Category Archives: Personal Reflections

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.

Ode to Haddad

This is a short tribute to the retiring chair of the University of Montana Psychology Department, Nabil Haddad. I took the Psychology of Learning from Nabil in 1982. Like most limericks, this one works best if read aloud to a large group of people who have been drinking.

Ode to Haddad

There once was a man named Nabil

He could have invented the wheel

But he came to Montana

With his pet rat Santana

Cause psychology was his big deal

 

You see Nabil had a deep down yearning

And a passion to teach psych of learning

He would trap rats in mazes

Then watch them for days-z

While his cigarettes, well, they were burning

 

Some say that Nabil, he was scary

With a temper that could be flary

But he held it all in

Till he could say, with a grin

I’ve got tenure just like my friend Larry

 

We knew old Nabil had passion

That overshadowed his poor sense of fashion

No more cigarettes smoked

A Jordanian cow-poke

He stopped smoking so as to not cash in

 

Now Nabil is quite keen and patrician

He’s retiring of his volition

There’s a secret he keeps

From all of his peeps

That he wants to become a clinician

 

This story it ends with a flair

With Nabil giving up the Psych chair

So calm and serene

His office now clean

Well wishes to him—if you dare

This is Why I Have a Blog (in 212 words)

While visiting my parents recently an older gentleman on a scooter rode up and greeted me. We had a friendly conversation within the confines of my parents’ gated community. He said his dog had mistaken me for his son. I looked down and saw a small dog or large rodent sniffing my shoes. Then his son emerged from the house. The son was quite animated as he was taking a smoke break from his online gaming.

The next morning I saw the son again. He was pedaling his bicycle slowly, smoking, and looking rather like a homeless man. He didn’t seem to recognize me.

I found myself thinking I felt reassured that the older gentleman’s very small dog obviously had a very small brain.

But who am I to say whom or what I do or do not resemble. Maybe I’m more like a gaming and smoking homeless man on the street than I think. After all, I can’t see myself very well anyway.

This is the nature of my internal conversations. A swing towards the too critical and too judgmental followed by a swing back toward self-critique.

This might be why B.F. Skinner suggested that thinking is irrelevant.

This also might be why I have a blog and not a dog.

Your Life is Now: Trapper Creek Reflections

The Road

Note: This is a re-post. I had a chance to drive to Trapper this past week with one of our doc students and I was reminded of the powerful life experiences that happen at Trapper Creek Job Corps.

********************

Sometimes on Thursday or Fridays I drive from Missoula to Trapper Creek Job Corps. Then I drive back the same day. It’s a 140 mile round trip. Sometimes I have interns with me. The company makes the miles go by more quickly. Sometimes the interns are very nervous sitting next to me for the whole drive and consequently compete to see who gets the back seat. This makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t quiz them about theories of counseling and psychotherapy as we drive there together. Although I wonder about this . . . I haven’t changed my behavior. Maybe this means I’m trying to scare them all into the back seat.

This week I was on my own. When this is the case I usually begin wondering why the heck I drive all these miles. Of course, I get paid to go to Trapper Creek. That’s one answer I give to myself. But I keep wondering anyway. It’s a long day, usually 11 or 12 hours. And when I’m about halfway there, 45 minutes into dodging deer with 45 more minutes to deal with Bitterroot drivers, I begin planning my retirement from Trapper Creek.

This is my 10th year (2013). I know the road and I know the deer and I know the Bitterroot drivers, who, in an apparent show of independence, nearly always drive either 10 mph under or 10 mph over the speed limit.

Today my retirement planning ended shortly after arriving at Trapper Creek. There were three straight appointments scheduled for me: three straight chances to do something more than talk about how to do psychological assessment and psychotherapy. And then a chance to observe and give feedback to the nursing staff and a chance to offer my unsolicited opinion to the physician on how to deal with an ingrown toenail and then a fourth student to see and a staff consultation and a meeting and a quick hello to our three University of Montana school counseling interns and wild typing of reports and poof . . . the day is over without a moment to ponder life or reflect on retirement.

The drive back to Missoula is nearly always better. There are stories to tell, opportunities to second guess myself, and unrealistic hopes and fantasies about having possibly helped someone. The miles melt away.

