Sexual Objectification

When feminists decry the objectification of women, most people immediately think of the images that saturate our magazines, movies, adverts and the Internet, of women in varying stages of undress, dolled up and presented for the male gaze. Yet, while sexual objectification is a huge problem, it is, in fact, only a fraction of the objectification of women that permeates our world.

English: Studio portrait photo of Betty Grable...

Portrait photo of Betty Grable

Because it is all too obvious and difficult to ignore, people tend to focus on sexual objectification. The difference between the way women and men are portrayed in national newspapers and other media is stark – women are too often reduced to the sum of their body parts, heavily Photoshopped to fit into an ever narrowing ideal of female beauty.

Yet, an overemphasis on the ‘sexual’ aspect can obscure the much more problematic aspect of ‘objectification’, the iceberg of which sexual objectification is the visible tip. After all, being presented in a sexual way doesn’t always mean objectification.

Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of all this is that we are socialising generation after generation to view the world, and the women in it, from the point of view of men. As a result, only men are seen as full and complete human beings, not women. Women are objectified – this means women are denied agency, and are seen from the outside, their own consciousness, their thoughts and feelings, utterly overlooked. This is a far greater problem than ‘just’ a provocative image here and there.

Chatting Up

“I had to chat up girls, and I’d only tagged them before. I didn’t have the verbal power to be able to say; “Susan, I saw you in the classroom today. As the sun came from behind the clouds, a burst of brilliant light caught your hair, it was haloed in front of me. You turned, your eyes flashed fire into my soul, I immediately read the words of Dostoevsky and Karl Marx, and in the words of Albert Schweitzer; ‘I fancy you.'” But no! At 13, you’re just going, “‘Ello, Sue. I saw you in the room… I’ve got legs, have you? Oh yeah… Do you like bread? I’ve got a French loaf.””

– Eddie Izzard

The Triangular Theory of Love

The theory characterizes love within the context of interpersonal relationships by three different components:

  • Intimacy – Which encompasses feelings of closeness, connectedness.
  • Passion – Which encompasses drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation.
  • Commitment – Which encompasses, in the short term, the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, the shared achievements and plans made with that other.

Francesco Hayez’s Milano

The ‘amount’ of love one experiences depends on the absolute strength of these three components; the ‘type’ of love one experiences depends on their strengths relative to each other. Different stages and types of love can be explained as different combinations of these three elements; for example, the relative emphasis of each component changes over time as an adult romantic relationship develops. A relationship based on a single element is less likely to survive than one based on two or three elements.

The three components, pictorially labelled on the vertices of a triangle, interact with each other and with the actions they produce and with the actions that produce them so as to form seven different kinds of love experiences – non-love is not represented. The size of the triangle functions to represent the ‘amount’ of love – the bigger the triangle the greater the love. The shape of the triangle functions to represent the ‘type’ of love, which may vary over the course of the relationship:

Liking and friendship in this case is not used in a trivial sense. This intimate liking characterizes true friendships, in which a person feels a warmth, and a closeness with another but not intense passion or long-term commitment.

Infatuated love is pure passion. Romantic relationships often start out as infatuated love and become romantic love as intimacy develops over time. However, without developing intimacy or commitment, infatuated love may disappear suddenly.

Empty love is characterized by commitment without intimacy or passion. Sometimes, a stronger love deteriorates into empty love. In cultures in which arranged marriages are common, relationships often begin as empty love and develop into one of the other forms with the passing of time.

Romantic love bonds individuals emotionally through intimacy and physically through passionate arousal.

Companionate love is an intimate, non-passionate type of love that is stronger than friendship because of the element of long-term commitment. Sexual desire is not an element of companionate love. This type of love is often found in marriages in which the passion has gone out of the relationship but a deep affection and commitment remain. The love ideally shared between family members is a form of companionate love, as is the love between close friends who have a platonic but strong friendship.

Fatuous love can be exemplified by a whirlwind courtship and marriage in which a commitment is motivated largely by passion without the stabilizing influence of intimacy. A relationship, however, whereby an individual party agrees to sexual favours purely out of commitment issues, or is pressured or forced into sexual acts does not comprise fatuous love, and instead tends more to empty love.

