Category Archives: Boys and Men

A Little Something I’ve Been Writing

Occasionally, against my better judgment, I (John) log into and read discussion boards in various online venues. These venues include sites where the public is invited to comment on newspaper or magazine articles, blog posts, books, and videos. Even worse than reading these discussion boards, I sometimes experience powerful emotions, emotions that draw me to the keyboard and into an internet discussion or debate. When I read something I find provocative or offensive, it can be very difficult to stop myself from commenting. But if I control this urge, after a few minutes, hours, or days, the impulse subsides and I’m then enlightened as to why my initial impulses to deliver a quick and clever retort were misguided. It also helps when I consult with wife on what it is that I’m wanting to write. Her sarcastic analysis of my juvenile impulses helps me inhibit my desire to make a fool of myself.

But there are times when I don’t wait long enough. And there are times when I don’t consult my wife. Instead, I channel the emotion I’m feeling (usually anger) into what I consider, in-the-moment, to be a pithy, clever, or creative retort.

Flaming

The online world has a name for this phenomenon; it’s called flaming. Flaming is defined as a hostile and insulting interaction in an internet forum or discussion. It may include profanity and name-calling. I like to think I never stoop quite that low. Some internet users are intentional flamers who comment on specific topics in an effort to inflame or incite; others, like me, are occasionally drawn into an internet brawl.

In June, 2013, while perusing books about boys and male development, I came across the book: Raising Boys Feminists will Hate by Doug Giles. If the title of the book was a spark, the first page fanned my fire. Giles opened with:

Parent, if you have a young son and you want him to grow up to be a man, then you need to keep him away from pop culture, public school and a lot of Nancy Boy churches. If metrosexual pop culture, feminized public schools and the effeminate branches of evanjellycalism lay their sissy hands on him, you can kiss his masculinity good-bye because they will morph him into a dandy. (p. 1)

In this case, I could have taken a few deep breaths and waited. There was no hurry for me to respond. Why not wait? It also would have been advisable for me to consult my wife. But what fun would that have been? I knew what she would say. I also knew that instead of self-control or restraint, at that moment, mostly I wanted immediate gratification. Such is the nature of contemporary internet flaming. It’s about instant gratification; it’s not so much about thoughtful and reflective discourse. So, before I could fully contemplate my actions and while avoiding contact with anyone who might push me toward a more mature perspective, I quickly wrote a short book review:

This guy clearly has an ego of immeasurable proportions. I think the main problem is that he’s deluded himself to believe that just because he said it or wrote it, it must be true. I’m not sure anyone in the mainstream is against raising boys to be strong men with good character. But I suppose he’s just creating the image of Nazi-feminists so he can blast away at them and consequently increase his media attention. The real title of this book should be: “I hate feminists and because I’m a real man who knows everything, you should too.” I’d like to challenge him to a debate on Fox, but I’m afraid I’d lose control and get into fisticuffs and consequently damage my sissy-feminist reputation.

In retrospect, I see that this wasn’t my greatest moment. When I start a commentary with “This guy. . .” whatever follows isn’t pointed in the direction of intellectual sophistication. And when I deteriorate into mentioning “fisticuffs” well, then it just becomes a process of embarrassing myself.

Fortunately, I was posting on a relatively “quiet” discussion board. The first response to my post didn’t come until months later. Here’s a clipped version of what a person with the online handle “Jeffery Bozo” had to say about Giles’s book and my review of his work:

The Feminists stayed at the party too long and now they are just beating a dead horse. It’s time for them to find another hobby.

Doug’s comments concerning the Feminist takeover of education are spot-on. 90% of public school teachers are female and/or gay. Does that sound diverse and balanced to you? It seems these activists only concern themselves with their diversity pie charts when it favors their natural enemies. Sounds like female-Femi/Stasi-pigs to me. The height of hypocrisy.

What I took from Mr. Bozo’s post was that he was apparently unimpressed with my clever book review. And although much of what he wrote didn’t make any sense to me, I can see why he, and many others, might take offense to what I wrote. I was neither fair nor balanced. I didn’t focus on the book’s content. I was mocking and insulting Giles and his work. Even though it felt clever and gratifying in the moment, it wasn’t helpful or constructive (both of which are more valuable in a book review than offering clever insults).

You may want to come to my defense. After all, Giles was being intentionally provocative in his choice of book title and his opening paragraph. One great way to deny personal responsibility for immature behavior is to claim: “He started it!” And, although there’s truth to that, Giles’s being provocative is no excuse for my flaming response.

Interestingly, a few months later, another reader decided to enter into the discussion and share her feelings. Her post was directed to Mr. Bozo:

Wow, you are a truly special breed of stupid and ignorant, aren’t you? Your last name is perfectly fitting, because you’re a clown.

