Shades of Sexualization

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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.


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Psicologa (n. 5559 Ordine degli Psicologi della Lombardia) Professoressa Associata di Psicologia, Università di Milano Bicocca
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