Sex Roles

pp 1–15 | Cite as

Objectification in Heterosexual Romantic Relationships: Examining Relationship Satisfaction of Female Objectification Recipients and Male Objectifying Perpetrators

  • Gemma SáezEmail author
  • Abigail R. Riemer
  • Rebecca L. Brock
  • Sarah J. Gervais
Original Article


Sexual objectification is one of most the common manifestations of discrimination against women in Western societies; however, few studies have examined objectification in the context of romantic relationships. The primary aim of the present research was to bring the study of objectification phenomena into the setting of heterosexual romantic relationships. The present set of studies examined the relation between sexual objectification and relationship satisfaction for both the sexual objectification recipient (Study 1) and the sexual objectification perpetrator (Study 2). The results of the first study with 206 U.S. undergraduate female students in committed romantic relationships replicated a previously identified negative association between feeling dehumanized by one’s partner and intimate relationship satisfaction. Moreover, this link was mediated by greater body dissatisfaction and decreased sexual satisfaction. The second study with 94 U.S. undergraduate male students in committed romantic relationships demonstrated a negative association between sexual objectification perpetration and relationship satisfaction. Furthermore, this negative relation was mediated by greater partner objectification and lower sexual satisfaction. Results of both studies demonstrated the effect of sexual objectification (as recipient or perpetrator) on global intimate relationship health. Additionally, the results highlight poor sexual satisfaction as a key dyadic mechanism linking objectification processes to intimate relationship outcomes.


Relationship satisfaction Partner objectification Sexual objectification and sexual satisfaction 



The present article was made possible thanks to the financing provided by a Grant from the FPU (Formación de Profesorado Universitario–University Teacher Training) (AP2012–01619) for brief research stays (EST15/00244). Program of the Spanish Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte given to the first author and by the financing provided by the Spanish Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad (Project Ref. PSI2017-84703-R).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