When this comment initially popped into my email I had the horrific thought that the posting was about me. Although I was relieved to discover that the commenter was on my side and referencing Mr. Bozo, this is still an excellent example of destructive flaming.

Here’s the main point: Flaming responses, whether online or in-person, nearly always have the intent of “teaching someone a lesson” or “putting someone in his or her place.” And here’s the corollary: It doesn’t work because the other person doesn’t want to hear the lesson and doesn’t want to be put in his or her place.

A Short Piece on Disrespecting Teenagers

The post below is from psychotherapy.net and so you can view it there too: http://www.psychotherapy.net/blog/title/a-short-piece-on-disrespecting-teenagers

Also, I strongly recommend that you check out psychotherapy.net as a potential go-to resource on all things psychotherapeutic. Their video and streaming collection is awesome and extensive. Go to: http://www.psychotherapy.net/

Okay. Here’s the post:

A Short Piece on Disrespecting Teenagers

We have an American cultural norm to disrespect teenagers. For example, it’s probably common knowledge that teens are:
• Naturally difficult
• Not willing to listen to good common sense from adults
• Emotionally unstable
• Impulsively acting without thinking through consequences

Wait. Most of these are good descriptors of Bill O’Reilly. Isn’t he an adult?

Seriously, most television shows, movies, and adult rhetoric tends toward dismissing and disrespecting teens. It’s not unusual for people to express sympathy to parents of teens. “It’s a hard time . . . I know . . . I hope you’re coping okay.” Just last night Stephen Colbert quipped, “Nobody likes teenagers.” Even Mark Twain had his funny and famous disrespectful quotable quote on teens. Remember:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

This is a clever way of suggesting that teens don’t recognize their parents’ wisdom. Although this is partly true, I’m guessing most teens don’t find it especially hilarious. Especially if their parents are treating them in ways that most of us would consider unwise—at least if we were treated similar ways in the workplace.

And now the neuroscientists have piled on with their fancy brain images. We have scientific evidence to prove, beyond any doubt, that the brains of teens aren’t fully developed. Those poor pathetic teens; their brains aren’t even fully wired up. How can we expect them to engage in mature and rational behavior? Maybe we should just keep them in cages to prevent them from getting themselves in trouble until their brain wiring matures.

This might be a good idea, but then how do we explain the occasionally immature and irrational behavior and thinking of adults? I mean, I know we’re supposed to be superior and all that, but I have to say that I’ve sometimes seen teens acting mature and adults acting otherwise. How could this be possible when we know—based on fancy brain images—that the adult brain is neurologically all-wired-up and the teen brain is under construction? Personally (and professionally), I think the neuroscience focus on underdeveloped “teen brains” is mostly (but not completely) a form of highly scientifically refined excrement from a male bovine designed to help adults and parents feel better about themselves.

And therein lies my point: I propose that we start treating teens with the respect that we traditionally reserve for ourselves and each other . . . because if we continue to disrespect teenagers and lower our expectations for their mature behavior . . . the more our expectations are likely to come true.

John and his sister, Peggy, acting immature even though their brains are completely wired up.

Peg and John Singing at Pat's Wedding

What Kind of a Man Attends the 4th National Psychotherapy with Men Conference?

Several years ago a former student caught up with me in the hall outside my office in the College of Education at the University of Montana. He had taken an Intro to Psychology course from me way back in 1982. He re-introduced himself, complimented me on my teaching from three decades previously, and then, glancing at my name on the door, asked, “What kind of a man hyphenates his last name?”

I was speechless (which doesn’t happen all that often). He had just told me of his divorce; he had marveled at me being married for 25 years; and yet there it was, a small-dose of straight on masculine-shaming.

I said what most of us probably say when questioned about our masculinity.

I said nothing.

In retrospect, I wish I’d said: “I hyphenated my name because I’m the kind of man who wants to stay married and have a real partnership with his wife.” Hmm. That might have been over-the-top.
I didn’t have a balanced answer then and I’m not sure I have a good one now. But, how about cutting to the chase and meeting his question with one of my own?

“What kind of a man questions another man about his masculinity?”

That might have been fun, but obviously not perfect. And that’s the point; it can be difficult to find the right words in response to comments on our masculinity.

This past Saturday I had the privilege of embracing all dimensions of my humanity, without needing to worry about sideways—or straight on—masculinity comments. That’s because I had the good fortune of attending the 4th National Psychotherapy with Men Conference. Of course, my comfort might have been because the chief conference organizer, Matt Englar-Carlson, a faculty member in the Department of Counseling at Cal State Fullerton, is also a hyphenator. But more likely it was because this particular conference was all about acceptance, inclusion, listening, understanding, learning . . . and most of all CONNECTION. Masculine shaming was nowhere in the room.