[The following stories are vague and distorted to preserve anonymity]

Today, with no interns for company my buddy John Cougar Mellencamp joined me on the drive back. We decided to sing together. We sang the same song so many times we lost count.

Your Life is Now

This is your time . . . to do what you will do

The first two young women were graduating from Trapper and moving on to advanced Job Corps training. They needed brief clinical interviews and mental status exams. These two hard working and delightful young women are at Trapper because they’ve experienced poverty and want to improve their lives.

Your life is now

One had a history of having been diagnosed with two severe mental disorders. Before coming to Trapper she’d been on two very powerful psychotropic medications. Funny thing: At Trapper she attained a very high level of functioning without medications . . . for nine straight months!

Your life is now

She had many “citations” for positive behavior. The staff love her. There was no shred of evidence that she had a mental disorder. So I just told her so. She grinned, looked at me, and said, “I guess that’s pretty good news.” Yep, pretty good news.

Your life is now

The second young woman was equally impressive.

In this undiscovered moment

But my last appointment, a young man with a history of trauma, really made my day.

We had visited two weeks previously and had made a plan to try some EMDR for his troubling trauma symptoms. He was eager and right on time. We talked briefly to warm up. He chose a memory. We went through various rating procedures included in the EMDR protocol.

Lift your head up above the crowd

We did several sets of eye movements. I did my usual wandering in and out of the “proper” EMDR protocol. After 10 minutes, we stopped and I asked him to reflect on his experience. He turned his head back and forth and said, “My neck doesn’t hurt anymore.”

We could shake this world

Then he smiled and said, “I feel like I can breathe again.” And then, “I wish I’d known about this ten years ago.”

If you would only show us how

Thank you Trapper Creek

Thank you fine young women and men

Thank you nurses and doctor and interns and staff

Thank you deer and Bitterroot drivers

Thank you for showing me how to shake this world and make a difference.

 Your life is now

The Return of Mother’s Little Helper . . .

This week Allen E. Ivey (the creator of the microcounseling approach) sent me a link to an article claiming that exercise is better for long-term brain functioning than medications. He was “venting” because he thinks this is not “new” information and instead constitutes basic common sense that everyone should embrace. The fact that exercise is good for neurological development and functioning is obvious and it can be frustrating to see the media acting surprised over and over again that life experiences—including counseling and psychotherapy—improves health, life satisfaction, and brain functioning.

Dr. Ivey’s comments and the article he sent reminded me of an unpublished piece I wrote a few years ago. It was a sarcastic commentary on a recent (at the time) publication touting the efficacy of antidepressants in treating depressive symptoms in mothers.

Here’s the piece. Sarcasm included.

The Return of Mother’s Little Helper

            Mother’s little helper is back.

            In a recent landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a prestigious group of researchers reported that children with depression improved or recovered when their depressed mothers became less depressed. The researchers were surprised and optimistic that an environmental change—mothers becoming less depressed—could directly help children whom they thought had biological depression. This is an important finding, especially given concerns about prescribing psychotropic medicines directly to children.

            Having closely followed pharmaceutical research in child psychiatry, I’m always skeptical about landmark studies and promising new drugs, but try to stay balanced and hopeful. When I mentioned the research results to my graduate students in counseling and social work, all of whom happened to be women, they felt no need for balance or hope. They responded in unison.

            “No duh. Obviously children will do better if their mothers aren’t depressed. Who needs a study to tell you that?”

            I felt instantly defensive for pharmaceutical researchers everywhere. Okay, maybe the study demonstrated the obvious, but helping children be less depressed is clearly a good thing.

            My students weren’t convinced. They asked, “What treatment did the mothers’ get?”

            “Mostly they got Celexa.” Celexa is very similar to Prozac. They’re both classified as ‘SSRIs,’ meaning they selectively focus on making serotonin more plentiful in crucial brain regions.

            My cynical students pressed on: “Did the makers of Celexa fund the study?”

            “No,” I responded. “Forest Laboratories makes Celexa, but the study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.” I felt redeemed; the study was objective.

            “How many of the authors were paid by Forest Laboratories?”

