Sex Object vs Sexy vs Sexual

Many people think that “sexual objectification” and “sexy” and “sexual” are all the same thing.

They’re not.

Here’s a quick primer:

Sexy vs Sexual

When my students talk about “being sexual” they are sometimes actually talking about looking sexy.

Women who look sexy must also be sexual, right? Not necessarily.

Paris Hilton once quipped,

My boyfriends say I’m sexy but not sexual. Being ‘hot’ is a pose, an act, a tool, and entirely divorced from either physical pleasure or romantic love.

Some of my own students have made similar comments.

Someone can be both sexy and sexual, but they are not the same thing.

Sex Object vs Sexy

Many think that “sex object” is the same as “sexy” and that “sexual objectification” is the same as “desire.”

Nope.

I was once confused on this, too.

“Sexy” creates sexual desire. And sexual desire is perfectly normal and perfectly fine.

But sex objects exist for someone else’s purposes and pleasure. Their thoughts and feelings don’t matter.

That can cause harm: when you objectify you push your partner to do things she doesn’t want to do. You complain that she’s not sexy enough because you don’t care that her feelings will be hurt. You lust after other women and it makes your partner uncomfortable… and it makes the woman you’re staring at uncomfortable, too.

If you objectify you don’t care about others’ feelings and you cause harm.

Sex Object vs Sexual

Since sex objects exist for someone else’s purposes and pleasure, and their thoughts and feelings don’t matter, a sex object may be doing sex acts but feel no pleasure herself.

In fact, I once wrote a blog post called “Sex Objects Who Don’t Enjoy Sex.” Check it out!

Someone who is actually sexual is enjoying herself, not just existing for someone else’s purposes.

Sometimes men objectify their partners. And sometimes women objectify themselves. Either way, it’s a problem.

I hope this clarifies!

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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 September 25, 2017, in objectification, sex and sexuality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Taniuska guevara

    This message was and is so necessary especially in today’s society. It helps define and clarify the difference between all terms and all too often are these terms being misused and mislabeled. In a woman’s world where women are often objectifies it is crucial that we, as women understand the meaning behind a sexual object- being sexy and lastly being sexual.. I know for me, this was a confirmation smog what I believed the meanings were and more importantly to understand more in knowing that a second object does not always enjoy the “sex” aspect of the word. This term is for another persons pleasure and enjoyment and not their own.

  2. I think most people should actually be clear on this. It’s a very common misconception differentiating sexy from sexual. I have a friend who likes to dress very sexy. She has a very clear understanding of her body type and dresses to suit that. She dresses for own comfort and what she thinks looks nice on her. But she gets a lot of comments about how sexy she looks from everyone around her. Funny thing is, she’s not sexual at all. And she doesn’t enjoy sexual contact or approach. This is where most people would get confused. They see you as sexy and then turn you into a sex object but don’t stop to think that how you look or dress doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a sexual being, or that you inviting sexual approach/ contact. Society today has created an environment where women and also men are objectified to the extent that we don’t even care about the person behind our thoughts and desires or what they might be thinking let alone feeling.

  3. And the winner is…. All of the above! In my opinion these 3 concepts are related through cause and effect. It starts with sexuality. This is your perception and feelings about your carnal being. Am I a boy or a girl? If I am girl, do I like being a girl? Or, am I comfortable being a girl? If the answer is yes then, the adjective “sexy” comes into play. Ok, so – I like being a girl. Question is, do I consider myself to be an attractive girl? Do I like my image? Or, does my image meet societal standards? If yes, then the sense of feeling sexy or the right to portray the sense of being sexy is assumed. This leads to the potential of being a sex object. Well, if I accept being a girl, and consider myself attractive hence, relaying my sense of affirmation then there is the possibility of being seen as a sex object. It all ties together. Now in terms of whether women being seen as sex objects by men is fair? It depends. There are women who aim for and seek out that attention often to compensate and most men take advantage of such opportunities.

    • Not sure I always follow you here but the crux of the issue is that a sex object is someone who whose own thoughts and feelings don’t matter. They are an object that exists for someone else’s pleasure. That is a problem. But being sexual and being sexy are not problems.

  4. Due to the social media platform people constantly find themselves defining these three very different topics as the same thing. You think sexy, sexual, or sex object, regardless if you are a male or female your mind instantly wonders to a woman such as a Victoria Secret model. Victoria Secret plays a big roll in misleading the meanings of each of these topics. If you take a look at one of their models, you’d see a sexy and sexual sex object. Men often get the impression that when buying presents from the there, that their partners will become like these models, a sexy and sexual sex object. But with their lack of knowledge or anyone’s lack of knowledge, those three topics have very different meanings. Everyone should be educated on the difference between sex object, sexy, and sexual, as it’ll come as a solution to men defining women and women defining themselves. Thank you for the clarification!

