To sexually objectify someone is to focus on their body in terms of how it can provide sexual pleasure rather than viewing that person as a complete human being with thoughts and feelings.
Objectification has long been considered a problem in the media - stories of Mad Men star Jon Hamm invariably mention that he doesn't wear underwear - but how does it affect individual romantic relationships?
New surveys hope to tell us, but since they are by social psychologists and the paper is in Psychology of Women Quarterly, a feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal, they only find that objectification of a female partner's body is related to higher incidents of sexual pressure and coercion.
Psychologists Laura R. Ramsey and Tiffany Hoyt surveyed 119 males and 162 females who had been in heterosexual relationships. They found that men who frequently objectify their partner's bodies by excessively focusing on their appearance are more likely to feel shame about the shape and size of their partner's body, which in turn is related to increased sexual pressure (i.e., the belief that men expect sex and that it is a woman's role to provide sex for her partner) and sexual coercion, both in general and through violence and manipulation.
"Being more aware of how and when one thinks of their partner as an object, sexually or otherwise, could help relationship partners avoid sexual pressure and coercion and increase communication and respect within their relationship," they write.
Survey results also supported the psychologists' belief that women internalize objectification from their partners. This internalization is related to feeling shame about their bodies, a decrease in asserting themselves, and a decrease in expressing what they do and do not want to do sexually.
"Acknowledging objectification in their relationships may help women realize when they lack agency and allow them to resist and avoid sexual pressure," they write. "Furthermore, thinking about objectification in terms of agency and sexual pressure could also have implications for women's relationship satisfaction, both sexual and otherwise. Women who feel that they have no control and who experience sexual pressure from their partner will not be as satisfied as women who feel like they have control over their body and the decisions in the relationship."
The psychologists laid out how heteronormative, patriarchial barriers must come down in order for men to decrease objectification in heterosexual relationships.
"Activists should continue their work reducing the objectification of women in our culture, such as through the recognition and removal of objectifying images in the media. However, as male objectification of women is more common than female objectification of men, the onus is on men to reduce objectification and sexual violence. It is of utmost importance that activists and educators work with men to reduce the objectification of women, both in general and in the context of romantic relationships."