Women Distracted By “How They Look” In Bed

Distracted in bed.

Distracted in bed.

“Spectatoring” is the word Masters and Johnson used to describe watching yourself have sex instead of being swept up in sexual pleasure.

You aren’t in the game, you are watching from the sidelines — present and absent all at once.

To get a sense of how commonly young women get distracted, I asked this survey question:

When you are in a sexual situation do you ever think about how your body looks to your partner? … Do you sometimes focus on how you look instead noticing how great the position feels? … Is it ever a distraction? … Does it make the sex hotter?

Answer: Three-quarters spent at least some of their time in bed distracted by how their bodies looked. And most said that it harmed their sexual experience to some degree. A couple said that it might make sex hotter for their partners, but it was worse for them.

The body-focus seemed to be a bigger problem with new partners. Or at the beginning of a sexual encounter. A few said they start out worrying and then try to let it go.

Women don’t expect men to meet same expectations

These young women don’t lay out the same expectation for their male partners — they don’t expect the guys to provoke excitement for them, just by how they look. Women feel like this is all their role, and they worry that they aren’t meeting expectations in this strange double standard.

Spectatoring might not be such a big problem if we didn’t have such narrow notions of what’s “sexy.” And the rigid ideal is entirely unnecessary since preferences vary widely from place to place, with some cultures preferring plump or obese or finding the pear shape appealing… I could go on.

And it’s one of the ways that sexual objectification — seeing women as a collection of body parts — actually harms the sexual experience.

Put it all together and it’s not good for women or their partners.

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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 November 28, 2016, in body image, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 44 Comments.

  1. I was guilty of doing this with my first intimate encounter because I did not know what was the right thing to do or the right way to act. I wanted to appear sexy to my partner and I wanted him to like it. I was distracted the whole time on doing the right thing. I was distracted about what my partner was thinking about me: if i was good, if i looked sexy, if i was doing and saying the right things. All of these questions got me distracted from actually being in the moment and enjoying my experience with him. I was not living in that moment with him which I should have been. I believe that most women feel like thing because of porn. Porn portrays women as sexy and always doing the right thing to be sexy and give pleasure. We want to be like that but do not see it as realistic. So we worry about how to get close to that when in reality we should just live in the moment because all the partner wants is for the person to be in it with them, it takes two people (or more) not just one. The fear of not doing it right or being sexy enough while being intimate is far less than actually losing the partner because of them doing it. Just be in the moment then and it will be all worth it, I love it and i don’t think about it anymore because I know it is much better to be with him in the moment then lose him over me being distracted each time.

  2. It honestly sucks that so many women, me being one experience or have experienced this. There’s been times when I’m in the mood and enjoying it and then a switch of positions and I begin to think “does my stomach look fat from this angle, does my butt look big ?” Our society sets so many standards as to how our body should look. I have been with my partner for 6 years and am just now starting to get comfortable. It was challenging at first especially because he could see my face of worry or that I wasn’t 100% in the moment because I was thinking of how I looked that it would ruin the mood. It’s sad to say but the only reason why I feel more confident is because I started going to the gym and started feeling more comfortable with my body when I started seeing results. I’m not encouraging women to change the way they look, but I’m glad that I have over the years grown a little bit of confidence in my body image and now enjoy sex much more.

  3. As a woman, yes I do care so much about how I look in “bed.” Solely because, I never been content with my body well ever. I was always called “too fat” or “fat girls are ugly” and it was really hurtful and it did take a toll in my life and it really became my biggest insecurity. I remember my cousin asking about my “friend” and if we “did it” yet and I was like “no, I haven’t” she continued to state that I was lying but in reality I really wasn’t. I am so insecure of my own body, I don’t even like to look at my own body, what makes anyone think I want to show anyone especially in bed my body?? I am actually working on it, to love myself for who I am and changing my lifestyle so I could stop bashing on myself. I feel like the key to being happy with yourself is changing the way you look at yourself and how you feel inside.

    • Living in a society like ours, it can be really difficult not to be judgmental about our bodies. It would be nice if society would change to be more loving of various body types, along with loving ourselves better.

