Commonly, we say a woman has been “objectified” when our vision of her detaches her mind from her body. A woman whose personality, thoughts, and emotions are ignored can more easily be seen as a mere sexual instrument, useful to another’s needs and desires. While the objectification of women in the media and, say, the fashion world, in particular may be obvious — think of a model, devoid of all expression, as she walks a runway in a skimpy outfit — how does objectification occur and play out within romantic relationships? In a new study, researchers discovered men who frequently stare at their girlfriends’ or wives’ bodies are more likely to sexually pressure and sexually coerce them. Conversely, men who decreased their physical assessments of their partners’ bodies increased general communication and respectd within the relationship.

"Empirically it is not clear where that line is between healthy physical attraction and objectification, but it is something that I am very interested in researching further," Dr. Laura Ramsey, Assistant Professor of Psychology and one of the authors of the study, told Medical Daily after the original posting of this article. While the negatives for women may seem more vital or pressing to you, men suffer from objectification of women as well. Men exposed to objectified images of women — say, a photo of a woman's body minus her head — show an increased desire to be muscular while their anxiety expands along with their general hostility. It’s not healthy, then, for anyone to be exposed to unreal interpretations of women.

Objectified Objectified female body, courtesy of ShutterStock

For the current study, researchers from Bridgewater State University conducted two separate online surveys, one of heterosexual men and one of heterosexual women. The male participants numbered 119 total, and ranged in age from 18 to 61, with the majority identifying as either middle class (47.9 percent) or working class (31.9 percent). The men answered online survey questions on a five-point scale ranging from one (never) to five (always). Sample questions include: “If I want sex, it’s my partner’s responsibility as my woman to have sex with me,” and “There are times my partner feels I would leave her if she did not have sex with me,” and “I have threatened to hurt my partner after she told me she would not have sex with me.” Similarly, the researchers enlisted the help of 162 female participants, who ranged in age from 18 to 69. Most of the women identified as either working class (48.1 percent) or middle class (37.7 percent).

After collecting the data from the twin surveys, the researchers discovered men who frequently stared at their partners’ bodies were more likely to sexually pressure and coerce them. However, there may be a much more important take away here. The study also demonstrated how women who felt their partners examining their bodies were more likely to turn that same gaze on themselves — in a word, internalize the stare that reduces them to a body minus the personality. As a result, these women felt increased shame of their bodies and were also less likely to express what they don’t want sexually… as well as what they do want sexually. "Women who feel that they have no control and who experience sexual pressure from their partner will not be as satisfied as women who feel like they have control over their body and the decisions in the relationship," the researchers wrote.

Decreasing objectification could lead to a freer, less inhibited relationship all around, making both men and women happier in the long run. "I think that men are more likely to have a sexually satisfying relationship when they have a willing and eager partner," Ramsey told Medical Daily, "and it is hard to imagine that a woman who feels objectified and experiences sexual pressure and coercion is a willing and eager partner."

Source: Hoyt T, Ramsey LR. The Object of Desire How Being Objectified Creates Sexual Pressure for Women in Heterosexual Relationships. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 2014.