Tag Archives: sex in media

Why Sex Addiction (Probably) Doesn’t Exist


When it comes to human psychology, addiction is like quantum physics in that few understand it and Hollywood constantly gets it wrong. I know I say it a lot on this blog, but it’s worth belaboring. People are complicated. One person may watch “Star Wars” and think it’s the greatest piece of cinema of all time. Another may watch it and say it has no redeeming values.

That’s an important context to consider when discussing topics of addiction, which affects a significant portion of the human population. According to Addiction Center, there are approximately 20.6 million people over the age of 12 struggling with an addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 200,000 people have died since 1999 from prescription drug abuse alone.

Addiction is a serious issue. I know people who have struggled with addiction. I think everybody knows someone in their lives, be they a friend or relative, who has struggled with an addiction of some sorts. Addiction is real and there’s actual biology behind it. As such, it stands to reason that the rising instance of sexual addiction is real.

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Before I scrutinize this sexy, yet unsexy phenomenon, I need to preface this by acknowledging that our collective understanding of these issues is still developing. What we consider a psychological dysfunction today may end up just being a healthy variation within the diversity of human thought. That’s why homosexuality is no longer considered a disease.

That context is important to establish because the term “sex addict” has been thrown around a lot lately. It’s not quite on the level of “fake news” or “soy boy,” but it has been cropping up, especially in wake of the recent scandals in Hollywood. Both Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey claimed to be sex addicts after their scandals.

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Needless to say, not everybody buys that excuse. Given my propensity to bemoan excuses, I count myself among them. These men claiming that sex addiction caused their deplorable behavior comes off as a pitiful attempt to gain sympathy, trying to paint themselves as sick. It also assumes a lot about the complex nature of addiction.

It’s true that we can become addicted to damn near anything, but it’s not just a matter of one particular activity flooding the pleasure centers of our brain more than others. Alcoholics don’t get the same orgasmic release from a cold beer that a sex addict gets from a quickie in the shower. There are other psychological forces behind it.

Since we can’t yet read the minds of an individual person, we have only a cursory understanding of those forces. However, there is an established criteria for addiction within a medical context. The American Psychiatric Association, describes addiction as follows:

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will causes problems.

At the same time, it establishes a clear difference between just being addicted to a certain activity, like sex, eating, or playing World of Warcraft for 29 hours straight, and the addiction caused by drugs. They don’t even call it addiction. They have a more official label called Substance Use Disorder. Their description of this condition is a lot scarier than just someone who has more orgasms than most.

People with a substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control.

These substances can cause harmful changes in how the brain functions. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the drug — the intoxication. Intoxication is the intense pleasure, calm, increased senses or a high caused by the drug. Intoxication symptoms are different for each substance.

I bring up this distinction because more than one person has described sex like a drug. In doing so, it’s easier to accept that those claiming to suffer from sex addiction have a real ailment. Sex is a powerful drive that evokes pleasure that some brain scans have compared to heroin. Does it not stand to reason that sex addicts are in the same boat as heroin addicts?

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The short answer is no. Sex addicts and heroin addicts are as different from one another as an arm-wrestling contest and an underground fight club. Addiction to heroin has a strict criteria for diagnosis. Sex addiction doesn’t meet that criteria in that alleged addicts don’t respond the same way that those suffering from Substance Use Disorder respond.

According to research done by UCLA, the reactions of those claiming porn addiction did not mirror those addicted to other activities like drinking, smoking, etc. Within that same research, it was also uncovered that sex addiction lacks one of the most important features of an addiction, namely that of diminished response from the pleasure centers of the brain.

That’s key because one of the most damaging factors of an addiction is that over time, the addictive behavior doesn’t light up the pleasure centers of the brain like it used to. That’s why alcoholics need more alcohol and crack addicts need more crack to get the same high. Brain scans show that in drug abuse. They don’t show it in sex addiction.

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In fact, the conclusions of the researchers on sex addiction were somewhat mundane. According to the data gathered from the brains and experiences of real people, the idea of sex addiction is nothing more than having a high sex drive and poor impulse control. That’s not an addiction. That’s a personality quirk. If anything, the very term “sex addiction” undermines the suffering of real addicts.

I know those conclusions is not going to convince those who genuinely believe that they’re struggling with sex addiction. I don’t doubt that these people are struggling and it’s negatively impacting their lives, their families, and their relationships. However, I believe putting it in the same category as drug abuse only skews our understanding of addiction and sexuality.

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Some people are really just a lot hornier than others. In the same way some people have a bigger appetite for food, some have a bigger appetite for sex. Unlike food, though, those suffering from eating disorders don’t blame the entire concept of food. There are often other psychological factors behind it.

Sex also has another complication that food and eating don’t. Our culture has an established set of sexual norms that idealize some forms of sexuality and shame others. Even though we’ve accepted more diversity in recent decades, we still idealize monogamous romances where those involved only have sex to make babies or explore the kind of passion reserved for a scene in “Titanic.”

As a result, anything that deviates from that narrative, be they an open relationship or just wanting to hump for the sake of humping, is subject to scorn or shaming. I’ve noted the flaws in this sort of narrative before, but on a much larger scale, it creates a situation where certain manifestations of sex become less a variation and more a disease.

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Like homosexuality, though, treating those variations as flawed or damaged doesn’t make them go away. It’s possible for a drug addict to get treatment to repair the damage those drugs have done to their bodies and minds. It’s not possible to complete reshape and remold someone’s baseline sexual desires without causing serious damage.

To really get an idea of how this can motivate self-professed sex addicts to engage in such erratic behaviors, imagine for a moment that you’re a heterosexual person in a world where only homosexuality is accepted. As such, you’re expected to enter a homosexual relationship with someone and remain in that relationship indefinitely.

That means you have to ignore or temper your basic sexual desires in order to operate in that society without shame or scrutiny. You have to pretend that the relationship you’re in is sufficient when you know it’s not. Since you can’t turn off your brain or your basic desires, it’s going to mess with your mind and inspire erratic behavior.

