I Look Sexy, But I Don’t Feel Pleasure

Laci Green explains self objectification.

Laci Green explains self objectification.

I recently talked about “spectatoring” — watching yourself have sex instead of enjoying pleasure.

After surveying my women students I learned that three-quarters spent at least some of their time in bed distracted by how they looked. Most worried that they weren’t “hot” enough. And most also said that their concerns harmed their sexual experience to some degree.

But some women did think they were attractive. In fact, when I surveyed students about the last time they had sex, one young woman replied, “I think I looked pretty good.”

She was talking about how she looked, not how she felt. As if sex, itself, were all about how you look for someone else’s pleasure, and not how you feel for yourself. In fact, when my students talk about “being sexual” they are sometimes actually talking about looking sexy. And if you Google a synonym for “sexual” the word “voluptuous” pops up. But “voluptuous” is a look, not a behavior or a feeling.

This fits with a concern that women can end up eroticizing male sexual pleasure as if it were their own. If “he” is turned on by how “she” looks, then she is being sexual — even if she’s not the least bit aroused.

Distracted, trying to look good

On the other hand, trying to look attractive may simply be distracting, as these women explain:

It’s more stressful because you’re consumed by your appearance instead of your enjoyment. Trying to be perfect is very distracting.

All I can focus on is how I look instead of the romantic connection. I’ll constantly position myself to look more appealing. So I can’t focus on my pleasure because I’m worried about what he’s thinking. (When in reality he probably doesn’t even notice.)

In the best case these young women may be enjoying themselves, and how terrific they look. They may gain a self-esteem boost as they relish their “hotness.”

But they’re not actually enjoying sex.

And when women are distracted, their partners are missing out on pleasure and connection, too.

Related Posts

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 April 22, 2019, in body image, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. After reading the posting, I realized that I had also been thinking of being sexual as a look instead of the way someone feels. Although the difference doesn’t seem all that great when looking at it from far away, it becomes a bigger topic once we see how it affects the way women feel about themselves and what they will sacrifice in order to seem like the “perfect” version of what a man wants. The issue with relating being sexual to being a look is that it is usually associated with women. Women have to keep up an appearance that pleases men in order to be accepted, but when they are “too sexual,” they are criticized for it as well. Since this is usually associated with women, they have to sacrifice their own sexual pleasure and feeling of intimacy in bed in order to fulfill a man’s fantasy even if this means their effort goes unnoticed and they get nothing out of it.

  2. Focusing on the other partner’s satisfaction, especially in the case of women trying to look sexier for a man’s pleasure, points to a deeper issue within being women and even simply being human. Outside of sexual context, we seek constant validation. We want to feel loved and appreciated by others, we want to feel welcome into our society. Nobody likes to be in the outr-group, even if this means participating in activities or behaviors they themselves might not be interested in.

    In regards to women trying to look sexy, it is especially sad to see these outcomes of sex being a one-way street for a man’s pleasure, when the biggest component of sex is forming a deeply intimate and romantic bond with one’s partner. I hope that mature couples can see past this societal norm and look simply at their partner as their partner, and over time society sees sex not as a way for a woman to please a man but a way for both partners to feel closer with one another.

  3. Liane Rene Chu

    Upon reading this blog entry, I immediately thought of how society puts an emphasis on appearance to the point of which appearance often is a factor of value, particularly for women, who typically have higher standards held for them when it comes to how they look. Then, I thought about how women may be focusing on looking attractive and conveying a sexual appearance as determined by often the masculine, hetero-normative eye, and that it may be that because this is ultimately a more superficial aspect of pleasure, it may 1. Not be bringing them actual pleasure to look good and 2. Looks in society these days often have to do with the viewer, and because the overall societal focus is still on cisgendered male-centric wants and needs it is focused on their wants, not womens’, and thus it makes sense why they are recognizing that over if they are actually experiencing their own sexual pleasure, which would mean they would have to not only validate that they can experience it but also recognizing (in stating whether or not they experience sexual pleasure), that they should be able to and deserve to experience that just as much as anyone else. The fact that often it is perceived as selfish, a truly fulfilling sexual experience requires all parties to be satisfied and feel pleasure; in a sexual experience all parties should be given the space to acknowledge and ask for their needs to be met.

