The following essay was written for COMM 4635, Paris and Its Symbols, during my summer study abroad program in Paris, France.
I’m in Love with the Eiffel Tower: How Objectùm Sexuals’ Identities Are Transformed by Objects
By Marlee Middlebrooks
“You’re steel. I’m flesh. You rust. I bleed. You stand so tall. I look so meek. You’re cold. I’m warm. You shine. I sing. And though we seem an unlikely pair, this woman and your spire, we have built a bridge from me to you my tower I admire” (OS Internationale, 2010, n.p.). What if I told you that these were a woman’s wedding vows? Believable? Maybe. Now, what if I told you that these were a woman’s wedding vows to the Eiffel Tower? Am I being truthful? Yes. The above sequence of sentences are the vows read by Erika Eiffel, a woman who considers herself an objectùm sexual, during a marriage ceremony to the Eiffel Tower that took place April 8, 2007 (OS Internationale, 2010). This paper will explore the following research question: “How are human identities transformed by objects specifically for objectùm sexuals?” In order to address this question, I will summarize what objectùm-sexuality is as well as its history, discuss Peter Berger’s three stages of human creativity as they are manifested in renowned objects, and explain how these objects and others speak specifically to certain human’s identities.
Objectùm-Sexuality and Its History
As an objectùm sexual, Erika is one among a small population of people around the world who also identify with this orientation. Objectùm-sexuality, also known as OS, has not been widely studied to date; however, some explanations may account for this. Foremost, the community of objectùm sexuals is quite small. Moreover, many people conclude that OS is only a fetish and not a real orientation, but fetishists rely on desired objects to gratify their sexual desires, whereas objectùm sexuals do not base their love of objects on habitual psychosexual responses (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). Lastly, very few researchers have ventured into this field of study. For these reasons, the data is scarce. However, there is currently an international website dedicated to OS, and its purpose is to provide a support network for objectùm sexuals as well as a platform for educating people about this subject (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). “We are not claiming to have solid clinical basis, only the practical knowledge gained from each other and recent studies” (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d., para. 1). For the purpose of this research paper, the majority of information regarding OS will be referenced from the international website. In addition, subsequent magazine articles and interviews will be referenced.
Objectùm sexuality in one way is defined as “an unusual psychological phenomenon in which an individual feels powerful affection toward a particular inanimate object” (LeMouse, 2016, para. 1). Contrary to this definition, the contributing writers of the OS international website do not describe OS to be an “unusual psychological phenomenon.” Rather, they define it simply as an orientation to love objects. They clearly outline that the prolific definition of sexual orientation is not inclusive to objects; however, the definition of orientation is (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). “We love objects on a very significant level and many of us in an intimate way” (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d., para. 4). The website further describes objectùm sexuals as possessing strong feelings towards objects characterized by their particular geometry or functions rather than the physical or intellectual characteristics attributed to humans. When posing the question, “How can one love an inanimate object?”, the website reminds people that love is not attached to rules identifying whom or what can be loved (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.).
In addition to having a foundation for what OS is, it is important to be aware of its brief history. Eija-Riitta was the first to coin the term OS in the early 1970s when she was searching for a name to correctly correspond to her orientation to love objects. Following this step, she married the Berlin Wall in 1979, and she added Berliner-Mauer to her last name. In 1999, Eija-Riitta launched an internet group for people to discuss objectùm- sexual issues, but it unfortunately failed. She reopened a more private site in 2002 dedicated to being a place for sincere objectùm sexuals whose membership to the site was approved. In the same year, Oliver Arndt began a network for objectùm sexuals in Germany. Erika met with both Oliver and Eija-Riitta in addition to many other members of the OS community in 2004 and beyond. As a result, she founded what is today Objectùm-Sexuality International in 2008 (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). These three people are key members of this community. They have brought forth knowledge and successfully formulated a community of people who share a similar identity to one another.
