Seems like a very unscientific and narrow survey. For one thing, in the comparison with Cindy Crawford, she has a pretty normal, even if good body. Sylvester Stalone has a very non-normal body that has been toned with probably 6 hour per day workouts. Not everybody likes the result. I think this photo of Stalone is great, and I like to see it, but a lot of people think all those muscles look awful.

    • For some reason, people tend to think that only quantitative surveys are scientific. This is a scientific qualitative sample. And it is replicating the earlier one — with even more participants than the original.

      But let me say that pretty much no quantitative survey is perfect because it is difficult to get a random sample of an entire population. If you send out a survey, those who are more interested are more likely to fill out the survey and send it back, for instance. And who opens their mail — or not? You get bias from that, alone. If it is an online survey, who tends to go to that site? That introduces a bias.

      So in this case the reader knows that this is a survey of women’s studies college classes in the Bay Area. I never suggested that this was a random sample of the entire US population.

      And like I said, this is a more qualitative than quantitative, anyway, and the methods are different. Qualitative samples don’t pretend to be a random sample of an entire population. They don’t have a series of options that the researcher figures out beforehand with respondents answering A, B, C or D. Instead, you ask people a question and let them freely talk about whatever they would like, and then look for patterns.

      What’s interesting here is how different the men are when looking at a nearly naked man compared to women looking at a nearly naked woman. And the sample is comparable in that they are millennial college students from the bay area. The only difference is gender.

      I wrote several posts on this sample, here’s more:

      Men React to “Nude” Sly Stallone
      Women React to Sexy Cindy Crawford
      Cindy Crawford Makes Me Feel Inadequate

      And if you think Cindy Crawford’s body is normal, you’re nuts! It’s pretty much impossible for a real woman to have that body. Ms. Crawford probably doesn’t even have that body. She gets it — to the extent that she has it — by starving herself and getting implants. But all of these shots are also Photoshopped. And then women feel like they’re expected to look like her!

  11. What an observation…
    Will certainly think about this issue of different approach !!
    Thanks for sharing

  12. Samantha Hartman

    Our society displays female nudity frequently and for many reasons, but under each circumstance the woman’s form is sexualized. It is in this way that we sexualize nudity and reinforce societal ideals that state that women in the nude are sexual beings who we are supposed to be attracted to. As a straight female, I do not feel any attraction to naked women – but I am accustomed to seeing it used frequently as advertising and marketing material to draw consumers. I have become desensitized to the naked female form. By contrast, the male form is rarely shown nearly-naked and in the rare occasion that they are sexualized it is done on a man who is more conservatively clothed than their bikini or lingerie wearing counterpart. In instances like the one above, I think everyone is surprised by the nudity, and feel as if the image must be sexual in nature. For a man to admit that Stallone looks good, might admit that they are attracted to them when they are not. However, women can usually admit when a naked female looks good without fear that someone will think this means they are attracted to the person in question. What does that say about the relationship men and women have with their comfort in their own sexuality in our society?

    • Good questions. The survey certainly reflects how used to seeing female nudity women are. And less homophobia toward women. Of course, since sexualized images are meant for men, Women don’t look at sexy images of Women and think that they are meant for them. And then there’s the matter of how we often dress sexy men up in a suit so that guys won’t have to get all twisted in a knot.

  13. Yeah it’s a consequence of internalised homophobia. It’s the same reason why men are more reluctant to acknowledge when other males are attractive or be more physically or emotionally intimate with other males. Personally I can acknowledge Sly has (or had, not sure about now) a beautiful body, without it necessarily being sexual. I think some fear that thinking of it in a positive way may bring about sexual feelings, which they are trying to repress. If one was secure in one’s heterosexuality why would you feel so threatened by the image? A lot of these guys probably just don’t want to admit they find it arousing or at least pleasing. Such is the link between nudity and sexuality. The above attitudes permeate into broader society.

    • Thanks for offering a guys perspective on this. 😊

      • jessica alvarado


        Your perspective is really interesting especially when you say that men could possibly fear to express positive attitudes and comments about a having sexual feelings about another man. The idea of men not wanting to admit that they find another man arousing or pleasing, but won’t admit it because they aren’t sure about their sexuality or simply because they don’t want other people to think that person is gay, is super interesting. I never thought about it in that way. I also think this can happen because the media shows more pictures of women than men. Women have been sexualized for so long now so I think it’s more common to see a naked woman, have good things to say about that, and be more comfortable with it versus it being a naked man. With that said, this can be a problem for men. Perhaps it’s time to address it and shed more light on it. I think men should definitely be comfortable with their sexuality and expressing it as well without being homophobic about it.


      • Thanks for your thoughts on this.

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