Why is Cristiano Ronaldo the Symbol of the 'Spornosexual' Movement?

Cristiano Ronaldo's body is idolized by a generation of young men.
Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal, May 24, 2014. Ronaldo's toned physique is desired by a generation of young men. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In a now seminal 1994 essay entitled Here Come the Mirror Men, English author and journalist Mark Simpson coined the term “metrosexual.” The metrosexual was interested in fashion and the trappings of his own appearance; he liked to look good and feel good, demonstrating that men could, unashamedly, be in thrall to their own image.

The movement reached its apogee in 2002, in a Salon.com article in which Simpson used former England football captain David Beckham as the ultimate example of a metrosexual man. Now, he believes, the metrosexual generation has been supplanted by an altogether more aggressive and powerful breed—the spornosexuals, a fusion of pornography and sport in a body perfectly honed by countless hours in the gym; men who see their own bodies as fashion accessories.

And just as David Beckham was the standard-bearer for metrosexuals, Simpson holds up Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo as the spornosexual icon.

Newsweek Europe asked him to elucidate on the phenomenon.

What exactly does 'spornosexual' mean?

The spornosexual is a man who has hammered and fashioned his own body into a hot, ripped, pumped, inked, vaguely lewd commodity at the factory of the 21st century—the gymnasium. He’s a man who aspires to be that ultimate 21st-century male hero—a Men’s Health cover model.

How do you spot one? You don’t. Their under-dressed body spots you—and then demands that you look at it, to admire its glutes and guns and dizzyingly low body-fat percentage. The spornosexual is that irksome, wannabe male glamour model who hogs your Instagram and Facebook feed. But strangely, you still haven’t got around to unfollowing.

How does "spornosexual" differ from "metrosexual"?

Spornosexuality is second-generation metrosexuality. A sexed-up, body-centred, "hardcore" form of metrosexuality. The spornosexual doesn’t want to be loved just for his wardrobe, clear skin and groomed beard. He wants to be wanted for his own body—something that he’s worked very hard to turn into the ultimate accessory.

Why did metrosexualism die out to be replaced by this newer concept?

Men no longer “act,” while women “appear.” Men do a great deal of appearing these days. Male vanity and product use is no big deal any more—in a visual, social media world, men have to be image-conscious or else they simply… disappear.

However, because the male desire to be desired—which is the self-regarding heart of metrosexuality—is so normal these days, it’s just taken for granted, especially by the younger generation. There’s little point in “outing” someone as “metrosexual” when everyone is. Likewise, and slightly paradoxically, being metrosexual isn’t in itself something that makes you stand out nowadays. Being spornosexual, though, does. After all, what’s more eye-catching than living, walking, talking porn?

How has 21st-century culture led to the rise of the "spornosexual"?

Metrosexuality was shaped largely by glossy magazines and advertising in the ‘90s. Then in the Noughties, celebrity culture, reality TV and Beckham and co. sent it into orbit. Spornosexuality on the other hand is shaped largely by selfie-obsessed social media—where young men are busy comparing body parts. Thanks to smartphones you can be the director and star of your own reality TV show.

What is the connection to sport? Is it just about fitness, or is there an element of narcissism, about fitness to look good rather than feel good?

Well, going to the gym is a kind of sport. And arguably, pornography is a kind of sport too—and not just a spectator sport any more. Spornosexuality is the interface between fitness and sensuality, feeling good and looking good, activity and passivity, heroism and sluttiness.

Sportsmen have played a big role in promoting spornosexuality themselves—with many of them appearing in their pants on the covers of magazines—including gay magazines—and on the sides of buses in their underwear. Many of them also use topless avatars on social media, the hussies.

They don’t regard their bodies as merely a “tool” for their trade of sports — they absolutely maximise its aesthetic/sexual potential too. Eager self-objectification is a major part of spornosexuality.

Why did you pick Cristiano Ronaldo as an example? How would someone like Ronaldo differ from the man you popularized as the ultimate metrosexual, David Beckham?

Although Beckham was never shy about taking his clothes off, and was of course an athlete, his body was never that buff. He doesn’t look like he spends a lot of time in the gym. Ronaldo on the other hand is totally shredded and hench and completely fits that advertising format. You wonder whether he scores goals just so that he can take his shirt off and flex for the roaringcrowd. Like much of the younger generation of males, Cristiano seems very aware of his body as a sexualized object and very keen to enhance that effect.

In a nutshell: Becks, now 40, is metrosexual. Ronaldo, 31, is spornosexual.

Is there something about football especially that fits your term? Requiring a body to be athletic and muscular but not overtly so, defined yet lithe... would the footballer be the ideal of the movement?

Footballers in the U.K. didn’t use to go to the gym. In the 1970s and ‘80s some would spend most of their time in the pub. Many of them didn’t have upper bodies at all. The transformation today is quite astonishing.

That said, gymnasts probably embody the ideal in many ways, with their defined muscles developed from moving their perfect bodies around in the air where we can get a really good look at them. After all, the word “gymnastics” derives from the Greek for “exercise naked.”

Football, of course, traditionally has a much bigger global following than gymnastics, which is not exactly the greatest of team sports. Hence Ronaldo, who has the body of a gymnast and is also one of the world’s best footballers, is such an arresting combination, and why he is no doubt persuading a generation of young men that they need to do more crunches.

Is the spornosexual out to gain the attention of the opposite sex, or is his sexcuality more fluid?

The spornosexual usually prefers women in bed, but doesn't mind who is enjoying their body in public. His body is an adult bouncy castle for the eyes. Everyone is invited. He might sometimes look a bit of a bruiser, but he’s still a cruiser. He’s always checking out who is checking him out.

In fact, the admiration of other men is often especially prized because other men are more likely to understand how much time and sweat has gone into getting those biceps. Or care. No matter how hetero, a spornosexual isn't usually too squeamish about homosexuality. After all, his body advertises a deep understanding and study of the the sexiness of the male body. In fact, he often looks like a gay for pay porn star. Or is in fact one.

Mark Simpson blogs at www.marksimpson.com