Over the years, I’ve engaged in a few debates in the comments section of my blog. Most of the time, myself and the commenter can clarify our thoughts, find areas of agreement, and walk away feeling like we might not be on the same page but it’s all good anyway. (At least that’s how I feel about it.)
But a few topics trigger a more visceral response in me, because they’re aren’t simply disagreements but, I believe, harmful statements. Today, I want to tackle the term “sex object.”
I have been told repeatedly by men — Christian men — that women are meant to be sex objects and that this term is a compliment. Let’s take an honest look at those statements:
- Women are meant to be sex objects.
- Calling a woman a “sex object” is a compliment.
Why some men say that yes, women are sex objects.
I’ve read articles from both Christian and secular men who argue that women are supposed to be sex objects for men. Indeed, those who use the Bible to make their point argue it’s God-given nature for a man to see a woman as a sex object.
Their case come down to these claims:
- “Object” merely means something that can be seen and touched, and women qualify.
- We use objects and people for our purposes all the time (e.g., using a stylist for a haircut or a mechanic for a car repair).
- Men are visual, so their “use” of people can and will involve looking at women for the purpose of sexual arousal or appreciation.
- Since sex is part of marriage, husbands will and should look at their wives as sex objects — something tangible used to stimulate and satisfy sexual desire.
- Being viewed as a sex object is thus a compliment, because it shows a woman is useful for one of her primary purposes for men and in marriage.
Here’s the first problem — you’re defining the wrong thing.
Sometimes the meaning of a term is different from the two words that make it up. Consider how “table” could mean all kinds of things (conference table, pool table, bedside table), but when I tell my son to take his plate to the “dinner table,” he’s missed the point if he sets up to eat at a ping-pong table.
Likewise, “sex object” has its own definition, separate from “object.” Here’s how dictionaries define sex object:
- “a person regarded by another only in terms of their sexual attractiveness or availability
- “a person viewed or treated as a means of obtaining sexual gratification” (Collins).
- “a person regarded especially exclusively as an object of sexual interest” (Merriam-Webster)
- “a person viewed as being of little interest or merit beyond the potential for providing sexual gratification” (Random House).
- “someone who is valued only as a sexual partner or for being sexually attractive” (MacMillan).
These definitions focus on treating someone as their value being mostly or entirely wrapped up in their sexual attraction or ability to gratify the person looking at them.
“Sex object” doesn’t say, “I recognize you as a person apart from your ability to satisfy me,” but rather views the person through a purely selfish and sexual perspective.Sex object doesn't say, 'I recognize you as a person apart from your ability to satisfy me,' but rather views the person through a purely selfish and sexual perspective. Click To Tweet
Secondly, we don’t “use” people all the time — or at least shouldn’t.
Yes, we make use of services and products provided by others, but we don’t walk into a shop or an office unaware that this person has a life outside their chosen vocation. I certainly hope my readers don’t think I exist merely to dole out sex advice, even though that’s exactly the role I play in many of their lives.
Moreover, to compare the way I use a fork to the way I use my hairstylist is insulting. As if I cannot distinguish that those made in God’s image are on a different level of intrinsic value. Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-26: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” We use food and clothes, but God says confirms our lives and our bodies are more valuable than that.
So yes, we can use the services and objects people offer, but we shouldn’t use them. In a marriage, you might say we make use of the sexual gifts we offer one another — for arousal and gratification — but your spouse has deeper value.
Men are visual, but sight is not their only input.
I believe it’s generally true that men are more visual, although women certainly can be visual too. So when someone makes an argument that a man is more likely to notice a women’s appearance, I buy that. What I don’t buy is that all of his other senses and his ability to think about anything but appearance flat-line in that moment.
How do I know this isn’t true? Because men see absolutely gorgeous female relatives in an entirely different way. (And if they don’t, we rightly condemn that perspective.) Now of course, this comes far more naturally with relatives. However, I’m merely establishing here that men can attend to other factors as well.
But Proverbs 11:22 advises against seeing only the physical aspect of women: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” If the Bible didn’t think men could rely on something other than the visual, why bother giving the warning?
An emotionally healthy, spiritually holy man can discern that a woman is beautiful while appreciating other aspects of her. Indeed, this is how all the wonderful husbands I know act toward their wives. Hey, it’s perfectly fine to view one’s spouse as attractive and sexy, but that’s not everything about them. Indeed, your spouse’s appeal will be greater if they are also the kind of person you enjoy being around.
Sexual desire and sexual objectification in marriage aren’t the same.
Those who argue husbands will and should look at their wives as sex objects because they are used to stimulate and satisfy sexual desire miss something big: that desire and objectification are not the same.
Objectification is “the action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object,” while desire can be defined as a “strong sexual feeling or appetite.” And which one does the Bible use? “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10). Thank heavens it didn’t say, “I belong to my husband, and he objectifies me.”
Now a legitimate point I’ve heard from husbands is that when they say, “sex object,” they mean “object of my desire.” I get that, and I believe that’s what some of them intend to say.
Except that’s not what “sex object” means — see definitions above. It’s like one day discovering that it’s not “intensive purposes” but “intents and purposes”; sure, you meant the right thing, but you should still correct your choice of words to convey your meaning accurately.
“Sex object” is not a compliment to most women.
Perhaps the most iconic “sex object” ever was Marilyn Monroe. Admittedly, she played up her sexuality for the sake of her career and likely enjoyed some of the attention she received as a result. But even she understood it’s not really a compliment: “That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing!”'That's the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing!' - Marilyn Monroe | Are Women Meant to Be Sex Objects? Click To Tweet
Whether it’s something a man understands or not, most of us ladies do not want to be thought of as a thing, a symbol, a sex object. While I encourage wives to own their beauty and sexuality, it’s only one part of us. We’re many-layered beings with so much to appreciate, including but definitely not limited to our sexual appeal to our husbands.
And for heaven’s sakes, men, don’t tell a woman how she should feel about you ascribing this phrase to her. That’s like slapping someone and saying, “You should like it.” Because it’s a verbal slap to many women, so of course we don’t like it.
A wife should absolutely be the focus of her husband’s sexual desire, but she is neither his nor anyone else’s “sex object.” Because she’s not an object. She’s a child a God, a daughter of the King.