Peter Berger’s Three Stages of Human Creativity
In order to understand how society is maintained, Berger (1968) states that man must admit that not only is society a product of him, but he too is a product of society. Though this may seem odd, Berger (1968) assures people that these two statements do not work in opposition of one another. They truly reflect the relationship society has with its human inhabitants. Society existed before humans, and it will exist after humans; however, it does not function until it is acted upon by humans. In the same way, human life is not active until it interacts with objects in society. Within the realm of society, individuals are able to attain and maintain their identities (Berger, 1968). According to Berger (1968), “Every individual biography is an episode within the history of society” (p. 3). To fully comprehend how this vast societal phenomenon happens, Berger (1968) concludes that there are three key steps: externalization, objectivation, and internalization. These steps work together to sustain one united society (Berger, 1968).
Externalization is the first step in describing the three-part cycle of society. By definition, it is the “ongoing outpouring of human being into the world, both in the physical and the mental activity of men” (Berger, 1968, p. 4). This step occurs as a consequence of the biological process of man. Because man in unfinished at birth, he must finish developing in the subsequent years after his birth, and he relies on the surrounding environment to do this. This fact strongly contrasts the life of non-human animals. Other animals are born mostly developed with instinctual drives. The world they are born into is derived from their innate nature. On the other hand, man’s nature at birth is not specialized for a specific environment, so he is left to create his own world. He is not given a relationship to the world, rather he creates his own relationship with the world (Berger, 1968). Berger (1968) describes the entirety of this process as man “produc[ing] himself in a world” (p. 6). The human world created by man is also known as culture. Culture provides for man structures that he inherently lacks, but because culture is not nature, it is not stable, and it is often reproduced over time. This can potentially be problematic for humans. As a whole, culture is made up of both material and non-material products. Since culture is reproduced, one can conclude that society will cease to exist unless maintained by active human beings. In conclusion, all of the “stuff” that constitutes society exists because it is externalized by human beings (Berger, 1968).
One of the most renowned structures in the world resides in Paris, France: The Eiffel Tower, and in its purest form, this structure exemplifies what Berger describes as externalization. More than 4.5 million people visited the tower just last year reaffirming that it is a famous world monument (“Eiffel Tower History,” n.d.). Yet its grandeur does not exclude it from Berger’s three stages of human creativity. In fact, it is a beautiful example of how these stages are manifested through a material object. The Eiffel Tower did not exist until human beings worked together collectively to create it. Gustave Eiffel designed plans to build the structure of the Eiffel Tower for the 1889 World’s Fair, but the design was criticized for being “a gigantic factory chimney whose form [would] disfigure the architectural harmony of the city” (“Eiffel Tower History,” n.d., para. 3). Nonetheless, the tower was erected in only two years (“Eiffel Tower History,” n.d.). It is the product of the outpouring of human physical activity into the world, and it became a vital part of the culture of France. Just as Berger (1968) described, culture is reproduced, and the Eiffel Tower was converted into a military radio and telegraph center for the first World War. Once again, extensive renovations took place in the 1980s, and today, the Eiffel Tower is a tourist attraction and highly respected work of art (“Eiffel Tower History,” n.d.). In order for an objectùm sexual’s identity to be molded by an object, the object must first be created. This explains why it is necessary to discuss the history of the formation of the Eiffel Tower. Without it, Erika Eiffel would not have fallen in love.
The second stage Berger (1968) identifies is objectivation. It is in this stage that “society becomes a reality” (Berger, 1968, p.4). The “stuff” that is produced by man can no longer be wished away by man. Whether material or non-material, the product of human work can now resist the desires of the creator (Berger, 1968). This is not to say the non-material object is capable of growing human features, like arms, legs, and a mouth overnight. The object cannot physically fight back its creators should its creators decide to tear it down. However, the externalized things are now a distinct part of history. Even if they are removed at some point in their life span, their existence is a part of a greater historical record. They are written about, photographed, recorded, and more. This is truer now with the technology available; however, even material objects from long ago are still spoken about. They may be physically removed, but the reality that they were a vital aspect of society is very much a true reality. Berger (1968) writes that, “Once produced, the tool has a being of its own that cannot be readily changed by those who employ it” (p. 9). This statement can be seen through the use of the Eiffel Tower as a radio tower. Although humans changed the tower to meet their needs during the war, once changed, the tower controlled the interactions of the same human beings. During the Battle of the Marne that took place in 1914, the radiotelegraphic station learnt that a German Commander had problems that halted his advance. This information specifically allowed the French army to form a counter-attack. It was the wireless transmission that compelled the Frenchmen to act (“Eiffel Tower History,” n.d.). The French did not create this idea on their own.