  4. Très intéressant😉!!! Hum..

  5. It’s definitely right!! As a woman, in the relationship, I do care about what my body looks like for him, what he thinks about my body, or what he feels like(comfortable or uncomfortable). All my points of focus are on him, my boyfriend. I put me on the secondary state since the start and unfortunately I even think I am doing the right thing, there is nothing wrong with my thoughts. Everything looks like I deserved to do like that way in order to make my boyfriend feel good. How humble idea I had before that I think the climax is not important or necessary for women. And from this essay, I realized why we are too hard to have the climax. Since we “You aren’t in the game, you are watching from the sidelines — present and absent all at once.”

  6. “Spectatoring” is a believable concept. It makes sense when you think of all the physical expectations and standards of beauty for women in todays society. I can believe that women may unconsciously internalize these standards of beauty and it becomes a distraction during intimacy. I never noticed it before but now that I think of it, it happens a lot no matter what shape or size a girl is. I think that becoming conscious of this may be the first thing women have to do in order to change this.

  7. I’m not really surprised women feel self conscious towards their body when being intimate because of the whole double standard in society. I see why spectator can cause problems in a relationship because of the fact that one isn’t entirely enjoying it. And I agree with Stephanie that women are self conscious because of fear that their partner isn’t being turned on. Women are used to pleasing men and others instead of themselves, worrying on what is unnecessary. We all need to get away of that idea of satisfying the double standard because there is no such thing as perfect and sometimes that’s difficult to accept.

    • Yeah spectatoring makes it pretty much impossible to enjoy sex. Worrying and having lower self-esteem is not enjoyable! I hope that as a society we will move past our narrow notions of what is attractive so that women won’t have to get so distracted with worry.

  8. Especially in our modern day hookup culture, it is very common to become intimate with someone you barely know. This causes us to really care about how we look in bed because they don’t know much about our personality. Also, probably most of the reason they are even hooking up in the first place is because they were sexually attracted to each other. You don’t want to let them down once you take your clothes off. Even with new relationships this is common because you want to please them. Interestingly enough, studies have found that even if the woman or man isn’t very attractive to you, if they are passionate and emotional in bed then the sex is better. I believe anyone can have sex with anyone and everyone should have sexual freedom, but maybe get to know them before you do? It will actually make the sex better.

  9. I think that women are worried about how they look during sexual encounters because they want to make sure that they are keeping their partner turned on. If the men aren’t turned on then there will be no sexual relation going on. The women want to make sure that their body looks good enough for these men’s standards and for their own self satisfaction. But in reality everyone has faults. Nobody is perfect and there is always something that your not going to be completely satisfied with, but hey who care’s. Maybe the man your having sex with has something that you don’t really like and that’s okay, because again nobody is perfect and your main focus should to be have fun and enjoy the sexual relations that you are having. Not about what you look like naked, I’m sure that’s the least on his concerns.

    • I have no doubt that the reason the women are so concerned is because they’re worried that the guy may not be turned on. What they don’t seem to get is that it’s unnecessary. So they are unnecessarily worrying. Most men are more turned on by feeling like their partners are “into it.”

  10. “Spectatoring” is definitely a problem universally among most women I know. I remember being terrified that a partner would see me undress and be appalled at some feature of my body I had been taught to be obsessed with at the time. I once was talking to a friend of mine who is mother of twins and she told me that she would always wrap one arm around her belly so that her husband couldn’t see the C-section scar during sex. It wasn’t that the husband had ever made any comments about the scar, but her own mind wouldn’t let her enjoy sex unless she felt she was “sexy” and that meant scarless in her eyes. I think if we had a broader span of visual images we the media deemed “sexy” for women it would improve this situation.
    Perhaps though there is a deeper psychological element to “spectatoring” as well. Women are often in a sense trained that their pleasure during a sexual encounter is subsequent to their male partner. Is spectatoring not just another form of women needing to be invested in their partners sexual experience at the expense of their own?

    • Thanks for sharing about this.

    • “Is spectatoring not just another form of women needing to be invested in their partners sexual experience at the expense of their own?”

      Strange that the politically correct forces can simultaneously slam the idea that you are concerned about your partner’s experience and also slam the idea that you are not concerned about your partner’s experience.

      • Spectatoring is practically the exact opposite of being invested in your partner.

        While you are worried about what they think, you aren’t really engaging. Which is a bummer for most men, who care more about their partner enjoying sex than worrying about how they look.

      • “While you are worried about what they think, you aren’t really engaging. ”

        That’s highly controversial. Are you engaging in conversation when you are interested in what your partner thinks, or when you couldn’t give a rip about what they think?