  1. Bareket, O., Kahalon, R., Shnabel, N., & Glick, P. (2018). The Madonna-whore dichotomy: Men who perceive women's nurturance and sexuality as mutually exclusive endorse patriarchy and show lower relationship satisfaction. Sex Roles, 79(9), 1–14. Scholar
  2. Bartky, S. L. (1990). Femininity and domination: Studies in the phenomenology of oppression. New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bernard, P., Gervais, S. J., Allen, J., Campomizzi, S., & Klein, O. (2012). Integrating sexual objectification with object versus person recognition: The sexualized-body-inversion hypothesis. Psychological Science, 23(5), 469–471. Scholar
  4. Brooks, G. R. (1995). The centerfold syndrome: How men can overcome objectification and achieve intimacy with women. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Scholar
  5. Bucchianeri, M. M., Arikian, A. J., Hannan, P. J., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2013). Body dissatisfaction from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a 10-year longitudinal study. Body Image, 10(1), 1–7. Scholar
  6. Buser, J. K., & Gibson, S. (2017). Protecting women from the negative effects of body dissatisfaction: The role of differentiation of self. Women & Therapy, 41(3–4), 406–431. Scholar
  7. Byers, E. S. (2005). Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study of individuals in long-term relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 42(2), 113–118. Scholar
  8. Calogero, R. M. (2004). A test of objectification theory: The effect of the male gaze on appearance concerns in college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28(1), 16–21. Scholar
  9. Calogero, R. M., & Jost, J. T. (2011). Self-subjugation among women: Exposure to sexist ideology, self-objectification, and the protective function of the need to avoid closure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(2), 211–228. Scholar
  10. Calogero, R. M., & Thompson, J. K. (2009). Potential implications of the objectification of women’s bodies for women’s sexual satisfaction. Body Image, 6, 145–148. Scholar
  11. Cogoni, C., Carnaghi, A., & Silani, G. (2018). Reduced empathic responses for sexually objectified women: An fMRI investigation. Cortex, 99, 258–272. Scholar
  12. Cramer, D., & Jowett, S. (2010). Perceived empathy, accurate empathy and relationship satisfaction in heterosexual couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(3), 327–349. Scholar
  13. Davidson, M. M., Gervais, S. J., Canivez, G. L., & Cole, B. P. (2013). A psychometric examination of the interpersonal sexual objectification scale among college men. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60(2), 239–250. Scholar
  14. Davison, K. K., Markey, C. N., & Birch, L. L. (2000). Etiology of body dissatisfaction and weight concerns among 5-year-old girls. Appetite, 35(2), 143–151. Scholar
  15. DeVille, D. C., Ellmo, F. I., Horton, W. A., & Erchull, M. J. (2015). The role of romantic attachment in women’s experiences of body surveillance and body shame. Gender Issues, 32(2), 111–120. Scholar
  16. Doran, K., & Price, J. (2014). Pornography and marriage. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 35(4), 489–498. Scholar
  17. Earp, B. D., & Trafimow, D. (2015). Replication, falsification, and the crisis of confidence in social psychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(621), 1–11. Scholar
  18. Fairchild, K., & Rudman, L. A. (2008). Everyday stranger harassment and women’s objectification. Social Justice Research, 21(3), 338–357. Scholar
  19. Feingold, A. (1990). Gender differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(5), 981–993. Scholar
  20. Fisher, R. A. (1992). Statistical methods for research workers. In S. Kotz & N. L. Johnson (Eds.), Breakthroughs in statistics (pp. 66–70). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fletcher, G. J., Simpson, J. A., Thomas, G., & Giles, L. (1999). Ideals in intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(1), 72–89. Scholar
  22. Forbush, K. T., Wildes, J. E., Pollack, L. O., Dunbar, D., Luo, J., Patterson, K., ... Bright, A. (2013). Development and validation of the eating pathology symptoms inventory (EPSI). Psychological Assessment, 25(3), 859–878.
  23. Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. Scholar
  24. Fredrickson, B. L., Roberts, T. A., Noll, S. M., Quinn, D. M., & Twenge, J. M. (1998). That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 269–284. Scholar
  25. Friedman, M. A., Dixon, A. E., Brownell, K. D., Whisman, M. A., & Wilfley, D. E. (1999). Marital status, marital satisfaction, and body image dissatisfaction. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 26(1), 81–85.<81::AID-EAT10>3.0.CO;2-V.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Galdi, S., Maass, A., & Cadinu, M. (2014). Objectifying media: Their effect on gender role norms and sexual harassment of women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38, 398–413. Scholar
  27. Gervais, S. J., Vescio, T. K., & Allen, J. (2011). When what you see is what you get: The consequences of the objectifying gaze for women and men. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35(1), 5–17. Scholar
  28. Gervais, S. J., Vescio, T. K., Förster, J., Maass, A., & Suitner, C. (2012). Seeing women as objects: The sexual body part recognition bias. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42(6), 743–753. Scholar
  29. Gervais, S. J., DiLillo, D., & McChargue, D. (2014). Understanding the link between men’s alcohol use and sexual violence perpetration: The mediating role of sexual objectification. Psychology of Violence, 4(2), 156–169. Scholar
  30. Gervais, S. J., Davidson, M. M., Styck, K., Canivez, G., & DiLillo, D. (2017). The development and psychometric properties of the interpersonal sexual objectification scale-perpetration version. Psychology of Violence, 8(5), 546–559. Scholar
  31. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The ambivalent sexism inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(3), 491–512. Scholar
  32. Graham, J. M., Diebels, K. J., & Barnow, Z. B. (2011). The reliability of relationship satisfaction: A reliability generalization meta-analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(1), 39–48. Scholar
  33. Greeff, P., Hildegarde, L., & Malherbe, A. (2001). Intimacy and marital satisfaction in spouses. Journal of Sex &Marital Therapy, 27(3), 247–257. Scholar
