Many wives and partners of sex addicts complain of their partner ogling other women. A man who can’t help staring at other women may be just a rude guy or his ogling may be part of a pattern of sexually compulsive behavior. If you are the partner of such a man you will know that it is crazy making. There are a million ways for a man to brush aside your concern and make you feel that you are overreacting. It is “gaslighting” on steroids.
I have worked with many sex addicts and their partners for whom ogling is a serious problem. By that I mean often the sex addict will be unable to stop looking at attractive women and will be using the images of sexy women he sees in passing as a way to be swept away, to feed a fantasy life, and to avoid the person he is with.
I saw one sex addict who admitted that he ogled in this way; that he looked at women “from the neck down”. He was happily married yet he saw himself as being sexually compulsive in this one area. He claimed he would do anything to stop because it hurt his wife so much. When he couldn’t stop looking at another woman in a restaurant on his honeymoon it was a wake up call for his wife (and him).
The three second rule
Sex addicts in recovery are told to follow the three second rule, meaning that although you can’t help glancing at or noticing someone, you can give yourself three seconds to stop looking. At that point you can hopefully manage to redirect your thoughts away from sexual objectification and into seeing the person as a person (a student, someone’s daughter, etc.) and to wish them well.
One of the partners of sex addicts who wrote to me challenged this idea. Her partner is a recovering sex addict who ogles women. She wrote:
“His comment to me about three seconds was that he rarely if ever looks that long because he wants to avoid discovery. He is very subtle about his looking, yet he is able to get a potent hit, even though his eyes only “flick” briefly onto a woman’s body. So basically, someone could look for under three seconds and get a potent sexual hit. In other words, it’s really not about the amount of time. It’s about the intent, the hunting, the feeding, the drinking in, the filling up.”
She describes also:
“…a different person I know who captures image impressions of women’s bodies and files them away mentally for later fantasy use. These also could be just very brief glimpses of someone’s cleavage or of someone in an every day position that is sexually titillating to the viewer.”
This woman’s partner is not unusual. Many sex addicts complain that they are helpless because there are just so many sexy women around and they can’t help looking at them. And yet ogling can feed an addiction by adding to what some sex addicts call their “data base” of sexual imagery that they can call up at a later time to use for masturbation or even during sex. It can feed what is essentially a stash of mental pornography even if they have been successful in giving up an actual pornography addiction.
One thing is for sure; if a man has already identified himself as having problematic, compulsive sexual behavior then his ogling is probably one of his array of sexually addictive behaviors.
What ogling does
Remembering images and having fantasies is not at all pathological in itself. And to some extent the level objectification of women that is involved in ogling is an everyday occurrence in our culture.
But as I noted elsewhere, the American Psychological Association talked about ogling as one step along a scale:
“with sexualized evaluation (e.g. looking at someone in a sexual way) at the less extreme end, and sexual exploitation, such as trafficking or abuse, at the more extreme end.”
Sexual objectification of women (and men) is rampant in our culture and it is probably getting worse. As a form of objectification, ogling may or may not be a dangerous trend, but can seriously interfere with a person’s ability to relate in an intimate relationship.
Ogling as a form of sexualizing and objectifying people is so common among sex addicts as to be almost universal. And it can also provide a direct trigger to relapse in an addict who gets swept into fantasy.
For some sex addicts looking at women in a sexual way is part of their addictive ritual. They feel deprived of sex, even rejected by the women they look at and this paves the way for them to escape into their other sexually addictive behaviors such as internet porn.
Is ogling voyeuristic?
As I discussed in a prior post it may not be possible for most of us to tune out sexy women. But sexual looking and sexual evaluation of strangers can be seen as unwanted and invasive in itself, quite apart form its impact on partners of sex addicts. Some women may want to be looked at, but some may feel slimed or even violated by it. And since the ogler has not way of knowing it’s best to assume that there is something uninvited and even potentially voyeuristic about it.