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For information about why people engage in this activity, and the needs or wants which may be satisfied by this type of activity, see Motivations.

What it is

Objectification is "[t]he demotion or degrading of a person or class of people (esp. women) to the status of a mere object"[1].

How it can be done

In the world of BDSM this can be done in a number of ways. For example:

  1. The submissive can be used as a piece of furniture---such as a table, chair, doorstop or footrest---by their dominant partner,
  2. While the submissive is present the dominant can talk about them with others as if the submissive wasn't there, or
  3. The dominant can treat the submissive as a tool to use, particularly for achieving the dominant's own pleasure with little or no regard to the submissive's own pleasure or comfort.

In common with humiliation, the identity of the person being objectified---namely the submissive---becomes totally dependent on the value placed on it by their dominant. Objectification can thus satisfy one of the main motivations for engaging in BDSM, that of experiencing power. In particular the submissive's own experience of their value is completely dependent on their partner. Their partner, the dominant, controls them and can make them feel valuable by praising their usefulness, or can degrade them by complaining about their uselessness and pointing out their faults.

One of the important characteristics of objectification is that the person being objectified does not, or cannot, actively participate in what is occurring around them. This is important because to actively be involved means they have some non-object qualities, such as ability to think. To reinforce this lack of efficacy, the person can be blindfolded or hooded---vision being one of the ways in which we can be aware of our role in activities---thus separating the person even more from what's happening and removing their active involvement.

Difference from humiliation

A difference between objectification and humiliation is that humiliation frequently involves an active "attack" on the partner's identity or personal characteristics such as via:

  • Insults,
  • Discrediting, or
  • By requiring them to confront aspects of themselves which they usually hide such as body image by requiring them to be nude while performing tasks or duties in front of others thus drawing attention to themselves

Because in objectification the person being objectified is usually reduced to a passive or inanimate object the same forms of active attack used in humiliation make less sense or even have no meaning at all--such as calling a table stupid for example.


Nussbaum[2] suggests the following seven "notions" are involved in the idea of being treated as an object:

  1. Instrumentality: The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes.
  2. Denial of autonomy: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.
  3. Inertness: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.
  4. Fungibility: The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable:
    1. with other objects of the same type, and/or
    2. with objects of other types.
  5. Violability: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary-integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.
  6. Ownership: The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.
  7. Denial of subjectivity: The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

See also


  1. [OED]
  2. [Nussbaum1995] (p. 257)