Sex Roles

, Volume 78, Issue 5–6, pp 338–351 | Cite as

Shades of Sexualization: When Sexualization Becomes Sexual Objectification

  • Fabio Fasoli
  • Federica Durante
  • Silvia Mari
  • Cristina Zogmaister
  • Chiara Volpato
Original Article


Sexualization in mass media is a widespread phenomenon. Although sexualization and sexual objectification are often used as synonymous, they are two different concepts. Across two studies, we investigated how sexualization affects perceptions of women (Study 1) and men (Study 2) as sexual objects. Participants were asked to judge sexual objectification, competence, and sexiness of female and male models portrayed with different degrees of sexualization, namely, as Non-Revealing (dressed), merely Revealing (undressed), and Sexualized Revealing (undressed and provocative). The results of both studies showed that as the level of sexualization increased so did participants’ perceptions of the targets as sexual objects. However, the level of sexualization affected perceived competence and sexiness differently depending on the target’s gender. Male models’ competence decreased as the level of sexualization increased, whereas female models portrayed as merely Revealing and as Sexualized Revealing were judged as equally incompetent. Male targets’ sexiness was not affected by the level of portrayals’ sexualization, whereas Sexualized Revealing portrayals enhanced the perceived sexiness of female targets. Finally, in Study 2, the results showed that male targets in Sexualized Revealing portrayals were judged as less masculine. Our findings suggest that sexualization contributes similarly to the perception of both women and men as sexual objects but affects other variables depending on the target’s gender. Our work extends previous literature and informs us about the consequences that sexualization of men and women have on others’ judgments.


Sexualization Objectification Competence Gender differences Masculinity Mass media 



The first two authors contributed equally to this article; order of the first two authors was decided on a junior–senior principle. We would like to thank Noemi Pascotto and Giuliana Marrone for helping with the data collection.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in the studies were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


This study was funded by the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR): grant number PRIN (2012)-20123X2PXT_003.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. After reading the study information and their rights (anonymity, confidentiality, opportunity to withdraw, etc.) participants had to click “I agree to participate in the study” in order to proceed. Data of participants who did not complete the study in all its part were excluded from the analyses as they may wanted to withdraw their participation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK

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