  34. Gregory, P. (2011). Lady of the rivers. New York: Touchstone.Google Scholar
  35. Gruenfeld, D. H., Inesi, M. E., Magee, J. C., & Galinsky, A. D. (2008). Power and the objectification of social targets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(1), 111–127. Scholar
  36. Hammond, M. D., & Overall, N. C. (2013). Men’s hostile sexism and biased perceptions of intimate partners: Fostering dissatisfaction and negative behavior in close relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(12), 1585–1599. Scholar
  37. Harper, B., & Tiggemann, M. (2008). The effect of thin ideal media images on women’s self-objectification, mood, and body image. Sex Roles, 58(9–10), 649–657. Scholar
  38. Haslam, N., Loughnan, S., & Holland, E. (2013). The psychology of humanness. In S. J. Gervais (Ed.), Objectification and (de) humanization (pp. 25–51). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation and conditional process analysis: A regression based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  40. Heflick, N. A., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2009). Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that objectification causes women to be perceived as less competent and less fully human. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 598–601. Scholar
  41. Holland, E., & Haslam, N. (2013). Worth the weight: The objectification of overweight versus thin targets. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(4), 462–468. Scholar
  42. Huston, T. L., & Levinger, G. (1978). Interpersonal attraction and relationships. Annual Review of Psychology, 29(1), 115–156. Scholar
  43. Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, methods, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118(1), 3–34. Scholar
  44. Knauss, C., Paxton, S. J., & Alsaker, F. D. (2008). Body dissatisfaction in adolescent boys and girls: Objectified body consciousness, internalization of the media body ideal and perceived pressure from media. Sex Roles, 59(9–10), 633–643. Scholar
  45. Kozee, H. B., Tylka, T. L., Augustus-Horvath, C. L., & Denchik, A. (2007). Development and psychometric evaluation of the interpersonal sexual objectification scale. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(2), 176–189. Scholar
  46. Kuczmarski, M. F., Kuczmarski, R. J., & Najjar, M. (2001). Effects of age on validity of self-reported height, weight, and body mass index: Findings from the third National Health and nutrition examination survey, 1988–1994. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 101(1), 28–34. Scholar
  47. Langton, R. (2009). Sexual solipsism: Philosophical essays on pornography and objectification. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lawrence, E., Barry, R. A., Brock, R. L., Bunde, M., Langer, A., Ro, E., ... Dzankovic, S. (2011). The relationship quality interview: Evidence of reliability, convergent and divergent validity, and incremental utility. Psychological Assessment, 23, 44–63.
  49. Linz, D. G., Donnerstein, E., & Penrod, S. (1988). Effects of long-term exposure to violent and sexually degrading depictions of women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55(5), 758–768. Scholar
  50. Litzinger, S., & Gordon, K. C. (2005). Exploring relationships among communication, sexual satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 31(5), 409–424. Scholar
  51. Loughnan, S., Pina, A., Vasquez, E. A., & Puvia, E. (2013). Sexual objectification increases rape victim blame and decreases perceived suffering. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(4), 455–461. Scholar
  52. MacKinnon, C. A. (1989). Sexuality, pornography, and method: Pleasure under patriarchy. Ethics, 99(2), 314–346. Scholar
  53. Mahalik, J. R., Morray, E. B., Coonerty-Femiano, A., Ludlow, L. H., Slattery, S. M., & Smiler, A. (2005). Development of the conformity to feminine norms inventory. Sex Roles, 52(7–8), 417–435. Scholar
  54. McKinley, N. M., & Hyde, J. S. (1996). The objectified body consciousness scale development and validation. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20(2), 181–215. Scholar
  55. Meltzer, A. L., & McNulty, J. K. (2014). “Tell me I'm sexy... And otherwise valuable”: Body valuation and relationship satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 21(1), 68–87. Scholar
  56. Meltzer, A. L., McNulty, J. K., Jackson, G., & Karney, B. R. (2014). Sex differences in the implications of partner physical attractiveness for the trajectory of marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 418–428. Scholar
  57. Millsap, R. E., & Maydeu-Olivares, A. (2009). The SAGE handbook of quantitative methods in psychology. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Moradi, B., & Huang, Y. P. (2008). Objectification theory and psychology of women: A decade of advances and future directions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32(4), 377–398. Scholar
  59. Myers, T. A., & Crowther, J. H. (2007). Sociocultural pressures, thin-ideal internalization, self-objectification, and body dissatisfaction: Could feminist beliefs be a moderating factor? Body Image, 4(3), 296–308. Scholar
  60. Norton, R. (1983). Measuring marital quality: A critical look at the dependent variable. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45(1), 141–151. Scholar
  61. Nussbaum, M. C. (1995). Objectification. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 24(4), 249–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Overstreet, N. M., Quinn, D. M., & Marsh, K. L. (2015). Objectification in virtual romantic contexts: Perceived discrepancies between self and partner ideals differentially affect body consciousness in women and men. Sex Roles, 73(9–10), 442–452. Scholar
  63. Pujols, Y., Meston, C. M., & Seal, B. N. (2010). The association between sexual satisfaction and body image in women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 905–916. Scholar
  64. Ramsey, L. R., & Hoyt, T. (2015). The object of desire: How being objectified creates sexual pressure for women in heterosexual relationships. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(2), 151–170. Scholar
  65. Ramsey, L. R., Marotta, J. A., & Hoyt, T. (2017). Sexualized, objectified, but not satisfied: Enjoying sexualization relates to lower relationship satisfaction through perceived partner-objectification. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34(2), 258–278. Scholar