  4. Ryland Takayesu

    As a man, I believe that the feeling of wanting the other partner to enjoy sex is a two way street as I understand that many women could feel that way as a lot of social pressure is placed on them to look and act a certain way. However, that goes for men too. There are a lot of men who get nervous and stressed about their performance and if they are able to pleasure their partner. The feeling of wanting to look good and be able to make the other enjoy sex is a mutual feeling for both parties involved and it is a shame that often times couples aren’t able to enjoy something that should be fun and emotionally bonding to its fullest. Therefore, I believe that men and women should be more open to their partners about how they feel and what they are nervous or anxious about so they can be able to support each other and grow as a couple as well as individuals. By being more understanding and discussing their feelings, I think that sex can be more enjoyable and allow them to deepen their emotional and romantic connection to each other.

  5. Coming from the male perspective, it is frustrating to see women having this as such a huge concern. I’ve met enough guys who feel it natural to expect a woman to do everything in her power to appear and act pleasing only to him. And it is unbelievably disheartening to know how that type of mindset negatively affects the women he interacts with. In my previous relationship, it was a two way street between myself and my girlfriend to express and talk about our personal insecurities in order for both of us to be naturally comfortable around each other. We found that a method such as that led to the best and most natural forms of “sexual appeal”. To me I don’t know anything more attractive than a woman comfortable and confident in her own skin, acting like her true self. I wish more men and women could see my perspective as it would benefit both sides and create better relationships between people.

    • And root problem is a culture that sends these messages so that it gets into the unconscious of both women and men, who act without consciously realizing the cause or the harm.

  6. I have faced many of these same struggles, trying to look good in the eyes of others. Feeling as though my worth or my looks where the only thing that someone would like about me. But after dating for a while and then looking back sex wasn’t always the goal or the reason someone was attracted to me. I have stayed friends with people I have gone on dates with even though we may not have worked out but that mostly being due to the fact that we believe we are too young to focus on long term relationships especially in college. But if the connection between romantic partners was only about how one looked then the friendship wouldn’t have lasted. I found the idea that woman have this idea that to be sexy is to feel sexy as slightly outrageous since I have found myself saying that I feel sexy but not many others find me sexy. But I think this also come from years of living in cultures where woman were measured by there beauty and that therefore determined there worth. But as we reach into a new age woman this idea should hopefully disappear.

  7. I can totally relate to being distracted with how I looked so much more than enjoying myself. I felt personally insecure in my own skin which made it that much harder to share with another person in fear of judgment. It’s hard not to compare yourself to other girls, I think the unrealistic culture expectations of boxing women in can have a really negative effect on self-perception. And now, unfortunately, social media plays an even bigger part of the problem, especially for younger girls. I personally don’t use social media much and try not to judge myself for eating what I want as long as I feel good about it. Using social media too much also distorts your perception of self, especially when people post just for likes. Since the internet will always be around I think it’s important for schools to teach about responsible internet use and celebrate individuality. Building confidence is crucial.

  8. Kimberly Welch

    After reading this article, It does not surprise me, that most women feel the most attractive when they “look” their best as opposed to when they “feel their best. It’s unfortunate that as women, we place more emphasis and time spent on how we look in order to please our male counterparts. Women are constantly being judged and scrutinized by their peers based upon their appearance and how they present themselves within society. I strongly believe that a lot of this contributes to the various advertisements found in magazines, commercials, TV shows, social media outlets, which we turn to, in order to follow trends and societal norms. Within our culture, we place a high value on things that appear to look nice. It’s this superficial notion, that if you have a pretty face, thin waist, nice clothes, and a luxury lifestyle, exude confidence, and have a lot of money, this is a standard to uphold and carry out within your life. However, this is completely false. The pressure of looking good and the “so-called” standard in which we have to live up to can be overwhelming. Women generally put their feelings and priorities aside to nurture and take care of others. I just think women have always had to overcome obstacles and this is just another example of something we should be more conscious of. It’s important to not only look our best but to feel our best when doing so.