            I happened to have the article with me, so I looked at the back page where financial disclosures are conveniently listed—in very small print. I squinted my way through: “Only 3 authors name Forest Laboratories as giving them money. And Forest Laboratories is thanked in the fine print for supplying all the medication for free.”

            Actually, that wasn’t too bad. There were 15 coauthors on the study; only 20% were linked to Forest Laboratories.

            But my picky students wanted to know about the numbers, so I explained that 151 mothers started the study, but 37 (24.5%) dropped out before three months. Overall, 38 of the 114 remaining mothers recovered from their depressive condition and another 16 improved somewhat. The authors report an overall response rate of 47%.

            A student pecked at her calculator and declared. “No way! Fifty-four of 151 isn’t 47%, it’s 36%; they’re either lying, cheating, or very bad at arithmetic.”

            “How about the kids,” another asked.  “How many of them got better?”

            “Well, it’s complex and hard to say, but overall the researchers report that, of 105 kids, 9 were significantly affected during the study, 4 in a positive direction and 5 in a negative direction.”

            The students mumbled and grumbled. “Are you kidding? That’s not much improvement.” They went on to rant a bit about never knowing a depressed, sleep-deprived mother—including themselves—who looked forward to 18 hours of screeching children and smelly diapers? One student, now a grandmother, noted that Valium (the original mother’s little helper) was the most prescribed drug in the U.S. from 1969-1982 and such a big pharmaceutical success that it inspired a Rolling Stones song. Unfortunately, Valium turned out to be terribly addictive, but now apparently, there’s Celexa, Prozac, and other options for overwhelmed mothers.

            After a few more stories, my students asked, “What were the study’s conclusions?”

            I read aloud: “. . . these findings suggest that it is important to provide vigorous treatment to mothers if they are depressed.”

            Throughout the room, eyes began to roll.

            “That’s a big surprise. They want depressed moms to feel guilty if they don’t take antidepressants. That’s what they mean by ‘vigorous treatment.’ As if a hard life is made better by serotonin? How much did they spend on that study anyway?”

            “I really don’t know,” I answered.  “Maybe half a million?”

            The student with the calculator pecked away again: “They should use that money to do a study on something that might really help depressed mothers.”

            “Like what?” I asked.

            “Like maybe a study on the effectiveness of splitting half a million among 114 moms—that’s over $4,300 each. They could just give them the money, or pay for some counseling and parenting consultations, or health club memberships, or childcare, or massages, or vocational training. Better yet, the researchers could use the money to train fathers to hang around the house and be helpful, rather than lying around watching sports and reading Penthouse.”

            At that point I decided class was over. I’d learned about as much as I could handle for one day.

ACA Conference in Cincinnati: Day One

Yesterday was Day One of my American Counseling Association conference experience and it has led me to notice that whenever I dish up my plate, it always seems there’s a little food that falls off the edges. My grandmother used to say my eyes were bigger than my stomach, but that’s silly because I’ve looked at my stomach; if my eyes really were bigger, I’d look like a brother from another planet. Obviously, this is a metaphor.

The point is that I always try to fit too much material into my presentations. Yesterday I presented a 6 hour “Learning Institute” titled, “Counseling Challenging Teenagers.” It was a very nice experience with about 20 participants who care enough about working with teenagers to show up in Cincinnati 2 days before the conference actually starts for a spendy workshop. I was impressed with the participants and the questions and the dedication to learning and serving teenagers. Very cool.

However, not surprisingly, because as Robert Frost would undoubtedly contend, my reach consistently exceeds my grasp, I didn’t quite fit every part of the workshop content into the workshop . . . which brings me to the purpose of this post . . . which is to describe my next two postings . . . which will be on alternative to suicide and neodissociation as a suicide intervention . . . which were the two parts of the workshop that exceeded my grasp.

Highlights of Day One: The man who drove 18 hours from Maryland to attend (and managed to mostly stay awake); the woman who helped with the workshop as a volunteer and then was super-giddy about getting me to take a photo of her with Bob Wubbolding (and then, I think to humor me, acted excited to include me in an additional photo with the two of them); finding a Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Chipotle within blocks of the Convention Center.

More soon.