Objectification In Romantic Relationships

Posted by: on Aug 21, 2014 | No Comments


Los Angeles, CA (August 21, 2014) To sexually objectify a woman is to focus on her body in terms of how it can provide sexual pleasure rather than viewing her as a complete human being with thoughts and feelings. While objectification has long been considered a problem in the media, how does it affect individual romantic relationships? New research published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, a SAGE journal, finds that more objectification of a female partner’s body is related to higher incidents of sexual pressure and coercion.

Researchers Laura R. Ramsey and Tiffany Hoyt surveyed 119 males and 162 females who had been in heterosexual relationships. 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.



Most sexual violence against women is perpetrated by an
intimate partner as opposed to an acquaintance or a stranger
(Carney & Barner, 2012). In one study, of the women who
reported sexually coercive acts, 93% were committed by
men they knew, such as their partner (Testa & Livingston,
1999). However, estimates of sexual violence by an intimate
partner are difficult to gauge, given that many researchers
suspect underreporting. For example, although one nationally
representative survey showed that 4.5% of women
(compared to .2% of men) have experienced forced sexual
intercourse with a partner (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2001),
another nationally representative survey found that 10–13%
of partnered women experienced rape by their current partner
(Basile, 2002). Of course, sexual violence against women
includes more than forced penetration or activities that meet
the legal definition of rape. For example, sexual pressure is
defined as conforming to gendered expectations to have sex
(Jones & Gulick, 2009), and sexual coercion is sexual pressure
that involves threats of violence, actual physical force, or
emotional manipulation (Shackelford & Goetz, 2004).

Previous research shows that both college men and men
from the general community show high rates of sexual coercion.
In fact, in two relatively recent studies, a third of college
men who are sexually active reported using nonphysical tactics
to get their unwilling partner to have sex with them,
including arguments about sex and the relationship, threats
to end the relationship, manipulation of emotions, and intentional
ignorance of the partner’s refusal to have sex (DeGue &
DiLillo, 2004; Lyndon, White, & Kadlec, 2007). Similarly,
22–27% of men from community samples reported using the
same strategies to get unwilling women to have sex with
them (Calhoun, Bernat, Clum, & Frame, 1997; Senn, Desmarais,
Verberg, & Wood, 2000). Not surprisingly then, 7
of 10 college women reported experiencing ‘‘emotional
manipulation’’ from men who were looking to have sex with
them (Struckman-Johnson, Struckman-Johnson, & Anderson,
2003). Understanding the correlates and potential precursors
to sexual coercion—such as objectification—is crucial to
better understanding sexual coercion and informing interventions
to reduce it.


“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.

“Acknowledging objectification in their relationships may help women realize when they lack agency and allow them to resist and avoid sexual pressure,” the researchers continued. “Furthermore, thinking about objectification in terms of agency and sexual pressure could also have implications for women’s relationship satisfaction, both sexual and otherwise. 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 discussed additional ideas for decreasing objectification in heterosexual relationships.

“Activists should continue their work reducing the objectification of women in our culture, such as through the recognition and removal of objectifying images in the media. However, as male objectification of women is more common than female objectification of men, the onus is on men to reduce objectification and sexual violence. 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.”


Find out more by reading the full article, “The Object of Desire: How Being Objectified Creates Sexual Pressure for Women in Heterosexual Relationships,” available free for a limited time here: http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/07/31/0361684314544679.abstract

Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ) is a feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal that publishes empirical research, critical reviews and theoretical articles that advance a field of inquiry, brief reports on timely topics, teaching briefs, and invited book reviews related to the psychology of women and gender.
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