  9. I have talked about this topic with my current girlfriend before, and we reached the conclusion that in order for both I and my partner to feel pleasure we should respect and communicate each other. I’m a man and I do not care my girlfriend’s appearance, on the contrary, my girlfriend said she unconsciously feels worried how she is seen by me. Also, she said that when she’s worried about something about her appearances she cannot feel pleasure. One day, we discussed whether both of us were satisfied with the situation where we were at that time. Then I realized that she sometimes felt little uncomfortable when she were distracted by the worries about her appearance. Since then, we have started communicating each other about our mood, worries, and so on to feel pleasure not uncomfortableness. Also, this conversation made me realized again and strongly that sex is not for only for one but for both of partners. Respect is the very important key to solve this problem.

    • I’m glad that your girlfriend was self-aware enough to notice and that you have a good enough relationship that she felt comfortable communicating with you and that you are supportive.

  10. I very much agree , I feel like women are constantly under pressure to feel accepted by society and looking good is far more important than actually feeling good inside. Some women view that looking good is more more important than what they actually feel inside because of the pressure men put on women to always look good. In today’s age women are looking up to societal norms of what being “sexy” is by what they see on TV and magazines which is not what reality typically is for most girls. This is one of the main reasons why plastic surgery has become one of the industries that has become so popular amongst young women. Women look for recognition from men naturally like compliments that make them feel sexy and confident. While it is always nice to be complimented by another person we as women need to feel confident in ourselves because that is what is most important in the end.

  11. As sad as it is that this is an experience that so many have, I’m glad that I am not alone in this feeling of imperfection. I think that so many women feel pressured by society but, for me at least, I feel most pressured when I am in less control of how I look. When I wake up in the morning, go swimming, camping, or am just getting out of the shower I am in a situation where I have not had the chance to “fix myself up” or sometimes even look in a mirror. In situations like these where I have less control over how I look, and thus how I am perceived by other people, I feel the most vulnerable and uncomfortable with how I look and what people think of me. When it comes to being intimate with someone I think that these feelings and lack of confidence and control only grow stronger. There is so much pressure on women not only to look a certain way but to look that way doing anything and everything. You need to be thin but still, have an appetite. You have to be driven, fun, and energetic, but not so much so that it is considered unattractive by men. This struggle to attain the perfect balance of traits and achieve the ideal standard of beauty and attractiveness is an everlasting endeavor for women. As a result, even when we know we should be enjoying ourselves, or at least out of our own heads, it is often something that is hard to ignore. I feel like this is a situation that represents this struggle very well because not only are we unaware of how we look but it can feel as though a magnifying glass is being held to every one of our imperfections.

  12. It is sad to read the article and be reenforced that many women feel the need to look and act a certain way for their male partners. Sex should be fun for both parties, not just one! I understand wanting to look good and connecting looking good with feeling sexy, but I think the issue also comes down to which kinds of guys these women are having sex with. Casual or not, sex is an intimate experience, it is the closest you can get with someone. I think casual sex is best for those who love themselves 100%. Insecurity is the biggest bedroom killer, and being with the right person who makes you feel completely comfortable eliminates insecure feelings. Those who are already confident and full of self love are able to enjoy sex in a more casual manner because they normally do not focus on these aspects. If you are feeling insecure and unable to focus on the pleasurable parts of sex because you’re too busy focusing on how your long term partner is viewing you, I think it is time to find a new partner.

    • You know, it’s such an ingrained cultural thing that a lot of women don’t even realize that they are doing this. I must admit that I was shocked to realize that I had a history of doing this myself. And it had nothing to do with any of the partners I’ve had. It was something I had unconsciously internalized and did without even thinking about it. A recognition that you do this, and understanding the cultural reasons why, is the first step to stop this. Changing the culture would be much more effective than trying to work on it individually, case-by-case. The culture needs to stop putting so much pressure on women to have so-called perfect bodies.

