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Study: men and women both uncomfortable looking at male nudity

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sketch of Michaelangelo's David

James Madison University sociologist Beth Eck conducted a series of interviews trying to gauge differences in male and female reactions to looking at male and female nudes. She started by asking men and women to look at naked images of women, including a Rolling Stone cover shot of Cindy Crawford demurely covering her breasts. Women, almost across the board, compared themselves to the female nudes and felt inadequate. Responding to the image of a heavy-set woman, they said things like, "I am disgusted by it because she is fat, but I'm also… I need to lose about ten pounds" and "I don't necessarily find her body that attractive… Her stomach looks like mine."

Men, on the other hand, predictably fell into construction-worker-on-lunch-break mode, saying about the Crawford picture, "Personally, I think she is attractive" and "I like that." So in sociology-speak, women had internalized their object status, while men had internalized their subject status.

Next, Eck showed the subjects photos of male nudes, including one of Sylvester Stallone posing as The Thinker on the cover of Vanity Fair. In this case, both men and women felt uneasy checking out the images. Men were either apathetic, or re-emphasized their heterosexuality, or both. There was no comparing or identifying on their part, unlike with the women. Since men have been trained to be sexually aggressive subjects, they couldn't view the bodies as anything other than sexual objects. And that's why neurosis plays havoc with our non-museum-curator brains.

For women, in contrast, the whole issue of same-sex uneasiness didn't crop up, as they weren't used to being the lustful aggressors, save for the odd Chippendale's outing. According to Eck:

"When women view the seductive pose of the female nude, they do not believe she is 'coming on to' them. They know she is there to arouse men. Thus, they do not have to work at rejecting an unwanted advance. It is not for them."

Most of the women didn't get turned on when they gazed at the male nudes, and the ones that did felt guilt or shame. (The Vatican smiles.) So that's that. Now back to your assigned gender seating.