Men Looking at Men Showing Skin

A while back I surveyed my straight male students on their thoughts when looking at a nude-ish picture of Sly Stallone.

Had attitudes changed since sociologist, Beth Eck, found that straight guys were pretty uncomfortable looking at that picture almost 15 years ago?

I asked them to write whatever thoughts came to mind and then I analyzed and published the results here.

But blog readers wondered what men would think if I used a more current star. So I surveyed 40 of my male students. Here’s a comparison of Sly Stallone, Channing Tatum and David Beckham.

Sly Stallone

Uncomfortable and “not attracted”

I began with an image that Dr. Eck had used years ago, Sylvester Stallone in the buff, posed as Rodin’s “Thinker” on the cover of Vanity Fair.

The main thoughts that came up were “muscular,” “uncomfortable,” and “I’m not attracted to that.”

Sly Stallone

Sly Stallone

One in five men made clear that this image caused discomfort (“I don’t like that”… “It makes me uncomfortable” … “WTF! When did Rocky do that?”).

But if we add “I’m not attracted to that” — which suggests discomfort — the number rises to over half at 52%.

Men who spoke to Dr. Eck often made clear that, “I’m not gay” while looking at skin-baring photos of men. In my sample one-third of the men said they “weren’t attracted.” Like this:

  • A dirty picture. I’m straight so I don’t have any feelings about men in general.”
  • Not attracted; don’t like it
  • I don’t like it because I’m not into naked dudes
  • I appreciate that he is a built man, but nothing else

A smattering described the photo as “artistic.” I wondered if this was a way of saying “It’s artistic, not a come on… not something to be attracted to.” In fact, one man put it this way:

Artistic rather than sexual, but I’m not fond of it.

If “it’s artistic” comments are included, 40% reacted by affirming that the image was not sexually appealing to them.

By contrast, women who look at skin-baring photos of women never proclaimed, “I don’t find her attractive.” Probably, as Dr. Eck points out, because they know that the images are not meant for them. But men are so accustomed to sexualized images being meant for them that they often made an effort to clarify that they are “not attracted.”

He’s muscular

The next most common response to Sly Stallone was “he’s muscular,” which one-third of the men brought up.

An additional 12% said something to the effect that the photo was unrealistic, made them feel insecure about their own bodies, or made them feel like they needed to workout.

By comparison, over a decade ago none of the men told Dr. Eck this, suggesting that men increasingly feel body-conscious and judged. Still, that number is low compared to the 40% of women who felt inadequate when looking at Cindy Crawford.

The rest of the men — about one and five – said they felt nothing, or indifferent.

Magic Mike Stripper

Are men comfortable with sexy, naked men?

I also had the men look at a more sexualized image from Magic Mike (possibly Channing Tatum).

Most men were pretty uncomfortable with this stripper image from that movie. Of the 42 men I surveyed 67% said they disliked it/were uncomfortable.

Another 19% said they didn’t care one way or the other.

Only 10% had anything positive to say.

Magic Mike's Tatum

Magic Mike stripper

I don’t like it, it’s weird

Two-thirds of the men didn’t like or felt uncomfortable with this nearly nude image.

A couple of them added that it was disgusting. One said it was bizarre. Another opined, “It is an image that I don’t normally see, and have grown up seen as wrong.” Another followed up with, “I personally don’t like to see a man naked in any way.”

Women, on the other hand, are so used to seeing nearly nude women that skin-baring women barely phase them.

Men also described their displeasure in these ways:

  • I don’t enjoy it
  • a turn off
  • weird
  • weirded out
  • a sense of unfamiliar unease
  • not highly masculine
  • funny

Four of the men disliked his objectification. (These same men didn’t like an objectified image of Cindy Crawford either.)

But one man didn’t like the image for a different reason. He was envious of his body: “Not artistic, a focus on his ass. A little jealous.”

I don’t care

About one in five said they were “indifferent,” “didn’t care,” or had “no opinion.” Or simply described the image without making any judgment.

Another wondered why he was only wearing a G string.

