Despite efforts to curb sexual violence, there remains a high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, sexual harassment in work settings, and sex trafficking around the world.
On the surface, these different forms of sexual violence may not appear to be connected to each other.
But, in reality, experts are increasingly recognizing that they may all stem from one common source—sexual objectification.
Sexual objectification occurs when people perceive others as sex objects, rather than complex human beings deserving of dignity and respect. In fact, in a review of research on sexual violence, two leading experts called sexual objectification the “common thread” that connects different forms of sexual violence.
Each one of us can play a part in creating a healthier culture that rejects the normalization of sexual violence. And that starts not only with putting an end to sexually inappropriate and harmful behaviors, but also putting an end to attitudes that support objectification or dehumanization.
If sexual violence starts with viewing others as sexual objects, then it’s important to discuss the role pornography can play. Research consistently shows that porn can play a big role in teaching viewers to consume people as products for their own personal sexual satisfaction, which can ultimately have unhealthy consequences for individuals, relationships, and for the cultures in which we live.
Fast facts about objectification
1. Women whose partners consume porn tend to experience more psychological distress, feel more objectified, have poorer body image, and are even more likely to develop eating disorder symptoms.
2. Research shows that people who consume porn frequently are more likely to objectify and dehumanize others.
3. While not all porn features physical violence, even non-violent porn has been shown to be associated with negative effects like increased sexual aggression.
4. Research shows that porn consumers are more likely to forward intimate images without consent. Researchers suggest this may be because regular porn consumers tend to develop sexually objectifying attitudes towards others.
The effects of porn and objectification
Research routinely shows that frequent porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others, more likely to express an intent to rape, less likely to intervene during a sexual assault, more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual violence, more likely to support violence against women, more likely to forward sexts without consent, and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.
For female partners of porn consumers, the objectifying influence of pornography can also be intensified by the impossible beauty standards and lack of body diversity portrayed in mainstream porn. Two leading scholars summarized this effect, noting,
“Women in pornography tend to conform to cultural beauty ideals (i.e., they are thin or curvaceously thin), with a small waist and an average-to-large bust size. For example, the average Playboy model has a body mass index of 18.0, which is underweight; a large bust-to-waist ratio; and a bra cup size between C and D. Therefore, knowing that her male partner is looking at and likely [becoming aroused by] thin/curvaceously thin women in pornography could heighten a woman’s body focus and pressure to lose weight.”
Putting these ideas to the test, this gender equality-informed study found that porn consumption by both past and present romantic partners can contribute to the sexual objectification of women and is negatively linked to their well-being. Specifically, this study found that previous partners’ pornography consumption predicted women’s levels of feeling sexually objectified, higher levels of body shame, and even lead to increased eating disorder symptomatology.
The researchers concluded, “…these women reported feeling that their male partner transferred the objectifying treatment of women in pornography onto them.”
Choose real connection
Obviously, porn is not an accurate representation of how everyday people look or how sex and intimacy work in real-life relationships, yet the research shows that porn can, and does, shape the way that consumers think about others and about sex.
Real connection starts with seeing others as whole people with unique thoughts, feelings, dreams, struggles, and lives. Viewing people as products is harmful to individuals, relationships and ultimately society as a whole.
The collective private actions of millions affect the larger culture—objectifying others privately on our screens doesn’t inspire respect and dignity in public. The private impacts the public—that’s how culture works.
If we want a culture of true respect and equality, then we need to make sure we think about, talk about, and treat others as whole people—not as objects.
Support this resource
Did you like that article? Help us keep our educational resources free to access! Fight the New Drug is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means the educational resources we create are made possible through donations from people like you. Just one dollar can make a difference!Give $1