  66. Riemer, A., Chaudoir, S., & Earnshaw, V. (2014). What looks like sexism and why? The effect of comment type and perpetrator type on women's perceptions of sexism. The Journal of General Psychology, 141(3), 263–279. Scholar
  67. Roberts, T. A., & Gettman, J. Y. (2004). Mere exposure: Gender differences in the negative effects of priming a state of self-objectification. Sex Roles, 51(1–2), 17–27. Scholar
  68. Roberts, T. A., Calogero, R. M., & Gervais, S. (2017). Objectification theory: Continuing contributions to feminist psychology. In C. B. Travis, J. W. White, A. Rutherford, W. S. Williams, S. L. Cook, et al. (Eds.), APA handbook of the psychology of women: History, theory, and battlegrounds (pp. 249–271). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  69. Rohlinger, D. A. (2002). Eroticizing men: Cultural influences on advertising and male objectification. Sex Roles, 46(3–4), 61–74. Scholar
  70. Rudman, L. A., & Mescher, K. (2012). Of animals and objects: Men’s implicit dehumanization of women and likelihood of sexual aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(6), 734–746. Scholar
  71. Saguy, T., Quinn, D. M., Dovidio, J. F., & Pratto, F. (2010). Interacting like a body: Objectification can lead women to narrow their presence in social interactions. Psychological Science, 21(2), 178–182. Scholar
  72. Sanchez, D. T., & Kiefer, A. K. (2007). Body concerns in and out of the bedroom: Implications for sexual pleasure and problems. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(6), 808–820. Scholar
  73. Sanchez, D. T., Good, J. J., Kwang, T., & Saltzman, E. (2008). When finding a mate feels urgent: Why relationship contingency predicts men’s and women’s body shame. Social Psychology, 39, 90–102. Scholar
  74. Sprecher, S. (2002). Sexual satisfaction in premarital relationships: Associations with satisfaction, love, commitment, and stability. Journal of Sex Research, 39(3), 190–196. Scholar
  75. Steer, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2008). The role of self-objectification in women's sexual functioning. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 27(3), 205–225. Scholar
  76. Stice, E., Schupak-Neuberg, E., Shaw, H. E., & Stein, R. I. (1994). Relation of media exposure to eating disorder symptomatology: An examination of mediating mechanisms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103(4), 836–840. Scholar
  77. Strelan, P., & Hargreaves, D. (2005). Women who objectify other women: The vicious circle of objectification? Sex Roles, 52, 707–712. Scholar
  78. Strelan, P., & Pagoudis, S. (2018). Birds of a feather flock together: The interpersonal process of objectification within intimate heterosexual relationships. Sex Roles, 79(1–2), 72–82. Scholar
  79. Swami, V., & Voracek, M. (2013). Associations among men's sexist attitudes, objectification of women, and their own drive for muscularity. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14(2), 168–174. Scholar
  80. Swami, V., Coles, R., Wilson, E., Salem, N., Wyrozumska, K., & Furnham, A. (2010). Oppressive beliefs at play: Associations among beauty ideals and practices and individual differences in sexism, objectification of others, and media exposure. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34(3), 365–379. Scholar
  81. Thompson, J. K., & Stice, E. (2001). Thin-ideal internalization: Mounting evidence for a new risk factor for body-image disturbance and eating pathology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(5), 181–183. Scholar
  82. Tiggemann, M. (2003). Media exposure, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating: Television and magazines are not the same! European Eating Disorders Review, 11(5), 418–430. Scholar
  83. Tiggemann, M. (2005). Body dissatisfaction and adolescent self-esteem: Prospective findings. Body Image, 2(2), 129–135. Scholar
  84. Tyler, J., Calogero, R. M., & Adams, K. (2017). Perpetuation of sexual objectification: The role of resource depletion. British Journal of Social Psychology, 56(2), 334–356. Scholar
  85. Vaes, J., Paladino, M. P., & Puvia, E. (2011). Are sexualized females complete human beings? Why males and females dehumanize sexually objectified women. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 774–785. Scholar
  86. Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2012). Understanding sexual objectification: A comprehensive approach toward media exposure and girls' internalization of beauty ideals, self-objectification, and body surveillance. Journal of Communication, 62(5), 869–887. Scholar
  87. Wiederman, M. W. (2000). Women's body image self-consciousness during physical intimacy with a partner. Journal of Sex Research, 37(1), 60–68. Scholar
  88. Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2015). Activating the centerfold syndrome: Recency of exposure, sexual explicitness, past exposure to objectifying media. Communication Research, 42(6), 864–897. Scholar
  89. Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography consumption and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 43(3), 315–343. Scholar
  90. Yeh, H. C., Lorenz, F. O., Wickrama, K. A. S., Conger, R. D., & Elder Jr., G. H. (2006). Relationships among sexual satisfaction, marital quality, and marital instability at midlife. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(2), 339–343. Scholar
  91. Young, M., Denny, G., Luquis, R., & Young, T. (1998). Correlates of sexual satisfaction in marriage. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 7, 115–128.Google Scholar
  92. Yucel, D., & Gassanov, M. A. (2010). Exploring actor and partner correlates of sexual satisfaction among married couples. Social Science Research, 39, 725–738. Scholar
  93. Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (1988). Pornography's impact on sexual satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18(5), 438–453. Scholar
  94. Zurbriggen, E. L., Ramsey, L. R., & Jaworski, B. K. (2011). Self-and partner-objectification in romantic relationships: Associations with media consumption and relationship satisfaction. Sex Roles, 64(7–8), 449–462. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de PsicologíaUniversidad Loyola AndalucíaSevilleSpain
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnUSA

Personalised recommendations