The way in which objectivation is seen in objectùm sexuals’ relationships is rather intriguing. According to Berger (1968), “No human construction can be accurately called a social phenomenon unless it has achieved that measure of objectivity that compels the individual to recognize it as real” (p. 12). Though I concur that Berger’s stages of human identity are displayed in the Eiffel Tower, I recognize the stages much differently in my life than an objectùm sexual would. For Erika Eiffel, an objectùm sexual who married the Eiffel Tower, Berger’s second stage, objectivation, takes on a different meaning in her lifestyle and her personal identity. Like the radio tower controlled the French army’s strategy, the Eiffel Tower has a part in controlling her environment. Erika adapted her lifestyle accordingly to the Eiffel Tower. For example, she changed her last name to match it. One explanation for why the effects of objectivation of objects can be seen differently in the life of objectùm sexuals is animism. Animism is “the innate belief that objects are not inanimate but possess a spirt, soul, or energy to which one can connect with” (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d., para. 24). Amy Marsh, a clinical sexologist, is one of the only people who have ventured into studying objectùm sexuals. In her research listed on the OS international website, she compiled a list of direct quotes from objectùm sexuals to the question: “What does your beloved object or objects find most attractive about you?” One respondent said, “Well Libby is always telling me she thinks I am funny” (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). This quote helps to show how the effects of objectivation are different amongst individuals. For this respondent, the object she is referencing, Libby, is undoubtedly real to her, and it has the potential to affect how she acts. If the respondent anticipates that Libby enjoys her sense of humor, then he/she is going to be more inclined to tell Libby jokes. For me, I can admit that an object is real and that it has the ability to control human beings’ actions as this is a qualification for objectivation. However, this does not mean that I will adapt my behavior to appease the object as if it had a spirt or soul.
The last stage Berger (1968) describes in the three-part cycle of human creativity is internalization. It is this stage that I believe truly provides an explanation for people who feel that their orientation to love is best described as a love for objects. According to Berger (1968), “Internalization is the reappropriation by men of this same reality, transforming it once again from structures of the objective world into structures of the subjective consciousness” (p. 4). This means that man not only recognizes elements of the objectivated world as part of a greater reality, but he also acknowledges that these elements are a part of his consciousness. Furthermore, internalization entails that man will identify with objectivated elements and be shaped by them (Berger, 1968). “He draws them into himself and makes them his meanings. He becomes not only one who possess these meanings, but one who represents and expresses them” (Berger, 1968, p. 15). One important aspect of the process of internalization is conversation. Conversation acts as the main tool to maintain a person’s identity. His/her identity will only continue to remain real through conversation (Berger, 1968). He/she talks through his/her identity. One may talk to oneself or to a larger community, but nonetheless, his/her identity is shared. Additionally, conversation is key in sustaining the cycle of human creativity. From externalization to objectivation to internalization, conversation must be present to see the cycle through to its completion. Once a “thing”, whether material or nonmaterial, has been both externalized and objectivated, it is up to a person to internalize it, and it is mainly through conversation that this is done. The person accepts the role the element plays in his/her life and then transforms his/her identity in relation to the element (Berger, 1968). As an example, Berger (1968) states, “Thus, he not only plays the role of uncle, but he is an uncle” (p. 17). This is different than objectivation because the stuff that was externalized is no longer just a real part of the environment with the ability to control the environment and the humans that inhabit the environment. Through internalization, the stuff is now subject to significantly shape the humans on a different level that is much deeper than just controlling their behaviors.