  5. I love how you clarify these three words because it seems confusing at first, but when you know each of the definition, you can see that all of them are different from each other. In my point of view, I think sexy can have a positive view because it’s like creating myself to look good and having more self esteem about myself, but it also creates the sexual desire. I think that sexual has to deal with being attracted with yourself or your partner since this would be a healthy way instead of an sex object. Being a sex object is not the best because whoever is being used for another’s desire won’t care about them at all which would cause harm. In short it’s like thinking that sexy is like representing yourself as looking good, sexual is like an attraction with another person, and a sex object is existing for someone else’s purpose which their feeling is not even worth their time.

  6. Thank you for bringing clarity to this topic with which I was also confused about at first. Before I use to think that women or men that tried to be and act “hot” or “sexy” meant that they wanted something from someone, which I believed was sexual relationships. However, as I matured more as a person and read about Paris Hilton’s quote, being “hot” is a tool that sexy people equip themselves with in order to attain many things that they desire.
    One of the unfortunate things I see fairly often is women getting cat-called by men. I rarely see women cat-calling men. I agree that sexual attraction to another person is completely fine, but when men cat-call women, it makes them feel like they’re just objects or playthings for men. What also saddens me is when one partner of the couple remain in their problematic relationship in order for him or her to continue relishing sexual intercourse. There are no emotional feelings towards each other, but just physical feelings.

  7. This is a very interesting point. I’ve never really thought about the difference between a sex object, sexy, and sexual. However, I have noticed how the media, television, and magazines portray women as the “sex-object”. You hardly ever see men shown in a provocative way. I believe this is why “sex-object” is so misunderstood. A sex-object can be either a woman or a man. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a woman. But as society continues to show gorgeous women on the front page, society will continue to misuse the term. It’s very important to understand the different meanings. If others took the time to think about this topic I think it would benefit us as human beings and could be less demeaning and treat people with respect instead of an object. If others understood the difference they would know their worth. To me, sexy is being attractive, and being sexual is powerful.

  8. Women sometimes in order to make them valuable, they will dress them very hot. Laterly, they are enjoyable to dress hot. I don’t think it is a problem. But the most important thing that avoid to be a slut is don’t objectify themselves. Sometimes men want women to dress sex, but sometimes I think there are females dress them sexy for engaging males. There are many typical cases that women get money or Cocci bags after they sleep with a man. Even though both of the man and the woman are willing to do this kind of thing, but it’s not called morality. But everything will make sense if it is existing. I don’t think this kind of situation will stop, but I think this kind of situation will become less and less when more and more people are chasing feminism.

    • Basing your worth on being a sex object will backfire! Women don’t develop themselves. They get used and abused and lose whatever worth they thought they had by their 40s if that is all their self worth is based on.

  9. That is true. Sometimes men treat women like an object, and a big problem is some women are willing or accepted to be object themselves. I fell historical backgrounds by the influence of these aspects. Men had dominated women for a long time as a sexual slave or Not having a right. Some people might still think it’s natural for them to be able to treat women objectively. I have been confused about the differences between sex objects, sexy, and sexual. And it’s not just me. Many people can’t clarify these. Therefore when I look for a sex object or sexy pictures online, they show all women’s pictures: with bikinis, makeup. That fact shows how much people regard women body is sex objects, and it is really sad. Knowing these differences is the first step toward changes our view. I believe that will lead to gender equality.

  10. This was a perfectly timely post for me Georgia ~ I was thinking up a post in which I would shoot some suggestive photos, a step away from my usual work it and it also had me wondering how others would feel (mainly my mom, three sisters and close friends). And then when I touched down in HK and was able to get on WP, I read this post of yours and nodded. Sexuality and sexy can be a tribute and is who we are as a race. Great post. Fantastic post. Wishing you a great weekend ahead.

  11. The differences between sex object, sexy, and sexual are nonexistent for many people. In a patriarchal society we are constantly bombarded with images of a masculine concept of sex that depict sexy, sexual, and sex object as the same thing. All of this leads to the common misconception that a sexy woman immediately also embodies a sexual plaything for others and that she herself is a fiercely sexual being. Likewise, it also depicts men as one-sided sexual beings that also cannot distinguish sexy, sex object, or sexual in themselves or others. In a society that is increasingly celebrating more sides of love (personal, familial, romantic), we should also focus on celebrating different sides of sex. Being sexy is simply a personal characteristic in someone that elicits desire, there is no action upon it, it is simply the passive action of being attractive. Sexual refers to a persons sex drive, how they choose to act on their sexual desires. Sex object is the most different and malignant of the three terms because in this case it involves others perceiving and acting upon another passive recipient. This last term views the sexual object as just that: an object. Viewing another person, man or woman, as an object seems to provide the viewer with the idea that the person objectified has no choice and is only there to provide whatever the objectifying person wants. In conclusion, I believe that it is of utmost importance that everyone understands the enormous differences between these terms that the ideas that inhibit them. Through understanding, maybe then we can reach a safer and more gender equal society.

  12. thanks for breaking this down. It can get confusing for sure. I think it’s problematic that from a young age so many girls are taught to relate to their sexuality as object, so for many that’s their first reference point.

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