It’s for that reason that sex addiction, as it’s currently understood, probably doesn’t exist. I say probably because, as I pointed out earlier, our understanding of sexuality, psychology, and the human experience is still limited. For now, though, our conclusions are fairly simple. You’re not an addict. You’re just really horny and you live in a society that doesn’t afford you the opportunities to explore those feelings.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

A Better Way To Promote Diversity


How do you encourage meaningful change in media, culture, and social attitudes? That’s a reasonable and relevant question to ask these days. It seems everyone is either trying to push for greater diversity or whining about the lack thereof. More often than not, however, those efforts aren’t mutually exclusive.

Even if nobody has a definitive answer to the question of how, that hasn’t stopped many from trying. There have been major diversity pushes in every form of media from video games to comics to movies to TV shows. Not all of them have been successful. In some cases, they backfired horribly and cost people money.

I don’t want to belabor the specifics of those failures, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that they also have the effect of angering and/or insulting the audience. For franchises that have a huge fan base, that can be pretty detrimental. Some franchises never recover.

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It certainly doesn’t help that there are those who push for diversity for all the wrong reasons. There’s a very vocal contingent of critics/professional trolls who go out of their way to bemoan the lack of diversity in a certain piece of media. Whether it’s a video game having too many people of the same race or a lack of strong female characters, these people will whine about it as loud as the internet will allow.

For the most part, I don’t think anyone should give much attention to such whining. We’ve all dealt with whiny children at some point in our lives. Most people learn, often the hard way, that arguing with them rarely works out. Most people just give up to stop the whining. I’ve pointed out before why this can lead to bigger problems down the line.

It quickly becomes a brutal cycle. The more attention you give to these whiny children, the more incentive they have to whine so they can get what they want. The same applies to these “critics” who keep whining about diversity. It’s not enough for them that “Black Panther” is doing so well with a diverse cast. Some will still whine that it had no LGBT characters.

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It’s inescapable. You simply cannot win against a whiny child. No matter how much you go out of your way for them, they’ll find another reason to whine and so long as they keep getting their way, they’ll keep doing it. In the long run, though, that’s still a terrible way to promote diversity.

Ideally, producers of media will pursue diversity because they want to appeal to a broader audience. They want to make money and money doesn’t care about race, religion, or genital configuration. However, when critics/trolls rely on whining to get their way, then those efforts become less about diversity and more about stopping the whining.

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I believe there is a better way to promote diversity and it does not involve any whining. It doesn’t require some radical rethinking of how we go about producing, consume, or discussing media. It doesn’t even require some major protest, a new law, or diversity quotas. It’s just a simple change in approach that anyone can do for free and without that much effort.

That change can be summed up in two words: positive reinforcement. If you’ve taken a basic psychology class at any point in your education, you already know what this means. Even if you haven’t taken any classes and just deal with a lot of annoying people/children/whiners, you probably know the idea.

Rather than complaining about what is so bad about something, positive reinforcements involve focusing on the good. Rather than whine about what isn’t there, you celebrate what is there. Most importantly, though, you turn that outrage once reserved for those bad things into apathy. Most forms of media can survive outrage. They cannot survive apathy.

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To illustrate this approach, consider the following scenario that tends to play out whenever someone criticizes a movie, TV show, video game, etc. for a lack of diversity.

“Just look at this terrible affront to women, minorities, and LGBTQ people! It’s so racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic! It sends a terrible message and appeals to an audience that wants to cling to their regressive attitudes. It’s perpetuating a destructive, unhealthy mindset that directly impacts our culture. This affront should be censored, changed, or condemned endlessly until the world changes!”

Chances are, you’ve heard something like this over the past few years. Sometimes it involves a female character that doesn’t check the right boxes. Sometimes it involves a story that tries to check too many boxes. In any case, the whiners I mentioned earlier will find a reason to get upset about it. Moreover, they’ll demand some sort of change, coupled with condemnation over anyone who disagrees.

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That’s not going to promote diversity. If anything, that’s going to give people one too many reasons to resent pushes for diversity. Some media companies are already learning that the hard way, with Marvel being the most recent example. Ideally, you want someone to promote diversity because they want to and not because they’re afraid of a backlash.

With that in mind, here’s a second scenario that shows how positive reinforcement can further that effort.

“That thing some claim is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? I don’t really care for that. Let me tell you about this other thing that I just think is amazing! I love it. It’s so much fun and it sends such a good message to men, women, and minorities of all kinds. I want more of this. I’m willing to pay for more of this. Please make more of this!”

It may come off as some peppy kid who is way too excited about something. Then again, wouldn’t you rather be around that kid instead of the one that whines to get what they want? When someone is happy and excited about something, it’s kind of infectious. It makes us want to share in that feeling.

Throw money into the mix and suddenly, the same producers that make all the media that regressive types whine about actually have a good incentive to promote diversity beyond just placating whiners. Instead of just avoiding controversy, they actually want to do diversity and do it right.

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The key is focusing on instances where it is done right. They are there. There have been plenty of examples of the media actually getting diversity right. They just don’t make the news because outrage is louder and garners more attention. Even so, excitement and praise can be just as loud.

Instead of complaining about Rey being a Mary Sue in “Star Wars,” focus on how great Princess Leia was in the first trilogy or how great Ahsoka Tano is in “Star Wars: Clone Wars.”

Instead of complaining about Lara Croft being too sexy, focus on how great Samus Aran is in the Metriod games.

Instead of complaining about the lack of diversity on shows like “Seinfeld,” focus on how great the minority characters are in shows like “Fresh Off The Boat” or “House.”

It may not sound as vocal or satisfying as venting outrage about a flaw, but it sends the kind of message that others are more likely to want to get behind. Whereas positive feelings can have many benefits to yourself and those around you, venting outrage can be very unhealthy.

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In the long run, getting others to want to promote diversity is the best way to further it. Whining about it isn’t going to accomplish that. It’s just going to make others want to stop the whining. That may work for kids, but not functioning adults.

