Category Archives: Boys and Men

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.

A Call Out to Anyone with an Opinion on How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Boys who are Capable of Excellent Intimate Relationships

Hello Blog Followers:

Over the past twenty years I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the developmental challenges and pitfalls that boys and young men face. My concerns arise partly due to my professional work with young males and their parents and partly due to recent news about the “Boy crisis” in the U.S.

For a long time I’ve wanted to write a book that would be helpful to young men and to the parents, teachers, coaches, and others who care about them and their development. I finally have some time for this project and would like to invite people to contribute thoughts and stories that will help me shape and enrich what I want to say.

This is not a research project. I have no intent to generalize any findings or build a theory. The purpose is journalistic in that I intend to listen to individuals who share thoughts and stories with me and then report some of this information within the frame I’ve already established for the book.

I’m looking for people who might want to share a story, an experience, or an opinion about boys and their development, particularly their sexual development. If you’re interested, here’s the plan:

  1. Email me at drjohnsproject@gmail.com; You’re welcome to do this anonymously.
  2. In response, I’ll send you an email with about 10 questions, some general and some specific.
  3. After you receive the email with the questions, you can choose to email me back (or not). And you can respond to any or all of the questions (or you can even make up your own questions that you feel are important). I won’t quote anyone without permission.

Thanks very much for considering sharing your thoughts or stories. I appreciate your time. I hope this project helps boys and their caretakers overcome some of the more destructive and misguided messages about maleness in our current culture. Boys deserve our help as they strive to become productive, mature, and compassionate men.

Sincerely,

John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.