Tag Archives: gender inequality

Why The First Male Birth Control Pill Won’t Be Successful (And Why That’s Still Progress)

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When it comes to our health, certain treatments or trends occur faster than others. Fad diets and health crazes can gain favor, fall out of favor, and be forgotten all within the same year. For more serious aspects of our health, the wide acceptance of certain treatments and trends can take longer, even if they work as advertised. When it comes to our sex lives, though, it can be even more challenging.

It’s one thing to be worried about your waistline and your ability to fit into an old pair of pants. It’s quite another to worry about whether certain intimate parts of your body are functioning properly. Naturally, we tend to worry a lot more about the sexy parts. Why else would boob jobs be so popular?

This gets even more touchy when issues surrounding contraception come up. Even when there’s a major breakthrough that has the potential to revolutionize our sex lives and our fertility, it takes time for it to permeate throughout society. It’s also a lot more prone to taboo and political protests than boob jobs.

Just look at the documented history of the female birth control pill. The actual pill itself was invented in 1951. Human testing didn’t begin until 1954 and the FDA didn’t approve it until 1957, but it was only approved to use for severe menstrual disorders. It’s only in 1960 when it’s approved for use as a contraceptive, but it still takes years before it becomes both widely used and socially accepted.

Overall, it took at least a decade before the female birth control pill really established itself as part of modern medicine and as part of our sexual culture. I cite that history because men are close to forging a similar history with contraception. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that men are on the brink of the biggest upheaval in their sex lives since the invention of condoms.

I’ve written about the promise and potential social impact of male contraceptives, referencing developments in products like Vasalgel. However, that method is still in the testing phases and probably won’t get regulatory approval within the next few years. Given that it is also requires a targeted injection, that testing will be subject to a lot more scrutiny, as would be expected of things that involve needles near genitals.

It’s far more likely that a pill will get approval before something like Vasalgel, if only because people are more comfortable taking pills than getting a shot. In fact, as I write this, the University of Washington is conducting a large-scale human test on an oral contraceptive for men called dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU for those who would rather not learn that level of science jargon.

While DMAU doesn’t offer quite as much promise as Vasalgel, it does offer a similar product to the one women have been using for half-a-century now. It’s a one-a-day pill that men can take with their morning coffee. Also like its female counterpart, it uses hormones that effectively block the production of sperm. For men already used to taking pills every day for other issues, it wouldn’t be that hard of an adjustment.

That said, though, this first step towards equalizing male contraceptive methods will face a lot more obstacles than the female birth control pill did when it first came out. In fact, I’d go so far as to predict that if DMAU were approved by the FDA tomorrow, it probably wouldn’t be that successful.

I say that as someone who freely admits he’s not good with predictions, as my Super Bowl picks last year prove. However, being a man who follows these kinds of sex-related issues, I feel like I have more insight than most when it comes to gauging the potential of a major advancement for our collective sex lives.

Like it or not, and I’m sure those versed in identity politics will cringe at this, men are wired differently than women, especially when it comes to their sexual health. There was a very different set of motivating factors behind the female birth control pill, so much so that getting women to adopt it wasn’t too challenging, even if it took years. With men, though, it’s a different story.

Men are already far less likely to go to the doctor than women. They’re also far less likely to ingest something that might impact their hormones and, by default, their sex lives. Since DMAU utilizes hormones in inhibiting sperm production, it’s going to have the potential for side-effects. Even the doctors in the study admit that.

Of the test subjects who completed the study and were taking 400 milligrams (mg) of DMAU – the highest dose tested – few reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency.

The subjects who were given the pill did have weight gains of between 1 and 3 pounds on average, according to Page.

“The weight gain and a small decrease in good cholesterol levels, HDL, are things we’re going to look at more closely in future studies,” Page says.

This is where I have to denigrate my own gender, but when it comes to tolerating side-effects, I think women have men beat in that arena. The many side-effects women endure with contraception is proof enough of that. Men, as tough as we can be, are somewhat dense when it comes to accepting certain side-effects.

It’s for that reason why I think DMAU is going to have limited success at most and will likely fall out of favor quickly once more promising alternatives like Vasalgel enter the market. Even without those alternatives, though, I suspect DMAU will not gain widespread acceptance among men, even for those who have been clamoring for more contraceptive options.

Now, and this is where I’m going to make another prediction, I think that limited success or outright failure will actually mark a huge turning point in the history of male contraception and a positive one at that. To some extent, failure is part of the process when it comes to making progress in our health. Again, anyone who knows anything about fad diets can attest to that, some being worse failures than others.

To some extent, the first male contraceptive pill will be like the first cell phone. It’ll be clunky, crude, and not nearly as efficient as consumers wish it were. It’ll also likely be pretty pricy as well, as only the Gordon Gekko’s of the world could afford those early cell phones. However, that doesn’t mean the product itself was a waste or a loss.

Keep in mind, the first cell phone was probably considered strange and unnecessary in a market that was used to making calls from LAN lines. Why would anyone even want a cell phone that was bulky, expensive, and offered only spotty coverage when you could accomplish the same thing with a phone booth and a quarter?

Over time, though, and as the technology improved, cell phones made their way into the market. I suspect that the first male birth control pill will do the same. At first, it’s going to be seen as strange. It may even seem unnecessary to men who can get the same effect from a box of condoms at a gas station for less than five bucks.

The value, however, isn’t in how men initially react to the first male birth control pill. The true value is just putting the idea out there that men now have this option. Even if only a handful of men take advantage of it, that’s still enough to establish a consumer base.

That small consumer base will eventually grow as the idea of a male birth control pill stops being a novelty like the first cell phone and becomes a legitimate consumer product. There will be plenty of room for improvement. There may even be some unpleasant stories about men struggling with the side-effects.