Movie producers, TV executives, comic book writers, and video game programmers alike are all still human at the end of the day. Human beings respond positively to positive feelings. Channel those feelings into promoting diversity and you won’t just get more of it. You’ll get people who are actually excited about producing it.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sexuality, video games

When “Progress” Isn’t Really Progress


After I graduated college, I got my first full-time job at a software company providing technical support. Out of respect for my former employer, I won’t name the company or the type of software it made. I’ll just say that, like all software, it sometimes malfunctioned and users got really upset.

For the most part, those seeking support were polite and reasonable. I enjoyed helping them. It made the job feel rewarding, despite the erratic hours and mediocre pay. However, there were certain customers who, for whatever reason, just weren’t satisfied complaining about the product. They basically went out of their way vent all their problems on whoever was unlucky enough to get their call.

At my office, we called these people “rubber wall users” because they weren’t just an impenetrable wall of whining. Any time you tried to throw something at them to fix their issue, it just bounced right back at you. While we tried to be professional, there was an unwritten rule that even my supervisor understood. You say whatever you have to say to get that person off the phone and on with their miserable lives.

I’m sharing that story because it’s a fitting metaphor for a phenomenon we’re seeing more and more of these days. I see it in movies, TV shows, video games, and even novels, which especially concerns me. It involves pressuring artists, producers, and developers to be more inclusive and diverse with their media. Then, when it finally happens, that’s labeled “progress.”

With respect to the sincerity of those efforts, as well as the memories of some of the angry customers I dealt with, I disagree.

I’ve talked about progress on this blog before, mostly within the context of just how much the human race has made over the past century. You won’t find many people who celebrate that progress as much as I do. By nearly every measure, we’re far more prosperous, tolerant, and well-behaved than we’ve ever been.

That said, there are certain kinds of progress that shouldn’t count as progress. They’re only progress in the same way that getting an unruly customer off the phone with some moniker of professionalism counted as progress at my old job. It’s not motivated by a sincere acceptance of diverse opinions. It’s just a way to stop the whining.

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For the past couple years, I’ve found myself wondering just how much of this false progress is being mislabeled. I’ve been seeing it in multiple mediums. Comic books, a medium for which I regularly express my love on this blog, is just one of them.

While I’ve avoided talking about such controversies, I have noticed the same trend that others have vocally criticized in other mediums. Major publishers, including Marvel, have been pushing for more diversity in their books, but their efforts haven’t always been well-received and the resulting “progress” isn’t necessarily cause for celebration.

Beyond the diversity push, Marvel even made an effort to de-sexualize their characters. While that’s only possible to some extent for overtly sexual characters like Emma Frost or DC’s Starfire, some of those efforts have had a noticeable effect on characters like Carol Danvers and Black Cat. It’s now much rarer to see female characters flaunt their sexuality.

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For some, that counts as progress. Specifically, for those who believe depictions of sexy female characters promotes misogyny and sexism, it counts as a victory. If it upsets the fans and robs an inherently visual medium of a unique form of beauty, then so be it. That’s the price of “progress.” If I could say that with more sarcasm, I would.

Again, I disagree. In fact, I would go so far as to say those efforts by Marvel backfired and not just because it cost their editor-in-chief his job. Marvel, like all media companies, is a business. Businesses need to please their customers. When certain customers are especially vocal, they have to listen to some extent, just as I had to listen to those customers.

It’s debatable how much those at Marvel actually bought into the “progress” that certain critics were asking for. I don’t doubt that some creators were sincere in their desire to improve diversity and expand the appeal of their comics. However, I also don’t doubt that a part of that effort was just to temper some of the whining by people who know how to be extra loud in the era of social media.

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While the impact on Marvel comics concerns me greatly, I noticed a much bigger effort late last year from an industry that has been prone to much louder criticisms. Specifically, it happened in one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, “Mass Effect.” Unlike what happened with Marvel, I’m not sure this beloved series will survive.

Prior to 2014, “Mass Effect” was the cream of the crop of video game franchises. It had a little of everything. There was action, drama, romance, exploration, insight, and yes, even a little sexiness. Characters like Miranda Lawson, Liara T’soni, Samara, EDI, and even the female protagonist, Shepard, had undeniable sex appeal.

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Then, in between the release of “Mass Effect 3” and the 2017 sequel, “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” a scandal broke out in the video game industry that involved everything from sexism to harassment to just how visible a character’s butt could be in a video game. I wish I were exaggerating, but it really happened and I don’t think the industry has fully recovered.

In the midst of that scandal, the demand for “progress” soared more than it did for most other mediums. Suddenly, the act of making a video game character too sexy was seen as contributing to a toxic culture of misogyny, sexism, and violence against women and minorities. It’s not like sex appeal had nothing to do with Lara Croft becoming so successful. Again, if I could say those words with more sarcasm, I would.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda” was developed in the eye of that storm. EA and Bioware couldn’t use the same approach they did with previous “Mass Effect” games. They had to be very careful with how they designed their characters, especially their female characters. One misplaced curve is all it would take to reignite a controversy that nobody wanted to deal with, given all the negative press the gaming industry had incurred.

As a result, the female characters in “Mass Effect: Andromeda” didn’t just dial down the sex appeal. In some cases, there was a concerted effort to make their female characters less attractive. This is best shown in the female model used for Sara Ryder, the main female protagonist. To say it didn’t translate to the game would be like saying drinking a gallon of bleach might make you a little queasy.

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Ryder wasn’t the only female character to have her looks tempered. Pretty much every female character, from the supporting cast to background characters, was designed with minimal sex appeal in mind. That’s not to say the game didn’t have some sexier moments, but compared to what other games attempted before that, it was pretty watered down.

That was just one of many problems that “Mass Effect: Andromeda” faced when it launched in March 2017. Now, games launching with bugs and glitches is nothing new. It’s standard practice for a game to get patched after launch. However, the extent of those bugs in “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” combined with unattractive characters, did not help the game’s reception.

