Psych Central



What is “sexually objectifying” someone, and how is it harmful?  In pornography addiction, it’s easier to see that the image on the screen is a sexual object rather than a real person.  But when are you making a real person into an object?  And when are you objectifying yourself?

The term “objectification” has a specific meaning in the psychological study of sexuality and in sex addiction treatment.  It means:

A person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics” (American Psychological Association).

It means defining someone’s entire value only in terms of sexual attractiveness.  So if we’re looking at the value of Ruth Bader Ginsburg vs. Kim Kardashian I guess we’d know who “wins.”

Sexual objectification has significant and far reaching effects, not only to the sex addict, but also to the person being objectified.

Sexual objectification is damaging to people

Research has shown that feeling like a sex object is damaging in a number of ways.  As one researcher put it, the internalizing of an observer’s perspective results in, “a cascade of intra-individual psychological consequences” such as:

  • Disrupted attention to tasks and learning
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Increased sexual risk taking
  • Acceptance of double standards and gender stereotypes

(For more on this see Self-Objectification in Women, 2011, Calogero et. al.)

Sexual objectification and sex addicts

Although most people notice the sexually attractive people around them, sex addicts are famous for objectifying people with a kind of sexual tunnel vision.  Gay, straight, male, or female, sex addicts are wired to scan their environment for sexually relevant stimuli and to filter stimuli in or out based on how sexually arousing they are.

While a person who is not a sex addict may look at people sexually, they have the ability to ditch the sexual filter and connect with people on any number of non-sexual levels.  For the sex addict, sex is their drug of choice and they view the world through sex colored glasses.

Objectifying behaviors and treatment of sex addiction

When recovering sex addicts talk about the fact that they objectify or sexualize people, they usually mean that they:

  • Don’t know and don’t care about that person’s concerns, feelings, aspirations, or anything else going on inside them.
  • See the person they are objectifying as a potential sexual conquest regardless of anything else about them other than the fact that they are sexually appealing.
  • See the person as a tool for present or future fantasy scenarios, but not as someone to actually get to know.

They are looking to sexually “get over” in some way, and that comes first.

Ways you can see that sex addicts are sexually objectifying

The fact that sex addicts are looking at the world through a sexual filter may come out in little ways throughout everyday life.

  • They may make frequent references or comments that relate to the sexual characteristics of strangers or even acquaintances.
  • They may make sexual jokes at inappropriate times.
  • They may feel that certain experiences, e.g. going to the movies or on vacation, are desirable only if they involve sex or sexual imagery in some way.

Overcoming the habit of objectifying people is part of recovery

Part of the treatment for sex addiction involves the addict becoming aware of the process of making other people into “things.”  Sex addicts are encouraged to practice being mindful of how they are looking at people.  Are they “cruising” for sexually attractive targets?  Are they looking at a person only in terms of whether they are “hot?”

Since we cannot control whether a sexualizing thought pops into our heads, during treatment sex addicts are taught to use what is called the three second rule, meaning they allow themselves three seconds to redirect their thinking about someone away from the sexual.  Instead they try to think of that person in a larger human context, to wish them well, and to let them go.

 


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    Last reviewed: 26 Sep 2012

APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2012). The Dangers of Sexual Objectification in Sex Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 16, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2012/09/the-dangers-of-sexual-objectification-in-sex-addiction/

 




Check Out Linda Hatch's books,
Relationships in Recovery & Living with a Sex Addict.


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