Guys who liked the “Magic Mike stripper” image

Men with positive feelings about the Magic Mike stripper — just 10% — were usually focused on the woman’s pleasure. Since there are just four positive comments I’ll post them all:

  • Girl having the time of her life. To women he might seem sexy.
  • Wow! In control, taking action and pleasing the girl.
  • Sexual. The woman seems to be enjoying it since her hands are all over his cheeks.
  • Lady killer. Pimp daddy. Almost butt naked.

One guy had mixed feelings, incorporating each of the three categories above: “Not really my interest, however, I probably would be like the guy and do a seductive dance/pose. He ended by saying “kind of weird.”

Next week I’ll look at men’s opinions on images of well-built shirtless men, which they’re more used to seeing and which occur to them as being more masculine.

David Beckham

Are men comfortable with masculine, sexy naked men?

A little late in the game I decided to survey men on David Beckham, so just 14 men registered their thoughts on this one. Beckham is a conventionally attractive man who looks more masculine than the Magic Mike image above. And this type of photo occurs more often than the others in pop culture, usually underwear ads. Does all that make a difference?

David Beckham

He’s good looking

One-half of the men called him “good looking.” A couple added that he’s, “a great football player” — perhaps a nod to his masculinity, which may help create more comfort.

But another man added “provoking picture” and “I am not attracted to him.” But then, sexualized provocative images are generally targeted to men.

One in five said they “didn’t care” about the image or “felt nothing.”

One-third felt uncomfortable.

Beckham vs Stallone vs Stripper 

For a quick comparison of the three images, 20% or 1 in 5 men consistently “felt nothing” or “didn’t care” about any of the images.

The men registered the most positive thoughts about David Beckham, with 50% calling him “good looking.” By comparison 1/3 said Sylvester Stallone had “a good body.” But only 10% liked the Magic Mike stripper, and those who did admired his sexual finesse.

The men were least likely to feel discomfort with Sly Stallone (1/5), maybe because the image looked artistic. One-third were uncomfortable with the more sexualized David Beckham. And two-thirds (67%) were disturbed by the even more sexualized male stripper. This image seems too far removed from what they are used to — and from our notions of masculinity.

[Some men made more than one comment so these percentages won’t always add up to 100%.]

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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 6, 2017, in body image, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. “Well, different body parts are judged in different cultures. In some cultures ankles are considered erotic. Or maybe a body part isn’t considered erotic but it is still judged — like calves. I really don’t think that women’s butts are more attractive than men’s and yet we make a big deal about women and pretty much ignore men.”

    Perhaps, but I’m talking about everything and women’s breasts. I know some straight women think “what’s the big deal?” about breasts and some say or just see breasts are “bags of fat”, thus wondering what is so attractive or special about them.

    Perhaps, but women have curves that stand out and the breasts and nipples in the variety, shapes and sizes and sensual and just stand out and actually you know eye popping and something to look at, and you know built in features, regardless of lifting weights not just above attractive women but average women.

    Meanwhile, men who don’t have good muscle genetics and don’t take time in the weight room, will just have an otherwise, non stand out, bland torso chest. Like what’s there for women to look at and like you know ogle?

    We, as in I and other men have these pop out features because women have curves, whereas I know women like that men are the opposite of women, but men don’t have stand out features unless they have good genes or hit the gym somewhat or to some extent.

  2. This is a very interesting post. I used to think that such frank scenes in films always for a woman, but in time I realized that it was not so. Most of my friends who is a woman do not like pictures of men showing a lot of skin in films. And I agree with the statistics that led because I have the same statistics. Just a couple of my friend’s like pictures of men showing a lot of skin. Most would say that they like a face or just an open torso. I still do not understand for whom they shoot such films and what woman can excite guys in this form. I think woman appreciate courage in a man first but also it depends on the woman what she wants. This proves one thing that in a movie show is not always what everyone wants to see.

