In 2008, the Mayo Clinic published a case study of treating compulsive sexual behaviors with pharmaceuticals:
A male patient first presented to a psychiatrist (J.M.B.) at age 24, with the explanation, “I’m here for sexual addiction. It has consumed my entire life.” He feared losing both marriage and job if he could not contain his burgeoning preoccupation with Internet pornography. He was spending many hours each day chatting online, engaging in extended masturbation sessions, and occasionally meeting cyber-contacts in person for spontaneous, typically unprotected, sex.
The story is a familiar one. A young man seeking sexual activities outside of his marriage or relationship experiences guilt because of his compulsive behaviors. He feels he cannot stop and is at a loss for solutions. He wants to be good, by whatever measure his culture dictates, but feels he can’t.
The term “sex addiction” is the new darling of sensational media. The narrative of an addict is a compelling one, their struggle with external forces in the world leaves much room for pity. After all, this isn’t their fault but the fault of the pesky stimulus hijacking their tender neurological reward circuitry. Right?
Not really. The picture of compulsive sexual behaviors is far more complicated than (male) brain + (non-monogamous) sexual stimulation = addiction. Dopamine may indeed play a role in all compulsive behaviors but the narrative of porn as an external factor that takes over your system is a false (and overwhelmingly Christian) explanation that fails to recognize sexual histories and user conceptions of sexuality.
Media coverage of sex research is often misleading and sensational. Whether stating that sex aids prostate health when the real benefit comes from an orgasm (which can be had alone or with a partner) or representing one researcher’s interpretation of data as absolute fact, reporters tend to drop the ball and reinforce long-held stereotypes about sexuality.
But then there are times when they just make shit up.*
A commenter recently posted what I consider an excellent example of fake (as in completely fabricated overstated) sex research news. Let’s use this wonderful hoax as a case study to learn critical thinking about sexuality research.
As a female, I see not one thing wrong with pictures or videos made for sexual titillation. I probably have a bigger porn collection than most commenters here.
But I understand why some (ok, lots) of pornography bothers people. Some of our worst social inequalities and anxieties tend to be projected in porn. Racist porn? Check. Misogynistic porn? Check. There is nothing new about this and even a cursory glance at porn from the way back machine will demonstrate this phenomenon. I have a small collection of books with very graphic porn etchings from the 18th century and I started to notice the social theme of the time: religion. Nuns banging monks, young cloistered women greeting winged penises with hoisted skirts, and acts of religious penance (flagellation) being used sexually. I think this was one way for people to channel social anxieties about debates over secularism vs. church power.
What I want people to think about is that naked people sexing it up in front of a camera is not inherently evil or exploitative. However, it’s important to note that the only place where women consistently outrank men in pay is performing in porn or for sex work, industries usually controlled by men. That is what I find exploitative.
So what kind of porn is Penthouse? Lots of faux lesbian slumber parties, kind of silly premises, tons of naked women solo shoots, and a refreshingly hot cast of male characters. (As a woman who watches porn, the amount of unattractive and unkempt men having sex with hot women gets on my nerves. Gay porn is the only place I’ve seen reliably sexy men.) Going through their site I found one video with a questionable title (“Choke on it Bitch” ) that was probably about deep throating. Not my bag, but toying with power dynamics and engaging in rough sex in this way is a huge turn on for some people, regardless of gender.
What I don’t see in Penthouse that I see in some other porn: the message that women enjoying sex are some alien breed of female. That the only way we can describe them is as unabashed no-good slatternly creatures because no respectable woman could enjoy deep penetration, anal sex or oral sex. I mean, we’re only in it for the babies, right?
And this is where people decrying porn as inherently negative collide with porn that is negative: assuming women cannot really be into any of this. That the only reason a woman would have sex in front of a camera for money is drug addiction, low-self esteem or some other social malady. This isn’t to say that doesn’t happen, but this is not the whole story.