I say that as someone who played the game and still loved it, for the most part. Since I love “Mass Effect” games so much, I found plenty of reasons to love “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” However, I found myself having to overlook more flaws than usual. I also found it hard to really admire the visual aspects of the game. Like comics, undermining that part of the experience can be pretty detrimental.

There were a lot of criticism levied against “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” Some are legitimate. Some are painfully valid. More than any other game, though, it was developed with the intent to promote a more diverse and inclusive product that appealed everyone and offended no one. As the sales and reception seem to indicate, though, even female gamers don’t like looking at unattractive characters.

As a result, nobody really hailed “Mass Effect: Andromeda” as progress. However, nobody staged a mass online protest claiming the game made its female characters too sexy and promoted toxic behaviors among its users. Some might count that as progress too. I am not one of them.

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In a sense, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” is a case study in a product where efforts towards progress just masked a desire to avoid outrage. Just avoiding outrage does not count as progress in any capacity. It just counts as a company trying to shield itself from bad publicity that might damaged its brand. Say what you will about corporate greed, but brand still matters to them, often more than money.

I don’t blame Bioware or EA at all for going that route, but simply avoiding outrage set the bar pretty low and it might have doomed “Mass Effect: Andromeda” before it ever had a chance. At the moment, the “Mass Effect” franchise is on indefinite hold because the response to “Mass Effect: Andromeda” was not what the developer had hoped.

Beyond the tragedy of damaging a beloved franchise, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” reflects a dangerous and potentially regressive sentiment in the industry. Rather than focus on pushing the envelope and doing something bold, artists and developers are more concerned with avoiding outrage. The actual quality of the final product can only ever be secondary, at most.

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There are a great many challenges facing the video game industry, as anyone who followed the news surrounding “Star Wars: Battlefront II” can attest. However, the precedent set by “Mass Effect: Andromeda” may very well be the most damaging.

Most agree that video games, like any other media, should work to appeal to a broad audience. However, as Marvel found out, forcing certain kinds of “progress” can have some pretty detrimental effects in the long run. It alienates consumers, frustrates developers, and limits the incentives to innovate and try new things.

At the end of the day, making female superheroes less sexy in comics and making characters in “Mass Effect” less attractive did nothing to reduce sexism, promote gender equality, or foster a more inclusive culture. All it really did was go out of its way to stop exceedingly vocal critics from whining.

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Bioware and EA didn’t suddenly become more enlightened about video games, female characters, and the impact of mass media. They simply took the path of least resistance, doing what would generate the least amount of outrage, at least in terms of sexist accusations. That’s not progress. That’s just frustration and, like my old job, very little good comes from it.


Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sexuality, video games

Aziz Ansari: A Case Study Of He Said/She Said And Impossible Justice


Ordinarily, I prefer to wait until an ongoing scandal involving a celebrity dies down before I comment on it. In my experience, it takes time for the full story to emerge. Most of the time, a more complete story tends to render any premature comments moot. John Carpenter recently provided a notable example of why such prudence is important.

That said, there are times when patience is also moot because the narrative follows an all too familiar pattern. It becomes so predictable that you can practically set your watch to it. Over the past several months, especially since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we’ve seen that pattern play out in all sorts of disheartening ways. That’s why I’m opting not to wait on offering comments on Aziz Ansari.

By now, everybody with an internet connection, a social media feed, and a predilection for celebrity meltdowns knows the story. Aziz Ansari is the latest case of the Weinstein Effect. His name has officially been added to the growing list of male celebrities being accused of sexual misconduct.

The story first broke on Babe.net where a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer calling herself Grace, which isn’t her real name, told a very distressing story about a night she had with Ansari. That story reads like a bad date, but still echoes with some of the same themes that Harvey Weinstein has helped make infamous. Naturally, this story is already striking a chord with the ongoing anti-harassment movement.

The way Grace tells it, she got into a situation that she lost control over and Ansari took advantage of that situation. I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. They’re just too unsexy, even for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

Before I even attempt to comment, it’s worth pointing out that Grace said herself that she confronted Ansari about this privately. On the surface, it seemed like a terrible example of miscommunication and mixed messages. According to the article, this was the exchange.

Grace: I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behavior and how uneasy it made me.

Ansari: Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.

If this had occurred several years ago, that probably would’ve been the end of it. The incident would’ve been a nasty experience for Grace and an uncomfortable memory for Ansari, but it probably wouldn’t have made the news, outside a few disreputable tabloids. Since powerful men harassing women has become a far greater issue, though, this is now national news.

It’s already generating the kind of divisive arguments that have been cropping up since the Weinstein scandal. Supporters of the anti-harassment movement are siding with Grace, accepting her story as another example of powerful men exploiting women. Opponents, including a few celebrities, are saying this movement is going too far and devolving into a man-hating witch-hunt.

Neither side is going to convince the other they’re wrong. Both sides have plenty of rhetoric to make their point. When I look at this story, though, I see far greater forces at work. I also see a devolving situation that is doing more to divide people in lieu of addressing real issues surrounding men, women, consent, and harassment.

When you read over Grace’s story and then read the statement Aziz Ansari issued in response, there’s one inescapable fact. It’s impossible to vindicate or disprove either version of the story. It is very much a classic he said/she said ordeal. She said he assaulted her. He said everything they did was consensual. There’s no way to be certain.

Sure, there’s a distinct possibility that one of them is lying. Everyone, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, is prone to lying. There have been documented incidents of women falsely accusing men. There have been men who have lied and gotten away with sexual misconduct. However, without knowing more details about the incident, it’s not possible to truly know.

Me being a guy who places a lot of faith in people, I suspect that both Grace and Ansari believe they’re telling the truth. I believe that if you hooked them up to a perfect lie detector, it would verify that both of them believe their respective stories with all their hearts.

