Women & Male Nudity: Mixed Reactions

Sly Stallone

Sly Stallone

Women were pretty uncomfortable looking at nude males 12 years ago when sociologist, Beth Eck, sought out their reactions. Have attitudes changed since then?

I recently showed my women students a nude-ish picture of Sly Stallone (the same one Dr. Eck had used) and asked for their thoughts.

There’s still discomfort. But nowadays the reaction is more mixed.

Do women lust after nude guys?

Do women look upon the well-built Sly Stallone with lust?

Most of the women Dr. Eck spoke to did not seem very lustful. And when they were, guilt or shame arose, too. (Did the women feel “wrong” taking a masculine role, she wondered?)

Many of my women students reflected those same feelings from over a decade ago. But a large portion also seemed pretty comfortable with his nudity:

He’s attractive and sexy… but

The largest reaction to Sly Stallone? He’s attractive and sexy.

  • Two-thirds called him attractive
  • 40% said he was sexy

Still, one-third said “He’s sexy, but”:

  • He’s not my type
  • I’m not attracted to him
  • I don’t want to have sex with him

But 1/7 (14%) said something to the effect that:

  • I’d like to have sex with him
  • He’s hot!
  • He looks willing and sexy
  • He’s my type

He’s not attractive … it’s weird

Still, one-third of the women said he wasn’t attractive. One said he was “trying to be sexy” — and apparently not succeeding.

Another 1/3 didn’t like the image, felt uncomfortable, or thought it was weird.

A quarter said something like, “I’m not used to this.”

A few felt discomfort because he looked strong yet his nudity made him seem feminine, or vulnerable or fragile. The mix of masculinity and strong muscles with feminine nudity and vulnerability seemed disconcerting.

A few said that he looked uncomfortable. Were they projecting their own discomfort onto him?

While many women were uncomfortable, no one specifically voiced guilt or shame at looking at him.

A smattering looked at the image and just said that he looked strong — their only reaction.

Mixed reactions

Words the women used were incredibly mixed:


Exposed, vulnerable, a bit feminine

I’m not used to this

I don’t like it. This makes me feel awkward

Nice body

Kind of gross. I don’t wanna look at that

Too much muscle is disgusting

Impressive body, but not my type

He’s very handsome!

Weird and uncomfortable, it feels unnatural

Sexy, gorgeous, hot

Hot, but not my type

I’m freaked out that he’s naked

I like. He’s my type.

Not at all attractive

Looks willing/sexy

Finally a naked man on a cover

I can’t focus on anything but him

In conclusion…

Women’s feelings were decidedly mixed.

Most did see him as attractive and sexy. But they didn’t necessarily want to have sex with him.

And plenty of discomfort was attached to a strong, masculine, hot body — that also felt feminized, fragile and vulnerable due to the nudity. Something that they simply were not used to seeing.

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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 23, 2016, in men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 55 Comments.

  1. There is a stark double standard for male and female nudity and the body in general. In the movies and on television, women’s breasts can be shown. Yet, male nudity is censored as it is deemed ‘inappropriate.’ Which is ironic given the backlash women get for breastfeeding in public without a covering. Then, our bodies and actions are considered ‘inappropriate,’ despite nothing inherently sexual taking place. In schools, girls’ clothing is highly censored. In most cases, limitations on boys’ clothing only extend to any inappropriate/explicit depictions on garments or not wearing too much blue or red. As if a collar bone or shoulder has any ability to disrupt classrooms.

    • It’s so interesting to see different cultural notions of what governs men sexuality. In some places it is seeing a woman’s shoulder, the nape of her neck, her hair, her face. In other places, like sub-Saharan Africa, women can be nearly naked and that is just ordinary streetwear. No big deal. Covering actually creates sexual tension.