I agree that the images are pretty homogeneous but offering slight variations on a theme is what successful porn brands seem to do. Also, large and financially successful brands are hesitant to change anything about their established formula. The answer is not to tell these porn companies to bring in a wider array; the answer is to support porn companies that represent something outside of the mainstream. They’re out there, just use your internet to find them.
So, now that some people are past the knee-jerk reaction of Good Men + Porn = Error, think about the huge benefit of a magazine reaching outside of the bounds of its constituency and singing to the streets instead of the choir. Maybe with enough conversation and reflection about rape culture and the ways we sexualize certain populations, public taste in porn will start to change.
And to Tom: I’m sure the outrage and reactions are difficult to deal with concerning your decision, but it’s hard to reach across the aisle and step outside of thought communities. Big ups.
EDIT: The Good Men Project deleted my comment. Was I too late to the commenting party? Techie glitch? Did I say something offensive? This makes less sense than a bunny wearing a pancake hat.
UPDATE: Tom Matlack was a swift responder: “We switched servers and have yet to copy everything over” Mystery solved!
Aside from crazy Halloween parties and the SF Giants winning the World Series, this weekend also saw the first anti-feminist conference, held in Switzerland. Lately, I’ve seen some men’s groups popping up that equate feminism with an all-encompassing hatred of men. Let’s set the record straight.
What Feminism is Not
A hegemonic ideology. The stories we hear about feminism tend to fit the accepted schema (Socialist Feminism, Separatist Feminism and PostModern Feminism) but, in truth, feminist theories are highly divergent.
A movement to destroy men. Social power is not a zero sum game. The reason this idea persists is because a) media gives the mic to the most radical viewpoints (Teabaggers anyone?) and b) people increasingly tend to focus on news items that confirm, not challenge, pre-existing beliefs.
A conspiracy among women. Put five people in a room and have them order one pizza. Getting that small group to unanimously agree on pizza toppings is enough of a struggle. Getting hundreds of thousands of people to agree on how to ensure women’s rights is a never-ending argument and a far cry from conspiracy.
Putting Feminism Into Context
The one thing I think anyone calling themselves feminist will agree on: women have a right to agency, a right to make decisions about their lives. In short: CHOICE. And the forgotten fact attached to this is that women have historically (in some parts of the world, currently) not had a say in their lives. Continue reading Feminism is not Misandry. Seriously.→
Despite pervasive public images depicting men as violent, sex-crazed, idiotic, irresponsible louts, I can never believe men are somehow inherently bad.
I’ve met too many good ones.
Not just friends, family members, lovers and boyfriends. Perfect strangers who could have done any number of unspeakable things to me if they wished. Yet the overwhelming majority of men showed me nothing but charitable kindness.
I started traveling through North America when other kids my age were wrapped up tight in comfy but suffocating blankets of homework and high school drama. With no money and no job I made big tracks in big rig trucks. For two years I spent time in the male-dominated world of long-haul trucking, learning as much about CB radios and swearing as I did about the basic decency of most men.
Out of hundreds of rides, the overwhelming majority talked to me about their lives, their families, what they had seen in the world and swapped some really good dirty jokes and limericks. Often they bought me food or gave me an extra pair of socks when the weather began to turn cold. One guy was hauling a shipment of canned foods and gave me several cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew from his haul when we parted.
Outside of the truckers, other men I met on my travels showed similar hospitality. Men invited me into their homes with no other motive than to provide me shelter and have some company around. My collection of bawdy jokes and one-liners began to come in handy.
So, for me, the fact that so many perpetrators of sexual and physical violence are men is an uncomfortable truth. But I don’t think sexual and physical violence is so much urged by biology as it is encouraged by gender perceptions. The few men who tried to hurt me were always from geographical areas where the population adhered to traditional mandates of gender, an interpretation I’ve found to be backed by research. (This is only one study, but if you wish to see more studies about masculine gender ideology and behaviors, I will be happy to provide others.)