In the long run, that’s a good thing because once a consumer base is in place, they’re going to demand improvements to the product. More improvements will create a better product. It has helped create a wealth of options for women. Eventually, like the cell phone, male birth control will undergo a similar process until it ends up with the contraceptive equivalent of the iPhone.

That process will take time and there will be missteps along the way, just as there were with female contraceptives. The most important part of that process is just establishing the idea this is an option for men who want more choice and control of their fertility. It’s a level of choice and control they haven’t had before, one that women have enjoyed for decades.

Beyond just giving men more options and choices with respect to their fertility, products like DMAU could start the process of narrowing a lingering gender disparity that has been fodder for plenty of gender-driven conflict. The more we can do to alleviate that disparity, the better.

It’s going to take a while for that idea to sink in. In many ways, the first male birth control pill is going to start behind the curve, but that’s okay. The day will eventually come when both men and women can finally say they have equal control over their fertility. It’s still a first step and given how far the technology has to go to catch up to women, it’s a step that needs to happen in the name of true gender equality.

 

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On Gender Double Standards And Male Strippers

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When I was 21-years-old, I took my first trip to Las Vegas. It was truly a magical experience. Even though I was young and socially awkward at the time, I had a lot of fun there. It was the first time I had been somewhere that really treated sex like a spectacle. That spectacle can bring out a very different side of people.

One incident, in particular, really exemplified this during that first fateful trip. It occurred when I was walking down Fremont Street, also known as the old part of Las Vegas. This is the area that gets glorified in gangster movies like “Casino.” Today, it’s largely full of street performers, tacky vendors, and Elvis impersonators.

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However, the one spectacle that stood out most occurred when I passed by an unusual crowd near the Golden Nugget. The crowd was unusual because it consistent mostly of women and they were making noises that I had never heard women make to that point in my life.

When I moved in closer, I saw that the source of the spectacle were a few male strippers, specifically the big, muscular types that worked at places like Chippendales. Despite being straight and shy at the time, even I found these guys to be attractive. However, it was the behavior of the women that really stood out.

They were all over these guys. They were cheering and laughing as though they had just won the lottery. They were taking turns hugging them, kissing them, and feeling around their perfectly chiseled muscles. Some women had this look on their face that resembled a kid looking at a giant chocolate cake. It was quite a sight.

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Keep in mind, these weren’t Las Vegas showgirls. Most of these women looked like soccer moms who could’ve easily been friends with my parents. At that moment, though, they were utterly uninhibited. The things they said to those strippers, and on a public street no less, would’ve made an experienced porn star blush.

At the time, it was just an amazing sight that I hadn’t seen before in my youth. As the years have gone by, though, that experience has taken on a very different context. That context has gained even greater meaning as trends in feminism, popular culture, and social justice have really changed the conversations we have about gender.

The particulars of that conversation really stand out when you focus on strippers. Specifically, the double standards within those conversations become a lot more apparent. I know I talk about double standards a lot, but some are more egregious than others. I would even go so far as to say that those involving strippers are most revealing, if that’s not too loaded a term.

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For any man who has gone to a strip club featuring female strippers, most quickly learn that there’s a lengthy set of guidelines to follow. I freely admit to going to multiple strip clubs so I’m pretty familiar with all of them. They usually involve these kinds of  rules.

  • Do NOT touch or grope the strippers while on stage or during a lap dance
  • Do NOT try to solicit sex or sexual services from the strippers
  • Do NOT yell at or disrupt the stripper while they’re on stage
  • Do NOT invite a stripper back to your hotel room or to a private residence
  • Do NOT address the strippers in a vulgar manner

There are usually other rules, but these are the most basic. Every strip club is different and some are better about enforcing those rules than others. For the most part though, these are the expectations and failure to meet them often means getting thrown out or arrested.

The rules and expectations for male strip clubs, however, are very different. It’s not just that it tends to be louder and more intimate, so to speak. There are things women do at male strip clubs that would get most men thrown out of female strip clubs, if not arrested.

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A couple years ago, Vice compiled testimony from male strippers about some of the behavior they encountered during their work. Their experiences included, but weren’t limited to being puked on by drunk women, women getting up on the stage to dance with them, and being flat out groped.

It’s also both common and expected that women will hook up with male strippers. Sometimes they’ll offer money. Sometimes they won’t. In either case, it’s exceedingly rare for them to face scrutiny or arrest for that sort of behavior. In fact, some even see it as empowering.

Never mind the fact that such empowerment requires such an apparent double standard. Women being sexually uninhibited and free to pursue whatever decadence they want is seen as liberating. However, men doing the same is seen as oppressive. The principles and mechanics are the same. The social stigma is not.

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That stigma also effects women in more indirect ways. There are more than a few stories about women being fired from their jobs after someone found out they worked as a stripper or porn star. Men who work as strippers, though, don’t usually have this issue. Former stripper Amber Rose pointed that out, noting how men like Channing Tatum get praised for his portrayal of a stripper while she still faces stigma for her past.

In both instances, the stigma is damaging. The double standards are asinine. Sure, you could argue that patriarchal traditions have helped forge these standards, making overly sexualized women taboo while overly sexualized men are prized. However, as with most double standards, they still require one too many assumptions and just as many taboos.

In both cases, the double standard is built around the idea that women should be sexually limited in most aspects of her life. There are even those who claim that women being sexually uninhibited undermines civilization. Nobody should take those claims seriously. Chances are those same people have unhealthy, regressive views about sexuality in general.

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That same standard also asserts that men are unthinking, unfeeling beasts. They want to be objectified by women. They’re expected to be dispassionate brutes who exist only to lure women into their bed the same way a rancher would herd cattle. Never mind the fact that some male strippers do indeed feel objectified. Their feelings don’t matter as much as their female peers.

However, while female objectification is decried, male objectification is celebrated at male strip clubs and movies about them. At the same time, women who dare to be sexual, either as strippers or just in general, are subject to stigma and scorn. Both are a byproduct of sexual repression and both are equally wrong.

