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Objectification: ur doin it wrong!

One of my particular kinks I've quite liked for quite some time now is sexual objectification. Put most simply, it's the creation of a psychological environment in which I'm using my partner for sexual gratification, or she's using me for sexual gratification, without too much concern for the state of the other person's sexual arousal or response (within whatever limits my partner and I have set out for the encounter).

I was talking about this with rain_herself over the course of the last weekend, and she raised some interesting points that lead me to believe that I'm not really doing it right.

Now, to me, there is very little in the world that's hotter than grabbing my partner, pushing her against the wall or down on the bed, and whispering in her ear "I'm going to take you now. It's okay if you don't want it; you can scream if you like." Unless perhaps it's a partner grabbing me by the hair, throwing me on the bed, and saying something similar.

And to me, that's what I'd consider objectification--the taking of my partner for my own sexual gratification.

And hers--which is where it kind of breaks down. For, as rain_herself rightly pointed out, it's only objectification if the person is reduced to the status of an object--that is, if the person's feelings, experience, and humanity don't enter in at all to what's going on.

For me, the hottest thing about this kind of scenario is savoring the emotional state tat it creates in my partner, and seeing how my partner responds to being treated as a sexual object. If she's not into it, on some level, it doesn't work for me, because it's precisely her responses that most get me hot.

Which is, when you get right down to it, not objectification. Her feelings and experience do enter into it; in fact, they're precisely the point of the whole endeavor. It's seeing how she reacts to being objectified that gets me off.

Which means, in the final analysis, I'm not really objectifying her at all.

Which is quite a conundrum, really. rain_herself argues (cogently, I might add; I rarely prevail in a discussion like this with her) that what I'm doing may look like objectification, but it isn't--not really. It's something else. In order to be objectification, I'd have to have the same attitude toward her that I have toward an object, like a sex toy or something. Obviously, if I use some kind of sex toy, I don't care at all about the experience from that sex toy's perspective; it truly is an object. But since the central focus of the objectification I do with a partner is savoring her responses, and thinking about what's happening from her perspective, then she isn't an object at all, almost by definition.

So I'm clearly not doing it right. (Okay, that part is tongue firmly in cheek.)

That brings up another argument, one that was indirectly touched on by some of the folks who commented in the post on tattoos, porn, and respect for women, about what it means for porn to "objectify" women.

rain_herself also argues, cogently, that much of mainstream porn is in fact objectifying (both to men and to women), but not for reasons that many folks of an anti-porn persuasion might think.

The standard objections to porn--at least the ones I hear most often--don't really hold up to close examination. "It disempowers women." Well, surely, if a woman has power, if she has control over her own body, then that control must extend to where, when, with whom, and under what conditions to have sex--including the choice to have sex while a camera is running, yes? "It degrades women." This is an argument rooted in the notion that certain acts of and by themselves are inherently degrading, when nothing could be further from the truth. Degradation is contextual; it's in the intent of the folks involved, not the act. Simple PIV intercourse? Not degrading when it's mutual and consensual; degrading in the context of rape. Coming on a woman's face? Not degrading when it's mutual and consensual (yes, there are women who enjoy it, honest Injun); degrading if it isn't.

And so forth.

The argument that rain_herself raised, though, that standard, mainstream porn is objectifying not because sex is objectifying and not because sexual depictions are objectifying, but because the way it is scripted and filmed, with its surrealistically-proportioned actors who are as biologically implausible as a Barbie doll and its over-the-top, phony sound effects that make clear to anyone who's ever actually had sex that the folks involved are not enjoying it, seems contrived and indeed even psychologically constructed to maximize the emotional distance between the viewer and the people involved.

In other words, much of mainstream porn--if there is such a thing--appears to be calculated to separate the depiction of sex as far as possible from the genuine responses of the people involved, and to be shot with folks who scarcely even look human, increasing that emotional distance still more. It doesn't draw the viewer in; it doesn't create an emotional connection between the scene and the viewer; its inauthenticity actually encourages the viewer not to empathize with the actors or even, really, consider them as human beings at all.