  3. I like this article because it comes back to the porn article. Men are perfectly fine with looking at women in any scenario but as soon as the role is switch they start to feel a bit uncomfortable. Now I really want to see men reacting to porn were the female is in charge of the male. Anyway, this I guess has to do with how men are usually raised, which is different for everybody. Still they are influenced by everything around as they grow up and that includes the t.v, magazines, etc. Whatever it is men don’t see other men nearly nude as often as they see women nearly nude. Men maybe get used to seeing women in their underwear because of advertisements in magazines or on t.v. In advertisements for underwear you would probably see women wearing the underwear but probably not the men’s advertisement. Sure, you’ll get a commercial that does have a good looking guy on but usually the men are in some weird costume and it has more to do with the brand than the men or people.

  4. The comments made by the students and the analysis of why certain images stirred up more uneasiness than others is very strong. While it is addressed that sexual images are mainly catered to a male audience, creating more negativity towards the images, I believe that also gender roles play a part in the reactions of the male students. While children grow up, they are taught that boys aren’t supposed to look at other boys, as well as masculinity comes from men looking at women. With this gender stereotype being reinforced throughout childhood, boys become less accustom to images of men showing skin, yet a lot of girls grow up going to the bathroom at school with each other as well as commenting on each other’s looks. While this may not be true across the country, as a male growing up in the Bay Area this is how boys and girls acted, so using the sociological imagination it can be conducted that this is common behavior throughout most, if not all, of the country. Due to this there is more negativity surrounding men looking at skinless men rather than women looking at skinless women. This article addresses skinless male images being less common, therefore making men more uncomfortable, as well as the notion that if they appreciate the image they have to state they aren’t attracted to the model, which points in the direction of the gender traits I mentioned earlier. Overall, this article does an excellent job shining light on the inequality of advertisements because these male images are no different than female images, yet female images with the same connotations are accepted and plastered all over society. If the same photos but with men replaced all of the women, there would be an uproar from men who find it disgusting, and this hypocrisy illuminates how society objectifies women without being addressed.

  5. Yeah, I’ve often thought it’s unfair. And it’s probably why women get more aroused by the lust in her partners eye (experiencing his lust for her) than by lusting after his body.”

    So I was right, women may feel bad about their bodies, but men have more a reason to feel less about their bodies, but so focused on women’s bodies, it takes men’s thoughts on their bodies away from themselves. Though if more hear and see about the women are sexier posts and it’s more mainstream known and shown, it might add more insecurity on men. This stuff is more on the internet so it’s something many aren’t aware of or would be surprised to hear. And I was right that women have more too look at than people attracted to men have to look at the average male body.

    • But it’s all related to social constructions too. In tribal societies breasts aren’t arousing to men.

      • Tried to cut this response down, so here it is.: Yes but many other cultures even one’s where breasts aren’t fetishsized are still sexy and sexually attractive to men. You say, well men’s bodies aren’t arousing but women can find men’s bodies sexy. Even though women feel bad about their bodies, (men have just as many flaws) and may feel their breasts aren’t attractive because they are small. But men like various bodies and tons of men like and find breasts of various sizes sexy and plenty who like small breasts. Fact is that a very small number of women are actually “flat chested”. So my point is that the male body just doesn’t have built in features because it’s muscle based and that needs working out and good genetics for muscle tone too.

        Women have built in curves and stand out features, men don’t have built in, born with “pecs or biceps, triceps as in aesthetic, visual mass and definition, thus stuff that pops out at your eye and can look at and contours to touch it seems. Women have that. And while I have muscle, and then see an image of a sexy woman and in awe and appreciation, it makes me reflect on myself and lack of visual providing for women in comparison. It’s come up in my head before after being intimate with an attractive girl with a sexy body and wondering and thinking how I can’t possibly have provided visual sexiness or sexually attractiveness from my body like hers, is like a wonderland to my eyes and touch. I don’t have “goods”, and it has to be bland in comparison which could make me feel bad. It’s weird fit men don’t cause that, but actually sexy women can cause this thought of feeling underwhelming.

      • Well, different body parts are judged in different cultures. In some cultures ankles are considered erotic. Or maybe a body part isn’t considered erotic but it is still judged — like calves. I really don’t think that women’s butts are more attractive than men’s and yet we make a big deal about women and pretty much ignore men.