  2. A couple years back I took a series of figure drawing classes, when the class was over I was given permission to share the drawings. I was showing my mother, a majority of the models i worked with were women, but when she got to the pages with male nude models, she immediately shut the sketchbook and gave me a talk about how seeing a naked man is a “big deal” She asked me if that class was the first time i saw a naked man and she nearly had a heart attack when i said it was lol, from my perspective of taking multiple nude art classes it was no big deal it was anatomy, but my mother viewed it as a sexual act and was very upset over my “lost innocence”

    I can’t help but think of my mom when i read about the discomfort people, women in this article, have with male nudity. Why was this reaction not given to the nudes of women, if the women in the article were asked to rate a woman i wonder what the response would be? Are nude women seen so often we’ve grown accustomed to it? It makes me think

  3. Its interesting to see all the different reactions. A lot of the women didn’t care for the photo or have a reaction because they aren’t attracted to him but if it was their celebrity crush I think most of their reactions would have been more excited. And I think if it was a class full of men and a nude photo of a woman, they all would have had the same reaction ” found it sexy” or wanted to sleep with her. I think most men find almost all women attractive, especially naked ones but I can’t say the same for women.

  4. VC Caporusso

    I found this very interesting, but not for the fact that the women interviewed had different thoughts. Everyone has their preferences and “types,” It was comments that said he looked feminine. I don’t see any kind of femininity, he has all of his muscles bulging and he’s looking at the camera with a smoldering face. He’s posed like a masculine statue in a museum. However, I do agree with one comment, he does look kind of uncomfortable. Me, personally, I don’t find him attractive. I don’t care if I saw pictures like these every day. It wouldn’t really matter to me, even if it was a guy I found attractive. I had never thought of this concept, though. Society makes it seem like women want to see naked guys, makes you think.

  5. Interesting because that is exactly the reaction I saw when people would turn in their papers, in class, mixed. A lot of the women that got up to turn in their papers had no reaction on their face but about 1/3 of the women in the class got up with a face that was really red and with a smirk on their face. I saw this reaction mostly on people whos cultures could’ve been a lot different than ours growing up. In other cultures sex and nudity isn’t as open as people are in America. As time keeps going so does the way we think and now more than ever can we see more men being sexy and okay with it, still not as much as women, but its a lot more acceptable now than it was before. Hence the fact that the results that were received in the recent poll was a bit different than the polls in the older study done. I feel like the more people talk about it the more people get comfortable with it.

  6. I think that the context of the nudity is an important factor on how comfortable or uncomfortable other women and I are with it. Another important factor is the age of the woman. I can understand that older women could become uncomfortable with male nudity on a magazine cover but I am 21. For me personally, I could care less that Sly Stallone was on the cover of a magazine. Relative to all of the other things that I have seen on magazine covers every time I am in line at the grocery store, a nude man is not all that racy. I have learned to be disinterested with things such as that. I am neither repelled by nor drawn to the image. I have just chosen not to care, not to take a stance. On the other hand, if I was walking down the street and Sly was sitting naked on the rock right in front of me I would definitely grow extremely uncomfortable and immediately turn around and walk away. With all of the images that flood my eyes daily because of social media and television I have become numb to what I am looking at. Unless that image is sitting right in front of me on a rock flexing.

    • And the interesting thing is that context doesn’t matter so much when it comes to women. Thanks a lot for your thoughts on all these context issues as you experience them.

  7. After reading several of the comments below, I agree that women prefer to see the man in action to find him sexy. I think men have a more physical reaction to women, whereas women have a more mental reaction.

    For example, in my personal life, my boyfriend finds sexy images, pictures, and video arousing. But I could watch something of equal caliber in male form, yet still have this thought of where did he come from? What does he do?

    I think in this culture, women are taught to look at a man’s “resume” before being aroused, in contrast to it being acceptable for men to have lust for a woman who, to one’s knowledge could have no background life. I personally have never heard a man lust after a girl with a certain type of car, or job. However, women constantly list attributes of the man previous to finding him sexy.

    I understand that everyone is different, and has different things that are arousing, but I feel that the societal norms tend to have a woman represented physically, in arousal, and men are represented with a brief biography. I also think that there is some hardwiring of male and female brains, biologically, that makes men more receptive to visuals than women. Women are more stimulated by a mental state, often invoked by attributes of the potential partner.