Therein lies the most revealing implications about this double standard. It essentially exposes the script that men and women are expected to follow with sexuality. In that sense, I honestly can’t blame the women I saw that day in Las Vegas for going so nuts around those male strippers. They’re scorned for doing that in every other aspect of their lives. When they finally get a chance to break free, they go all out.

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Conversely, men still have to follow the script. They still have to jump through all the hoops and layers that tell them their desire for sex is inherently damaging. Their desire to just indulge in one of the most basic acts of intimacy in nature is an oppressive force, one that must be mitigated by the strict rules and guidelines prescribed by strip clubs.

In the end, strip clubs are a microcosm of the different sexual expectations for men and women. One form of sexuality is damaging, oppressive, and needs to be managed. The other is liberating, empowering, and forcibly contained by taboos and stigma. The fact that strip clubs even exist in the first place are a hint that those expectations are not entirely healthy for either gender.

 

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Five Reasons Why Legal Prostitution Will Improve Gender Relations

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When it comes to improving relations between genders these days, I believe all options should be on the table. Granted, some are crazier and less feasible than others, but I believe there’s a growing urgency to improve the situation. In times of crisis, we can’t be picky.

Between the anti-harassment movement that’s making it increasingly difficult for men to interact with women and the associated counter-movements by bitter men, I think there’s a strong need for some sort of mitigating force. What we’re doing right now is clearly not enough. Anyone who spends too much time on Tumblr or reads the comments section on alt-right articles can see that.

Being the foolish optimist I am, I believe there are multiple ways to improve relations between men and women. Some are large. Some are small. I have enough faith in humanity to believe that we’ll eventually do enough to make it so the genders of this world can genuinely get along.

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In an effort to help this process, I’d like to put forth one possible mechanism for improving gender relations that I believe will go farther than most. It’s something that might seem politically untenable now, but like same-sex marriage before it, that may change quicker than we think. I’m talk about, of course, legalized prostitution.

I’ve talked about prostitution before, both in term of its legal standing and how it impacts sex in society as a whole. I suspect it’ll come up again on any number of topics, but for this discussion, I want to keep the focus on improving gender relations. There are already many people much smarter than me who have argued for the legality of prostitution on a much broader scope.

For that reason, I’m not going to focus on the legal or logistical reasons for legalizing prostitution. Also, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to define “legal prostitution” as the kind favored by Amnesty International, who put forth their position on prostitution in 2016. Specifically, this is their favored policy on prostitution.

The policy makes several calls on governments including for them to ensure protection from harm, exploitation and coercion; the participation of sex workers in the development of laws that affect their lives and safety; an end to discrimination and access to education and employment options for all.

It recommends the decriminalization of consensual sex work, including those laws that prohibit associated activities—such as bans on buying, solicitation and general organization of sex work. This is based on evidence that these laws often make sex workers less safe and provide impunity for abusers with sex workers often too scared of being penalized to report crime to the police. Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers.

With that in mind, I’m going to set aside the other issue surrounding prostitution and focus on how legalizing it will improve gender relations. Keep in mind, though, this is simply my sentiment as someone who writes a lot about sex and gender relations. What I say is not meant to be a prediction. It’s just me contemplating how a world of legal prostitution would be a world of better gender relations.


Reason #1: It Would Help Separate Pursing Sex From Pursuing Love

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This might just be the romance lover in me, but I stand by my admittedly-sappy position that there’s a big difference between having sex and making love. Human beings are emotional, passionate creatures. They’re also horny and playful. When the two mix, it tends to cause problems, to say the least.

There are times when someone just wants to have sex and not get love involved. Conversely, there are times when someone wants love and doesn’t care much for sex. When prostitution is illegal, it’s more difficult to pursue sex, especially if you’re not rich and/or well-connected. Instead, you have to constantly pretend you’re not looking for it, which makes us uncertain whether someone really loves us or just parts of us.

There’s a time for sex. There’s a time for love. There’s a time for both. With legal prostitution, there’s a way to take care of the basic sexual needs. That, in and of itself, has plenty of health benefits for everybody, regardless of gender. Those benefits, combined with the ability of people to make their intentions clearer, ensures that pursue of love and pursuit of sex is less likely to conflict.

I believe a lot of hostility between men and women stems from resentment for those who thought someone loved them, but just wanted sex. There’s plenty more conflict from those who thought they were just seeking sex, only to find that someone else wanted more. Resolving this disconnect, I believe, will go a long way towards helping genders communicate better.


Reason #2: It Would Provide A Sexual Outlet For Those Who Wouldn’t Otherwise Have One

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Let’s face it. If you’re a beautiful woman or an attractive man, you don’t have to worry too much about getting sex. More often than not, it comes to you and most people in that position exploit it to some degree. While others may resent them, can you honestly blame them?

As I noted before, rich and powerful people rarely need to worry about getting arrested for sex. It’s the not-so-rich, not-so-powerful people who struggle. Both prostitutes and clients alike are vulnerable, leaving the sexual marketplace reserved only for those who can afford the legal risks and associated legal bills.

With legalized prostitution, the market doesn’t just expand. It gives those who may not be rich, but have just enough resources to hire a prostitute every now and then. They may not be attractive or endowed, but in a legal, regulated environment, they can pursue sex in a way they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.

Having that kind of sexual outlet can go a long way for some people and I’m not just referring to mental health. Those who resent women for their lack of sex suddenly don’t have as many reasons to resent. Whether they’re unattractive or disabled in some way, they have a way of enjoying some basic intimacy.

Beyond just improving the mood of those who had once been sexually deprived, it makes the sexual marketplace in general more egalitarian. Rather than be reserved for the rich and the beautiful, people of many different means can pursue a level of sexual satisfaction with greater ease. If you don’t think that’ll have much benefit, then you haven’t spent enough time around sexually satisfied people.