  6. For some reason, men are extremely uncomfortable looking at other nude photos of men. Even or more especially in younger men today, than one would expect. We are supposed to be the more open minded generation and yet men will still try to prove their masculinity in every chance. When looking at a picture of Channing Tatum in Magic Mike, my brother said, no homo but that guy can really dance. Which makes me wonder why he had to assert no homo first before anything else. It happens more often when guys are talking to one another. They fear that appreciating another man’s body directly leads to being perceived as homosexuality. In that case, more of them will either play indifferent to such images or stress their heterosexuality before commenting. Which is absurd considering that I wasn’t even thinking anything sexual by asking him that question.

  7. Sarah Yoffe-Sharp

    This posting makes an interesting point that men are more threatened by visual images of sexualized men than women are. The men’s responses suggested a defensiveness about their own sexuality that seems common to men but unusual in women. The notion that women are desensitized to sexualized images of women is interesting and may in part explain our lack of discomfort when we view these images. The question of whether women are simply less threatened by questions about their own sexuality or whether we react less because we are constantly bombarded by these images is a new perspective for me. I suspect that our desensitization plays a big role.
    However, whatever the cause, it seems that women are more able to appreciate or critique other aspects of the image than men. For example, I wonder if women might appreciate the quality of the photography of the Vanity Fair Cover or the David Beckham advertisement. On the other hand, perhaps women internalize comparisons to images of other more ‘perfect’ women more than we realize. Men are so busy rebuking threats to their sexuality that relatively few expressed feeling inadequate when faced with images of stereotypically attractive men. Women might not realize that we frequently have these reactions because we experience exposure to these images constantly throughout our lives.

    • And interestingly Women are often put off by men showing a lot of skin too. But it would fit with our culture that makes it seem normal to have nude women but strange to see nude men (since we don’t see them that much in the mass media).

  8. Zosimus the Heathen

    This reminds me a bit of a show I used to like watching: an HBO prison drama called Oz (you may have heard of it). One thing I liked about that was that it didn’t flinch from showing men naked; indeed, it wasn’t uncommon to see even a man’s genitals (usually when a particularly troublesome inmate was stripped down prior to being tossed into a room known as “the hole” for a few days). As I said, I quite liked that; I just found it refreshing to see a show *not* going to ridiculous lengths to pander to a lot of straight guys’ insecurities (ie “Oh no! I’ve just seen another man’s penis! That means I’ve turned gay!”).

    Although I’m *sorta* straight, I’ve often found other men attractive, though my preferences tend more towards pretty boys. One particularly unusual example of this was a guy called Tobias Sidegard, who was the longtime front-man for a Swedish extreme metal band called Necrophobic. The first time I saw a picture of him, in a photo of the band that appeared on their debut album, ‘The Nocturnal Silence’, I practically fell in love with him – he had the most beautiful long blond hair, and this really pretty, feminine face. Unfortunately, by the time the group had released their second album, just a few years later, he’d dyed his hair black and generally done everything he could to make himself look like something that had just been summoned from the lowest circle of Hell. I thought that was a great pity, not only because he’d ruined his cherubic good looks like that, but also because I thought it would’ve made a most interesting contrast if he’d maintained those angelic good looks while singing songs glorifying Satan. (As it was, I’d later find a bit more of the shine wearing off him when I heard that the rest of the band had eventually kicked him out after he was arrested for beating his own daughters with a leather whip he’d made himself for that purpose – seems you really can’t judge a book by its cover sometimes!)

    As I say, though, I do like the pretty boys, and often feel quite jealous when I see a particularly comely one. I particularly like it when I see one wearing women’s clothing and really pulling it off (that probably comes from me being a cross-dresser myself), though, alas, that often seems to happen in the context of movies, TV shows or whatever where they’re *forced* to dress like that, and hate every minute of it! Boo! On a slightly more serious note, one of my best friends at school was a really pretty guy who eventually came out as gay (probably surprising absolutely no-one in the process!), and who I “experimented” with a bit during our last year at school. Alas, I seemed to get far more out of the experience than he did, for while I found him absolutely gorgeous myself, he eventually confessed that I didn’t exactly meet his standards of attractiveness (ironically, I’d later learn, because he considered me a little too pretty myself), and he didn’t want to fool around with me any more as a consequence. Oh well.