        You’ve been criticising men here a lot when they don’t give a rip about what women think. Now you’ve elevated not caring to a virtue.

      • You confuse a criticism of patriarchy with a criticism of men.

        Plenty of men are against patriarchy because they care about social justice and even see how patriarchy hurts them as men.

        But like most men you haven’t had experience with sitting distracted from sexuality because you are focused on how you look. I surveyed my students on this question and I’ll have to look up the numbers again but something like one quarter of the men had gotten distracted by how they looked whereas about three quarters of the women had too — for at least some period of time.

        Worrying about how you look is the opposite of eroticism. It takes you out of the sexual experience.

        That’s not good for men because most of them want their partners to be enjoying sex, not being distracted about how they look.

        If we lived in a culture that appreciated a variety of women’s looks — which is certainly possible since pretty much every type of look has been valued by some society — then women wouldn’t have to get distracted and could enjoy the experience.

        As it is nearly half of American women experience sexual dysfunction, And this is a big part of the reason why.

        And when women aren’t enjoying sex they don’t want to have it, Which also hurts men.

  11. I could not agree more that reducing women to their body parts harms women’s overall sexual experiences. And I definitely see a direct relationship between the objectification of women and the frequency with which “spectatoring” occurs among them. The conversation around women’s bodies and their sexual expression is nearly always framed within the context of what purpose they serve to individual men (as sexual objects) or to patriarchal culture at large (as commodities). When the message is that women’s bodies aren’t for women themselves to enjoy or use it makes it so easy for women to view their bodies and sexual intercourse from a position of removal and detachment.

    The obscenity of the situation is highlighted in the term “spectatoring” itself.

    a person who looks on or watches; onlooker; observer.
    a person who is present at and views a spectacle, display, or the like; member of an audience.

    Yikes. Really hits home how much women are taught and internalize their roles as being providers of pleasure, objects of desire rather than active agents of their own sexual power. I myself have conflated an enjoyment of being desired/found attractive with my OWN desires and sexual interests. Internalized sexism is no joke. Honestly, Im tremendously thankful for social media and the internet, where I’ve been able see far greater body and sexual diversity amongst women, which has helped me to throw off some of that yoke, and to understand “sexy” as being a tremendously versatile expression of the self rather than a performative exercise for someone else’s benefit at the exclusion or limitation of my own sexual pleasure.

  12. This issue is more common than one would think. Things like this aren’t really talked about blatantly. But it stands to reason that if someone is really self-conscious about their body, they’d be the same way in bed. I understand this thinking because you have less control over what you look like, when you can’t see yourself. For this reason I am constantly looking in my phone reflection to make sure whatever makes me self-conscious, is not as bad as I’m thinking. This is so twisted, because men don’t typically think this way, especially “in the act”. Women tend to feel like they need to be the attractive one, to keep the man interested. We need to be sexy, but he doesn’t need to do the same. The fact that women are so worried about pleasing a man, rather than focusing on the action of love between two people, just perverts the point of intimacy in the first place.

  13. Ive found myself spectating while in the throws of it all, however it wasn’t intentional. Its a little difficult when your boyfriends closets are giant mirrors and the bed run alongside them. Most of the time I don’t focus on the mirror and i’m happily taking in my partner but there are moments that i have looked at the mirror and not liked what I’ve seen. Im not one for making sure I eat a certain amount of calories or going to the gym regularly because I want to live with out worrying and if I try my best to live that life style I figure that i’m not going to stress and enjoy life a little more. As I do try to live this way I am running into all sorts of double-binds, most of them I can move past and others I can’t. We see films of sex and actors in moments of passion, and I can’t help but think do i look like that or what am i doing wrong, there on the other hand I’m told that all love and sexual encounters are different . I just wonder why or what makes us what to judge ourselves so hard what the person that we are been most intimate with doesn’t even judge us that hard.

    • “Ive found myself spectating while in the throws of it all, however it wasn’t intentional.”

      I think that is very common. When I first heard of this I realized that I did it myself, without being very conscious of it. Becoming conscious is the first step to change.

      • I would have thought spectating was actually a form of being conscious of what is going on, whereas not doing so is actually simply living in the moment and not being conscious. If you’re slamming spectating, don’t you really want people to not be conscious of the act?

      • I guess you haven’t had any experience with this.

        You are completely unconscious of the act if you are spectatoring.