The conference organizers, Englar-Carlson, David Shepard, and Rebekah Smart, set the tone for understanding and inclusiveness in their opening comments. The opening keynote followed and it was BY A WOMAN . . . which this leads me to back to my masculine-shaming theme for today:

“What kind of a MEN AND MASCULINITY organization sponsors a conference on psychotherapy with men and then has an opening keynote speech BY A WOMAN?”

Answer: “The kind of organization populated by people who have the good judgment to be very interested in listening to and understanding women’s perspectives.”

And so we all got to listen to—not just any woman (although that would have been fine too, because the conference wasn’t about status)—but the renowned Judith Jordan, author of many books and co-director of the Jean Baker Miller Institute. How cool is that?

After Jordan explored how we can raise boys to be competent and connected men, we scattered to different break-out sessions. As my adolescent clients would say, this sucked because it’s hard to make hard choices. My principle regret of the whole conference was that even though I have two last names, there’s still only one of me and so I couldn’t attend EVERY SESSION, but instead had make choices. And although I was perfectly happy to start my break-out experiences listening to Christopher Kilmartin, professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington, as Irvin Yalom would say, it meant the death of the rest of my choices.

But seriously . . . here’s the important question: “What kind of a man accepts a faculty position at an institution named THE UNIVERSITY OF MARY WASHINGTON?”

Answer: “The same kind of man who gets asked to spend a year teaching sexual assault prevention at the Air Force Academy.” Now that’s a pretty good answer.

Kilmartin was awesome (just ask my wife, because I’ve been quoting him all week). But being at his break-out session made me miss the amazing Jon Carlson who might be the kindest, gentlest, and most humble person I know with hundreds of professional publications, video productions, and spare time to raise five children (two adopted) including the hyphenated conference organizer, who happens to have full professor status despite looking like he just shaved for the first time last week.

Naturally, the psychotherapy with men conference lunch had a vegetarian option (at this point I should also mention the Starbucks coffee and whole wheat bagels in the morning and the Panera coffee and cookies in the afternoon). Right after lunch, we gathered to listen to Fredric Rabinowitz, the afternoon keynote. Rabinowitz, who also happens to play tournament poker, talked about Deepening Psychotherapy with Men. He emphasized that, for men, there’s a substantial vocabulary about defenses, but not Department of Connection. For the past 20+ years he has helped men go deep and express their pain and loss in ways that are (surprise!) contrary to how society expects men to express their pain and loss. Unfortunately, Rabinowitz had to miss an annual fancy poker tournament to attend the conference . . . which leads to the obvious question:

“What kind of a man misses a poker tournament to talk with a bunch of sensitive psychotherapy-types?”

Answer: “A pretty cool dude who knows his priorities.”

After Rabinowitz’s keynote, there were more decisions. In my program I had circled presentations by David Shepard and Michele Harway as well as Chris Liang. But I should confess here-and-now that I got slightly intoxicated with Panera coffee and cookies and ended up wandering into the wrong room with three Canadian presenters who were talking about how to help men transition from military to civilian life. It might have partially been the coffee, but the Three Canadians ROCKED MY WORLD . . . which begs the question:

“What kind of a man gets his world rocked by Three Canadians?”

Answer: “The kind of man who recognizes they have such fabulous clinical skills and compassion and cleverness that it makes him wish he was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C. instead of Vancouver, Washington (not that there’s anything wrong with Vancouver, WA).”

After my Canadian experience I staggered into Mark Stevens’s presentation on Engaging Men in the Process of Psychotherapy. Stevens showed photos of little boys and asked us to remember that ALL OF OUR MALE CLIENTS were once sensitive boys (not little men). He urged us to engage men slowly, but to not judge or underestimate them in ways that minimize or shrink their humanity. This was awesome, but I have to ask:

“What kind of a man shows photos of little boys during a professional presentation?”

Answer: “The kind of man who understands how to work effectively with men.”

At this conference you didn’t need a hyphenated name and you didn’t need an un-hyphenated name, because there was no shaming either way. There was just acceptance; acceptance of being scared boys and scared girls who are doing the best we can to openly affirm and connect with each other. And these connections reached across races, to the transgendered, to the women, and even to graduate students. If you’re interested in this sort of thing (and I think you should be), you should check out Division 51 of the American Psychological Association at: http://www.division51.org/

BTW, at the post-conference social I got to meet lore m. dickey, who presented earlier in the day on Affirmative Practice with Transgender Clients. He immediately shared with me that he is a female to male transsexual. That’s the sort of openness and connection you get at the Psychotherapy with Men conference. But I’m sure you know this leads me to another purposely masculinity-shaming question.

“What kind of a man chooses to go through a female to male transgender process?”

“The kind of a man who has achieved clarity about his male identity.”

The day ended with me hanging out with the Three Canadians—whom I should name here (Marvin Westwood, David Kuhl, and Duncan Shields). They welcomed me to their table at the social time where we engaged in an extended international mutual appreciation festival. You should really look them up.

