How sexualisation and objectification harms women and girls: What the research says

Since the beginning of our movement, we’ve been calling out the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls. We’ve argued that sexualising, objectifying and porn-themed representations of women – particularly when they are normalised, unremarkable and make up the backdrop to our lives – shape attitudes towards women. Essentially, when women are portrayed as sexual objects existing for men’s sexual entertainment and use, this has real-world consequences for women and girls.


This is not merely a belief or a matter of opinion. Almost 30 years of empirical research has consistently found that exposure to sexualised and objectifying depictions of women harms women in a range of ways.

In 2016, a review of 20 years of research literature – 109 publications containing over 135 studies - found consistent evidence that

regular, everyday exposure to this content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.

The research evidence of harm to women and girls from sexist and objectifying representations continues to grow. We’ve compiled some of the most significant findings from over the last decade.

How sexualisation and objectification contribute to the dehumanisation of women

A number of studies have found that the way people perceive and process sexualised images of women is more in line with how we process objects than how we process people. Exposure to sexually objectifying representations of women can trigger a shift in perception of women as a social category to women as objects.


Sexually objectified women are often perceived as having less competence, intelligence, warmth and morality – some of the most basic aspects of personhood. As sexually objectified women are ascribed less humanity, they are seen as less deserving of empathy.

Media that objectifies women sends the message that women are sexual instruments that should behave in ways that facilitate male sexual gratification – promoting women’s role in providing male sexual pleasure and undermining their humanity.

The more men consume media that sexually objectifies women, the more they think of women as objects that exist for their sexual enjoyment. The belief that women are objects rather than fully human affects how women are viewed and treated.

How sexualisation and objectification contribute to men’s violence against women

Sexual objectification is at the foundation of men’s violence against women. Media that depicts women as sexual objects may directly influence men’s attitudes towards them, by portraying them as less than human, as devoid of agency and feeling, and undeserving of empathy.


Exposure to sexually objectifying representations of women results in greater support for sexist beliefs, increased tolerance of sexual violence, sexual harassment, rape myths, child sexual abuse myths and interpersonal violence.

It can also result in passive acceptance of violence against women and less support for laws and policies to address it. Those exposed to objectifying content were more likely to attribute blame and responsibility to rape victims, and less likely to have empathy for them.

Men’s exposure to sexually objectifying media increases the tendency of their engaging in sexual coercion, sexual harassment and sexual deception. Sexually objectifying media can be a causal risk factor for sexual harassment (as well as increasing victims’ acceptance of it, and decreasing bystander intervention).


Objectifying women is associated with severe psychological aggression and physical assault perpetration in males and can lead to heightened physical aggression towards objectified women. There is an established link between sexual objectification perpetration and psychological and physical intimate partner violence.

The more men are exposed to content that sexually objectifies women, the more they perceive of women as objects, leading to stronger attitudes in support of violence against them. When women are portrayed as less-than-human objects that exist to meet men’s sexual desires, it is easier for men to perpetrate and justify violence against them.

How sexualisation and objectification harm women’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing

When women are exposed to sexually objectifying representations of women, it often results in self-objectification, where they learn to regard themselves as objects whose value is determined by their physical appearance.

There is also substantial evidence that adolescents and adults who are exposed to sexually objectifying representations of women report greater body concerns and body dissatisfaction. They feel worse about themselves and their bodies. Exposure to sexually objectifying depictions of women is linked to detrimental impacts on both physical and psychological well-being, including eating disorder symptoms, body surveillance and poorer body image quality of life.

This is why we continue to speak out against the harmful sexualisation and objectification of women. Objectifying representations harm women and girls immeasurably. They negatively impact on their physical, emotional and mental health, they contribute to sexist beliefs and the view that women are less than human, and they contribute to attitudes that normalise, justify and promote men’s violence against women.


Companies like Honey Birdette that trade in the sexual objectification of women’s bodies for profit, and their landlords, including Westfield, Lendlease, Stockland, AMP, who look the other way, are knowingly harming women. We’ve been calling on them for years to stop objectifying women, citing the harms to women and girls, and they have continued to ignore us. At a time where an Australian woman is killed by a man on average every four days, we again call on these companies to stop promoting and profiting from the objectification of women. 

See also

Kenneth’s petition: STOP Honey Birdette using porn-style advertising in your family friendly shopping centres

Keeping women in their place: Objectification in advertising

Headless women: Corporates who profit from dehumanisation

No, sexualisation does not equal empowerment: our response to JLo 

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: Is inclusive objectification something to celebrate? 

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  • Caitlin Roper
    published this page in News 2024-05-16 14:02:58 +1000

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