    I also have a hard time nailing down the context of society, and what everyone thinks and feels. I know that my views, and what is pleasing to me is completely different for the next. So how do you analyze this with any type of factual reference? Are case studies viable enough?

    • Yes, culture creates different kinds of norms that vary from place to place so that you get social patterns. But different people have different personalities and life experiences also create differences within the social patterns.

      You might want to take a course on methodology someday. Every method has its pros and cons. Quantitative methods are easier to do and reach more people. But they have biases like these: you can’t reach a perfect sample of the population, some people are more likely to respond than others, and the researcher has to think of all the possible answers beforehand.

      Qualitative studies like the one I did have some of the problems above, like you can’t reach the entire population. But you’re always going to have a bias anyway. So you explain your sample and let people make judgments for themselves.

      So readers know that I asked students from women’s studies classes in the San Francisco bay area to use words to describe what they saw (instead of me guessing before hand what they might say). And then I look for patterned of behavior — particularly differences in patterns between how men and women perceive men and women (you’d have to look at some of my other posts to get the comparison — which I have listed under “related posts”).

      And a big difference was that men were never uncomfortable looking at naked women; Women were almost never uncomfortable looking at naked women. But men and women both showed high levels of discomfort with naked men.

  8. Something else to keep in mind is men as a whole have less emphasis on their appearance… so when you see an image of a man who portrays some sort of ideal.. I’m sure it has impact. My close female friends frequently discuss their disgust towards the male body — uncomfortable with images of penises, or anything remotely sexualized on men. I hear a lot that musculature appears “unnatural” and arises feelings of discomfort.

    It was so interesting for me to read that his image was perceived as feminine. The idea that naked vulnerability is a feminine trait I’m sure is unconscious to more people than myself alone. In Ancient Greece, the nude male figure was anything but feminine… There is a lot of value I think in witnessing a man in a “feminine” setting yet still desirable to many women — that’s more along the right type of publicity in my opinion. I kind of think if men as a whole were more comfortable being feminine, it would help dispel a lot of the gender inequality in our society because with that would come a deeper level of understanding for the opposite sex.

    • Yes, I was surprised at how Women called his nudity feminine. I guess we are so accustomed to associating nudity with women that it can come across that way. At least in media. Probably not in real life. Because that would be really weird having sex.

  9. i find the thoughts about Stallone as being a bit feminine just for posing naked on the cover of a magazine very interesting. That would not have been my first opinion of the image however I do see how some women can view him as feminine when I read that statement and looked at the picture again. I find it interesting that we are able to see him as feminine when he is clearly a man. Is it because we have internalized this idea that it is out of the norm for a man to be posing naked on a cover of a magazine? Is it because we rarely see covers like this so it’s not normal when we do? Is it because we think only women should be doing this? I also find it interesting how this picture had so many mixed reactions to it from women. My personal reaction would have been the “He’s attractive, he has a nice body, but not my type- too old for me. I wouldn’t have sex or date him.” And I realize I feel the need to add the last “but” part as if it a defense mechanism of some sort. As if I am scared of being judged for admitting how I truly feel about him- attractive. Is this because i am a women and feel unladylike for admitting this? Or is it because he is twice my age and that would be weird? i have yet to explore these questions more but this article was interesting and did cause many questions to arise for me.

    • You pose some interesting questions. Thanks for them. Maybe the “he’s attractive, but” is reflecting a sense of discomfort or guilt — or who knows what — because women are so unused to images like this of men. And associating nudity with femininity seems to be a form of internalization: associating nudity with women.

  10. It is interesting to see that most people seem to perceive that he looks uncomfortable. I wanted to further add to your statement where you said “were they projecting their own discomfort onto him.” I don’t know about others but being free without clothes, as a male, is pretty comfortable. I’m pretty sure it feels liberating regardless of what gender you are. It is interesting to see how much the media has sculpted our minds to think that clothing is the norm and how we are supposed to look a certain way and wear certain clothes for certain occasions. Our bodies were born naked, only the warmth of skin to skin contact between the mother and child. It is interesting to see that people are feeling uncomfortable with nudity as well as feeling more comfortable with clothes. The bigger question I have for myself is, are we afraid of nudity because we are told that it is discouraged to do in society or are we just uncomfortable with our own bodies? Food for thought.