    • You certainly have unique perspective.

      • People and this poster says they don’t show male nudity often. But yet it shows how unsexual this makes men’s bodies seem when people don’t understand that the only thing that isn’t shown often is a man’s penis and their view of female nudity being shown more is because of breasts being shown. But a man’s penis should not be comparable to breasts because the penis is actually a sex organ, not breasts. The problem is because women’s bodies are sexualized and men’s aren’t.

        Men’s chests are shown always and casually, and more than women’s breasts, it’s just that it’s not seen as a sexual reveal. And men’s bare butts I think are shown more than people think. It’s just a man’s genitals that aren’t. But body part per body part, men’s body parts are shown as much or more than women’s minus the genitals, thought women’s vaginas really aren’t shown unless it’s literally like a soft core porn type of movie. If people could get more satisfaction seeing a man’s body there wouldn’t be a problem, because it is being shown ha.

      • Right. The social construction.

        sexual tension comes from the female body being selectively hidden and revealed. We don’t do that with men.

  9. I think it’s funny that most of these men did not want to look at these pictures of nude men, and yet these are likely some of the men who send unsolicited nude photos of themselves and their parts to women, as if we want to look at that any more than they would.

    • Maybe so. I don’t know.

      • It is strange, it’s like these men somehow thing they are “the exception’ or must be that. Like it doesn’t register or they don’t want to acknowledge it to register that their body is no different than most other nude male bodies. If such male bodies are unsightly then why would there’s be any different? They have the same equipment and body parts because they are men and probably in worse shape than the nude men in such movies, and probably hairier, yet they are the exception. New flash to these guys, if those dudes junk and nudity is unsightly, yours dick is no different looking, thus your dick will be as unsightly to a woman as another man’s dick will be for you to see.

      • Apparently it’s men projecting their desires I think now. Men like seeing women in blatant nudity and are fine with it or like it, so I think it’s wishful thinking that doing so will get women to show their bodies and get turned on. There’s a disconnect perhaps blinded by their own desire in thinking women might be turned on because men would be with women showing their vaginas. I came across an article talking about it and apparently, it’s common or something done often in the gay community and men being turned on or liking dick pics from other guys more than straight women do from other men. So it may show the difference and how men may think women wouldn’t mind seeing it because they would like seeing her body and because others attracted to men (gay men) like or are not opposed to it and perhaps thinking women may feel no different even though as it’s been apparent that most women don’t like it and do feel differently than gay men may feel about dick picks.

      • Yeah, our society treats female and male nudity much differently, giving women and men very different reactions. But men don’t realize this a lot of the time. They think women are mirror images of themselves. But they are raised in very different ways.

  10. You began an interesting survey. Did you have a specific number of males in mind when you asked your original Sly Stallone survey? Are you planning on expanding this with asking women the same questions regarding the same photos?

    • I just asked the students in my classes. I don’t have access to the number right now, and the numbers shifted because I kept adding and subtracting pictures, but I think it was around 40 men. If I remember I will check and get back to you. Or you can comment again to remind me.

      Also, This survey used a more qualitative than quantitative method: how did they describe what they were seeing? So this isn’t a large quantitative national sample. That sort of thing would come later to see if this study was generalizable. I was mimicking the qualitative study performed earlier.

      The next couple of posts will be on how women perceived things.

  11. The strange thing is that built, fit men don’t cause me to feel inadequate generally. It usually doesn’t happen but if I’m too feel down on my body or self, it’s actually if I see an ad of a beautiful woman with a sexy body. You say how women feel that, but I think maybe how women’s beauty and bodies being put on a pedestal effects everybody for different reasons. Women feel they can’t compete or compare an men feeling they can’t attract such women or just attractive women. Like I don’t feel I can’t attract hot women, I feel i’m pretty good looking and built, though I don’t look great like a fitness model or sculpted like such guys.