This sounds like an impossible position until you remember that our memories are not very reliable, especially when it comes to unpleasant memories. Beyond simply not remembering the details of a terrible situation, our brains are wired to avoid the kind of mental discomfort that comes with enduring or committing a sexual assault at all costs, even if that means mis-remembering the truth.

It’s because of this that the he said/she said nature of stories like this is difficult to process. It creates a scenario that’s different from most other crimes and injustices. There’s no dead body. There’s no lost or damaged property. There’s nothing tangible to highlight the crime or misdeed. There are only two conflicting stories. As a result, it leads to a situation of impossible justice.

Even if everything Grace described happened exactly as she said it did, there’s no way to prove it in a courtroom or even a civil case. Even if Ansari is one-hundred percent innocent and is the victim of an elaborate extortion plot, there’s no way to prove that either, absent a confession or new information.

In both instances, there’s an injustice being committed. Since humans are wired with an innate sense of justice that shows even when we’re infants, that situation is untenable in our collective minds. People hear a terrible story like Grace’s and that inner justice system goes into overdrive.

Since we don’t have the time, energy, or even the capabilities to gather all the facts, we’re left relying on a certain degree of prejudice. This is where the impossible justice of he said/she said gets real ugly and this scandal with Ansari demonstrates it. When people start relying on prejudices, it tends to bring out the worst in humanity.

For those who believe our culture is full of entitled, misogynistic men who see women only as objects to be owned, then their prejudices will be reinforced by this story. For those who believe the movement against sexual misconduct is going too far and all men are being demonized, this story does the same.

That’s greatest tragedy of an impossible justice. It gives certain people the anecdotal evidence they need to further their agenda. It also gives those who stand against that agenda even more incentive to fight back. In the end, it only serves to heighten hostilities and intensify the rhetoric.

At a time when men and women are increasingly divided, especially in matters pertaining to sex and intimacy, this sort of story really drives us in all the wrong directions. It frames all men as sleazy pigs who jump at any opportunity to harass a woman. It frames all women as victims who must fight back against everyone and everything attacking them, real or imagined.

For me, personally, this story makes me sick to my stomach because it’s one of those stories that’s perfect for pushing an agenda, but not for pursuing justice. If what happened to Grace is true, then I’m in favor of having Ansari face justice for his misdeeds. I say that as someone who has been a fan of his comedy and his work on “Parks and Recreation.”

As it stands, though, there’s not enough evidence beyond the he said/she said dynamic to convict anyone of a crime. Absent that kind of justice, people are filling in the blanks with whatever gender-driven prejudices they want to strengthen.

In my personal opinion, which may put me at odds with both sides, I believe that there’s a third version of this story between Grace and Ansari that is closer to the truth. In that version, Ansari isn’t a total gentleman and Grace isn’t a hapless victim either. It’s just an experience that becomes awkward and unpleasant for them, the memories of which later get conflated and influenced by outside sources.

In the end, it’s still impossible to know for sure. Short of high-definition video, unambiguous audio, and an ability to read the exact thoughts of both Grace and Ansari during those moments when they were together, we can’t know how consensual or hostile the situation was between them. It messes with our desire for justice, especially when it comes to how men treat women.

In seeking that justice, though, it’s important to remember that there are instances where the truth isn’t just elusive. It’s physically impossible to ascertain. In those instances, trying to fill that uncertainty with agendas will only lead to more injustice in the long run for everyone.


Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society

Why The Men Were Silent At The Golden Globes (For Good Reason)

When I was in middle school, I had a particularly vindictive gym teacher one year who had a knack for breaking the spirits of pre-teens. If we forgot to wash our uniforms, failed to take our seats on time, or just farted too loud, we were given a choice. Either we had to run a mile or do 100 push-ups. We got to choose, but both choices sucked.

The real kicker was that if we didn’t choose, then the teacher would choose for us and would go out of his way to make that choice seem extra cruel. It was one of those situations where it really didn’t matter what we said or did. One way or another, we were going to suffer for our actions and inaction.

This brings me to this year’s Golden Globes. Bear with me. I promise that’s not as big a non-sequiter as it sounds. There’s a valid reason I brought up the story of my vindictive gym teacher and it ties directly into the ongoing social movement to combat the sexual misconduct of powerful men.

I’ve talked about this issue before and, to be honest, I wish I didn’t have to keep discussing it. I would much rather be telling sexy stories, sharing sexy thoughts, or discussing upcoming superhero movies. However, these issues surrounding sexual misconduct in Hollywood have an undeniable impact on the sexual landscape and as an aspiring erotica/romance writer, that’s not something I can ignore.

A lot has been said and done since the movement began in wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. There has been a great deal of outrage, complete with protests and hashtags. Powerful men have fallen. Careers and reputations have been ruined. Entire movies and TV shows have actually been changed, as a result of this effort.

In some respects, it’s a good thing and I have pointed out the silver linings. Men harassing or abusing women is not something a just society should overlook. This isn’t one of those irrational moral panics, such as Satanic ritual abuse or the impact of violent video games. These instances of men abusing women have happened and some of the accused have confessed.

However, this ongoing crusade against powerful men, as well as horny men in general, has walked a fine line between a pursuing justice and demonizing any man who ever dared to admire a beautiful woman. It’s not quite at the level of an old-fashioned witch hunt, but it’s already in that dark territory where passions obscure reality.

What happened at the Golden Globes might end up being the most telling sign of all. Initially, the big news for this event was positive. Some of the most prominent women in Hollywood, including Emma Watson and Oprah Winfrey, came together in a show of solidarity against the sexual victimization of women. They all wore black dresses and got behind the newly-created “Time’s Up” movement.

Like other movements before it, the intent is good. This movement seeks to provide legal defense and resources for those who have been victimized by sexual misconduct. That’s an objectively good thing, but that wasn’t the most revealing moment of the Golden Globes. Instead, the biggest message came from what was not said.

It has been reported by more than one outlet. While the women at the Golden Globes were quite vocal in their ongoing efforts to clamp down on sexual misconduct, the men were mostly silent. Other than a brief remark from Seth Meyers at the beginning and some men dressing in black, Hollywood’s male stars were largely silent.