  11. As many of the other comments mention, maybe the women in your class were not very inclined towards Stallone because he’s older and has aesthetics that may have been more attractive to people of his time, just as the ideal sexy woman’s body has changed over the decades. Maybe more muscular was what was in during that time, but I personally don’t feel that muscles like Stallone are all that sexy. I also agree with your class that he also seemed vulnerable and feminine. Perhaps it’s because he’s trying to cover up his man bits or maybe because he felt uncomfortable being in the nude. I think when you do try the study again with a Channing Tatum photo, your class will react wildly differently from how they were towards Stallone. Women are much more open with their sexualities these days and they’re not apologizing. There seems to be more women who opt for males strippers for bachelorette parties and I feel that it is just a matter of time before Chip ‘n Dale’s will become a weekly event. After all, there’s a sequel to Magic Mike.

  12. I’m just going to say it flat out: I think Sly looks damn good! I personally don’t see anything wrong with the cover. He’s imitating art posing as The Thinker. It amazes me that some of the women’s reactions were that it made them feel “awkward” or “uncomfortable” and I feel like this may be because they were asked over a decade ago. It’s a completely different era now. The media has sexualized both men and women so much over the last decade that it doesn’t seem that uncommon to see an actor posed like this. Like Jessica Alvarado mentioned in the comments, we tend to have a different response to seeing actors like Channing Tatum or Ryan Gosling because we’re used to and comfortable seeing actors half-naked. In the time that we are living in, it is completely normal, if not expected, to see actors and actresses showing off their bodies. Hell, there are whole magazines dedicated to it! I don’t see an issue with magazine covers featuring a nice looking, well-toned, half naked man but maybe that’s just me!

  13. Victoria Betz

    I feel that women find men sexier in action, rather than a still photo. They like to see muscles flex and strain at all angles as the man does some sort of masculine job. When they see a still photo they get satisfaction for a bit but they like to see more. It seems different for men. Men love looking at a nude woman whether they are in a music video, movie or still photo. Now present day, women may be more comfortable seeing nude men in photos, depending on who the man is. If it was a young, popular actor or artist of today that many women deem “gorgeous and hot,” such as Channing Tatum, Ryan Reynolds, The Hemsworth Brothers, or Zac Efron, it may be a whole different story. While you may get mixed answers based on whether or not the person being shown the photo likes the person depicted, or whether they’re even used to looking at revealing photos. Everyone is going to have a different opinion but I believe women now days are more used to revealing photos.

    • They do seem to be more comfortable with nude-ish men these days. But there still seems to be a lot of discomfort, too. I’ll have to show the Coke commercial and see how they respond.

  14. I think that women aren’t that intetested in still photos of men. They are more interested in seeing men in context. Who he is, how he behaves, play a big role.
    What would be really interesting is seeing women’s reaction to a video like this one instead of still photos

  15. Although in the past, looking male nude picture would make a woman feel uneasy or uncomfortable. That’s because the values in the exposure of the former is different from today. In some societies considered nudity in front of public is embarrassing. The teaching cultivate the idea of made those women to think these images is a pervert. So it may be the reason to make them feel uncomfortable to look at a male nude picture. Moreover, in the past women not have opportunity to comment very much. So some ideas may made they viewed as a bad woman. Unlike these days the attitude people’s thoughts change. Women have the right to learn and show the idea even more. So that is reason they can look at a male nude picture with feeling relax more and more dare to comment on various without fear or shame to be viewed as a bad woman. However, the male nude does not make the woman feel lust easily. Sometimes those images were viewed as a work of art. Women may appreciate the beauty of the muscle or the body, but it does not mean that they want to have sex with that man.

    • And women still often feel uncomfortable since they are so on used to seeing nearly nude men. And it seems to be at odds with some of our ideas about what men should be like. People unconsciously internalize their cultures – when you are constantly bombarded by a particular way of seeing, it comes to seem natural and normal, and it can be hard to think outside the box.