As discussed previously, the Eiffel Tower has been both externalized and objectivated, and through Erika’s example of marriage to it, it is also internalized. In a personal testimony included on the OS International website, Erika said that from as young as she could remember she has found herself drawn innately to the compositions of bridges. She described feeling deeply connected to two different bridges, but due to societal pressure, she felt that she had to conceal those feelings (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). Describing bridges, she says, “Everywhere I went, they were there with me always… aesthetically beautiful to the world but radiating endurance under extreme forces to me” (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d., para. 5). I believe this quote particularly speaks to how the Eiffel Tower and bridges in general are internalized in Erika’s life. The bridges do not just control her by dictating where she walks or how her surrounding environment looks, but they shape her consciousness. She uses strong words like radiate, endurance, and extreme to describe how bridges are a significant part of her identity. She is not just Erika, a woman who appreciates bridges and their structure, but she is Erika, a woman who is defined by them.
Erika does not only love the Eiffel Tower, but she has had relations with other objects as well. She also is currently in a relationship with the Berlin Wall, as is Eija-Riitta (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). Erika is not alone in this. Many objectùm sexuals have polyamorous relationships, or relationships will multiple objects. In Marsh’s research, one question asked was the number of object relationships a respondent had. One respondent said, “The Berlin Wall is my primary one, but I also am attracted to Fences, Levels, and other objects” (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). Erika said that one reason she relates to the Berlin Wall is because it represents a kindred spirit of abuse and survival (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d.). She states, “In many ways… I am the Berlin Wall” (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d., para. 10). Once again, I believe this showcases specifically how Berger’s three stages of human creativity are manifested in two very large, well-known, non-material objects. Erika’s reactions to these objects exemplify the three stages being brought to life.
In order to explore how this key third step, internalization, truly impacts peoples’ lifestyles in different ways, I am going to discuss another person’s experience as an objectùm sexual. Linda Ducharme Chance is a woman who has been in a relationship with a carnival ride since 1982, and now, they are married. She described first falling for a roller coaster, but she admits to being too young to pursue a relationship. Her first serious relationship was with an aircraft when she was a teenager. When speaking of her current relationship, it is obvious that Linda views herself as a dedicated wife. This is part of her identity. She speaks of knowing her husband, Bruce, since 1982. They were separated for several years, but they now share a life together (Dilvin, 2013). “I love him for exactly what he is- a Skydiver (carnival ride made by Chance Rides). I’ve loved the way he thrilled me while riding on him in the past. I love his sound, and of course, I find him tremendously attractive. I’m into the whole package!” (Dilvin, 2013, para. 7). In the few sentences she uses to describe her relationship with this object, it is obvious that Linda definitely identifies as an objectùm sexual. More than this, her identity is completely altered by what many consider an inanimate thing. “I’ve taken vows, and it’s my intention to stay with him” (Dilvin, 2013, para. 9). In the simplest of terms, the ride was created, became a part of the environment, and shaped a person. This cycle is what Berger (1968) explicated in his research.
Overall, it is flawed to conclude that Berger’s three stages of human creativity can only be seen through the lifestyle of an objectùm sexual. However, it is easily as flawed to not admit that these stages do provide a sound explanation for objectùm sexuals’ orientation to love objects. After conducting an in depth analysis describing what Berger’s stages are followed by how they can be seen in an object like the Eiffel Tower, I believe we can begin to have a better understanding into the OS orientation. When concluding her personal testimony, Erika said, “My life has been very rich, and I have achieved many personal goals empowered by the loving connection I have with what are otherwise known as inanimate objects” (Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale, n.d., para. 12). Ultimately, she is satisfied by her life choices, and subconsciously, she is satisfied with how an object has been externalized, objectivated, and internalized over the course of her life.
Berger, P. L. (1968). The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Dilvin, Y. (2013). I’m happily married to a ferris wheel. Sunday Mail (Adelaide), 4.
Eiffel Tower History. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.eiffeltowerguide.com/Eiffel-Tower-History.html
LeMouse, M. (2016). All about objectum sexuality. Retrieved from http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/16062/1/All-About-Objectum-Sexuality.html
Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale. (n.d.). Welcome to objectùm-sexuality internationale!. Retrieved from http://www.objectum-sexuality.org/
OS Internationale. (2010, Feb 21). Objectum-Sexuality: Tyra Banks after dark pt 1. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waMcoLnaWOY