Apologies for the topic; I could not find a way to say it any better.

Anyway, as a male I would like to be able to admire women's physical aspects purely aesthetically; I have no sexual intent of any type. However society discourages this. It is often assumed every time that if I look at a woman's breasts that I want to do something sexually. One consequence of this for me as a male person is that I never get to look at actual real women beyond a perfunctory level; I can't stare and take in aesthetically a woman's physical shape. I am left in that respect to watching YouTube videos and stopping at some point when I get to see a woman's physicality properly. For the record I do not mean any type of porn; I only like women with clothes on; contrary to what every wannabee self-made "sex expert" on TV will tell you, there are males who do not achieve sexual gratification with porn.

Why am I generally prohibited from just seeing women as art, with no sexual motivation on my part?

  • 5
    If there is no sexual component, why are you asking only about females? What if you see a handsome man? What about small children? If your question doesn't apply equally to all of them, there is a sexual component. Nov 30, 2019 at 1:16
  • 1
    You seem to be confusing nudity ("I only like women with clothes on") and porn, yourself. There are entire genres of porn involving clothed participants - foot fetish, diapering, CFNM (clothed female, nude male), etc.
    – ceejayoz
    Nov 30, 2019 at 1:58
  • 4
    This just sounds like incel material, to be honest. I don't know why this fits in philosophy. The accepted answer is not much better, conflating terms referring to the transgender community with the implication that transgenders somehow aren't real members of their chosen gender. To OP: Even if you watch the athletes because you view them as attractive, no one is going to care, frankly. There are far greater things to worry about. Nov 30, 2019 at 2:50
  • 1
    @RayButterworth "What about small children?" I know what you are trying to say, but perhaps this wasn't the best example to take. Nov 30, 2019 at 2:51
  • 1
    Umberto Eco, A History of Beauty. amazon.com/History-Beauty-Umberto-Eco/dp/0847835308
    – Gordon
    Dec 3, 2019 at 23:47

3 Answers 3


The claim that one looks at women in a purely esthetic way can be challenged, see Kant's distinction between free and adherent beauty, in SEP, "Kant's esthetics and teleology".

A suitable test could be : "Would I get as much aesthetic pleasure in case I knew this person only appears as if they were a woman I desire?". Also, occording to Kant, this could be a test : " Would I get so much aesthetic pleasure in case I knew this person is a pure hologram, not representing a person really existing".

In order a judgment to be purely esthetic, the existence of the object should not be taken into account; this is a condition for the judgment to be free of all interest ( that is of all need or desire).

This article so far has been concerned only with “pure” judgments of beauty. But Kant also allows for judgments of beauty which fall short of being pure. Judgments of beauty can fail to be pure in two ways. (a) They can be influenced by the object's sensory or emotional appeal, that is, they can involve “charm” [Reiz] or emotion [Rührung] (§13). (b) They can be contingent on a certain concept's applying to the object, so that the object is judged, not as beautiful tout court, but as beautiful qua belonging to this or that kind. The second kind of impurity is discussed in §16 in connection with a distinction between “free” [frei] beauty and “adherent” or “dependent” [anhängend] beauty.

One reason to think that the distinction is important is that Kant seems to suggest that all judgments of beauty about representational art are judgments of adherent rather than of free beauty, and hence that they are all impure. While some art works can be “free beauties,” the examples Kant gives are all of non-representational art: “designs a la grecque, foliage for borders or on wallpaper…fantasias in music,” and indeed, Kant adds, all music without a text (§16, 229). It might be supposed from this that Kant's core account of judgments of beauty is only peripherally applicable to art, which would make it largely irrelevant to the concerns of contemporary aesthetics. However, this consequence is debatable. For example, Allison argues that judgments of adherent beauty contain, as a component, a pure judgment of beauty. The purity of this core judgment is not undermined by its figuring in a more complex evaluation which takes into account the object's falling under a concept (2001, pp. 140–141).

Kant's suggestion that representational art has “adherent” rather than “free” beauty, and that judgments about such art fail to be pure, might also invite the objection that Kant takes nonrepresentational art to be superior to representational art, so that, say, wallpaper designs are aesthetically more valuable than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This objection is challenged by Schaper (1979, ch. 4, reprinted in Guyer 2003) and by Guyer (2005a, chs. 4 and 5).

Further discussions of the distinction between free and adherent beauty include Scarre (1981), Lorand (1989), Gammon (1999), Kalar (2006), pp. 82–89, and Zuckert (2007), pp. 202–212.


Firstly, women are not art. Women are people.

You are not prohibited from seeing women as art. If you want to examine the female form as art, why not go to an art museum? Or join a life-drawing class?

What you are prohibited (or at least discouraged) from doing is starting at strangers' bodies without their consent. Your intent may be entirely decent, but intent is invisible to others. I might have an entirely innocent reason for wanting to (for example) smell your hair, but that doesn't mean I get to do it.

  • Now I have to ask for consent? Nov 29, 2019 at 17:32
  • Then what about the 2020 Olympics next year? Do I need consent to stare at the female athletes on TV? Nov 29, 2019 at 18:41
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    @snack I think the point is that you are free to do what you want as long as it does not affect anyone else. Staring at people on your tv is something you are free to do, it won't affect the people being watched. Staring at strangers is likely to make them uncomfortable. Staring at strangers while hidden is likely to result in problems if you are found out. Your freedom stops where the freedom of others begin.
    – LordHieros
    Nov 30, 2019 at 8:31
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    – J D
    Nov 30, 2019 at 14:45

Your question is "why", and the first place to look is broadly at whether we think the objection to your behaviour is in some way either natural or rational, or whether it's mostly a function of the history of our particular society and culture.

I suspect the balance is towards the latter because appreciation of male beauty, which for most natural or rational reasons ought to be treated the same, usually isn't in our society. There is a less immediate suspicion of impropriety.

I don't think anyone is claiming all appreciation of "adherent" beauty is necessarily sleazy or improper in some way, although it was interesting to read the answer above and what Kant has to say about this.

If it's relatively normal in a society to have particular motives in particular contexts then people will impute those, associate them with bad experiences of their own or from accounts they have heard, and treat you with suspicion. This perspective becomes the norm and is applied even without thinking about it.

Just because something comes from cultural pressure doesn't mean it's invalid. You have to respect the society you live in, try not to offend people for no reason, or to blame them for reading your behaviour wrong. The best you can do is take every opportunity to turn the tide and nudge our society in the direction of more gender equality, so that one day this whole issue is viewed differently.

  • You have not understood my original post; I was at pains to say that my actions were not harming anyone. If I am doing no harm then why should I obey society's conventions? Nov 30, 2019 at 14:37
  • The question was why is the presumption there which I tried to answer but I wanted to make it clear that I didn't consider it an invalid reason. You don't have to be bound by society's conventions but do have to respect that other people are. If you are doing no harm then please appreciate beauty however you think best!
    – user68014
    Nov 30, 2019 at 15:49

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