While measuring the sexualization of men and women in popular media over the past 40 years, Erin Hatton, PhD and Mary Nell Trautner, PhD found that there have been some dramatic changes in our culture.
In “Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone,” Hatton and Trautner found that sexualized portrayal of both men and women have increased enormously. But this was not their most striking or alarming finding.
When they looked at what they called “hypersexualized” images, they found that while men were increasingly portrayed as “sexy,” they were not portrayed as “sex objects” – ready and available for sex – in the way that women were. In other words, while men are being depicted as more overtly sexy than they used to be, they are still largely portrayed as the master of their own sexuality. This is in contrast to the portrayal of what is beautiful, feminine, or sexy for women: women a passive object for someone else’s sexual pleasure.
The authors point out that these findings are important and concerning, because these types of images have negative consequences, such as an increase in sexual harassment and negative attitudes towards women among men and boys, and increased rates of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders among women.
Also powerful to note is the author’s statement that exposure to these types of images has “been shown to decrease sexual satisfaction among both men and women.” For years research has indicated that for both men and women, regular exposure to pornography is directly linked with a decrease in satisfaction with their intimate partner, in areas such as affection, physical appearance, sexual performance, and others. This research has been important information for parents who wish to protect their children, people who wish to make conscious choices about how they wish to influence their sexual experiences, and for sex addicts, who frequently find that as their sexually addictive behavior increases their sexual satisfaction in their relationship plummets.
However, the ramification of this current research is much further reaching: while we can make a choice not to view pornography, we cannot choose not to expose ourselves to popular culture. So while we flood our lives with images of intensely sexualized images of women, passively ready to be used for someone’s pleasure, we are working to deprive ourselves of our own intimate and sexual pleasure, as well as our respect of self and others. Through the proliferation of these images, we may be trading long term satisfaction for a moment of pleasure; grave consequences to ponder indeed.
Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D.
Pathways Institute for Impulse Control