Reason #3: The Stigmas And Taboos Surrounding Sexuality Would Diminish

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One of the biggest catalysts for conflict in sexuality involves stigmas and taboos. I’ve talked about taboos before and make no mistake. They have a powerful impact on both society and how individuals within that society interact. It’s also a taboo that affects women and men in the sex industry in unique ways.

As it stands, people working in the sex industry are either labeled as criminals or as pariahs, due to stigma. Even those who work in legal areas of the sex industry, like porn, are subject to a level of stigma that undermines their ability to function in society. People see what they did as deviant and dirty. Adding illegality to the mix only makes it worse.

By making prostitution legal, available, and well-regulated, there are fewer factors in place that could fuel taboos and stigmas. By keeping prostitution illegal, it just reinforces the notion that sex that isn’t line with what priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks claim is moral is deserving of the stigma.

With a legal, robust marketplace in which people other than the rich and the beautiful can enjoy sex safely, the strength of that stigma isn’t as great. The fact that it’s becoming more possible for former porn stars to build a successful life after their careers gives me hope that the stigma and taboos are already in decline. Legalizing prostitution may just accelerate that process.


Reason #4: Individuals Would Be Better Able To Explore Their Sexuality

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This is especially important for those who may struggle with their sexuality at times. Even for those who know for certain they’re heterosexual, homosexual, or transgender will struggle to actually experience those feelings in an intimate way. By not being able to explore, people are essentially doomed to stumble around in the dark.

This leads to more than a few conflicts among genders and sexual orientations. There are serious psychological effects to sexual repression, especially for those whose sexuality offends the Vatican. That inner conflict only further fuels the animosity, discord, and outright hatred that often manifests among genders.

When people don’t understand us, we tend to get upset. However, how can we expect others to understand us when we don’t fully understand our own sexual preferences? It’s not always easy to do that in our personal lives. We often run the risk of pursuing the wrong sex with the wrong kind of person, which can be awkward to say the least.

Legalized prostitution, specifically the kind that is mature and diverse enough for various proclivities, provides people with a means of exploring their sexuality. They may think they’re one kind of sexual creature, but find out they’re something else entirely. Having that kind of certainty and self-awareness goes a long way towards being healthier as both an individual as a member of a larger community.


Reason #5: The Overall Attitude Towards Sex Would Improve

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This is probably the most important, most far-reaching reason for legalizing prostitution in the name of improving gender relations. The fact that paying for sex is illegal basically codifies the notion that sex is somehow deviant, dangerous, and needs government regulation. Even if you’re not a hardcore libertarian, that should still bother you.

There are a lot of unhealthy attitudes with respect to sex, both from uptight religious zealots and repressive moral crusaders. The idea that there has to be all these taboos, stigmas, and concerns about sex only ensure that people will treat it as a mine-field rather than a critical component of life.

As a result, people have more reasons to put distance between themselves and others rather than actually pursue intimacy. Some communities go to great length to separate the genders. The ongoing anti-harassment movement is giving men too many reasons to avoid women entirely. If we want healthier attitudes toward sex and intimacy, this is not the way to do it.

By making prostitution legal, pursuing intimacy isn’t just legal. It provides people with an opportunity to directly confront aspects of sexuality that they would otherwise relegate to prejudice and taboo. If people have a chance to actually confront these attitudes, then they have a chance to realize how right or wrong they are.


Now, none of this is to say that there wouldn’t be costs or drawbacks to legalizing prostitution. There are costs and drawbacks to everything in this world. However, given the current climate between men and women, I think the benefits of legalizing prostitution vastly outweigh the costs.

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Why Wolverine Of The X-men Is The Perfect Counter To Toxic Masculinity

During a debate, the biggest challenge is making a point that strikes the right chords, evokes the right emotions, and has some semblance of logic. Anyone who has ever engaged in a meaningful debate, be it a formal contest or an argument on a message board, understands the extent of that challenge.

Sometimes, you have to get creative to make those points. Thankfully, getting creative for an aspiring erotica/romance writer and die-hard comic book fan is easier than it is for most people. Every now and then, your mind makes unexpected connections that perfectly encompasses the message you’ve been trying to convey.

This brings me back to “toxic masculinity,” a term I still believe should be retired from the English language, and every other language for that matter. I’ve dedicated multiple posts to deconstructing this concept. Now, I want to take it a step further.

I want to re-frame my stance on this concept by offering a different kind of argument. I’ve already argued that context and social situations are the primary driving force of the traits often ascribed to toxic masculinity.

I still think the point I made about context and social situation is difficult to grasp, even with the references to the rat park experiments. Most people outside of psychology buffs aren’t familiar with those experiments. Instead, I want to make my point by referencing a character that the vast majority of people have heard of to some extent.

Some know him as Logan, James Howlett, Weapon X, or that snarling guy with the claws who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. Most simply know him as Wolverine.

Yes, I’m going to bring Wolverine, one of the most famous male superheroes of all time, into a discussion about toxic masculinity, but not in the way you think. Being an ardent X-men fan who has used superheroes to make points in the past, I feel uniquely qualified to link this iconic character to this concept that so many resent.

On the surface, that sounds like a losing battle. Bear with me, though. When you take a step back and look at Wolverine in the context of masculinity, as a whole, you’ll find that he’s the perfect embodiment of a man who guts the idea of toxic masculinity with his claws and spits on its corpse.

That may seem counter-initiative because anyone who is even somewhat familiar with Wolverine might see him as a man who embodies all the negative traits associated with masculinity. He’s brutish, crude, ill-mannered, ill-tempered, impulsive, violent, and irresponsible. He has all those traits on top of a tendency to go after married women.

