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Research into a newly coined theory, object of desire self-consciousness, is revealing secrets about both women and men’s sexual and romantic minds. Freshly published research in the sexology journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior, has posited that perceiving oneself as romantically and sexually desirable in another’s eyes, as an object of desire, plays a stronger role in women’s sexual arousal and fantasies than in men’s.
98 men and 100 women rated how aroused they were by items in a sexual fantasy questionnaire, completed sentences for sexually-charged scenarios and wrote an open-ended description of one of their personal sexual fantasies. By examining results from these three sexual fantasy measures, the three Canada-based researchers that published the study found;
‘direct evidence that object of desire themes are linked more to women’s sexuality than they are to men’s.’
How integral object of desire self-consciousness (ODSC) is to a woman’s sexual relationships is likely to vary, being largely dependent on how her sexual self-schemas, that is, her cognitive representation of her sexual self, represents her as an object of desire.
As the lead author of the study explains:
‘If a women is schematic [for ODSC], and she does perceive that she is an object of desire within her relationship, then her level of sexual desire and sexual activity may be fairly high. If, on the other hand, she does not feel a sense of her own desirability or being an object of desire, she may have very little sexual desire.’
While for some women, being an object of desire really turns them on, should we play on this objectification of women to get into women’s fantasies, minds and dare we say, their pants? Well, socioculturally speaking we already do so.
Since 1952 feminist scholars, and later psychologists, sociologists and media observers, argue that women’s self-objectification occurs due to repeated exposure to sexual objectification, an inarguable norm that has persisted since the dawn of mass media. Such objectification of women is thought to socialize women into commonly viewing themselves from a third person’s perspective, e.g. ‘Does he think I look hot?’, where they view themselves as an object whose function is to give pleasure to others.
On the flip-side, such presentations of women in the media put men in the driver’s seat, ready to use the womanly object as they see fit. Well then, what about men as objects of desire? Although men also included themselves as objects of desire in their own fantasies, albeit to a lesser degree than women, ODSC was not often the key theme. This is unsurprising given that heterosexual men’s sexual arousal has been strongly linked to visual cues from their female sexual partner, again perhaps in large part due to the objectification of women as sex objects throughout media history.
While the study focused on heterosexual men and women, the lead author Professor Tony Bogaert from the department of Psychology at Canada’s Brock University, suggests that:
‘ODSC may play more of a role in homosexual men than in heterosexual men, so that gay men are, on average, more schematic for ODSC than the average heterosexual man. This is in part because gay men tend to highly value attractiveness in their partners and objectify other men (like heterosexual men objectify women), so that the perception of being an object of desire themselves may occur frequently…[making] them develop ODSC-related schemas more frequently than the average heterosexual man.’
This is not an unsupported assumption, also considering new research published this January in the Journal of Homosexuality that indicates that the most popular gay men’s magazines are more appearance-led, and they idolize and sexually objectify the “perfect” male form more than straight men’s magazines – comparable to the portrayal of women. However, as Prof. Bogaert reminds us, straight men are not free from objectification in the media either:
‘I also think that the media is more likely to objectify men’s bodies than they used to do, and this may be playing a role in making more men “schematic” for ODSC than they once were.’
Although ODSC is undoubtedly useful for judging if someone is interested in you or not, media objectification and the degree to which our perceptions of being an object of desire are (or are not) reflecting reality may also lead to dangerous negative self-evaluations and low self-esteem that promote conditions like body dysmorphia, eating disorders, depression and sexual dysfunction.
Putting gender and sexual preferences aside, the study by Bogaert and colleagues is likely the first of many. Such research will take us one step further in understanding ODSC, its kinky role in our bedroom fantasies and sexual arousal, and significantly, whether modern media is wrongfully manufacturing society through exasperating a mechanism that may have evolved for the simple and humble purpose of detecting that others find us sexually and romantically desirable.
Until we know more, I can say with confidence that I personally think it is damaging to a progressive society to sexually objectify women – or men for that matter – but one thing is for sure, expressing a strong desire for a woman, be it as equal individuals or disappointingly not, will turn more women on than off. Ultimately, research emphasizes that expressing desire in the apple of one’s eye may well be the key to their fantasies and turning them on.
de Beauvior, S. (1952). The second sex (H. M. Parshley, Trans.). New York, NY: Knopf.
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