A Sex Object Not Enjoying Sex

body image poorIt’s not unusual these days for a young woman to become preoccupied with how attractive she looks, habitually seeing herself through her partner’s eyes, and judging herself based on what she thinks he thinks. In other words, to self-objectify.

Instead of enjoying sex.

I’ve talked with friends about the phenomenon and a couple of them have opened up and told me their stories. Like “Sophie,” who let me relate her story in my blog.

Sophie felt a little awkward recounting her experience, sometimes stumbling over her words. But she seemed to want to talk about it.

As we talked over peppermint tea, she said that before we started discussing this, she had never realized that when she was younger she had habitually worried about how she looked in bed, instead of enjoying how she felt. “No wonder it was so hard for me to ‘come’ with my boyfriends!” she exclaimed. “How could I when I was preoccupied with how I looked — and worried that I didn’t look good enough?”

Yeah, that’s pretty much the opposite of eroticism.

She went on to explain that, “In my earliest relationships, especially, I obsessed over whether my breasts were big enough. The guys always assured me that they were just fine, but,” she continued wistfully, “I wasn’t sure if they were just trying to be nice.”

Eventually she stopped asking guys that question after reading complaints in magazines. “Some guys complained that they got so distracted by the questioning that they lost interest — even though they were just fine with the women’s breasts,” she explained. “So I decided to assume they were okay unless I heard otherwise.”

She added, “Another guy in Cosmo said that men love breasts of all sizes. He had been with women who ranged from A to DD and loved them all. So that helped my confidence a bit.”

But the concern stayed at the back of her mind. “I still spent time forcing those worries to the back of my head,” she said. “I was constantly working to submerge those thoughts. So it still wasn’t easy to be completely ‘into it.’”

Sophie did have one bad experience, too: “I did have one boyfriend who treated me differently from other guys. I can’t pinpoint what it was — or at least I can’t remember now — but I was constantly wondering if he found me attractive. I’d be wondering about it when we were in bed, but also when I was alone, just driving around town… at the grocery store… at my granddad’s funeral…”

She finally decided to talk with him about it. “I told him that I hoped he didn’t compare me to Playboy-type models. I hoped that he could see what was attractive about me — attractive in my own way.

“I was so surprised by his response. He said, ‘I can’t do that.’ That didn’t make sense to me and I kept asking him questions until I finally realized that he equated big breasts with attractiveness and small breasts with unattractiveness.” Sophie paused before adding this thought, “I had just thought that he wished my breasts were bigger. It hadn’t occurred to me that he saw me as existing entirely outside the category of ‘attractive.’”

“But,” she continued, “he said it didn’t matter because he loved me. And he didn’t love other women who were more attractive than me. But I lost all interest in him after that. And he was so shocked when I broke up with him. Imagine that!”

She says that now she is lucky to be married to a man who likes small breasts. “And I believe him because one day I found what he was viewing online — they were smaller-breasted women. Actually, I have mixed feelings. I’m not thrilled that he looks at them, but the voices in my head — the ones that worry about breast size — have quieted down.”

Since around 80% of young women have poor body image, it seems likely that a lot of us have heard those voices chattering about being too small, too droopy, too lopsided, the wrong shape, or fretting over how big or small our butts, thighs or tummies are…

And in fact, two-thirds of my women students said it could be a big distraction for them.

So that’s one of the problems of objectifying women’s bodies, as women learn to do it to themselves, too. And then they lose self-esteem and don’t enjoy sex.

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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 August 17, 2016, in body image, psychology, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. I am constantly worried about how I look during sex. I rarely focus on me. I wanna make sure my boyfriend feels good. I don’t care what he does and how he does it. I want HIM to be happy. I buy lingerie to make sure I look attractive to my boyfriend. I relate a lot to Sophie. My whole life, I have had small breasts and I constantly worry about that. Only very recently have I been able to ignore that. I am finally in a solid relationship where I believe that my boyfriend DOES find me attractive. I feel that he loves me for ME. I don’t try to alter my body anymore. I am comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life and it feels so nice. I’m so grateful for where I’m at in my life.

  2. Similar to this story, I know many women who are also insecure about their bodies and it can have a big affect on their relationships. I find it interesting how Sophie actually had the courage to ask her sexual partners if her breast were big enough. Usually women with such imaging issues are afraid of the opinions of others. I found it very suprising how Sophie actually left her significant other because he wasn’t quite “attracted” to her and her small breasts, which didn’t even matter to him because he was in love with her. If a man were in love me and treated me right but was not quite attracted to me, I would still stay with him because in the end looks die off and it is love what keeps people together.

  3. Sad that instead of enjoying sex, she nurtured those thoughts. But, I’ve heard, even men suffered from this complex, that maybe their penis is not satisfactorily big to their partners. I find it quite believable as men possess phallic pride, by instinct.

    • I’m hoping that both women and men can stop worrying about how they look. It’s better for sex lives in self-esteem.

