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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.” Read the rest of this entry

The Breast Fetish Distracts From Sex 

The breast fetish makes sex super-hot, right?

Maybe not.

It can actually hurt both men’s and women’s sexual experience.

Sounds counterintuitive. But consider this: Read the rest of this entry

Modesty Objectifies Says Nude Woman

Posed in nothing but sheer black polkadot stockings, red patent leather shoes and a red hair clip, Egyptian blogger, Aliaa Mahdy struck a blow to the objectification of women.

Strange. We usually hear that nudity objectifies. Read the rest of this entry

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:

Read the rest of this entry

Men Enjoy Themselves When Women Do

Sasha Grey

Sasha Grey

A lot of women think that their partners’ enjoyment is more important than their own.

It’s likely unconscious. But you see it every time a young woman gets distracted, focusing on how she looks, or what he wants, and how he feels…

… while completely ignoring how SHE feels.

But men actually enjoy themselves more when their partners are enjoying themselves.  Read the rest of this entry

A Sex Object Not Enjoying Sex

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

Instead of enjoying sex.

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

Sexy = Sexual?

Paris Hilton, "That's hot!"

Paris Hilton, “That’s hot!”

When people talk about sexuality, they sometimes confuse looking sexy with being sexual.

At least when it comes to women.

You see a sexy woman and assume that she is sexual. When you don’t know anything about how she actually enjoys her experience in bed. Maybe she is just looking hot but not feeling hot. Read the rest of this entry

Sex Objects Who Don’t Enjoy Sex

Self-objectification, defined.

Laci Green defines self-objectification.

Sexual objectification can have its perks in the bedroom, with breast fetishes and butt fetishes heightening men’s arousal.

But surprisingly, it can have the opposite effect, harming both men’s and women’s enjoyment. And in many ways. Here’s one: self-objectification. Read the rest of this entry

Sex Objects Who Don’t Enjoy Sex

Sexualizing women can have its perks in the bedroom, with breast fetishes and butt fetishes heightening men’s arousal.

But surprisingly, sexualizing women can have the opposite effect, harming both men’s and women’s enjoyment. And in many ways. Here’s one: self-objectification.

Drowning in “sexy women” images, men and women can both come to see women as the sexy half of the species. So what happens in bed? Because men aren’t seen as especially sexy (at least by comparison) men are focused on women and women can be focused on themselves.

Caroline Heldman, assistant professor at Occidental College, found that some women become preoccupied with how they look instead of the sexual experience. “One young woman I interviewed described sex as being an ‘out of body’ experience,” she said. “She viewed herself through the eyes of her lover, and, sometimes, through the imaginary lens of a camera shooting a porn film.”

Sounds a bit like Paris Hilton: “My boyfriends say I’m sexy but not sexual,” she mused. “Being ‘hot’ is a pose, an act, a tool, and entirely divorced from either physical pleasure or romantic love.”

Heldman feels that girls and women are learning to eroticize male sexual pleasure as though it were their own. She feels they need to explore their sexuality in more empowering and satisfying ways than this vicarious act.

Cultural theorist Jackson Katz has similar concerns. “Many young women are now engaged in sex acts with men that prioritize the man’s pleasure,” he reflects, “with little or no expectation of reciprocity.”

When having sex, these young women may be enjoying themselves, and how great they look. They may gain a boost to self-esteem as they dwell on their “hotness.” But they’re not enjoying sex.

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Does Sexual Objectification Lead to Bad Sex?

Turning women into sex objects heightens the erotic experience, right?

A growing body of research indicates the opposite: for women and, surprisingly, men.

A new longitudinal study out of Pennsylvania State found that when women lost their virginity, they lost self-esteem, too. Before they had sex, the body image of the women in the study steadily improved. But after a first sexual experience it dropped. Why? The study found that in bed women became self-conscious and critical of their bodies.

Tracy Clark-Flory over at points out that this loss of self-esteem likely spells a loss of sexual pleasure. While women are supposedly enjoying sex, an awful lot of us are distracted, worrying that we don’t meet sex-object standards. Breasts are too small? Butt is too big? Cellulite, anyone?

Or as Clark-Flory puts it, “You think, ‘Do my breasts look OK from this angle’ instead of, ‘Wow, this position feels fantastic.’”

Even if you are proud of your body, self-scrutiny can distract from lovemaking. Caroline Heldman, assistant professor at Occidental College, writes that women who are hyper-aware of their appearance see sex as an ‘out of body’ experience, but not in a heavenly way. They view themselves through an imaginary camera lens, focusing on how they look in one position or another, as if they were porn stars. And their sexual pleasure suffers.

Heterosexual men should pause at this news. It’s likely they would enjoy themselves more if their partners were present and actively engaged, instead of dealing in distraction.

But objectification of women can also interfere  more directly with straight men’s enjoyment of sex. Men who consume porn often say they come to objectify women in a way that has them expecting a particular body type, leaving them disappointed if their partner looks different from the images they’re used to.

“I prefer women with a C- or D-cup, full-figured but definitely not overweight. I don’t want some small spindly girl either,” a young man explained in Pamela Paul’s Pornified. “Briana Banks is the ultimate. She’s not only blonde, she’s got the right chest size.”

In Pornified, psychologist Gary Brooks explains that he is concerned that many of these men lose the ability to be aroused by their partner’s positive features, and try instead to “re-create the images from porn in their brain when they’re with another person in order to maintain their arousal.” Adds Mark Swartz, clinical director of the Masters and Johnson clinic in St. Louis:

You’re making love to your wife, but you’re picturing someone else. That’s not fair to the woman, and it’s miserable for the man.

Some men may think objectifying women is a harmless pleasure, but the Penn State study and others suggest it’s a buzzkill.  Think this information could spur a movement to end objectification?

I originally wrote this piece for the Ms. Magazine Blog, where it appeared May 10, 2011

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