All this brings me to my final question:

“What kind of a man writes an fluffy, complimentary, and sycophantic blog about the 4th National Psychotherapy with Men Conference?”

Answer: “The kind of man who wants to offer the conference organizers and participants the thanks and praise they deserve.”

 

Boys Will Be Boys . . . Unless We Teach Them Something Better

What follows is a reprint from the ACA blog I wrote a couple weeks ago just in case you didn’t catch that. Have an excellent weekend.

Some of you may already be aware of Rosalind Wiseman’s work. She initially became recognized as a national parenting authority with the publication of her popular book, “Queen Bees and Wannabees” (2003).  This book inspired the movie “Mean Girls.” Despite her lack of academic credentials (a B.A. in Political Science from Occidental College), she has done some good work around the topic of girl bullying.

In her latest book, Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World she ventures into new and exciting territory. But from the perspective of a grown up boy, I think, despite her best intentions, she doesn’t really get the boy world. This is probably because she never was a boy and can only try to understand the internal struggles and experiences of boys from an external perspective. This doesn’t make her effort bad or unimportant . . . but it does limit her reach. For the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on one particular excerpt that I found both ridiculous and potentially damaging.

On p. 87, she wrote:

“It’s important to allow him [your boy] to have a wide range of feelings.  Moms, if he’s feeling so angry that he wants to release his anger by punching a pillow or a punching bag, or going into his room and yelling at the top of his lungs, or playing really loud music, or even playing a violent video game, let him do it.  If he punches the wall, that’s okay too, as long as he isn’t threatening someone else when he’s doing it.  Plus, after he’s calmed down, he can then learn the skill of drywall patching. The bottom line is that a lot of women can be intimidated in the presence of men’s anger (with good reason).  But at the same time, your son needs a healthy outlet to express his anger without feeling like you think he’s a violent, crazy person for having his feelings.”

Let me just say this, “Like OMG. This is like some really gnarly bad advice.”

As you can see, I’m about as good at channeling my inner girl as Wiseman is at channeling her inner boy. To get back to my adult male persona, what I really want to say is that in this short excerpt, Wiseman’s ideas are so limited that I find them disturbing.

Perhaps the worst part is that Wiseman doesn’t seem to understand the basic and crucial difference between emotions and behaviors. It is and should be completely acceptable for all boys and all girls to experience anger. Anger is a natural and inevitable human emotion. But the emotion of anger is not the same as aggressive behavior. The fact is that boys CAN acknowledge and express their anger WITHOUT PUNCHING THINGS. And they SHOULD be expected to NOT PUNCH THINGS.

Let me emphasize this by saying it again: Boys can and should be expected to express their angry emotions without becoming violent or aggressive. It’s absolutely crucial for boys to learn to use their words and to control or inhibit their aggressive behaviors. A big problem with Wiseman’s message is that she’s coaching moms (and other adults) to accept inappropriate and unacceptable aggressive behaviors—from boys. She seems to be advocating the all-American excuse that boys will be boys and so therefore we should tolerate their aggression and not expect anything different. This is an unhelpful and potentially destructive message. Instead, the message from parents and caring adults needs to be: “I accept your angry emotions; but aggressive behavior is unacceptable.”

Part of what Wiseman is suggesting isn’t terrible. The idea of a natural consequence of drywall patching after an unacceptable aggressive outburst is reasonable. And the idea that moms shouldn’t be intimidated in response to their son’s anger or aggression is very important. But there’s a big difference between accepting an emotion and tolerating an aggressive behavior. Boys need to know that punching and destroying things is an unacceptable way to express their anger.

I think one of Wiseman’s limitations is that she’s never experienced anger and aggressive impulses from the inside of a male body.

As for myself:

I remember the last time I punched a wall . . .

I remember the last time I broke down a door . . .

I remember the last time I ripped a cupboard door off its hinges . . .

I also recall the last time I lashed out in anger and used a particularly unacceptable word to describe a woman. And I’m thankful to the person who taught me very clearly and very directly that I was engaging in an unacceptable behavior. It took me one firm but gentle lesson from a caring adult to learn to never use that disparaging word again.

I remember getting laid out as flat as a pancake by a 290 pound offensive tackle at Reser Stadium in 1978. And I remember wanting nothing more than another chance to get him back.

I also remember how I learned to watch my anger instead of acting on it. I remember the lessons my parents taught me. I remember practicing a deep breath and talking with my psychotherapist about my angry rages. I remember learning to deal more constructively with my revenge impulses even though I wanted so badly to give another male a physical pay-back. And I remember NEEDING SOMEONE to set limits on my aggressive behaviors.

