Friday, August 29, 2014

Is Objectification Always Bad?

So I had shown a friend this flow chart by Playboy:

And she'd asked me if I thought that it's always wrong for someone to objectify you. After all, despite being completely platonic, she and I constantly ogle and flirt with each other. Yet it never feels degrading or insulting. Because we know each other. We like each other. Deep down, we know we respect each other.

So, really, what's a little sexual objectification between friends?

Then I saw this article, titled "Being Objectified May Be Linked To Sexual Coercion In Romantic Relationships, Study Says," being linked all over my newsfeed about researchers from Bridgewater State University who state that "objectification within a relationship is, at best, a serious red flag. If a woman is objectified in a relationship, the research indicates, it's more likely that her male partner will sexually coerce and pressure her."

I can certainly see the logic of that claim. No one wants to be reduced to a set of body parts. Especially by a significant other. And a person who would dehumanize someone like that seems a poor choice for a partner.

But, to be honest, most of the article made me super uncomfortable. It wasn't until the last few paragraphs that it felt like there was an honest acknowledgement that, while it should never be abused, a certain amount of sexual objectification is normal. Even healthy. 

I don't know anyone, male or female, who doesn't want their partner to find them physically attractive. And, if your relationship is a sexual one, you want your partner to look at you sexually. You definitely want them to be able to acknowledge and appreciate the whole package but, personally, I'd be more than a little disappointed if my partner's lizard brain didn't go at least a little drooly and googly-eyed over the gift wrapping too.

And the researchers' phrasing of "It's the woman's responsibility to provide for her partner sexually" feels tricky. It feels a little like a verbal trap. Because, if you're in a sexual relationship, isn't it both partners' responsibility to provide for each other, emotionally and, yes, sexually? 

I'm not saying that you have to have sex every time someone's horny or force yourself to have sex if you're not in the mood. And it is NEVER okay for someone to pressure someone into a sexual act that they don't want to do. 

But, yeah, provide for your partner sexually...pretty sure that's something you want to do for your partner and that you would rightly expect your partner to do for you. 

Within reason, I don't think that's too much to ask. 

And, if you reversed the genders in that statement, I don't think anyone else would either.

The fact is I agree with Dan Savage's philosophy that "If you acquire a dairy cow, it's considered animal cruelty to not milk it; if you acquire a sexual partner, it should also be considered animal cruelty to not keep them regularly milked." Because, as someone who's been on the high end of a relationship with a libido imbalance, it does feel cruel to be rejected so often. To be denied. To be made to feel unwanted and unfulfilled. 

It affects one's pleasure and orgasms, sure. But, more than that, to be told "no" over and over, it takes a toll on one's self-esteem and well-being as well. It makes you feel greedy and dirty, like there's something wrong with you. Like you disgust the person you want most in the world. Like your feelings toward them--your passion and desire for them--violates them.

And, again, this isn't to say that people with lower libidos ought to put out to appease their partners.

Instead, wouldn't it be better--be easier on all parties--to ensure sexual compatibility before entering into a relationship? To place that as high and to give it as much relevancy as we do, say, having similar interests or religious philosophies or socio-economic standings or future plans? If you know your libido is high, don't date people with low libidos and vice versa. Find the people who fit you. Or, if you can't, if you're already in the thick of things, figure out ways--be it porn or different forms of sexual stimulation or open relationships or engaging a sex worker--to come to a compromise. To make sure that, even if both partners have to surely make sacrifices and undoubtedly won't get exactly what they want, that the satisfaction found through that compromise is still enough for both people. That the things you're giving up or powering through are made up for by the things you're getting by being together.

Which, taken in the wrong light, sounds horrible. Forcing oneself to go without sometimes or giving into a demand that you're less than enthusiastic about. So often, the response from people is a balking "Why is sex so important?" Why, if you love each other, would you let something like sex ruin everything? Why is sex such a big deal?

Because it is.

If it wasn't, people with lower libidos would just do it to please their more amorous partners. Or let their partners find sexual outlets elsewhere. That is as difficult and as unfair as their asking those partners to forgo sex to please them. 

I would never advocate doing something you don't want to do sexually or to manipulate or coerce someone into doing something sexually that they don't want to do, but it is your responsibility, as a partner, to provide satisfaction for your partner. To make their happiness and well-being a priority.

And, if the act of doing so sacrifices your own happiness, you have to wonder why you're in that relationship in the first place.