However, before anyone starts attributing those traits to toxic masculinity, it’s important to understand the complexities of Wolverine’s story. There’s a reason why he’s often ranked as one of the most compelling characters in the history of comics. His life, persona, and story are full of all sorts of twists and turns. More than anything else, though, Wolverine’s story is one built on dehumanization.

Whether it’s the comics, movies, are cartoons, this is the primary driving force of Wolverine’s story. From his earliest origins to his most defining moments, Wolverine is a man who has been subjected to extreme forms of dehumanization. Some of them, especially those involved in the Weapon X program that made him, have no real-world parallel outside the mind of a North Korean mad scientist.

He’s had his memories erased, his mind warped, his body tortured, and even his soul stolen by a demon. Even by comic book standards, Wolverine has been roughed up more than most. Many people of exceedingly villainous tendencies have tried to strip him of his humanity and turn him into a living, breathing weapon. Needless to say, most of those people died horribly.

As a result, Wolverine is one of the most violent and unpredictable characters in all of comics. He’s also one of the most dangerous, having killed every major hero in the Marvel universe at one point and survived death itself on more than one occasion.

The most remarkable feat though, which also happens to strike directly at the very foundation of toxic masculinity, is his continued desire to cling to his humanity and be the iconic hero that so many X-men fans love.

It’s that drive, and the endearing persona that emerges from it, that makes Wolverine the perfect counter-punch to toxic masculinity. Despite all these dehumanizing forces, he still clings to his humanity. That effort, which has played out in many comics, movies, and cartoons over the years, reflects one important concept.

In essence, Wolverine reflects the idea that it’s really hard to make a man behave in such a toxic way. In order for him to be the kind of man that most people attribute to toxic masculinity, it’s necessary to torture him endlessly, strip him of all identity, and undercut his humanity in the worst way possible. If that kind of force is required, then how can anyone claim that masculinity is inherently toxic?

If those sorts of traits were inherent in men, then someone like Wolverine wouldn’t need that kind of conditioning. He wouldn’t need to be tortured or coerced into being the brutish, blood-thirsty monster that Weapon X wants him to be. If toxic masculinity were valid, someone would just have to give him some metal claws, send him out into the world, and let the magic of testosterone do the rest.

That’s not how men work, though, even in the fictional world. In X-men comics, as well as real life, ideas of masculinity guide men in different ways. For Wolverine, those ways led him to becoming an X-men, an Avenger, and an iconic hero who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. It shows in more than just his heroism.

Throughout his history in the X-men comics, Wolverine has shown that when he’s not being coerced or tortured, he makes an effort to live an honorable life. He seeks love, having even married a couple of a times. He seeks friendships and relationships, some of which have helped make characters like Kitty Pryde and Jubilee famous in their own right. He basically tries to be his own man.

Even though he’s still an asshole at times, he’s an asshole in a way that’s gender neutral. The things Wolverine does that make him an ass are the same things that apply to women. Whether it’s going after someone else’s spouse, undercutting someone’s authority, or randomly running off to do his own thing, there’s nothing Wolverine does that a woman couldn’t also do.

That leads directly to what might be an even more compelling argument for Wolverine being the antithesis of toxic masculinity. That’s because there is a female character who shares many of Wolverine’s experiences and exemplifies the same traits. Those who saw the “Logan” movie last year already know where I’m going with this.

It’s his clone/daughter, Laura “X-23” Kinney. In a sense, she doubles down on the idea that these “toxic” traits are not inherently masculine because she endured dehumanization to a similar extent. In fact, her dehumanization was even worse because she wasn’t given a name, only a number.

Like Wolverine, being subjected to such dehumanization rendered Laura violent, impulsive, and callous. If she were male, then it would be easy for advocates of toxic masculinity to slap her with that label, just like Wolverine. However, her being female undercuts that argument from its very foundation.

Together, the character and story surrounding Wolverine and X-23 undercuts toxic masculinity by establishing that the toxic effects of dehumanization don’t apply to just one gender. Strip away someone’s identity, social support, and humanity and they’ll demonstrate more than a few toxic traits.

What this means in terms of the bigger picture is that those traits attributed to toxic masculinity have a larger context that goes beyond gender. These traits that are tied to certain male behaviors are correlated to one thing, but not necessarily tied to the actual cause. Being a man doesn’t make Wolverine who he is. Being a man who was subject to dehumanizing treatment did that.

Now, apply that to a world where the very idea of masculinity is being subject to all sorts of scrutiny. Joss Whedon went so far as to call certain masculine tendencies a disease when making excuses for his infidelity. By linking everything bad in the world to masculinity, it dehumanizes men by making them seem inherently flawed.

That’s the most insidious implication of toxic masculinity. It’s very much akin to the forces behind Weapon X in that it attempts to deconstruct a core part of someone’s identity, reducing them to a hunk of flesh to be molded for someone else.

Most men don’t want that. Most people, in general, don’t want that. It’s yet another reason why the idea of toxic masculinity needs to be gutted with adamantium claws, locked in an adamantium case, and thrown into the deepest, darkest pits of the real and fictional world.

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Why Treating Sexuality As A Disease (Always) Fails

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It wasn’t too long ago that discussions about reparative therapy, also known as gay conversion therapy, became more a joke than a serious concept. Going back to Michele Bachman’s failed presidential bid in 2012, and all the assorted jokes about her husband, who ran a religion-based therapy center, I think it’s safe to say that this issue has run its course and for good reason.

There was once a time when attempting to change someone’s sexuality into whatever society deemed acceptable was a serious pursuit. Even Sigmund Freud contributed to that effort, going so far as to claim that homosexuality could be cured through hypnosis. Seeing as how hypnotists are more likely to work in Las Vegas stage shows instead of clinics, it should be obvious how wrong he was.