It’s not easy for boys to learn to control their behavior. It’s also not easy for boys to learn to talk about anger (rather than acting on it). But this isn’t all about biology and testosterone. It’s also—and perhaps primarily—about the social expectations that most people hold for boys. If we expect and tolerate aggressive behavior as just part of being a boy, then we have very little chance of changing or improving how boys are capable of behaving.

The bottom line for me (and I know this is personalized and not completely unbiased) is that boys need caring and loving adults to raise the bar for them. I needed—and many boys need—higher (not lower) expectations when it comes to dealing with our anger.

My memories (and my counseling and psychotherapy work with boys) inspire my conclusions. Here they are:

IT IS ESSENTIAL for caring and loving adults to actively teach their boys that anger and sadness and fear and guilt and joy are all acceptable and expected emotions.

It’s equally essential for these same caring and loving adults to teach boys that aggressive behavior is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

If we don’t teach boys these lessons, then we’re lowering the bar to the point that we have no right to expect them to behave in civilized and non-violent ways.

And most of us are far better off when boys and men understand and manage their anger—rather than acting on their aggressive impulses.

Please help spread the word that we should expect more (not less or the same old thing) from boys. I know Ms. Wiseman is well-intended, but in this case we need to counter her bad advice with some good ideas.

Why Evolution is a Bad Explanation for Human Behavior

Nearly every day I hear, read, or see the latest news story about how the human brain is hard-wired to make all humans act in one particular way or another. These stories annoy me because:

  1. They emphasize that all humans are the same and ignore the fact that we’re all unique and, to a large degree, unpredictable.
  2. They imply that humans are unlikely to change or deviate from one another.
  3. They repeatedly claim we’re all hard-wired despite the fact that the human brain has NO WIRES.

Even worse, at the bottom of most of these “Your brain is hard-wired” stories is a mythical evolutionary explanation. This annoys me even more . . . because when it comes to everyday human behavior, evolution makes for very bad explanations. But if you’re listening to what pundits and scientists say in the media, you’d be inclined to believe the opposite of what’s really true about humans.

For mysterious reasons, many scientists—especially evolutionary scientists—want to put humans in a box. They suggest and imply and assert that human behavior is predictable. But the truth is that—apart from breathing—there are very few predictable human behaviors. As decades of controlled psychological experiments have shown, even under laboratory conditions where little choice is possible, scientific predictions typically account for no more that 30-40% of the variation in human behavior. This means that humans are 60-70% unpredictable . . . even under highly controlled conditions.

Aside from being mostly wrong, simple evolutionary and biological explanations for human behavior also often are translated into messages that are generally unhealthy for society. Let’s take one big example.

An especially popular media and science topic is male sexual behavior. The argument usually goes like this: Over millions of years males have become hardwired to be attracted to fertility and novelty in sexual partners. This is because . . . the argument continues . . . males seek to perpetuate their gene-pool. This is why, they say, males are attracted to younger females who exhibit signs of reproductive health. This also explains why males—especially young males—are driven to have sex with multiple female partners.

Given current U.S. social problems—think sexual assault and high divorce rates—it makes little sense to promote the mostly false ideas that males seek sexual novelty to perpetuate their gene pool. This information is unhelpful to women who want safe and stable relationships with men and it’s unhelpful to the majority of men who—in contradiction to evolutionary theory—want safe and monogamous intimate relationships with women (or other men).

Most of the time, most males engage in sexual behavior that’s not at all designed to spread their seed or perpetuate their gene pool. Young men are often strongly motivated to NOT get their girlfriends pregnant. Recent data indicate that many young men are NOT especially interested in engaging in indiscriminate sexual behavior.

Even in a 2011 research study at Syracuse University, 333 undergraduate males apparently hadn’t gotten the memo about being hardwired to want sex with novel partners. When asked, whether they could “. . . imagine themselves enjoying casual sex” these young men showed an average response that was largely in the “undecided” range. Think about that: males from 18-22 years-old at Syracuse University couldn’t really decide if they might enjoy casual sex. This is good news. And it’s not consistent with evolutionary-based myths about contemporary young men.

In the same study, 300+ Syracuse University women reported—in direct contradiction to evolutionary theory—that they had been engaging in casual sexual encounters at approximately the same rate as the males.

And so next time you hear or read or view a media story about how millions of years of evolution explains why human males or females behave one way or another, remember that many immediate conditions can and do override evolutionary-based predictions. Evolution is a generality that may or may not apply to a single organism living in the 21st century. Evolution does not trump choice. And that’s the point: Your choices tomorrow will have much more to do with the situations you’re facing today (and that you’re anticipating tomorrow) than they’ll have to do with yesterday.

Raising Boys in the 21st Century

As some of you may already know, yesterday I had a blog piece posted on the American Counseling Association website. The piece was titled, “Boys will be Boys . . . Unless we teach them something Better.” Check it out here, if you like: http://www.counseling.org/news/blog

There’s also much more helpful information on “raising boys” on the internet. One example is this featured blog on the Good Men Project website: “How We Can Improve Sex Ed for Boys.” Here’s the link for that: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-how-we-can-improve-sex-ed-for-boys/

I hope you’re all doing well in the run-up (as the Brits would say) to some major holiday activity.