To some, this is already very problematic. I imagine it’s going to stir quite a bit of outrage among those trying to further the movement. However, when you take a step back and look at the situation in which these men were in, their silence makes complete sense. In fact, those same women who are determined to combat the Harvey Weinsteins of the world may very well have made it their only option.

To understand why, think back to my vindictive gym teacher for a moment. That teacher understood that to break the spirits of powerless pre-teens, it was necessary to put them in a situation where their choices mattered less than the ugly gym uniforms the school forced them to wear. By establishing just how powerless they were, it made any effort to speak up seem pointless.

These men, as powerful and successful they may be, were in a situation not unlike the one my hapless classmates were in that year. There was nothing they could’ve said or done that wouldn’t have been deconstructed, dissected, or misconstrued. No matter what they said or didn’t say, it would be used to label them as enemies of the movement and of women, as a whole.

If one of the men stood up on that stage and gave an impassioned speech condemning Harvey Weinstein, then his reputation would suffer. He would be labeled a virtue signaling white knight who was compensating for something. After what happened to Joss Whedon, those concerns wouldn’t be unfounded. He may even still face condemnation among women for not speaking up earlier or naming other harassers.

If that same man stood up and tried to give an impassioned speech on the importance of confronting the issue responsibly, then he would likely have suffered condemnation similar to that of Matt Damon, who dared to question whether all harassment should be treated equally. Even hinting at such nuance would’ve earned that man the toxic label of a misogynistic victim blamer.

Essentially, the men at the Golden Globes knew they couldn’t win either way. No matter what they said, it would’ve been used against them or undermined their career, somehow. These men, as powerful and successful they may be, are still human, despite what Tom Cruise may claim. They want to protect their jobs and their reputations. They can’t do that if they get slapped with these toxic labels.

In the end, silence was their safest bet and that, in and of itself, reveals the extent to which this crusade against sexual misconduct has gone. It’s past the point where people can have reasoned arguments about the issue. Now, it’s all outrage and hyperbole. Either you’re completely on board with that outrage or you’re just as bad as Harvey Weinstein. There is no gray area.

That lack of gray area means men have to be silent, which is the exact opposite of what the women in the movement are trying to achieve. It’s ironic, but understandable. These men aren’t going to garner much sympathy. They’re rich, handsome, and successful. There’s only so much sympathy they can inspire, due to their position.

Silence is the only way to avoid the added scrutiny that would undermine a career. Silence is the only way to avoid saying something that might offend, enrage, or upset a public that has shown in recent times an uncanny unwillingness to ruin lives and reputations. It’s actually worse than censorship, when you think about it, because it is self-imposed rather than coerced.

The fact that the men didn’t speak up at the Golden Globes may or may not represent a tipping point, of sorts. If the anti-harassment movement has created an environment that’s so frail that silence is the safest recourse, then that same movement lacks a critical component it needs to succeed.

Like it or not, men need to be part of the conversation with respect to sexual misconduct. Silence on their part means the crimes, the culture, and the attitudes that fosters such misconduct won’t change. Moreover, their point of view cannot be discounted as virtue signaling or “mansplaining.” The fact remains that if people feel helpless, then they won’t care enough to make the effort.

Like the broken spirits of my old gym class, if the men don’t think their words matter or may be used against them, then it makes perfect sense for them to remain silent. Outrage, awareness, and condemnation alone is not going to inspire meaningful change in the dynamics between men and women.

Both sides actually have to listen to one another and feel their words actually matter. It’s only then when silence will no longer be the most preferred and logical recourse.


Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Social Context Versus “Toxic” Behaviors: Why The Difference Matters (A Lot)

There’s a fairly well-known set of experiments involving rats and cocaine. It’s a strange, yet revealing combination. In the initial experiment, a rat in a cage was given the choice between cocaine and food. Not surprisingly, especially for someone who has ever tried cocaine, the rat chose cocaine to the point of killing itself.

That experiment, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, helped establish the idea that those who use cocaine would be so damaged, so addicted, and so utterly gone that they would rather take the drug than survive. It was pretty scary stuff and it helped inspire harsher anti-drug policies in the 1980s.

However, that experiment came into question in 1981 when a professor named Bruce Alexander re-did the experiment, but with one critical change. He didn’t isolate the rats in a cage. He put them in a colorful, positive environment with other rats that came to be known as “rat park.” The results weren’t nearly as scary.

As it turns out, when placed in a better environment with more social support, the rats didn’t become irreversibly damaged cocaine addicts. In fact, even when offered much more addictive drugs like morphine, the rats didn’t imbibe in illicit, drug-fueled bliss nearly as much as their caged counterparts.

I bring up this experiment because it illustrates an important point about behavior and social creatures. Context and social setting matters. It matters a lot. Put someone in a cage, strip them of any social support, and isolate them from the world and they’re bound to endure some pretty toxic effects. That’s a big reason why solitary confinement is considered torture.

That brings me back to the inherently flawed idea of “toxic masculinity,” a term I’ve gone on record as saying should be buried in the deepest, darkest pit of our collective lexicon. I don’t want to re-hash or belabor any of the points I’ve already made about toxic masculinity. I’ll just note that some of the rhetoric surrounding it is distressingly similar to what anti-drug zealots used when demonizing cocaine.

Think, for a moment, about some of the negative traits associated with toxic masculinity. They include, but aren’t restricted to, stuff like:

  • Suppression of emotions
  • Being prone to violence
  • Increases in aggression
  • Associations with abhorrent sexual behavior

Then, look at the traits associated with cocaine addiction and note some of the parallels. In each case, there’s a direct association between these traits and a tangible, unambiguous cause. In one case, it’s a drug. In the other, it’s just being a man and associating with masculinity. Like the rats in that first experiment, though, there’s no context or social circumstances to consider.

That begs an intriguing, but important question, especially to those who still want to use “toxic masculinity” as a catch-all for certain behaviors. Is it really the nature of masculinity itself that’s behind these toxic behaviors or is it the social circumstances within the society?