As it stands, reparative therapy is rejected and discouraged by nearly every legitimate psychological and therapeutic organization on the planet. There are still those who claim that’s just part of the larger gay agenda, but those claims don’t deserve to be taken seriously. Whenever that many organizations to agree that something is so ineffective and harmful, it’s usually a pretty clear sign that there’s something wrong with it.

For the rest of the population that doesn’t buy into homophobic conspiracy theories, the issue is resolved. While there’s still a lot we don’t understand about human sexuality, our current understanding offers a fairly concise conclusion. It’s not possible to completely change or radically reorient someone’s sexuality.

So in light this widely-accepted conclusion, any subsequent efforts to radically alter someone’s sexuality through archaic tactics that involve shame, guilt, and pseudo-spiritual bunk should be just as asinine. The keyword there is it should be. Even though reparative therapy is roundly condemned, the spirit of that therapy continues, albeit with a different target.

This time, the targets aren’t homosexuals or some other sexual minority. Instead, the scope is bigger and more extensive than even defunct anti-gay ministries could ever hope to achieve. It’s taking aim at sexuality, as a whole, particularly that of men. While it doesn’t have an official title, the tactics are distressingly similar.

I’m reluctant to put a label on it because I’d rather not throw around blanket terms for an issue this vast. Much of it stems from those opposing everything associated with “toxic masculinity,” a term I’ve already condemned.

From sex scandals to advertising to representations in major movies, the obstacle is the same. A particular brand of male sexuality that caters to straight men seeking the company of beautiful women for basic, shallow reasons isn’t just falling out of favor. It’s seen as corrupt, part of some grand patriarchal conspiracy.

It’s so corrupt that some, such as Joss Whedon, describe it like a disease. Men who simply have these desires are somehow flawed and need to either be educated or scorned. It’s not quite at the level that homosexuals endured in the past, but the common themes are still there.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it began. Some might point to the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the catalyst that turned the public against the whims of horny men, but I think it goes back further than that, even past the 2016 Presidential Election. The concept of criticizing men’s preference to admire beautiful women isn’t new. The extent of that criticism, however, is unprecedented and still growing.

Regardless of how it began, either through vocal critics of breast depictions in video games or protesting sexy advertising, it’s a major movement now. It has popular hashtags and the backing of powerful media outlets. If you’re a straight man who enjoys admiring beautiful women, then congratulations. You’re the source of all the problems in our current sexual landscape.

Given the intensity of the rhetoric in the movement, it’s not just about protesting the injustices perpetrated by men in positions of power who freely exploited that power. It’s attacking certain manifestations of sexuality as a whole, deeming them “problematic” to the point where it’s practically pathologized. That’s how we end up with asinine terms like “toxic masculinity.”

It’s for that reason that the parallels between the long-debunked ideas of reparative therapy and ongoing condemnations of male sexuality are all the more disturbing. Stories about LGBT youth who survived reparative therapy, and not all of them do, tend to tell similar stories. The so-called therapy they get usually involves the following:

  • Excessive condemnation and shaming of certain desires
  • Attributing certain sexual desires with negative connotations
  • Demanding frequent confessions of guilt for past misdeeds, real or imagined
  • Demanding complete dissociation from a previous lifestyle
  • Attributing desires and feelings to disease or an unhealthy state of being
  • Attacking or subverting someone’s identity in an effort to re-shape it
  • Conditioning someone to associate natural feelings with negative sentiments

To anyone who has been keeping track of how men have been criticized for their attitudes towards some of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, these methods should sound painfully familiar. It’s also worth noting that these are methods that the American Psychological Association deems harmful and even dangerous.

Now, I want to be careful with my rhetoric here because I don’t want to imply that straight men who enjoy looking at beautiful women in bikinis are suffering to the same extent LGBT people suffered in these faux-therapeutic settings. That’s not the point I’m trying to make here. I’m just trying to highlight the extent to which the approaches are similar, even if they’re not the same.

It’s one thing to punish actual misconduct. It’s quite another to attack the underlying desires of an entire group. Men looking at beautiful women is now a symptom of objectification, patriarchy, and misogyny. Conversely, women looking at beautiful men is a major Hollywood movie starting Channing Tatum. See the difference?

That difference matters because treating those attitudes as diseases is every bit as misguided as treating homosexuality or transgenderism as a disease. It would be akin to referring to all homosexuality as “toxic sexuality” instead of a simple variation among the vast spectrum that is human sexuality.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues with certain attitudes men have towards sexuality. There are plenty of issues about women’s attitudes as well. However, the fact that the current culture, empowered by social media and selective biases, treats those attitudes the same way reparative therapy treats homosexuality is both revealing and distressing.

The negative impacts of those methods are well-documented, both in terms of harm and ineffectiveness. Relentlessly shaming people for their sexuality, be they straight men or gay women, is pretty damaging. It doesn’t take a licensed therapist to know that conditioning someone to hate their own desires will seriously affect their mental health.

There are many lessons to learn from the failures of reparative therapy. For one, it revealed just how powerful sexual and romantic desire can be in a person. It can also reflect how lonely it can be when those feelings are deemed defective, toxic, or deviant by a society, at large. Countless LGBT individuals have suffered because of these misguided efforts. More will suffer if those lessons aren’t heeded.

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Why People Blame The Victim (And How To Avoid It)

In wake of recent social trends and lurid scandals that took way too long to expose, we’ve entered a precarious moment in our history. I’m not just talking about ongoing issues surrounding gender inequality or trends in our sexual behavior, either. We, the same people who can’t even agree on the color of a dress, have come to a rare consensus on an issue.

Blaming the victims a sexual assault is BAD.

I’ll give everyone a moment to stop cringing and rolling their eyes. I know. This feels like one of those issues that shouldn’t even be an issue to begin with. Unfortunately, it evokes all sorts of heated emotions between men, women, feminists, men’s right’s activists, the transgender community, and certain species of baboons for all I know. It’s that a very loaded, very unsexy a topic.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing abundantly clear. In talking about the particulars victim blaming, I’m not getting behind a particular movement or agenda. I’m choosing to confront this issue for the same reason I’ve used for confronting many unsexy issues.