      When you live in a society that sees things a certain way we tend to think that the feeling is innate. So it’s helpful to find out that different societies have different beauty ideals, and value different types of things. Including penis size. In many African societies, for instance, small to medium is considered better. The idea that bigger is better is a social construction.

      • “I’m hoping that both women and men can stop worrying about how they look. It’s better for sex lives in self-esteem.”

        I don’t think you are being realistic at all here. How you look is a major factor in determining your level of attraction to your partner. This in turn is a feedback mechanism. The more attractive you are to a person the more enthusiastic that person will be for you for sex. Women consistently find tall men more attractive than shorter men. Thus they find taller men more sexually attractive.

        The same for penis size. Bigger is preferred up to a point. It varies from woman to woman. When a woman tells you that “you have a nice cock”, it make you feel better about yourself and the sex you are having with her. Hence, it is not a social construction.

      • Actually, everything you described is a social construction.

        Domination cultures that order and rank tend to say that a particular look is best and nothing else is quite good enough. When you are born into these cultures and this way of thinking is all you know, it seems inevitable. It’s not.

        In partnership cultures, like the Kung, all women are thought beautiful, and see themselves as beautiful. Kung women enjoy sex a lot, too! Partly because they don’t have these distractions about how they look — Unlike about 2/3 of American women.

        I’ll give you a sneak preview of Monday’s post: What’s considered attractive is a social construction. It varies from place to place and time to time. Not so long ago Americans preferred a smaller tush. Nowadays bigger is often thought better. America today favors large breasts. But in the 1920s women bound their breasts to make them appear as small as possible. The Apache once favored very large breasts. But the African Masai prefer them small.

        The so-called preference for a large penis is also a social construction. In many African societies women prefer medium to small, because smaller is less likely to hurt. Despite what porn would suggest, generally speaking women don’t care that much about a big penis. They rarely Google it — men are much more likely to Google “penis” and related terms than women. About 20% of women can have an orgasm when a penis pounds against her cervix, so they actually do prefer a larger penis. Another 20% find the same movement painful. But most women orgasm through outercourse, not intercourse, and don’t care. Since you are black you might benefit from the cultural belief that women prefer a bigger penis. But our society also prefers white skin which disadvantages you. The truth is that men of all colors are beautiful and that this racist bias is cultural, and can be changed.

        We clearly have the capacity to appreciate a wide variety of looks. We just have to start doing it.

        Sex will be better for everyone. Nearly half of women experience sexual dysfunction — which includes one or more of these: lack of interest in sex, painful sex, difficulty with orgasm. Being distracted about how you look does not make sex very good, and leads women to lose interest in it. Women will be more satisfied with themselves, and be more willing partners who are able to enjoy sex. Men will be able to have more sex, and be more satisfied with their partners.

  4. You know, I wonder if this actually affects both sexes ~ and the games we all play in our minds 🙂 We get a bit obsessed about what others think, when in reality others are thinking/worrying about the same.

    • I surveyed my men and women students and some men do this too, but women were a lot more likely to. About two thirds of the women said that these source of worries could be a big distraction. As I recall about a quarter of the guys said it could be distracting, too.

  5. first of all women are just humans like we all are I don’t really think “sex object” is the best way to describe a woman but what I really want to say is this. when you can’t actually see what a woman looks like visually all you can really go on is their voice or their personality and how they treat you does it really matter how a woman looks? I don’t think so it’s about their personality but what is it about a woman’s chin that interests a guy people say they’re into breasts but I read somewhere that the chin is sometimes an interest to a guy too but to me it should be about personality and if you can’t read body language you learn to adapt

    • Thanks for your thoughts. Sexual objectification comes when either men care only about their pleasure and not their partners. Or when women are only concerned about their partners pleasure and not their own. (For cultural reasons that’s usually the way it occurs gender-wise.) I think it happens partly because women’s sexuality is more repressed than men’s, in addition to Women being more objectified by our culture.

      It’s unconscious so we need to bring it out into the open so that people can actually make a choice in these matters.

      And I’m not trying to lay blame here. I’m guilty of this myself.

  6. exact, it’s all in the person’s head!

  7. Do you know of any, for lack of a better term, “programs” that promote female pleasure during a sexual encounter at Foothill College? I wonder if that would help by giving women the confidents to discuss her likes and dislikes with her partner. Also help plant the thought about her pleasure in the minds of male students.

    How detailed are your surveys of your students? Are your questions in an informal format like ‘raise your hand if…..’ or do they fill out some type of a form? Do you compile information like age, race\ ethnic background, or sexual identity? I wonder if there are any notable differences if the information was broken down by age, race and\or sexual identity.

  8. I used to have small breasts when I was younger and I remember being sooo worried about my breast size and meaty thighs. Now that I’ve had kids and have gained a lot of weight I worry about my belly and my stretch marks. There is always something! Which is so sad.

  9. Why those women thought that their men stayed with them, isn’t it a rational prove that they were attractive in someway?

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