That’s not a question anyone, especially not aspiring erotica/romance writers, can definitively answer. I don’t doubt it has been asked in other ways. It might even have been studied to some extent, but since it involves the complex machinations of the human psyche, definitive answers are hard to come by.

Even without the results of those studies, is it really that hard to contemplate the possibility that circumstances may effect how masculinity and femininity manifest? The rat park experiments alone hint at a fairly significant impact. Given the orders of magnitude in difference between rat and human brains, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that impact is substantial.

While we can’t run the kinds of experiments that Bruce Alexander did in 1981, we can assess the current status of masculinity within our culture. It may vary from region to region, but in terms of modern western culture, there are a number of traits that we’ve come to associate with masculinity.

It tends to manifest most distinctly in our standard models of romance, which puts men in situations where they have to be competitive, aggressive, cunning, and determined to get the kind of emotional and sexual satisfaction they want. Even when they do, those same situations make them just as inclined to seek other outlets of satisfaction.

Furthermore, men have to navigate these situations with the added baggage of being biologically wired to seek social, romantic, and sexual connections. Women have this wiring too, but the circumstances for them are different in that the culture has different expectations. Moreover, there’s no concept of “toxic femininity” to color their feminine traits as inherently negative.

What this means is the men are entering these circumstances pre-programmed to be very horny, very lonely, and in need of various forms of fulfillment. Being men, they’re expected to go out and get it while women are expected to just let it come to them. Now, I get that this is a gross oversimplification that obscures the overall gender dynamics, but in terms of the overall culture, these are the circumstances.

To illustrate the inherent issues with those circumstance, here’s a scenario that should help paint a picture of the male predicament. Again, it’s a gross oversimplification that I’m sure will offend more than a few people, but still reflects an important point.

Man: Hello, ma’am. I’m lonely and horny. How do I go about getting sex, love, and social support?

Woman: First of all, the fact that you just admitted you’re horny is disgusting. Women being horny, that’s beautiful and erotic. Men being horny is not, so you’re already a pig in my mind.

Man: What? Why? That’s not fair.

Woman: Don’t interrupt me! Talking down to a woman is rude and sexist. It’s basically the first step towards harassment and abuse. Raising your voice to a woman, showing any kind of dominance, is just perpetuating an oppressive gender stereotype that has no place in the current year.

Man: Okay. I’m sorry about that. So how do I go about it then?

Woman: You’re still talking over me. You’re getting dangerously close to harassing me and since you’re a man, everyone will believe me if I accuse you. So choose your words very carefully because if any woman feels upset by what you say or do, even if it’s unintentional, we can accuse you of being an abuser and ruin your life.

Man: Well, I’d like to avoid that at all costs.

Woman: Then, you’ll have to play by our rules. You’ll have to respect every choice a woman makes and take her side in every argument. Disagree with us or go against us and we’ll label you a sexist, misogynist pig. Then, you’ll never find love, sex, or any kind of social support.

Man: Wow. That almost sounds risky. I might just be better off watching porn and masturbating by myself.

Woman: Now, you’re just making it worse. For one, watching porn or admiring female bodies in any capacity is insulting, demeaning, and objectifying.

Man: But I’m attracted to beautiful women. Is that bad?

Woman: It’s awful! You’re contributing to unhealthy beauty standards that not every woman can hope to achieve. You’re part of a much larger problem in society that forces women to meet obligations that are difficult, inconvenient, or outright impossible. That makes you an accomplice to all the crimes ever committed against women.

Man: But I’ve never attacked, hurt, or insulted a woman in my entire life.

Woman: That doesn’t matter. Since men have gotten away with too many crimes in the past, you have to be the one to pay the price in the present. That means you have to carry the guilt of men you’ve never met for crimes and attitudes you had no part in creating. If you go against this in any way, then you’re an even bigger sexist misogynist.

Man: I don’t want that. I don’t want that at all. I guess I’ll have to find some other way to masturbate.

Woman: You’re still making it worse. You see, women can masturbate because it’s sexy and erotic. Men can’t. It’s just disgusting for reasons that neither of us can change. If any women finds out you’ve ever masturbated or paid for sex in any capacity, then they’ll think you’re a creep and a loser. They won’t even look at you, let alone want to be with you.

Man: But that’s not fair! I can’t turn off my desires.

Woman: That’s too bad. You’ll just have to suppress them while you jump through all the elaborate hoops a woman demands in the meantime. Just remember that even if you jump through all those hoops and do everything they ask, they still reserve the right to not have sex with you or love you in the way you want. That’s their choice and you can’t do anything about it.

Man: So what am I supposed to do? This is making me kind of frustrated and angry.

Woman: That’s not my problem. You either play by these arbitrary rules or we cut you off socially, sexually, and romantically. Try to change any of these rules and that just makes you the biggest misogynist of them all.

I’ll stop there and give everyone a moment to fume. Take all the time you need. It’s not the first time I’ve crafted a scenario with some pretty distressing monologues.

If you can get past the outrage, then try and take a moment to reflect on the circumstances in the scenario. Men are in a situation where the path to the kind of sexual, emotional, and social fulfillment that all social species seek is full of potential pitfalls.

Since those obstacles have gotten a lot more treacherous lately, it’s even harder for men to actively seek the very things that make them healthy and fulfilled. It’s akin to forcing the rats from the cocaine experiment back in the cage and demanding that they not succumb to the detrimental effects.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that women didn’t create these circumstances. There’s no feminist conspiracy any more than there’s a nefarious patriarchal conspiracy. In fact, some of these circumstances stem from traditions men have promoted, like the whole obsession with female purity and the concept of slut-shaming. Men have done more than their part to create and exacerbate these circumstances.