  16. Here is what’s MOST revealing,

    “Two-thirds called him attractive”

    So, you have a high status celeb that only 67% of women found attractive.

    How do you think most women feel about the average man out here? I dare say the number is anywhere near 67%.

    While the issue is about nudity, these stats speak volumes about how women perceive men and our attractiveness in general.

    • And that’s because of our patriarchal culture that represses women’s sexuality (nearly half aren’t interested in sex at all) and celebrates the female form (an unrealistic version of it) And ignores men’s bodies. So that most of us grew up thinking that women are the sexy half of the species.

  17. I find him greatly attractive and handsome, still now 😀

    By the way, even if women find a man hot and handsome, they necessarily don’t want to have sex with him. Even if they do, they won’t say so. I think this is because of the societal pressures and ethical and moral teachings we have fed with since childhood (at least in most of the Asian countries).

  18. I think that male nudity is still a very rare thing and thus makes most women uncomfortable because they are not used to it. I expect that when women see other nude women they are not as uncomfortable because it is something that is a lot more common so we have become a bit more desensitized to these images. Personally as a woman, I also feel a little uncomfortable looking at Sly nude like that and I believe that his excessive muscles add to my discomfort. I do not find him attractive because he is not my type. However, when I think about women on magazines with an overly muscular and nude figure, I think that people will also feel uncomfortable because too much muscle seems almost unnatural. However, pictures of men with only slightly muscular bodies do seem hot, sexy, and attractive. Overall, I believe that the over muscular figure of Sly is what contributes most to the discomfort of women looking at this cover. I believe that if you conducted a new study using a nude man that was not so overly muscular, then women’s reactions would be less mixed.

  19. I think the problem is that he has a body type that women don’t really like. He’s the type that men look up to. If they used another example of someone younger and less muscular, the results would be a lot different!

  20. I think it is not that surprising that a few women were repulsed by Stallone’s appearance in the picture. This is was probably because Stallone’s body sort of resembles a more bodybuilder style compared to a regular, toned body. Some women seem to be turned off by extremely large muscles since sometimes it seems rather inhuman and even might resemble animals like gorillas (no offense intended to bodybuilders). They feel that they would be handled roughly by a man of that structure. I think that women should not think so sexually about the image, as it overlooks the immense training and dedication that it takes to obtain such a body naturally. As a guy, I appreciate Stallone’s discipline in training his body to obtain its shape. However, since it incorporates almost full nudity, women think it’s purpose is to be sexually pleasing to them, and that is why a majority of the comments incorporate sexual content.

    • Maybe so. I’ve updated the study to see how students respond to a less muscular — but toned — Channing Tatum. I have yet to analyze the results, though. We’ll see what happens.

  21. Jonathan Castellanos

    I am sort of at loss with this post. I don’t see how this photo makes people feel uncomfortable…You would basically see this much skin at a beach…I would understand if privates were being shown (because we’re not used to that) but I see no private areas being shown here..The only extra skin we would not see at a beach would be the sides of his hips. (unless if they’re wearing speedos?? even so, at a swimming pool or beach, some men wear speedos and it’s normal…) In addition, by some people calling this feminine, isn’t this going against what feminism stands for? Equality? Also…in this part..”Most of the women Dr. Eck spoke to did not seem very lustful. And when they were, guilt or shame arose, too. (Did the women feel “wrong” taking a masculine role, she wondered?)” — Is it a masculine thing to have lust for someone? I don’t quite understand the point being made here. Sure they can feel guilt or shame, but why is it redirected to the made up idea of it being a masculine role to have the ability to lust?

    We’re all different so I can understand the different opinions about Stallone. I guess my questions are catered towards the mixed reviews.

    • Thank you for your questions. First, not all of the women who are making these statements are feminists. But even feminists have been raised in a patriarchal culture, and internalized certain ideas, For instance: nudity and sexiness = women. So even a feminist woman can feel discomfort because of her socialization. Brain and emotion don’t always go together. I find the women’s responses completely unsurprising because of the culture they have grown up in. We are all a mix of culture + social interactions + individual personalities, and the things mixed together differently with different women. But one thing I noticed is that while there is still a lot of discomfort, the women seem to be less uncomfortable than 15 years ago. So times are changing.