Issues like sexual assault, and the victim blaming that comes with it, tie directly with our sexuality and our ability to love one another, albeit on the more sinister end of the spectrum. Given my efforts to become a successful erotica/romance writer, I can’t ignore these issues, nor do I want to.

I apologize if the way I go about discussing this issue offends or upsets some people. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been clumsy or misinformed with my words. However, this is one issue that nobody, be they a Hollywood producer or erotica/romance writer, should avoid. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are bad enough. Blaming the victim is just the napalm that gets dumped on that fire.

Overall, I think it’s a good thing that there’s rising awareness about sexual misconduct, especially among those in positions of power. Sure, it has been prone to a few misguided controversies, but the overall intent is good. Sexual misconduct is a serious crime. Who could possibly be against it?

That is a rhetorical question, by the way. I’ll skip the part where I recount how various internet trolls would answer that and get to victim blaming, which is where this inherently noble endeavor hits a brick wall and tries to pick a fight with it. Given that brick walls are undefeated against people armed only with profanity and alcohol, it’s a fight that tends to leave everyone bloodied.

It happened with the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It happened with Corey Feldman. It will likely happen again with the next major scandal to break. At some point in the narrative, someone will imply or state outright that the victims bear some or all of the responsibility for what happened to them.

Some will say they put themselves in a bad situation. Some will say they secretly wanted it and just played the victim to score sympathy. Some will say they dressed in a way that made them deserving of it, which is especially common among those who decry beautiful women in sexy attire. There’s another term for this kind rhetoric. It’s called being an asshole.

There’s really not much context here because by every measure, blaming the victim of a crime is a pretty rotten thing to do. Whether you’re a man, a woman, or something in between, scolding someone who just endured a traumatic injustice is right up there with strangling a puppy, drop-kicking a kitten, and slitting a unicorn’s throat.

As nasty a reaction it is, there is also an underlying mechanism behind it. Some of it is tied to the flawed wiring of our caveman brains, but I would argue most of it stems from the inherent difficulty of thinking rationally when we’re in such an emotionally charged state. Given the seriousness of crimes like sexual assault, emotions are often in overdrive.

The moment we hear about sexual assault, it triggers something in our collective minds that makes us want to lash out. It’s such an egregious injustice and most decent human beings seek to right an injustice. It’s actually one of humanity’s best qualities and one of the reasons I believe people are generally good.

However, sexual assault is not like a stolen phone, a damaged house, or a black eye. You can buy someone a new phone. You can help them fix their house. You can give someone with a black eye and ice pack to help sooth their suffering. You can’t easily do that with someone who endured a sexual assault.

Many times, as was often the case with perpetrators like Bill Cosby, the injustices aren’t tangible, nor are they easy to remedy. However, we’re still appalled that such an injustice even occurred. That innate sense of justice that we have hardwired into our brains at birth urges us to right this egregious wrong.

Unfortunately, our brains are still crude instruments that can’t always tell the difference between perpetrator and victim, especially when we’re in an emotional state. As a result, we have a hard time separating the crime from the actual people involved. It’s not some shady, patriarchal agenda. It’s just a byproduct of our inherent need to maintain a just and fair world around us.

Then, there’s the extreme tribalism that comes into play. Yes, that lingering flaw from our caveman past plays a part in this too. Think back to any case involving a sex scandal, be it one involving a celebrity or someone in a position of power. Then, look at those who did the bulk of the victim blaming. Chances are they’ll have some sort of allegiance or admiration to the accused.

That makes sense because we instinctively defend members of our tribe. Whether we share a political affiliation, an ideology, or a fondness for Bill Cosby’s brand of comedy, our first reflex is to defend our tribe, even if it means turning a blind out to cold, hard facts. This is why some people will still defend men like O.J. Simpson against all evidence to the contrary.

On some levels, it’s understandable, even if victim blaming is such an egregious act. Nobody wants to believe that they’re a bad person. Some want to believe they’re the hero of their own story and the world around them is full of villains. That’s where victim blaming becomes a dick move disguised as a defense mechanism.

If anything associated with their tribe becomes affiliated with something as horrible as sexual assault, then it becomes personal for them. When it becomes that personal, then other people can only be targets. As a result, the people those victim-blamers target will, in turn, fire back with the same tactics. Again, the people become disconnected from the injustice and it just becomes a glorified shouting match.

It basically adds another injustice on top of another, turning a crime into a personal struggle to protect your tribe, identity, and certainty that you’re a decent person and those who don’t agree with you are assholes. It’s a great way to rally a tribe in the struggle for survival. In an era where false accusations and poorly-worded tweets ruin lives, it’s downright dangerous.

Within this danger, though, lies the key to confront the fuel that feeds the fires of victim blaming. It’s impossible, at least for now, to know the pain a victim feels or the veracity of an accusation. Absent that certainty, the best we can do is focus on the underlying injustices surrounding sexual assault.

Whether it’s a man exploiting his power to abuse women or a woman going out of her way to ruin a man’s life, the connective tissue to the entire issue revolves around justice. Our desire to live in a just world is one of the few things that transcends tribalism.

To illustrate how that plays out, here’s a quick scenario.

Person One: Help me! That asshole has been sexually harassing me for years!

Person Two: What? What the hell happened? What did you do?

Do you see the disconnect there? The foundation for victim blaming is right there in the initial reaction. If the accused is someone the second person likes or respects, their first instinct will be to defend them. That’s hard to avoid and both sides can turn on each other quickly.

Now, here’s the same scenario with a key change.

Person One: Help me! That asshole has been sexually harassing me for years!

Person Two: What? That’s terrible! Nobody should have to endure something like that.