The objectification, then, takes place at the point at which the porn is consumed, not the point at which it is made. The real experiences of the actors becomes entirely irrelevant.

Now, this line of reasoning opens up several potential cans of worms--a whole bait factory of worms, in fact, not the least of which are

  • At what point do the feelings of the people involved cease to be relevant, and the experiences of the viewers become most relevant? What if some viewers identify with the folks involved, but other viewers do not?
  • If the people who produce a depiction of sexual activity, and the people who are involved in the sexual activity, are fully engaged in it, but the people who watch it are not, does the viewer's experience or the experience of the people involved define the caliber of the experience?
  • Is objectification even a bad thing? I would argue that, like everything else, it's contextual; after all, examples of objectification abound. A professional basketball player is valued by his fans for his skill at the game, not for his humanity; ditto for the Colgate commercial model. Hell, one could even argue that the stars in a conventional Hollywood movie are being objectified; sure, the audience is engaged (if it's a good movie), and sure they're identifying with and connecting to the characters on the screen--but the expressions and feelings of the actors aren't real. The audience is connecting with the actor's character, not the actor himself...though I fear by this point I've distorted the original argument all out of shape.

But those questions are not the real interesting part.

The real interesting part is the implication for porn in general.

Now, I'm not that big a consumer of porn. The mainstream stuff in particular does little for me, for (among other things) exactly the reasons rain_herself was talking about--the inauthenticity and the bizarre, weird-looking people in it.

On those occasions when I am interested in porn, my tastes tend to run to things that are a little more...umm, unconventional. I'm quite fond of the sort of stuff that kink.com produces--you know, bondage, S&M, humiliation play, that sort of thing.

Kink.com takes a lot of heat for the movies they produce. Take all the standard arguments against porn and crank them up to eleven; as a society, we've always been just fine with violence but a bit less OK with it when it's combined by sex. A movie of a woman bound on all fours in an iron framework being simultaneously spanked and sodomized is, in short, bound to get folks talking, and not in good ways.

Yet the one thing you can say about this particular species of porn is that the reactions of the people involved are authentic.

Which is why I dig it. It works for me because the responses of the folks involved are authentic; it works for me for exactly the same reason that objectification play works for me.

And that means, at least for me, that this tied-down, cock-up-the-ass objectifying porn...isn't objectifying at all.


( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 1st, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
I've often thought the same things about porn... If someone choses to do it, how can it be objectifying. I think alot of people's issues with porn boils down to their own insecurities, although I had someone I trusted lie to me repeatedly about porn use, because he was ashamed, but became a liar and broke my trust non-the-less.. so mixed feelings about porn..
But non-objectifying objectification is fun as hell =D
Dec. 2nd, 2008 02:36 am (UTC)
If someone choses to do it, how can it be objectifying.

"Choice" is a tricky issue, though.

There are a lot of women who get into porn because they were sexually abused, because they are drug addicted, because they just desperately needed the money. I do think the industry in general preys on vulnerable women because they are less likely to leave when they are treated badly. And while porn is legal, it's not socially acceptable which means that society turns a blind eye when the people involved are mistreaed (which is kind of funny, given that people who oppose porn claim "objectification of women" as a primary reason they don't like it).

But it's unreasonable to say that all women get into porn because they are desperate and vulnerable. Plenty of people get into it because they want to--it's an easy and fun way to make money for some.

Also, while porn can be dehumanizing, so can a lot of other jobs. I've worked at perfectly legitimate, respectable jobs where I felt completely objectified.

In general, I have a problem with *any* employer treating their workers as less than human. I think it's easier to do in the porn industry because of it's "social outcast" status and the nature of the work.

But working, in and of itself, isn't a choice for most people--it's a necessity. And sure, in this country you usually have choices about where to work, for many people they are less varied than for those of us who are educated, mentally healthy, not addicted, etc.

Anyway, I guess this is a long-winded (and slightly buzzed) way of saying, porn can go both ways. But yes, non-objectifying objectification is TONS of fun.
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 2nd, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_girl_42 - Dec. 3rd, 2008 02:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 2nd, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 2nd, 2008 12:08 am (UTC)

In other words, much of mainstream porn--if there is such a thing--appears to be calculated to separate the depiction of sex as far as possible from the genuine responses of the people involved, and to be shot with folks who scarcely even look human, increasing that emotional distance still more.

Y'know, I'm going to have to digress just a bit. That emboldened section in particular spoke to me, perhaps not as you meant the phrase but what it said to my particular interest, cartoon porn.

Consider what "surrealistically-proportioned actors" in porn have in common with cartoon fantasy characters, in particular with modern-day characters like GI-Joe. Now compare the underground adult movies of the past with the more realistically proportioned GI-Joes and Barbies. I think the continued fantasy proportions in both porn stars and cartoon/comic/action figure characters might have something in common. Perhaps it's an ever-increasing vicious circle of fantasy expectations.

Stephen Jay Gould noted that the original Mickey Mouse looked more like an older rat. As the cartoon progressed, Mickey physically regressed, taking on more neophantic characteristics -- smaller nose, larger ears and eyes -- essentially, as time went on he looked more and more like a younger mouse. This matched his already precocious and impish behavior.

Perhaps both phenomena reflect a growing importance in visual media, both in adoption and use, combined with a growing and evolving visual language to depict the subject. Barbies and porn stars have big tits. He-Man and porn stars have ripped abs and huge pecs and peckers. Barbie giggles, GI-Joe shouts with authority; porn stars moan at certain times during certain acts.

Perhaps both comic and porn archetypes speak to some lymbic brain need not for objectification (though, like you, I'm not really sure that word means the same thing for any two people), but to match the growing symbolism created by repeated cultural consumption. Rather than "increasing emotional distance," this vocabulary is speaking to the fantasy centers of the brain in stimulating ways and thereby actually increasing an emotional attachment in a non-realistic (but still satisfying) way.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 01:43 am (UTC)
The Barbie Doll is actually based on a German doll called Lilli, who was a prostitute. You can read about it <a href="http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/1997/11/26harlot.html>here</>.
(no subject) - addiejd - Dec. 2nd, 2008 01:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - virginia_fell - Dec. 2nd, 2008 02:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 2nd, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peristaltor - Dec. 3rd, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 2nd, 2008 12:10 am (UTC)
I have to agree with you 100%, your only objectified IF you allow yourself to be and people see it in places it clearly is not. Of course *I* for one enjoy being "objectified" as you described above with your partners so I have a slightly bias opinion. I can also understand how the interpretation of an "object" gets lost with what we do (but it is still FUN!!!) It’s also (at least for me) that while yes *I* am ultimately in control based on prior set limits, *he* is still “using” me for “his” pleasure and by serving gives me pleasure. As for porn I also agree with you, if they are not enjoying it I don't care what the situation is or how they look it's just not enjoyable to watch. Now granted I've come to the understanding that I watch A LOT more porn then most women, I actually thoroughly enjoy it too (no main stream for me it's all D/s, BDSM, submission genre) so I'm defiantly not of the "norm" but what is the fun in being “normal” anyways.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 12:38 am (UTC)
A total N00b to all of this, but...

As I read your post and the comments, it seems there are 2 types of objectification, simplistically "good" (BDSM-type, consensual) and "bad" (mainstream porn, complete with fake moans and crap) objectification.

Of course, "good" objectification would be totally no fun if the participants weren't into that kind of play in the first place, or if it were done in a way that didn't trigger some sort of reaction. This pretty much implies an interest on at least one side, and consent to the terms on both sides. So yeah, not true objectification by literal definition.

The "bad"objectification I'll term thus because there are people who watch mainstream porn and think that this is reality That's pretty damn troubling, considering how unrealistic the people and their actions are. Hm. Pity these people who don't know what female ejaculation is, and don't know what unenhanced boobies look like :-P I suppose that when it comes to"objectification" which is closer to the true definition of the word, it would be this one, minus the lame "did you come?" question that follows after the act.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
I'm not much into porn because I'm not much of a voyeur... however, if I can put myself into the scenario then it becomes a lot hotter. And so bondage porn turns me on a lot more than anything else, 'cos I could see myself getting really hot and bothered being in those situations :-)

Re objectification... when I first came out into the scene I found a lot of hangups about terminology. To me, what you described is closer to traditional D/s than objectification; "I'm in charge, we're doing this, don't care what you think". And that form of D/s has the same sort linguistic hangups; am I a slave if I can walk away? Am I submitting if I can safeword? etc etc etc. You must have heard those arguments far too many times. The conclusion I came to was that linguistic arse-fartery doesn't matter; if it makes the people involved hot and excited then that's (nearly) all that counts.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 04:47 am (UTC)
The language does matter, though. Particularly when discussing things of this nature in the BDSM community. If you use the word "objectify" to mean "top" or "pretend to objectify but actually do the opposite", it comes to mean that for you and others. Then if someone else objects (ha) to something being objectifying, you don't respond to what they are actually opposing, nor do you take their grievance as seriously, since, to you, objectification is just a fun game.

To quote someone (I think Twain), "The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

As I was saying to tacit when we were discussing this, the difference between objectification play and objectification is akin to the difference between a rape scene and rape. Semantics matter.
(no subject) - sweh - Dec. 2nd, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 2nd, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rain_herself - Dec. 2nd, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aclaro - Dec. 2nd, 2008 01:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rain_herself - Dec. 2nd, 2008 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aclaro - Dec. 2nd, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rain_herself - Dec. 2nd, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - indywind - Dec. 2nd, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aclaro - Dec. 3rd, 2008 12:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 2nd, 2008 02:22 am (UTC)
"Yet the one thing you can say about this particular species of porn is that the reactions of the people involved are authentic."

That's why I LOVE kink.com. I strongly considered auditioning when they were in my town, just b/c if I ever do anything sexually for money, I want it to be through them. I fucking LOVE watching their porn. I have all my favorite girls b/c of the pain they can take or the way the cum or things like that, and you can tell by the way their eyes roll back in their head that their reactions are real. I especially love seeing them doing something I've done, b/c you know how much whatever it doing fucking hurts (or feels good or what have you) and it just makes it more intense.

Damn, I wish I had time to go watch some porn now.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 11:32 am (UTC)
I like the idea that porn is objectification or not, depending upon how the viewer interacts with it.

From a voyeuristic point of view, I think that watching another couple having sex, even if they were enjoying themselves hugely, and masturbating and getting off, and then walking out before they were done, would be objectification. I wouldnt give a damn if they got their kicks or not.. I watched them up to the point where it did it for me. If they carried on or didnt or whatever didnt matter to me, so I have treated them no better than robotic sex toys performing for my amusement.

Isnt that the way most people interact with porn, wether its good porn, bad porn, faked porn or real folks shagging in kinky ways? Its a masturbation tool, so we use it as we need it, and thats the objectification part.

(btw I happen to like porn, doing, watching, using, whatever, your arguements made me think is all..)
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 2nd, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
I think the definitions are not that clear cut. I think there are times and people and situations where one really *does* want to do those things, but still only does them in the context of consensual BDSM scenes. I know some people who really do want to objectify their partner, who want to be objectified, who want to rape, who want to be raped. There's a type of BDSM play that involves intionally bringing your partner to the very end of their boundaries, and then continuing further even when the partner does not want to go. Not preteding, not holding back, but actually forcing your partner to go where he or she doesn't want to go. That can still be done in a consensual BDSM sceario and yet be "real".

It's hard for me to explain in text, but I don't think "doing it for real" is a totally separate concept from BDSM play. I think one of the objectives a person who indulges in BDSM play *could* have is to find a way to get to the point where it becomes "real". I know that's one of my favorite ways to play. For instance, I'm terribly tricksie about getting out of restraints. I have very small wrists and I can make my hands go down to almost the same size. So, if I want to have a rape scene, I have to pretend just a little bit in order to not be able to escape. And that's not very fulfilling. I want it to be "real", I want it to actually be impossible for me to escape, not me keeping my hands in fists so that I can't squeeze out, or refusing to kick my assailant so that I don't actually hurt him. Rape play, in this sense, is "play" as you've described it, but I don't want it to be "play", I want it to be "real". And I think that's still within the realms of BDSM.
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 2nd, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rain_herself - Dec. 3rd, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 2nd, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
Rather OT
I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts.

Kink.com, you say? BDSM, you say? I'm there.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 05:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Rather OT
Icon love!
(no subject) - darkgods - Dec. 2nd, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Rather OT - tacit - Dec. 2nd, 2008 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - darkgods - Dec. 2nd, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 2nd, 2008 06:33 pm (UTC)
There was a corner on this that stuck out to me.. that the objectification came into play at the moment of creating emotional distance and, using other words, disconnecting empathy from the cycle.

I do not think this is accurate. There may be objectification going on here in porn, but this is not the location where I think it is at.

To clarify let us consider the other big porn market - the one directed mostly at females - the romance novel. There are positively pages within these novels that sweat - usually 5 to 7 a novel - where the 'emotional connection' is made and the 'sexual encounter inevitability' point is made. The pages may not coincide with graphical sexual depictions and can even be separated by a page or more dedicated to whether or not it is possible to remove a corset one handed - but these are the 'money shots' of the genre. Emotional connection is the REQUIREMENT of this moment to make it work.

This porn is just as 'objectifying.' These people are charicatures of experience and many women are guided, through their porn experience, to unreasonable expectations of relationships, emotional responses, and sexual prowess.

While I rather like your definition of objectification - with the underlying non-sociopathic responses and appearance of empathy - I do not think your definition is wrong. You are still treating someone or being treated and used as an object. This may be similar to other words that carry heavy negative connotations (..consider 'Jealousy' which, arguably, can be a healthy emotional experience and provide one the opportunity to examine fears or express limits that are not yet tangible, but is usually considered to be a bitter, destructive, soul-crushing emotion..) and the understanding of the term - or that there are other aspects to it - is a subjective one according to your life experiences to date.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
It still _devastates_ me to be objectified by you, but the fact that I experience such empathy and am cherished has reinforced me in ways I never knew existed. I am no less objectified by the experience than if I were assaulted.. I just have a path of 'healing' and reintegration afterwards (and, perhaps, a little bit during) where I can reassemble and reorder myself and my concept/construct of self.. which may, in the end, very well lead to an even more healthy, happy version of me - but the process of being objectified by you is not 'less' in the objectification just because you are a wonderful individual who creates that space with me. The two coincide, perhaps symbiotically.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Kink.com
I'm not a consumer of visual/video porn, for the reasons you give plus some.
Interestingly, I find the same distancing, objectifying effect in much of the popular "mainstream" pornographic literature, where the language is as codified and unrealistic as the imagery in video porn.
Echoing your experience with kink.com, I first found porn more enjoyable than disturbing in the writing of Pat Califia, and a few other perverts who gave realistic treatment to their subject matter.
Even where I'm not interested in the particular kinks those writers explore (increasingly the case--my tastes seem to be normalizing over time), I still find realistic kink less disturbing than exaggeratedly typified vanilla porn.
Dec. 2nd, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
Re: Kink.com
And having now read down to zaiah's comment, I would add that I consider, as she does, the "emotional moneyshot" bits in vanilla het romance novels (and the like) to be just as unsatisfyingly, even disturbingly unreal, as hardcore sex, and in a very similar way.

They're all things that when I view/read them, I feel both incredulity (this is SO not real) and a sneaky little fear of what it means if too many others don't think likewise.

Like urban legends: amusing and harmless when you're sure no one believes that crap--and really disturbing when you realize you're surrounded by people whomight decide your'e too ethnic and shoot you for a terrorist. Or whatever is the unreasonable zeitgeist of the moment.
( 39 comments — Leave a comment )