To sexually objectify someone means to think of them as an object whose sole purpose is to fulfill sexual desires, rather than as a human being with thoughts and emotions.
“Objectification from one’s romantic partner may be particularly powerful, given that physical attraction is a key element of romantic relationships and investment in romantic relationships is a feminine norm.”
A new study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly The Object of Desire: How Being Objectified Creates Sexual Pressure for Women in Heterosexual Relationships found that females who are sexually objectified by their male partners tend to experience sexual pressure (the belief that a man deserves sex and the woman is obligated to provide it) and coercion (generally or through violence and manipulation) within their relationship.
Sexual objectification of female bodies is an epidemic in this country, and is influenced largely by media’s portrayal and overall hypersexualization of women. For an overview on male gaze theory, and the impact of media’s portrayal of women in society, please check out my blog kitchentablefeminist.com, and specifically the post The Male Gaze, Part II: Consequences.
What is even more troubling than the objectification itself is the disheartening conclusion from the study- that women tend to internalize their own objectification. Internalized objectification results in feelings of shame and low self-esteem, which makes it more difficult for a woman to assert herself. Moreover, women who are objectified find it more difficult to express what they want and don’t want to do sexually.
In order to fully address the issue of intimate partner objectification, a wholistic perspective of how our culture treats women is necessary. Research has shown that men who consume media with sexually explicit and degrading images of women are less empathetic to female victims of rape, and are more likely to sexually coerce and harass women. Considering that hypersexual images of women are ubiquitous in media, it’s difficult for any woman to escape these negative impacts.
The authors of this study encourage people in relationships to be aware of objectification, and to take proactive measures to prevent and/or remove it from their intimate lives. Women who are objectified by male partners tend to experience lower levels of sexual satisfaction, not to mention many other negative impacts to her self-esteem, self worth and body image. Therefore, it is of the upmost importance for women to remove themselves (if possible/safe) from these types of situations.