See the difference? This time, the second person doesn’t immediately personalize the issue. He and the victim are on the same page. They both understand that this is a crime. This is an injustice. That serves as a foundation for fixing it.

I don’t deny that it’s only a minor change and one that’s difficult to utilize in every instance. That’s unavoidable for emotionally charged issues like sexual assault. However, that’s exactly why the effort is so important. Anything we can do to stay on the side of the victims and confront the larger injustices of sexual assault will be far more productive than just attacking one another.

Until we can finally upgrade our caveman brains, egregious acts like sexual assault and victim blaming will likely remain. There are many mechanisms behind it, but there are far more that transcend it. Whatever the long-term outcome of the ongoing efforts to confront sexual misconduct, we have many more reasons to come together than we do to keep casting blame.

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Teaching About Sex, Consent, And Relationships (Through Video Games)

Let’s face it. Most kids aren’t that eager to learn about the stuff that their teachers, parents, and school administrators want them to learn about. They’re not interested in knowing the skills that will make them healthy, productive, tax-paying consumers who will keep society running. They’re interested in the skills that will make them popular and/or get them laid.

The deficiencies of our education system are many and I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the experiences I had within that system. However, I don’t want to dwell too much on that this time. Talking about how much I hated high school is rarely that sexy.

Instead, I want to focus on something that most kids are eager to enjoy and how some people are using that to improve their understanding of sex, sexuality, and relationship. What could kids possibly excite kids that much to learn about something that they would rather not learn from the same gym teacher that makes them run laps in winter?

The answer is more obvious than you think. It’s video games. Admit it, that almost makes too much sense.

There’s no question that kids love playing video games more than learning about quadratic functions. According to a survey done by the MacArthur Foundation, approximately 97 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 play video games. When it comes to statistics and surveys, you can’t get much more definitive without asking kids whether chocolate fudge tastes good.

Kids might not be able to agree whether Superman could beat the Hulk, which he totally could, but they agree that video games are awesome. So if kids love video games so much, why not use that love to teach them valuable lessons about sex, relationships, and consent?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m not being facetious either. It’s not about the medium or whatever asinine controversies it may have. It’s about working with what kids already love and using that to help them in valuable ways. It’s not that radical a concept. Hit movies have been made about it.

When it comes to teaching kids about sex, though, I wouldn’t expect Edward James Olmos to star in a movie about that. That doesn’t mean the concept is entirely flawed. Teaching kids about sex is hard enough. Teaching them in a way they’ll remember and take seriously might be beyond the power of Hollywood.

That still doesn’t stop some from trying. In a story by Kimberly Lawson at Vice, an associate professor of medicine at Yale University has helped create a game called PlayForward: Elm City Stories. It’s a fairly straightforward, two-dimensional role playing game that is less about killing aliens or Nazis and more about guiding players through a narrative, showing how their decisions affect them along the way.

That’s not quite as radical as it sounds. Role-playing games represent a large chunk of the video game industry. Major game franchises like “Mass Effect” and “Final Fantasy” are built around the idea of having players make choices and face repercussions of those choices. Take away the aliens and the monsters, though, and you’ve got a solid basis for understanding real life choices.

PlayForward: Elm City Stories plays less like Dungeons & Dragons and more like the classic board game, Life. In it, you play as avatar in a fictional, but fairly realistic city where you have to navigate a variety of activities and make choices along the way.

Some of those activities involve who you your friends are. Some involve going to certain events and parties. Some even involve whether or not to make out with a cute girl. It may sound mundane, but like most RPGs, the appeal is diving into the world of the character and leading them through it. Here’s how Vice describes the experience.

Players have to make important, life-changing decisions, including whether or not they should go upstairs to make out with someone, if they should use a condom or not during sex, and whether they should accept pills found in someone’s grandmother’s medicine cabinet. At any point, they can fast-forward to the epilogue to see what their character’s life looks like at 30, based on the decisions they’ve made.

Through that experience, players learn about more than just saying no to the guy on the street corner offering a free hit of crack. They experience both the short-term and long-term impacts of their decisions. Given the notoriously short attention spans and limited foresight of kids, that kind of insight in indispensable when teaching them about sex and relationships.

It’s no “Super Mario Brothers,” but the lessons it conveys are more valuable than any princess. It puts the players in a position to choose the right and wrong path. It shows them just how right and wrong those paths can be in the long run for their character and themselves, by default.

Beyond just consequences, the game gives players a chance to explore situations involving intimacy, consent, and relationships. Their choices help forge the relationships they have throughout the game. To get a better outcome, they actually need a better understanding of intimacy and consent. The fact that gives them tools to apply those lessons in the real world just a pleasant side-effect.

In a sense, PlayForward: Elm City Stories is coming along at the perfect time. We live in a world where sexual harassment and sexual assault are heated issues. We, as a society, are not as willing to turn a blind eye to these sorts of indiscretions anymore.

Just punishing the Harvey Weinsteins of the world isn’t enough, though. We need to teach the emerging generation that there’s a time and a place to show a beautiful woman your genitals. Knowing those circumstances will be the difference between having a great sex life and being sued into oblivion.

Kids aren’t going to learn those skills through lectures, after school specials, and cute puppets. Some of the most effective learning methods involve active engagement with real activities that offer real rewards. In that sense, video games are the perfect medium for that kind of teaching.

While I doubt that PlayForward: Elm City Stories will win any game of the year awards, it sets an important precedent that is worth building upon. Saving princesses and shooting killer aliens is still fun, but learning about relationships, consent, and sex will take a player much further in life.

Kids, and people in general, learn best when they don’t know they’re learning something. Video games may still have a nasty reputation in some circles, but it offers opportunities to teach valuable skills that aren’t easy to teach, especially to hormonal teenagers. We should take advantage of those opportunities and hopefully, PlayForward: Elm City Stories is just the beginning.

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