  14. But… We all know that fussing over how you look is a female thing, and not giving a rip how you look is a male thing. You can point to exceptions, but that’s the trend. Even when men are dressed up we’re wearing a suit, which is a garment that requires minimal thought to choose. And we’re not looking to see, oh damn that other guy has the same suit. Of course he does, he’s a guy!

    I hadn’t heard that spectatoring is actually a thing, but it makes sense. Are you going to stop females being female by railing against it?

    • Yeah, it is much more a female thing. I asked my men students if they did this and far fewer of them did. I can’t remember the number off hand.

      I bring it up for two reasons. First, women often don’t realize they do this, or how common it is. Once a behavior becomes conscious it can be more easy to change — since it’s pretty much impossible to change things that are unconscious.

      I would also like to change the society. To get people to realize how much pressure we put on women and help them to see that it hurts both women and men. For instance, women grow up hearing men talk about how a particular look is attractive (at least in their culture). Not only is it not necessary for women to look a particular way, but talking about how great a particular look is ends up backfiring on men when the women they are with are distracted instead of enjoying themselves when they have sex. And when men feel like they can’t attract the so-called “super-attractive” women they end up feeling bad about themselves, too.

      We need the culture to change so that we can appreciate all women.

      • Men expect women to excite them just by how they look. Is that the case now? Or is it something women think men want like men think spending money on women is romantic.

      • Well, they think so. The extent to which men expect it probably varies from man to man.

        But thanks for your question.

      • Well the women I’ve been with who fussed about their looks were utterly resistant to change, even when you told them that the fussing wasn’t necessary. The women who didn’t fuss let themselves go to hell. In the end my ex wife looked like a homeless hobo, and was also resistant to doing anything about it. I don’t think you can do anything at all to change the way people want to look. If women want to look good, I don’t know that you should try anyway. All the pressure to look a certain way comes internally. People might fool themselves that it’s society, but it’s not. It’s millions of women independently doing the same thing for their own internal reasons. Because they’re doing the same thing we think it’s society but it’s not.

        I’m reminded of going to a museum in central eastern Russia and seeing what women hundreds of years ago wore for jewellery. They wore old coins threaded together as necklaces. I asked why they did this and the woman said, well that’s all they had, so what else were they going to do?!? She didn’t even contemplate that women might not need jewellery in the absence of a viable jewellery industry. Women need jewellery, and they will do odd things to make sure they get it! You can’t stop it no matter what you do.

      • Well I know many who don’t fuss about how they look and don’t look like hobos either.

        I don’t think I can make anyone do anything. As in any conversation, all I can do is offer a perspective that others can consider.

      • “all I can do is offer a perspective that others can consider.”

        But… your perspective is that women who go to a lot of effort to make themselves pretty or beautiful or thin are bad and somehow betraying the feminist cause and the sisterhood. If the only reason women did that is because of “society pressure” or whatever, maybe you’d have a point. But you’ve demonised women for doing what they basically can’t help themselves doing and/or love doing. You seem to have have someone conceded that it is inherent to being female to fuss about over appearance, so aren’t you betraying the sisterhood by coming down so hard on innate female behaviour?

      • “But… your perspective is that women who go to a lot of effort to make themselves pretty or beautiful or thin are bad and somehow betraying the feminist cause and the sisterhood.”


        I just think we put way too much emphasis on how women look. Men don’t have that same kind of pressure so they don’t end up in bed worried about how they look instead of enjoying sex.

        And despite the fact that we don’t pressure men, I think that most men look perfectly fine even without the pressure.

      • Who is putting this alleged pressure on women? I would venture to say 99% of this pressure is actually self imposed. With rare exceptions people aren’t walking up to women and saying “you’re fat and ugly, do something about it”.

      • Sure it is self-imposed. It’s a form of unconscious, internalized sexism. And both women and men unconsciously internalize sexism. Women and men, thus, both recreate the problem. The first step is becoming conscious. You won’t change anything unless you have an awareness.

        See my “About” page. Like this, for instance:

        I first became interested in the issues I talk about here when I started wondering why women so often uphold laws and social norms that oppress them — whether insisting, generally, that they don’t want equality, to upholding specific policies like restrictions on voting or driving, or supporting government control of women’s bodies. Or buying into media ideals that tell them they aren’t attractive unless they have a body type that does not exist in nature.

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