What I find more amazing is that, in a culture that still echoes misogynistic sentiments, the majority of men I have known are good men. They’ve heard the same messages but through experience (and maybe that simple human desire to be a good person) they make the decision to act decently towards others.
I dedicate this post to all the good men in my life, past, present and future. Please know how much I adore you.
Today, on the anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, many will recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring “I Have a Dream” speech or the historic numbers for this peaceful demonstration in our nation’s capitol (Others are more likely discussing that one political provocateur from Fox News who is having a little rally today in D.C.) I want to take a moment and remember one of my heroes, a man usually forgotten by history.
In case you haven’t heard, Israel developed a male birth control pill. The drug, which works by stripping protein from sperm that is necessary for conception, is about to go into clinical trials. Aside from being the first male oral contraceptive, this is also the first non-hormonal oral contraceptive. Awesome.
But the awesomeness is dampened by blatant sexism from men’s female partners. A snip from the Telegraph article:
A big drawback against men being in control of fertility is the fear they would forget to take a pill.
Polls have repeatedly shown wives and partners do not trust their men to remember to pop a pill every day.
But now that problem has been solved. The new pill can be taken either once a month or once every three months.
Professor Breitbart said: “I think most women would trust their man to remember once a month or once a quarter.”
So, women never forget to take their birth control pills since we are paragons of domestic and sexual responsibility? Spare me.
According to anti-rape campaigns, women (but apparently not men) have many modern tools against rape: self-defense classes, walking in groups, avoiding getting drunk and being aware of their surroundings. What we don’t have is an comprehensive anti-rape campaign with one simple message to would-be rapists:
Campaigns raise awareness about rape by debunking myths, providing statistics and offering ways for potential victims to protect themselves. But the campaigns and discussions rarely address the rapist.
When we only spotlight the victims we create a disembodied construction of a rapist as a supporting character in rape prevention discourse. The rape victim is the focus while the rapist is an auxiliary entity. Meanwhile in the real world, rapists are related to us, work with us and go to the bars with us. They are our friends, lovers and family members. Rarely are rapists complete strangers hiding in the bushes.
Realizing that many of us have known or do know someone that committed rape is an uncomfortable truth. Focusing on victims is mentally convenient, especially in a culture places the onus of sexual responsibility on females. Since we’re already taking birth control and keeping male sexual desire in check it makes sense for us to prevent rape, whether through wearing teethed condoms or by starring in anti-rape commercials.
In honor of this Father’s Day (Sunday, June 20th) I’ve compiled a list of resources for men. Show your support for men by donating to one of these non-profits or by sending this resource list to a man in your life.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Every last one was a male-centric plot line. Nearly every last one is an action movie. All of them were directed by men, produced by men and starring men. Women are a minority behind and in front of the cameras. (For insight as to why, read this Salon’s roundtable with 10 powerful Hollywood women).
So what’s the real dirt on women and power in this country? Gender equality isn’t as equal as this guy is shouting about. Yes, women are making gains in education but at a time when educational systems are crumbling. Yes, women make up 52% of the workforce but in low paying positions. In the Forbes top ten richest there are two women from the Walton Family (Wal-Mart) but their wealth was inherited.
Really, the U.S. ain’t doing so hot with gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks #31 out of 115 for equality. Read the WEF report here, relevant snip below:
The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four critical areas:
Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio
The Index’s scores can be interpreted as the percentage of the gap that has been closed between women and men.
This was out of 115 countries. When I read about women’s lives in other parts of the world, I really want to cry. Rape, honor killings, systematic abuses, minimal autonomy. Horrifying. We so often forget that in our own country, women have only really been making gains over the last century. Women around the globe need a leg up after centuries of unequal treatment. Please read this article in the New York Times about women’s rights around the world.
So to the haters out there: women’s rights are still an issue. We’re making progress, but not enough. I struggle to understand why people (usually men) direct such vitriol at women trying to succeed in life.