John SF

 

Hooking Up: Two Play That Game, and Not Just on Campus

Hey. Here’s a piece Rylee S-F wrote that articulates some of the work and thinking we’ve been doing together as a father-daughter team. The focus is on male sexuality. Give a big shout-out to Rylee for getting this in the Connecticut Review and please reblog, like, and please make the world a better place by helping promote some sensible thinking about boys/men and sex. Thanks for reading! John SF

What I Learned About Male Sexuality Today

Learning is cool. As Rylee and I work on our boys and sexual development project, we get to do lots of reading. Even better, lots of the reading is about sex.

As you may recall, last week Rylee and fell in love with Cordelia Fine’s Myths of Gender. Today, I had a different experience reading a 2007 book titled “7 Things He’ll Never Tell You {but you need to know}” written by Kevin Leman, a psychologist and “New York Times best-selling author.”

Here are a few of “Dr.” Leman’s comments and tips . . . combined with some clearly spiteful commentary from Rita and Rylee.

“The wise woman realizes that a man is wired to want things now. [Rita stops me here and says, “Wait. That’s me! I’m the one who wants things now!] And she will realize that a man who is constantly thwarted in his desires will begin to look for gratification elsewhere.” (Leman, p. 35)

Right now I’m thinking about raspberry pie. If Rita doesn’t get it for me NOW, I’ll be looking elsewhere . . . I hope she recognizes that. This is pretty good stuff. No more thwarting . . . or else! [Rylee says, “Or else you’ll get it yourself.”]

Then he says:
“. . . men . . . are not relationally centered. They identify more with things. They are visually stimulated by looking. That means whatever your guy sees is imprinted on his mind. So if he sees a sexy woman in a red dress on the subway, he may see that same woman in his thoughts again later that night, a week later, even a month later. . . . Men, on the average, have 33 sexual thoughts a day” (p. 104)

Oh my, 33 sexual thoughts a day. And how many sexual thoughts a day does a woman have. He doesn’t really address this directly, but at the end of the book he has a little quiz and one of the items goes like this: “How much does a man think about sex? . . . 33 times as much as you” (p. 177).

This is a serious math problem. And so if Rita has 5 sexual thoughts in a day, it means I’ll have 165? Now we’re talking!

On p. 106, Leman writes: “It’s been said that women need a reason for sex. Men only need a place. Men really need sex and are designed to need sex, to think about it, and to pursue it. A physically healthy married man cannot be fulfilled without it.” (p. 106) [Rylee says: Only for married men? What about all those monks? No fulfillment for them?]

Hmmm . . . sounds like sex is pretty important for guys. No fulfillment . . . period? Nothing else is fulfilling? Well, I guess if I’ve got 165 sexual thoughts in a day, maybe there’s no time to think of anything else fulfilling. Even though this isn’t really all that consistent with any other psychological theories, especially existentialism, I guess if Dr. Leman says it, it must be true.

And here’s the coup de gras . . .

“Sex is the great equalizer in a man’s life. If he meets with the accountant and is short on funds for his income tax or he got a bad job review, coming home to a willing wife makes it all better. It’s amazing what things great sex can cure for men—everything from viruses, bacterial infections, impetigo, chicken pox, the flu, and most importantly, any problem in marriage. For example if he has a fight with his wife and later that day they have sex, all of his issues are gone. They’ve resolved themselves. The problem is that for the other half of the relationship—the female—the issues aren’t resolved until they’re talked about!” (p. 107)

So sex cures the chicken pox. [Rita says: “But only for men?”] I say I wish I’d known that last summer when I had the coxsackie virus. [Rita says, “Like that was gonna happen.”] [Rylee says: “So women can cure men by sacrificing themselves to whatever disease a man has.”] [Rita says, “Women are true healers.”]

See, you learn something new every day. And sometimes it’s actually useful . . . or true.

A Sneak Peek at the Boys and Sex Project

This summer I’m working on a writing project with my daughter Rylee on boys and their sexual development. This is a draft of an excerpt (aka sneak peek) from a chapter focusing on myths of male sexual development. Check it out. Like it if you like it and provide constructive feedback if you don’t. Thanks. Here we go:

We all should know better.

We should know that it doesn’t make good sense to use animal behavior—observations of fruit flies, rats, hamsters, sheep, and other animals—as an explanation or justification for gender-based human behavior. Unless we’re a fancy scientist who can maintain clear objectivity, using animal behavioral models to help explain why boys and girls and men and women behave the way they do is too subjective, self-serving, and risky. But when it involves humor and irony and helps us make a point, resisting this temptation is very difficult.