As it stands, though, the circumstances for men are such that frustration, anger, and isolation are almost inescapable. Unless you’re very rich and very well-connected, you’ve got a lot of hazards to navigate. Slip up and you’ll be labeled a creep, a misogynist, or worse. Even if that doesn’t put you in a literal cage, it’ll make you feel like you’re in one. At that point, is it really that surprising when a person’s behavior comes off as toxic?

With these circumstances in mind, the concept of “toxic masculinity” becomes even more asinine because it utterly ignores this context. Absent that context, it can only ever damage whatever harmony men and women have. Given how sensitive we’ve become to scandals and sexism, we can’t afford to do much more damage and expect either gender to come out better.


Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

FCC Official Retires (Due To Porn) And (Overdue) Lessons We Should Learn From It

FCC sign is pictured. | Getty

Every now and then, there’s a news story that sounds like it came from The Onion, but it’s actually real. Personally, these stories tickle me like mountain of puppies. They show that, as crazy and distressing as this world is at times, it can still be pretty damn hilarious.

There’s actually an entire subreddit dedicated to these kinds of stories. They have funny headlines like “Kids Work Harder When Dressed As Batman, Study Says” and “Property Prices Lower On Streets With Silly Names, High School Students Find.” Again, these are not clips from The Onion. They’re real and they’re more hilarious because of that.

It’s for that same reason that when I saw this particular headline, I laughed and smiled like a kid in a room full of chocolate and kittens. If you’re having a bad day, just read it over a few times and let the world around you become inherently better.

Politico: FCC Official Retires Amid Complaints About Porn Viewing

As someone who regularly writes about the folly of regressive sexual attitudes, this kind of story is as informative as it is hilarious. That’s because when it comes to sexual regression, the joyless suits at the Federal Communications Commission are right up there with the Vatican. Remember, these people made a national scandal of Janet Jackson’s nipple, for crying out loud.

To be fair to the FCC, which tends to be an exercise in inanity, they get some pretty crazy complaints from citizens who grossly overestimate the destructive power of female nipples. Between complaints about shows like “South Park,” the WWE, and Miley Cyrus, they can’t help but be a little uptight. Fair or not, this story is another testament to just how powerful our collective sex drives can be.

While article singles one particular official out who accelerated his retirement plans after word of his porn viewing habits came out, it goes onto note that this is not an isolated incident. This one unidentified worker isn’t just the FCC equivalent of the town drunk. Apparently, FCC employees viewing porn is major problem. This is a direct quote.

“An investigation that began in January found “pornographic and inappropriate images” indicating the employee used his FCC-issued computer and the agency’s network in violation of commission policy, according to a new report from the FCC’s office of inspector general.”

Now, it goes without saying that viewing porn at work is a bad idea. There’s a time and a place for certain things. Even aspiring erotica/romance writers understand that. Unless you’re a porn star or working in the porn business, you should generally avoid putting that sort of thing on your browser history.

However, this story with the FCC and porn viewing is extra revealing in that it exposes something about our culture that we rarely acknowledge, but sort of assume in the back of our minds. Some of it has to do with our sexuality. Some of it has to do with the institutions we empower to control it. In the end, though, most of it has to do with how futile our efforts are when it comes to contain our sexuality.

Think back to when Osama Bin Laden was killed in the famous 2011 raid. Not long after his compound was raided, word got out that Bin Laden had a pretty extensive collection of porn. For a man who often bemoaned the decadence of America and the west, as a whole, this was a moment of egregious hypocrisy on his part.

However, not a whole lot of people were all that shocked by this revelation. Most found it funny. I doubt those same people aren’t that shocked by news that people at the FCC, the same organization that often clamps down on porn, has a problem with its employees viewing it. Again, we found it hilarious and rightly so.

Think about that for a moment, though. What does it say about the situation when we find it funny and not abhorrent? The fact we’re neither surprised nor disgusted by the fact that both the FCC and Bin Laden love watching pron in their spare time reveals something about our attitudes towards sex that’s worth scrutinizing.

The FCC certainly isn’t the first organization to decry porn as immoral. Islam isn’t the first religion to denounce it, either. In fact, there’s an ongoing anti-porn crusade unfolding in the Mormon-heavy state of Utah. That’s also inherently hilarious because Utah also happens to be the state with the most porn subscriptions, which kind of reinforces my point.

These efforts, regardless of whether they’re sincere or misguided, are doomed to fail. On some levels, we even realize that. We wouldn’t find stories like this so funny if they weren’t. I don’t doubt that some are still genuinely shocked, but I think the overall lack of outrage surrounding these revelations tells us something about our understanding of human sexuality.

On some levels, we know the FCC and Utah republicans can never hope to succeed in their goals. They’re never going to successfully censor porn. They’re never going to control our sexuality. We still empower them to at least give the perception that there’s some sort of government/spiritual guardian protecting us from the really kinky stuff that we can’t handle. As I’ve said before, perception tends to kick reality’s ass.

Overall, though, we know the people behind those efforts are still human. As such, they get horny like the rest of us. When that happens, they seek an outlet and it shows on their browser history. None of that surprises us. It only becomes hilarious when they’re supposed to be the ones setting a better example, but fail miserably. We’re never surprised that they fail. If anything, we expect it.

It’s for that reason I wouldn’t put this sort of story on the same level as Pamela Anderson’s hypocrisy on porn. Sure, the FCC and Utah republicans are trying to regulate or censor porn, but they’re not going out of their way to condemn other people for using it. They’re basically taking on the impossible task of regulating human sexuality. Even they have to know on some levels that they’re going to fail.

That, beyond the inherent humor, is the biggest take-away from a story like this. We know what the FCC and other organizations like it are trying to do with sex in media. We know it’s a losing battle, but we let them fight it anyways because it gives us the illusion that we’re making an effort to sanitize the kinkier parts of our sexuality. It’s because it’s an illusion that we can find stories like this so funny.

Funny or not, there’s still a danger in letting organizations like the FCC make that kind of effort to censor our sexuality. Remember, this organization made a big deal about a goddamn nipple. At some point, those kinds of efforts stop being hilarious.

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Filed under Current Events, sex in media, sexuality