  22. Tuyet jasmine pham

    I feel that you could recieve different opinions from different age groups. Maybe some thought he was sexy but wasnt their type because he is older or because they know what they like. He’s also positioned not in a manly way yet he looks manly because of his muscles! Women are picky also. I like all the examples of what women actually said about this photo. They seemed like they liked it but didnt care for it enough to be like “wow!”. Maybe if there was a photo of someone from this generation thats identified as “sexy”.

    • I was replicating an older study and wanted to use the same picture. But I’ve also updated with pictures of Channing Tatum, So we’ll see.

      • jessica alvarado


        I think maybe if you were to post a picture like Zayn Malik, Tom Hardy, Dwayne Johnson, Idris Elba, Ryan Gosling, Zac Efron to name a few…you’d get slightly different responses, however what I would say about this picture is that he looks quite sexy, muscular, handsome, charming and tender all at the same time, yet I am not sexually attracted to him. At least not in the form that I would want to have sex with him nor fantasize about him when I am having sex. I would say this is so, because I am not emotionally attracted to him. And I wonder if this is the same for other girls? Because I can definitely admit that he is sexy and good looking, but I wont lie and pretend to be dramatically attracted to his body. I think the most I have ever had to comment about a really good looking man’s body, I would say “Damn, he’s fine/sexy”, but I think that is it….However, my reaction to my partners body would be a little bit more on the dramatic side..


      • Yep, I’ll be doing a follow up on this soon.

  23. How do you filter out those who, flat out, don’t like Stallone?

  24. We need more data points. What about Burt Reynolds and the Hoff?

  25. I know a decent number said he was attractive. But I wonder what the response would be, if better rating if say with a younger guy and where more women seem to find him good looking, say like Channing Tatum or One of the Hemsworth brothers, Chris or Liam. They are seen as very good looking by women and nice bodies and heart throbs. Stallone was always fit, but was never known as far as I could tell as a “looker” as in comparison to those guys or guys like Ryan Gosling or Chris evans who women seem to swoon over too for this looks and bodies.

    Women seem to be picky as far as if they will be visually attracted to a man’s body or lust or find hot or sexy. Stallone who is a known steroid user, has the body like that, which women could find nice looking, but not hot, sexy or lust worthy. Wheras, a guy like Tatum has the leaner, but toned body that more women prefer, which could have a chance of a higher rating. They should try that with him for a study and women’s thoughts. Though I don’t think a shot of him in a speedo or thong would help as you showed, a man in a “feminine” attire can be off putting for women so that could turn women off or cause him to not be sexy, despite his body and looks because of wearing that. Him probably posed nude or such without his genitals shown would probably have a better chance of a positive rating from women than speedo or thong. I added in thong, because he was in the magic mike movies,so there probably would be shots of him wearing something like that.

    • Yeah, this is my last post on this particular study, and people had brought up your points before – maybe you were one of them, so I redid the study showing first a picture of Cindy Crawford and Sylvester Stallone – to replicate The earlier studies – both Dr. Eck and mine – to see how similar my students were to past students and to the original study – I wanted to use the exact same images that were used over a decade ago. But then I added a couple pictures of Channing Tatum in various states of dress. But I haven’t analyzed those yet.

      And even though it’s not Channing Tatum here, you do see some movement with more women being comfortable.

      Stay tuned.

    • Defining attractiveness varies person to person. Personally I wouldn’t say that I have a type of girl I date, I generally look for someone that is as crazy as I am for example. But more on to the point. You point out that a younger person would be deemed more attractive than one who is older. I would like to further expand this theory and maybe add some reason behind it. I think what we find attractive is a person who we consider to be “fit” and suited to survive the given environment and situation. At one point in history bigger people were considered attractive since they were more likely to survive harsh famines that spread throughout Europe. I believe people these days find others success stories attractive and we get those people who we label as “gold diggers.” Further more to go back to how a person looks, Its interesting to see how much times have changed. I feel each generation will define a type of body more or less attractive depending on how that generation was raised through their media.

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