What Happens When Rams Watch Porn

On a sunny morning in late June, I (John) received a porn ping about Gary Wilson’s TEDx talk titled, “The Great Porn Experiment.” Wilson is an adjunct faculty member at Southern Oregon State University. He’s also co-host, with his wife Marnia Robinson (author of Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow) of the “Your Brain on Porn” website. Wilson’s areas of interest are neuroscience, pornography, and internet porn addiction. In his work he emphasizes the negative neurological and physical consequences of internet porn addiction.

Given all of the above, I was unable to suppress my curiosity and immediately clicked on the link. I was immediately transported to that amazing internet dimension where I could watch and listen to Gary Wilson tell me about The Great Porn Experiment.

Less than 90 seconds into his TEDx talk, Wilson wandered away from talking about humans, moving to something that he obviously found much more interesting—1960 research data on the sexual behavior of rams and ewes (male and female sheep). He stated: “Mother nature likes to keep a male fertilizing willing females as long as any new ones are around.” [He then began discussing a graph of the “minutes to ejaculation” for rams with either the “same old ewe” or with fresh new ewe partners].

Wilson continued: “In that top line, the ram, he needs more and more time to mate with the same old ewe. But if you keep switching females, the bottom line, he, well, it’s just not the same (audience laughter). He can get the job done in two minutes flat and get the job done until he is utterly exhausted. This is known as the Coolidge effect.” (We’ll get to the story about the Coolidge effect later; for now we’re sticking with Wilson and his sheep story).

Reflections on Ram-Ewe Sexual Behavior

Okay. After less than 2 minutes of Wilson’s TEDx talk (ironically, about the same amount of time it took the rams to “get the job done”), I could no longer focus and had to turn off the video to reflect on my thoughts and feelings. I found myself both intellectually stimulated and emotionally annoyed. Intellectually, I began wondering if perhaps it’s perfectly normal and evolutionarily natural for me to find females—other than my wife—more sexually stimulating. I wondered if maybe I should want to behave like a ram and ejaculate every 2 minutes with a new sexual partner (preferably human) until I’m exhausted—because, after all, that’s apparently what Mother Nature wants. Although this sounded intriguing, I instantly decided that due to the sexual partnering messages I’ve gotten for 50+ years through the media, for this arrangement to work, I would need to have the new available sexual partners be supermodels with no pores who are solely interested in my personal sexual stimulation and gratification (with no lingering conversation required subsequent to my 2 minute ejaculations).

Why is it that Wilson’s TEDx talk annoyed me in less time than it takes male sheep to move on to a new partner? Well, because of the amazing processing skills and speed of the human brain, I can formulate my answer to that question even faster than I can click a mouse. My annoyance rose up because there are so many things wrong with taking a research study on the sexual behavior of sheep and generalizing it to humans that hearing the story produced a negative emotional reaction. And what makes this even worse is the fact that I support Wilson’s conclusions (too much internet porn is bad for male sexuality and sexual performance), but lament his intellectual methods.

An Alternative Interpretation (or Are Human Males Only Interested in Ejaculation?)

Let’s start with one, among many, alternative interpretation of the 1960 sheep sex data. If you recall, Wilson noted that the rams “needed more and more time to mate with the same old ewe.” The way he stated this implies that the ONLY or EXCLUSIVE goal in this sexual situation is for the ram to ejaculate. Funny thing: I shared the research results with my wife and she suggested that perhaps the ram felt more comfortable, less anxious, and was able to therefore last longer with his regular ewe-partner. Perhaps they lingered together because, although ejaculation may have been one of their goals, the process of their ram-ewe lovemaking was enjoyable in-and-of-itself?

In fact, if ejaculation is really the only goal for human males—as it appears to be for sheep—then masturbating to internet pornography seems an appropriate venue (and unless my editor snips out this comment, I’d be inclined to suggest that sex with sheep may also be in play). However, it seems that based on 21st century coupling behavior, most human males are also interested in establishing and maintaining sexual and intimate relationships with human females (while some are interested in sexual and intimate relationships with other human males). Alyssa Royse, a freelance writer, Seattle-based sex educator, and Good Men Project, noted that, similar to Wilson, the popular culture also has emphasized that when it comes to sex and intimacy, human males are perhaps more ram-like than may be desirable. In a post on the Good Men Project website, she wrote:

I could go on and on, but that point is that popular culture sets up this idea that men are sexual predators who need to resort to trickery and cologne to fulfill their one and only mission, which is sticking their penis in a girl. (Alyssa Royse, http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-danger-in-demonizing-male-sexuality/)

Royse is observing that popular culture also seems to project the idea that males are more ram-like than human.

Seriously . . . What If Human Males Were Like Wilson’s Rams?