What boggles my mind even further is that Matthew Fitzgerald’s writings center around women as shrewd manipulators using sex as bait. I read his book’s Amazon reviews to get a feel for his audience and what I saw…well, it’s disturbing to think he’s right about any people in the world. But what he says resonates with some. In half of the reviews people exclaim “OMG! Women are totally like that!” but the only women I’ve seen use their bodies for financial gain were sex workers. So, women of the world using sex for manipulation: stop lying. Go ahead and be a sex worker. It’s OK. Just be upfront and tell the guy you’re fucknig him for rent money or a new purse.
And to the guys complaining/writing about those women: stop dating them. There are plenty of women that enjoy their financial freedom. There are also women that enjoy sex for its own sake.
At the heart of his writing, and much of the anti-feminist parading as anti-misandrist writing, is a very true frustration.
Are Equality Policies Rooted in Sexist Thought?
“The modern man walks around on eggshells, afraid of saying the “wrong thing,” scared of showing his natural sexual interest to a woman, scared of being scorned, humiliated, or even fired — scared of his own true self.”
Exaggeration (and heteronormative) but a phenomenon I see with some men of my generation. They’re…. Peter Pans? No. Hesitant is a better word. Prone to inertia. And I think the writer is on to something when he points out the role of politically correct speech and sexual harassment charges.
Before you get all riled up: sexual harassment is serious. Anyone in a position of power manipulating an underling sexually deserves punishment. But the way we lay out the law sometimes hinders equality and political correctness can be an ineffective solution.
I am thankful to have laws that prevent my higher-ups from sexually harassing or coercing me. But I resent a law on the books stopping someone from calling me “babe” or “chick”. I’m a grown woman and I should be able to easily say “Stop it”. If I have to, take the matter to a higher-up and keep pursuing it. There is something creepily paternalistic about some of the sexual harassment guidelines, particularly when schools use suspension as a behavioral intervention for inappropriate touching. I am also frustrated with a world that lumps flirting with sexual harassment, that pegs any sexual move from a guy as predatory and aggressive. Sexism underlies these policies. We assume men to be sexually aggressive and women always dislike sexual attention and need outside intervention. The regulations are necessary but we need to look at ineffective and harmful aspects of these policies, lest our solutions create more problems than answers.
Which leads me to an uncomfortable question, still unresolved in my own mind: when we create policies to spur equality through encouraging preferential treatment for disadvantaged groups, should those policies only be short term? By carving them in stone will we, over time and gains in equality, have laws with unequal treatment? And are we sending the message that women need this protection permanently? We certainly need to give a leg up to historically oppressed and disadvantaged people but at what point can we resume an even playing field? Do permanent laws of preferential treatment hurt in the long-term and uphold racist and sexist ideals?
The Blame Game
Whatever the answers to the above questions, one thing is certain: we cannot sit and point fingers at other groups or nebulous ideologies. Yes, it’s comforting name our monsters but ultimately misleading. Men are not at fault for all the world’s problems. Women are not at fault for the current masculinity crisis and anxieties. Feminism (whatever you think that is) has not ruined gender relations. Agitated, yes, but that needed to happen. The old gender order wasn’t working.
But when we agitate a cultural bedrock like gender roles we need to think critically about how to reconstruct gender relations in society. Some would say eradicate gender, but I disagree. You will find cultures with two, three, four, five or six genders but you will not find gender-less socieites. So while I feel so sad when I see inflammatory, gender-stereotyped, sexist analysis that plays the blame game, I know it’s a mistake to write it off wholesale. Just because someone else won’t engage in critical thought (or provide any evidence to back their claims) doesn’t mean the frustration isn’t valid.
The problem is not feminism or women withholding sex. It’s that we need a new construction of masculinities, alongside femininities, that deal with harmful aspects of male gender while encouraging men to shine and succeed in life. We need to deal with the sexist man-bashers of every gender. We need to deal with restrictive gender roles in general because the times, they’re a-changin’.