  13. First of all, I think people should have confidence, no matter men or women. In my mind, I always hear my male friends say “oh, I’m so handsome.”, but I always hear from a female friend say “look at me, I’m so ugly and fat.” I think that is the way they speak. Boys even they know that they are not good looking, they will say that they are handsome. Girls, even they are beautiful and thin they will say themselves are fat and ugly. I think people should be confidence. Especially women should be more confident. All the women should think they are the best in the world. Why you think you are not sexy enough when you are in bed. It is someone’s pleasure that they are having you. Never think that you are not good enough.

  14. After reading this article, I found this to be shocking but at the same time I’m not surprised. When I was younger, and dating, I found that some of my partners were very self-conscience and only preferred to be intimate if the lights were off. Not even a little light, just pitch black. I certainly didn’t think having the lights off completely would enhance intimacy (which is what one partner said), but I found that my partners preferred the lights off because they wanted to not think about how they look and focus on how they feel during intimacy. I think in these days we may be getting better as we’re becoming more accepting of different body types and imperfections. As a man, my first instinct is to generally blame men for not appreciating other woman for who they naturally are, but I think it’s deeper than that. Take Instagram for example. I’m confident that 90% of the pictures posted by other influencers/models are fake or photoshopped to the point that it’s not realistic. It’s a sad truth, and something we should push away from in society.

  15. Kimberly Sibrian

    Yes, I relate to this article. Sometimes we as women care too much about what a man thinks about our appearance. We only feel validated if the man pays us attention. I think it definitely has to do with society putting unrealistic body goals on us female. I personally feel that because I am nowhere near the “socially acceptable” body type I cannot be sexual. If we don’t look like the models on TV we assume our male partner is going to be turned off by the appearance of our body. The whole idea of “if you don’t love yourself how can you except someone else to” comes to play in this scenario. Because we don’t love our body we assume the other person doesn’t either. Women who don’t love themselves and are unhappy with their image worry too much about how they look to even joy a sexual connection.

  16. In todays society I feel like there is a lot of pressure solely based on looks. I had not know that this is how most people had concerned themselves when laying in beca or even after sex. It is really interesting to read just how much someones time revolves around the way they look, something so pointless since everyones taste is difference and you shouldn’t have to make yourself look a particular way to be happy. I think that we as a society need to put less emphasis on how people look and focus more about other qualities a person have, if we continue to glorify certain people solely based on looks we will always see this way of thinking. I thought this was very interesting to read about so I had asked my sister and friends if this is how they thought, if they worked to look a certain way and they all said absolutely because they did not want to be judged by their peers which upset me.

  17. I think that as time goes by it is getting very stressful to be a woman. There is so much editing in videos and images on social media like face book, snap chat, twitter, instagram that women compare themselves to this image that we see when we open up our devices. We start believing that we are the only ones with flaws and we over think everything. I am not surprised by this post because anywhere we go we subconsciously compare ourselves to others. I have done it myself at the gym where i know is a place where we go to better ourselves. We over think and some how put ourselves down.

  18. Great post, and fascinating because I think people generally are self-conscious and it is really sad if women feel stressed by appearance instead of enjoyment. Once nice thing about getting older and also being with someone for a longer period of time, we know perfect doesn’t exist and become very at ease with each other.

  19. Well that is very interesting to have new information about what sexuality actually means. Women are too concerned about the way they look that they don’t feel the pleasure they are suppose to feel. But what they feel is joy for pleasuring someone else by looking good for them. Nowadays appearance is very important to women in our society which we see in magazines where models appear. In the topic of sexuality, women feel the need to show how good they look to please others and they feel the pleasure of that. Women need to learn that we aren’t the cause of men’s pleasure but we are the cause of our own pleasure. Learning how to pleasure ourselves will help us figure out the deeper meaning of sexuality. To me sexuality meant that you had to be sexy and feel sexy but now that I have read all of this and have reflected on what sexuality means to me now.

    • It can be surprising to realize how pressure women can put on themselves to look good, because we associate sexuality so much with women’s looks. But then it has to be ironic and opposite effect of blocking pleasure.