Like Wilson, many scientists, journalists, and people on the street fall prey to the temptation to generalize observations of various female and male animals to human gender-based behaviors. Despite the fact that we (both John and Rylee) think that generalizing the results from sheep research to human males can be silly, we also believe it’s important to take these possible generalizations and implications very seriously. Consequently, we will now look closely at and deconstruct Wilson’s sheep-based generalizations to determine just how well they fit humans. Based on the initial 2 minutes of his TEDx talk, here’s our best effort to take his message and translate it into human male sexual behavior:

  • IF a human male happens to have a frontal lobe the size of a ram and therefore cannot consider the pleasure or interests of a partner or future implications of impregnating multiple females . . .
  • AND IF a human male is in the rather unusual and remarkable situation of having several willing human females available. . .
  • AND IF the available and willing human females happen to have the ample breasts, long legs, plump red lips, full lashes, and lack of pores that human males have been conditioned to find attractive . . .
  • AND IF a human male has no moral or social or health inhibitions about sexual behavior with multiple partners
  • AND IF, like our ram brothers, a human male has repeated ejaculation as his ultimate and exclusive goal . . .
  • THEN it would be highly natural (as deemed by Mother Nature) to ejaculate every two minutes with a different woman until reaching a state of exhaustion (presuming the human refractory period—during which a second ejaculation isn’t possible—cooperates and that the human male doesn’t fall asleep after his first ejaculation).

Another way of making the point we’re trying to make is to say: There is very little serious, relevant, or helpful take home message (for humans) from this research on rams and ewes. However, despite its minimal relevance for humans, these research results may be very serious, relevant, and helpful for rams and ewes, scientists who study rams and ewes, and ranchers who want to breed rams and ewes.

My New Favorite Book (for now) and Why I Love Quiche

In elementary school in the 1960s, my reading almost exclusively included comics. I didn’t just love Captain America, I wanted to BE Captain America.

Unfortunately, I was in high school in the early 1970s, when reading books was apparently in disfavor. We used the SRA Laboratory Reading System and the only real “book” I recall reading in all of high school was “The Andromeda Strain.” Of course, the problem was likely partly due to my preoccupation with athletics over academics, but that’s a different story.

What this means is that most of my book reading has occurred after 1975, which is when my football buddy Barry and I read, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” The problem with that was that I happened to like quiche . . . a lot . . . and consequently, rather than questioning my sexual identity, I began questioning what society tells real men that they should do and not do.

This leads me to my book pick of the week.

As some of you already know, I’m working on a writing project related to sexual development in young males. This work led me to discover the book “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine, Ph.D. Dr. Fine is a psychologist in Australia and has written an absolutely awesome book that slices through many of the silly connections people are making between neuroscience and gender. For example, as an opening to chapter 14 “Brain Scams,” she wrote:

“My husband would probably like you to know that, for the sake of my research for this chapter, he has had to put up with an awful lot of contemptuous snorting. For several weeks, our normally quiet hour of reading in bed before lights out became more like dinnertime in the pigsty as I worked my way through popular books about gender difference. As the result of my research, I have come up with four basic pieces of advice for anyone considering incorporating neuroscientific findings into a popular book or article about gender” (p. 155).

You’re probably wondering, what is her excellent advice for those of us considering writing in this area? Well, I’m resisting the temptation within my male brain to type out her advice, other than her fourth piece of advice, which reads: “Don’t make stuff up.”

But that’s exactly what many writers are doing. Here’s an example I found recently. It’s titled, “7 things he’ll never tell you” and written by “Dr.” Kevin Leman. He wrote, “Did you know that scientific studies prove why a woman tends to be more ‘relational” than her male counter part? A woman actually has more connecting fibers than a man does between the verbal and the emotional side of her brain. That means a woman’s feelings and thoughts zip along quickly, like they’re on an expressway, but a man’s tend to poke slowly as if he’s walking and dragging his feet on a dirt road.” (pp. 5-6).

Of course, this is sheer drivel . . . or as Dr. Fine might say, “He just made that up.”

Or as I might say: He’s really just talking about himself here . . . and it’s likely caused by the fact that he didn’t eat enough quiche growing up.

So what’s the evidence? If we look at one of the best relational factors upon which women are supposed to be better than men–empathy–what does the research say?

Well, as it turns out, using the best and most rigorous laboratory empathy measure available, empathy researcher William Ickes found no differences between males and females in seven consecutive studies. And then, when he did find differences, he found women did better only in situations where they are primed by “situational cues that remind them that they, as women, are expected to excel at empathy-related tasks.” (Fine, p. 21).

Anyway, it’s late and I’m going to stop writing . . . but not before I put in a link to a Cordelia Fine speech you can watch online. Here it is:  http://fora.tv/2010/10/02/Cordelia_Fine_Delusions_of_Gender

Now I’m off to bake myself a quiche.