Consummate love is the complete form of love, representing an ideal relationship toward which people strive. Of the seven varieties of love, consummate love is theorized to be that love associated with the so-called perfect couple. These couples will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship, they cannot imagine themselves happy over the long-term with anyone else, they overcome their few difficulties gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with one other. However, psychologists caution that maintaining a consummate love may be even harder than achieving it. He stresses the importance of translating the components of love into action. Without expression, even the greatest of loves can die. Thus, consummate love may not be permanent. If passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love.


Its purpose was to create a developmental representation or template in the mind and in the brain depicting the idealized lover and the idealized program of sexual and erotic activity projected in imagery or actually engaged in with that lover.

The formation of an individual’s lovemap is similar to the acquirement of a native language, in that it bears the mark of his or her own unique individuality, similar to an accent in a spoken language. A lovemap is usually quite specific as to details of the physiognomy, build, race, and colour of the ideal lover, not to mention temperament, manner, etcetera.


Agalmatophilia, from the Greek agalma ‘statue’, and -philia ‘love’, is a paraphilia concerned with the sexual attraction to a statue, doll, mannequin or other similar figurative object.

flap flap

Panties as Agalmatophilia

The attraction may include the desire for actual sexual contact with the objects, a fantasy of having sexual or non-sexual encounters with the animate or inanimate instances of the preferred objects.

It may also include the act of watching encounters between the objects themselves, or sexual pleasure gained from thoughts of being transformed or transforming another into the preferred object.

Agalmatophilia may also encompass Pygmalionism – from the myth of Pygmalion – which describes a state of love for an object of one’s own creation.


Literally; beside and friendship. It is a biomedical term used to describe sexual arousal to objects, situations, or individuals that are not part of normative stimulation and that may cause distress or serious problems for the paraphiliac or persons associated with him or her.

A paraphilia is a condition involving sex fetishes where a person’s sexual arousal and gratification depend on fantasizing about, and engaging in, sexual behaviour that is atypical and extreme. Many psychologists and psychiatrists codify paraphilias as disorders, as a replacement for the legal constructs of sodomy and perversion. It commonly involves:

  1. Non-human or non-living objects.
  2. A child or person under legal age.
  3. A non-consenting person.
  4. The suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner.

The view of paraphilias as disorders is not universal. Some groups seeking greater understanding and acceptance of sexual diversity have lobbied for changes to the legal and medical status of unusual sexual interests and practices.

Paraphilial psychopathology is not the same as psychologically normative adult human sexual behaviours, sexual fantasy, and sex play. These terms have been used in interchangeable ways which can allow for cognitive and clinical diagnostic misjudgement to occur.


Pygmalion is a legendary figure of Cyprus. Though Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton, he is most familiar from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, X, in which Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved.

In Ovid’s narrative, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. According to Ovid, after seeing the Propoetides prostituting themselves, or more accurately, they denied the divinity of Aphrodite and she thus reduced them to prostitution.

Pygmalion was ‘not interested in women’, but his statue was so fair and realistic that he fell in love with it. In the vertex, Aphrodite’s festival day came. For the festival, Pygmalion made offerings to Venus and made a wish. “I sincerely wished the ivory sculpture will be changed to a real woman.” However, he couldn’t bring himself to express it. When he returned home, Cupid sent by Aphrodite kissed the ivory sculpture on the hand. At that time, it was changed to a beautiful woman. A ring was put on her finger. It was Cupid’s ring which made love achieved. Aphrodite granted his wish.

Pygmalion married the ivory sculpture changed to a woman under Venus’ blessing. They had a son, Paphos, which he took from his home.

‘A lovely boy was born;
Paphos his name, who grown to manhood, wall’d
The city Paphos, from the founder call’d. ‘

In some versions they also had a daughter, Metharme.

Ovid’s mention of Paphos suggests that he was drawing on a more circumstantial account than the source for a passing mention of Pygmalion in Pseudo-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheke, a Hellenic mythography of the second-century AD. Perhaps he drew on the lost narrative by Philostephanus that was paraphrased by Clement of Alexandria. Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton and figures in the founding legend of Paphos in Cyprus.