  20. I found this blog post to be very interesting because I think that a lot of people can relate to it but I think that women find it most relatable. Sex can be such a vulnerable act that people are always concerned about how they look, sound, ect but in reality no one is paying attention to those things. I think that a lot of people would have a lot better experience if they just let themselves enjoy the moment instead of being preoccupied by other things. Most of the time a woman’s partner thinks they are “sexy” when they are having sex because that’s how the see them and part of the reason why the engage in the act of having sex. I also think that if a woman feels sexy and confident while having sex it can be so much more enjoyable for both parties because confidence adds a whole new level to sex.

    • Yep. It would be better for both women and men if we didn’t put so much pressure on women to look good so that they could focus on their pleasure instead of how they look. Which can be hard to do in this culture.

  21. I think that women behaves naturally like that and just don’t realize when it becomes too much. Women are creatures that like having compliments from men in general. On the bed is pretty much the same thing. The compliment the man would have in that situation will just be this time: “the fact that he is turned on by the woman in front of him”. And women have an eye for that in certain positions. It eventually gets awkward when they realize that because that’s when they try start focusing on how they act. They stop having good sex at that moment.
    Again, certain positions allow that distraction to happen because the partners are very close to each other.
    Another factor that I think can explain that would be the lack of self confidence. Some might have physical faults, or something that always push them to look a mirror basically. Most of the time, when a girl is good looking, compliments on her beauty bothers her because she feels like that is the only think that she has that make her stand out. On the other way, a girl that doesn’t often receive compliments tends to search for that compliment through actions and words.

    • It’s not natural. You don’t find it in every culture. And while 2/3 of the women I surveyed said it could be a big problem it wasn’t a big problem for 1/3. We are all a mix of our personalities, social experiences, and culture, so you find cultural patterns and individual differences.

      But it’s a big reason why nearly half of American women have low or no interest in sex. If you are worried about how you look then sex isn’t very fun, and then it gets tiresome. And women not enjoying sex is not good for women or men.

  22. Being “sexy” or sexual has dramatically been altered due to societies norms, as well as how media has brained washed us humans to believe a certain type is sexy. In many instances in media you will see either a victoria secret motel or a man who has rick solid abs. Media has set the standard of what sexy looks, and makes individuals insecure because they do not fell like they fit the standard. Therefore people will have that thought at the back of their minds and will draw their focus. Each individual fights their own battles of insecurity, and in this example women think more about how sexy they look, than about the pleasure they are receiving. Not allowing the experience to be unforgettable. But reminded about the standard society and media has installed into our brains. At the end of the day, women should not worry if they look sexy or sexual, i am 100% sure that their significant others will not mind.

    • I think you are right in most instances. Women feel tremendous pressure to look good in bed because of how they are bombarded by sexy woman images in our society. But most men – particularly, the good ones I think you are right in most instances. Women feel tremendous pressure to look good in bed because of how they are bombarded by sexy woman images in our society. But most men – particularly, the good ones — won’t care. They will just want their lady to be loving the love.

  23. Some think looks have very little to do with a person’s sexiness; it’s more about attitude.

  24. It’s called being female. My most recent girlfriend, when I’m at work I see notifications on Facebook and she’s at home making selfies and uploading to Facebook. Every time she has a shower and gets out the hair dryer she live streams drying her hair. Every time we got in the car she is starting to make selfies for upload. If we go to some amazing new place or location, I can’t tell if she actually cares or not, because she’s busy making selfies and posing this way or that way. Even just walking down to the shops she has to stop 2 or 3 times to make a selfie under a tree, or outside the shops or whatever. Is there any man who exhibits this behavior? Not that I’ve ever witnessed. Women are born to be forever thinking about how they look, and men are born to be always looking. That’s how it is. You can say it’s bad or whatever, but in some perverse way, this is biological reality that makes us happy. So women when having sex are thinking about how they look. If it were not so, they wouldn’t be happy at all. They’d be making selfies in the back garden instead.

    • Well it isn’t about being female. It’s about being socialized to be female in our culture. Some women learn to stop doing this. And some women simply don’t do it. But it’s very harmful for women sexuality because they aren’t enjoying themselves and it is a big part of the reason why nearly half of American women have no or low interest in sex. And that’s not good for men, either.

Thoughts? (Comments will appear after moderation)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: