Series Three: Blog Twenty-Two
Objectification of women is a social issue in our country. It has been a major contribution to eating problems that many women in our society suffer. It is multidimensional and pervasive across race, gender, and class. This predicament has been seeded in our culture for a long time. Many years ago in 1984 Glamour magazine polled 33,000 women and found that the majority of those surveyed were ashamed of their stomachs, hips, and thighs–parts of the body that contribute to female shapes. The intense pressure to diet that many girls face from a very young age is an example of an assault aimed directly at the very parts of bodies that are decidedly female. Women feel pressure to throw up, exercise or diet away hips, breasts and buttocks or create the shape of the same into the form that would portray “sexy” and desirability. In our society being a fat woman is a more serious “mistake” than being a fat man. For older women of any race, the approval of thinness is countered by the disdain for wrinkles and an aging body. Every race, class, gender classification and sexual orientation has nuanced stereotypes that pressure people to look and present a certain way in order to be accepted, gain power and position.
There is extreme body consciousness in our culture. For example, Latina women have been viewed both as highly sexual, irrationally flamboyant temptresses, and as obedient, subservient, fat, and passive—good Catholic mothers. Some speculate that men are drawn to women of childish body and mind because there is something less disturbing about the vulnerability and helplessness of a small child and something truly disturbing about the body and mind of a mature woman. The implications of objectification are pervasive and have damaged women’s attempt to gain respect, power, position and pursuit for equality.
Sex addicts live in a private world of objectification. Experiencing another person as a sexual object has been a centerpiece coping strategy that has been used to avoid or escape unwanted feelings. It becomes all encompassing. Without physically acting out, ogling another person and building a fantasy about sexually engaging that person without them even knowing your thoughts has served as a powerful dopamine rush. Pornography has greatly escalated the grip of objectification in the life of a sex addict. From magazines to internet streaming of every sexual fetish and desire, there is no limit to what can be imagined or objectified. For a sex addict, imagination and objectification become an organizing principle of life that blocks emotional connection from self and others. Objectification screams for titillation at the expense of treating another person with dignity and respect. It demands immediate gratification. It ignites a progression of behaviors from imagination to the realization of physical contact with another whereby the interaction is solely experiencing another person as a receptacle for sexual release. Objectification makes other people a mere utility, a “fuck-buddy”, a tryst or a one-night stand with no emotional connection. Consent provides mutuality but objectification adopts a mentality that dominates in order to get what you want without caring consideration of the other.
Managing objectification is the goal for the sex addict in recovery. Here is a list of considerations to help you manage the problem of objectification.
- Intrusive sexual thoughts do not constitute objectification. When new to recovery, an addict may fear they cannot control objectified sexual thoughts because intrusive sexual thoughts enter their minds at a whim. Often this fear is fueled by a betrayed partner who has threatened zero tolerance for the existence of any inappropriate sexual thought in the mind of their addict partner. This emphasis is unrealistic. On average, people think about sex multiple times each day. This doesn’t constitute betrayal. People who suffer from compulsive sexual behavior are prone to sexual thoughts even more. The mere suggestion of a sexual thought can trigger an intrusive image. Objectification only comes into play when I sit with and dwell upon the intrusion of sexual thought. Intrusive thoughts enter the mind every day. If we all put our intrusive thoughts on the wall for the world to see, we might all look like monsters. Inappropriate sexual intrusive thoughts are considered normal for addict and non-addict alike.
- Intervene the intrusive thought by shifting your focus elsewhere: Many thoughts that enter your mind can be observed as just passing through with no further address. However, when an inappropriate sexual thought is triggered with the desire to dwell, you must take action. The “3-second” rule is a common intervention. This means that as an addict I accept that the intrusive thought is in my mind but I will not entertain the thought for longer than 3 seconds. Then I will shift my focus to something other than the triggered thought. I may choose to move away from the view of a person or situation that has triggered me to objectify. Sometimes I hear recovering sex addicts say that they cannot even afford one second, let alone three. To that, I respond that it is unrealistic to think you can squelch intrusive sexual thought to less than one second. Plus, it is unhealthy to refrain from all sexual thoughts. Intervention is most effective when you can accept that intrusive sexual thoughts are expected and simply must be managed with healthy intervention and healthy replacement.
- Accept and translate the craving from intrusion to intimacy by recognizing the legitimate need that must be met in a healthy manner. Most addicts in recovery describe craving as dreaded. However, effective management that interrupts objectification considers the same craving as an invitation to intimacy with self and others. The first step is always to get out of harm’s way before working with powerful craving. Simply remove yourself from the trigger that tempts you to crave and objectify. Then consider the legitimate emotional need that must be met in a healthy way and go about meeting that need in a healthy manner. If you feel lonely, reach out to your partner and express your vulnerability or reach out to other friends and connect. If you are tired, get physical and emotional rest. The more you spend identifying and parenting yourself through healthy self-care the more you will reduce the craving. Self-care does not preclude impulse control. In addiction, any reason is a good reason to act out. This part of craving must be managed with impulse control– saying no to the craving and reaching out for support. In this way you can transform craving from a curse and make it a blessing of connection and self-care.
- Recognize that your craving to objectify others sexually is pervasive in other areas of life. Sexualizing others is not the only way people objectify. As mentioned above, there are attitudes toward women in our culture that dominate and minimize their power and position. Spend time learning about how women are treated with a dismissive attitude in the workplace. Learn about ways that women are objectified with stereotypes that restrict potential and possibility. Understand ways in which you might participate in treating other people as an object, a utility, in order to get what you want when you want it. It isn’t always about sex. Become sensitive to ways that you might have power over others simply because of your gender, race, religion or nationality. They all can become ways that you dominate and objectify and treat others like a utility.
Remember, your recovery from sexual objectification can be the threshold to healing pervasive objectification of others in all aspects of life. Relationships whereby you treat others as a utility to get what you want without proper consideration of another must be transformed to treating others with dignity and respect. There is no room for the objectification of any living thing.