Sexually objectifying women is bad. It promotes the noxious idea that women are not actually people deserving of respect or autonomy, which is harmful to everyone — and now, there’s some empirical research to prove it.
According to a study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, the more a male partner objectifies a female partner, the more likely he is to sexually coerce or pressure her. Researchers Laura R. Ramsey and Tiffany Hoyt evaluated 119 men and 162 women, and found that heterosexual relationships suffered immensely when one partner was effectively treated like a toy. From the study’s press release:
They found that men who frequently objectify their partner’s bodies by excessively focusing on their appearance are more likely to feel shame about the shape and size of their partner’s body which in turn is related to increased sexual pressure (i.e., the belief that men expect sex and that it is a woman’s role to provide sex for her partner) and sexual coercion, both in general and through violence and manipulation.
“Being more aware of how and when one thinks of their partner as an object, sexually or otherwise, could help relationship partners avoid sexual pressure and coercion and increase communication and respect within their relationship,” the researchers wrote.
The data also supported the idea that women internalize objectification from their partners. This internalization is related to feeling shame about their bodies, a decrease in asserting themselves, and a decrease in expressing what they do and do not want to do sexually.
Objectification: Bad news all around. The good news, however, is that the findings show how clinical intervention can be valuable in decreasing both objectification and sexual coercion in opposite-sex relationships. The researchers note that by making women aware of the repercussions of objectification — namely the removal of their agency and usually their sexual pleasure — women can learn to overcome the dangers of being treated like playthings. But, Ramsey and Hoyt smartly note, it isn’t just on women to put an end to their own objectification.
“As male objectification of women is more common than female objectification of men, the onus is on men to reduce objectification and sexual violence,” the researchers writer. “It is of utmost importance that activists and educators work with men to reduce the objectification of women, both in general and in the context of romantic relationships.”