    But my personality, wit and charm and intelligence to go with that. But sometimes it can cause me to like gush over how sexy women’s bodies are, face, hair, breasts, butt, hips and like how eye catching and the goods and then to cause myself to inner reflect and then think of my body and luckily women aren’t visual like guys or don’t care, because if they did, I’d be ripping them off in regards to sex as far as what my body visually provides for her compared to what she provides to me. I can explain further depending on if you understand what I mean or if you want me to elaborate more

    • Interesting. Sure I’d like to hear more.

      • So luckily women don’t care, but if they did, it would seem like she’s being ripped off in visual providing with what her body provides visually and mine can’t provide. A man should almost apologize, a pretty woman and her wonderland body to get lost in and then for many men, a flat hairy body that to me would seem bland in comparison. I know this is a bias since I’m straight ha, but it’s hard not seeing it that way sometimes.I know it’s weird considering it is comparing apples to oranges since women and men have different bodies.

      • Yeah, I’ve often thought it’s unfair. And it’s probably why women get more aroused by the lust in her partners eye (experiencing his lust for her) than by lusting after his body.

        Women Making Love to Themselves
        https://broadblogs.com/2015/09/28/women-making-love-to-themselves/

  12. I’m afraid I would have responded pretty much the same way as the majority of your students.

  13. One-half of the men called him “good looking.” A couple added that he’s, “a great football player””

    It seemed like some things have changed in that despite many being uncomfortable with the stripper, 50% of men could see David Beckham as good looking. It seemed like 15 years ago or so, you’d find it hard for a straight guy to admit or even acknowledge that another guy can be good looking, because they say they can’t tell and the biggest reason is not wanting to sound gay, even though it’s not gay and actually security in oneself. Ten years ago, i don’t know if you’d have half of the men even acknowledging or saying something that Beckham is good looking. So it seems like still uncomfortable but gradually a little less homophobic. \

    The funny thing is that, like the stripper thing like that picture and such. Like I’d be that percentage that was like in the “I don’t care” or indifferent part. Like I’d rather not see that as a straight man, I want to see women, not men. And a dude in a thong is definitely not pleasing, but if shown a picture and asked to look at it and my opinion. Like it’s funny because, I don’t feel the need to validate my sexuality or prove I’m straight. Like the “I’m not attracted” or like it wouldn’t make me uncomfortable because I know I’m not attracted to dudes. So seeing a nude male or almost nude, doesn’t make me scared or looking or what that would do, because it doesn’t do anything. It’s like ok, naked dude or almost naked dude….so what? The only thing that would make me uncomfortable is when a dude is posing or acting very feminine. I’d like feel embarrassed for him, because it would make him look funny to most people and if he was straight he’d be looking funny to most women and not turn them on, but unintentionally be homo-erotic or turn on for gay men instead.

    • Thanks for adding your thoughts to this survey. It’s interesting to see how men’s thoughts are still largely uncomfortable these images yet growing a bit more comfortable over time. (And yet also beginning to feel greater discomfort with men’s their bodies like Catfish, or the fact that men are increasingly becoming anorexic in hopes of getting that chiseled look.)

  14. Interesting. I am a man and those pictures do not cause any particular emotions in me. I rather start to think of what kind of workout and diet can lead to this kind of body. What drives me nuts is when I see women on social network praising celebrities as “sexy looking”. It causes a strong wave of jealousy as I am never viewed as “sexy” by those women (or basically any women).

    • Well my male students had a range of feelings about these images, and some of them mirrored your thoughts: both saying that they felt no emotion and some saying that it made them feel like they needed to work out. But in my sample they were the minority.

      Men’s bodies are becoming more sexualized these days which is leaving more men feeling the way you do: envious and inadequate. Which is a very common way for women to experience these sorts of images of women.

      As male images begin to mirror female images, welcome to our world.

      • > As male images begin to mirror female images, welcome to our world.

        Maybe there is some ongoing sexualization of men’s body that affects something. But I’ve been living “in this world” since puberty. Individuals of both sex that do not fit into mainstream definition of attractiveness have it hard. It is probably tougher on women. But it is not easy for homely men either.

      • Good point. It just gets worse with perfect models to compete with.

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