You’re getting ready for a dinner date. You put on your favourite dress, tie up your hair, and do your make up. By the time you’re ready, you feel great. When you get to the restaurant your guy is already there, and as you walk in, you know his eyes are on you. ‘He’s totally into me,’ you say to yourself, and just the thought of you turning him on is enough to turn you on.
Object of desire
Believing you have sex appeal in the eyes of other people is something researchers call Object of Desire Self-Consciousness (ODSC). ‘You can have a perception of being an “object of desire” as someone is noticing you, or glancing at you, or maybe complimenting you,’ sexuality expert Dr Tony Bogaert told Love Matters.
Dr Bogaert developed the theory along with Dr Lori Brotto, and their research led them to believe that ODSC is a bigger deal for women than men. To find out whether this was true, Dr Bogaert and colleagues tracked down almost 200 men and women and asked them about their sexual fantasies. Your fantasies are likely to reveal what you really desire deep down when it comes to sex. So if you get turned on by believing you have sex appeal in a fantasy, chances are it’ll be true in real life as well.
The participants first filled in a questionnaire where they rated how aroused they’d be in a bunch of different situations. Some, like ‘My partner showing me how much he/she desires my body,’ would tell researchers whether they get turned on by being aware of their sex appeal.
Next the participants read a few sentences of a sexy scenario like going on a romantic getaway or having a one-night stand. They were then asked to choose a sentence to complete each scenario. For example, if they were on a romantic getaway, they were given the sentence, ‘I’m becoming increasingly turned on by…’, which they could finish off with either ‘the desire I am arousing in my partner’, or ‘the desire for my partner’.
As a final step, the participants were asked to describe a sexual fantasy in detail.
A turn-on for women
Sure enough, the results showed what the researchers expected: the idea of someone finding them sexy was more of a turn-on for women than it was for men. In each of the three sexual fantasy tests, gals got more aroused than guys when they were aware of their sex appeal and physical attractiveness. This was true not only for women who really believed they were attractive, but also for those who didn’t see themselves as being particularly sexy.
Why would knowing they’ve got sex appeal be more arousing for women? One possible reason is that women and men tend to experience desire and get turned on in different ways. For women, arousal can often be responsive. That means it might happen as a reaction to something else that’s sexual – like foreplay – or sensual, like a guy checking her out. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to get turned on and want sex spontaneously.
Pressure to be sexy
But another reason has to do with the way women’s bodies are objectified in the media, says Dr Bogaert. Bombarded by a stream of images of women in sexy poses, women might get the feeling that their sexuality is only about what other people think of them. This could lead to women, more so than men, getting turned on when they feel their body is seen as attractive. But at the same time, it can put women under a lot of harmful pressure to match up with the ideal sexy image in all those ads and Instagram pics.
It’s also important to remember that what turns women on usually depends heavily on context. So if a woman’s in the right mood with a guy she thinks is hot, she may well love the idea that he’s turned on by her body. But if you’re just some random guy in the street ogling her, don’t expect to drive her wild with desire! She’s more likely to see it as offensive or threatening sexual harassment.
OK to be a sex object?
With a partner, thinking you’re sexy in his eyes can be a good thing if it turns you on in your relationship – as long as it’s not the only thing that turns you on. ‘It’s important that desire should also be influenced by lots of other things aside from feeling like you’re an object of desire,’ says Dr Bogaert. Getting turned on by the attractiveness of your partner and the good things happening in your relationship are also important to arousal and an enjoyable sex life.
- Gender Differences in Object of Desire Self-Consciousness Sexual Fantasies. Arch Sex Behav. (2015) 44(8):2299-310.
- Interview with Dr Tony Bogaert
This article was first published on March 9, 2017. The person in the picture is a model.
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