Tag Archives: boys

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.

Why Big Boys Should Cry

As I sit stranded in the Minneapolis airport on my way to the ACA conference in Cincinnati, I remembered that although this blog was posted on the ACA blogsite, I haven’t posted it here yet . . . and so here it is. Feels like it’s about time for a nap.

Why Big Boys Should Cry

By John Sommers-Flanagan

Aaron was asleep on the couch in my office. I decided not to wake him, even though I don’t advocate napping during counseling. But Aaron had just spent several minutes intensely sobbing and unable to speak and so a short nap seemed reasonable.

Experiencing calmness after an emotional storm can be therapeutic. This is partly because holding back strong emotions requires physical effort. When strong sad or painful feelings are present, the body seems to want to naturally express those feelings, as if to unload an extra burden. Holding onto emotions may cause a lump to form in your throat or stinging in your eyes. Letting sad or painful feelings come out can be a great relief.

Research shows that identifying and expressing feelings of sadness, fear, or emotional pain promotes health. This is true whether people write, talk, or nonverbally express emotional pain. The body, unburdened by the need to inhibit or suppress feelings, responds with improved immune functioning.

Generally, boys and men have more trouble acknowledging and expressing painful emotions than girls and women. Some people believe this difference partially explains why males are more violent than females. Others have suggested that inhibiting sad feelings contributes to the fact that, on average, males die younger than females. Most researchers and theorists agree that inhibiting sad, hurt, or fearful feelings is a health liability for boys and men.

It could be argued that biological differences cause males to have more trouble expressing painful feelings (perhaps higher testosterone levels interfere with emotional expression). However, it’s also obvious that boys are systematically taught to inhibit certain feelings. For example, one study showed that mothers—yes, even mothers—were less emotionally responsive to baby boys than baby girls. There also are many gender-based emotionally hardening edicts present in our society, summed up in the old expression: “Big boys don’t cry.” The message to boys is loud and clear: To be accepted, you need to walk, talk, and act like a man (which does NOT include crying because you’ve gotten your feelings hurt).

For boys and men, it’s socially acceptable to experience and express anger, instead of sadness, fear, or hurt feelings. Male teens I work with often brag that they DON’T cry—they just get angry or seek revenge. They’re thoroughly socialized and proud of it. In an interesting contrast, I’ve talked with men who tell me—with regret and not pride—that they haven’t cried for 20 (or more) years. They worry about their inability to cry and speak of it as a loss. The spigot, having been closed so many years ago, feels rusted shut. They want to cry, but don’t know how.

It’s sad that society does this to boys. But it’s especially sad when parents, sometimes inadvertently, other times intentionally, discourage boys from experiencing and expressing emotional pain. It’s also sad when boys are encouraged to be aggressive—instead of sensitive (because, as you know, boys not only will be boys, they must be real boys). Instead, parents need to be a safe haven for the full range of their son’s emotions.

The following suggestions may be helpful to parents who want their boys to learn that big boys should cry.

  • Don’t be afraid that if your son cries, he will turn out to be a sissy.
  • Let your sons cling to you—to both mother and father—for comfort and security. They’ll grow up and distance themselves from you on their own. There’s no need to push them away.
  • When your son looks distressed and you ask him how he’s doing, he’ll often respond by saying: “Fine.” If so, continue to be gently curious. Keep listening. Let him know you’re interested. For boys, the first few “Fine” responses are often a defense against their emotions.
  • Spend time with your sons. Do active things together. Boys often talk best when they’re hiking, biking, hunting, fishing . . . or cleaning the kitchen.
  • Never let there be any doubt in your son’s mind that you love him.

Because of society’s harsh condemnation, when boys or men cry, it can be a harrowing experience. Years ago, I worked with Michael, a Vietnam veteran. He was macho and angry. He told me of a 60 Minutes episode about how Vietnam vets were never welcomed home by American citizens. He was pissed about how his country had treated him.

At the end of the hour, I stood up, reached out, shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and said, “Welcome home Michael.” In response, his anger melted away, his eyes filled with tears, and he fell forward and gave me a short hug. Later, he told me he was ashamed of this embarrassing emotional outburst.

Everyone in our society needs to be open to loving and hugging our boys. We need to let them cry openly and without shame. No one should feel ashamed to experience natural feelings of hurt or sadness. Boys should be helped to accept and experience their feelings. They shouldn’t have to go to counseling to learn to cry again.

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

John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D. is a counselor educator at The University of Montana. You can follow his personal blog at johnsommersflanagan.com