We talk a lot about having an #AffairWith your spouse, but we haven’t yet mentioned the obstacles to that sweet sweet affair. What makes it so dang hard to get along with this person you love?

Today we’re going to talk about eyes, and one special visual obstacle to today’s modern marriages: objectification of women in film and advertising. I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before, but don’t roll your eyes and click away just yet! We’re filmmakers! We know how to throw you a good plot twist! So TWIST, we’ll save our feminist rants for another place–and today we’ll talk about how objectification of women hurts men.

The science of objectification

Because I’m five months away from my MD, I like to talk about biological basis for behavior, so let’s start with two medical facts.

First. Studies demonstrate that men get aroused by visual stimuli more easily than women do. One class I took a while back said the difference was as big as 90% to 30%: 30% of women turn on to visual stimuli as opposed to 90% of men.

Second, we also know that testosterone increases sex drive. This doesn’t mean that all men will have higher sex drives than all women, nor does it give anyone an excuse for inappropriate behavior.

The lie

However, these two facts put together DO mean that when a commercial uses a woman as an object to sell something, or when a show sets up a woman as mindless sex toy, men are disproportionately likely to experience arousal and confusion. Biological arousal isn’t something a man can control. Signals sent from the visual cortex to the autonomic nervous system can cause an erection without a man “wanting” it.

Their bodies “buy the lie,” so to speak, and an unfulfilled erection can be very uncomfortable. Ladies: imagine sitting with a five inch rod pressing against your jeans. Then imagine that if that sits there too long, or pops up too often, you can experience physical pain (yes, ladies, that’s a real thing). NOW imagine sitting with a five inch rod in your pants that’s socially unacceptable, and in certain situations, even shameful.

“You can kind of angle it towards your gut to hide it,” someone said to me once. A man’s drive to “hide” his body and his sexuality begins as soon as he hits puberty, and that feeds into an unhealthy cycle of repression. As women, we have a lot of other gender-based challenges the boys will never understand–but we never have to physically HIDE our arousal.

Long term harm

The mass-media marketing and objectification of women’s bodies drives this very physical repression a step further, into sexual frustration. Unrealistic body standards and oversexualized photoshop models set up promises they can never deliver. It’s no wonder that pornography addiction–often characterized by an inability to become aroused by a real life partner–is on the rise. The patriarchy isn’t just teasing men: it’s making them hopelessly attracted to something that doesn’t exist. Talk about frustrating! And sexual frustration can lower the immune system and raise blood pressure via stress, leading to unhealthy and psychologically damaging long-term consequences.

So what does all this mean? As good feminists, we’re all well aware that being teased, aroused, and even frustrated doesn’t give you an excuse to take what you see–a woman in “slutty” clothes is never “asking for it.” However, sometimes, as women educated in biological arousal response, it might be appropriate to show some kindness to the dudes by covering certain areas of our bodies.

We can show kindness to BOTH genders by fighting for realistic body standards, and ending objectification of women in media.

Support body-positive films, like ours, that celebrate real, fleshed out female bodies and minds instead of using sex to sell. Hopefully by changing the cultural challenges hurting our marriages, we can set the stage for happier relationships for generations to come.

Thanks for reading.

Want to read about another challenge to healthy marriages? Read “How your humor style helps or hurts your marriage.”

Jen Finelli is a world-traveling scifi author who’s ridden a motorcycle in a tropical monsoon, crawled into a flaming car, found Greek wall-poetry in a city’s underground tunnels, gotten locked in a German nunnery, showered under a jungle mountain waterfall, and eaten her way through four continents. She’ll have her MD complete in 2017, right after she releases her novel about a comic book character who shoots his author. Check her out on twitter @petr3pan, or on her website, where she got a bunch of authors to give away free stories you can steal at http://byjenfinelli.com/what-you-get-five-free-reads-just-because/

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