These findings suggest that feeling desired is not synonymous with objectification and each has different implications for satisfaction.
Feeling wanted by your partner is good for relationships; feeling like your body is the only thing that matters isn’t.
But what about the Joan Holloways of the world who knowingly emphasize their appearance and sexuality? Given the voluntary nature of their self-objectification, would any negative effects it had on the relationship be attenuated?
The researchers found that while women who self-objectify also enjoy sexualized attention from others, it doesn’t help their relationships. As before, enjoyment of sexualized attention coincides with objectification from the partner, which is associated with less relationship satisfaction.
In short, wanting sexualized attention seems to create an environment that fosters objectification. Unfortunately, greater objectification also means the relationship suffers.
Who’s to blame?
These surveys make clear that women who experience objectification from their male partners are less satisfied in their relationships.
On the surface, the solution seems simple: Men should avoid objectifying their female partners. But the research also indicates that men engage in objectification more when their partner likes being sexualized and when women objectify themselves. Intentionally or not, women who enjoy sexualized attention may seek out males who objectify them to fulfill that need.
Objectification is so pervasive in society – for instance, half of the advertisements sexualize women – that it’s tempting to think women should just embrace it and use it to their advantage. But the problem is that objectification ends up undermining women, not providing the empowerment they seek.
This research shows that holds true in the intimate confines of their romantic relationships, as well as at work and on the street.
As Joan from “Mad Men” knows, women should feel free to dress and act as they wish. But the research suggests it’s also important to be aware of how your partner reacts to your choices.
If your boyfriend’s or husband’s reaction involves objectifying remarks, don’t dismiss them merely as indicators of his sexual desire.
Recognize objectification for the disrespectful thought process it is. Then identify more positive ways you both can express sexual desire. Ultimately that should lead to a happier and more satisfying relationship.