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John Oliver, Sex Dolls, And The (Unwarranted) Shaming Of Lonely Men

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There’s a general rule in comedy with respect to insults. If you’re going to demean, denigrate, or make fun of a particular person or group, you don’t want to punch down. Granted, you can do it. You can even get a few laughs out of it if you do it well and are exceptionally funny. However, in the grand scheme of things, you’re still an asshole.

It’s the main reason why comedians, be they stand-up comics or talk show hosts, generally direct their insults at the rich, powerful, and privileged. There’s a general understanding that if you’re doing well in this chaotic game of life, either through luck or talent, you can afford to take a few insults. At the end of the day, you can still go home and cry into a pile of money, fame, and affluence.

When you insult a group that has none of those things in any abundance, it’s usually not something people respect, even if they laugh. It’s why even great comedians like George Carlin had to be very careful and exceptionally skilled when he joked about rape.

We miss you, George. We miss you SO much.

Unfortunately, not everyone can be as funny or talented as George Carlin. Sometimes, insult comedy hits an undeserving target. It tends to reveal something about the comedian delivering the insult and where society is, in terms of sympathies. It’s often subtle, but the subtext is there and it has larger implications.

That brings me to John Oliver, the nerdy smart-ass British comedian who owes 95 percent of his fame to John Stewart. His show, “Last Week Tonight,” has won multiple Emmy awards and has garnered substantial praise for its colorful approach to tackling major issues, from the abortion debate to annoying robocalls to the flaws in standardized testing.

While I don’t agree with Mr. Oliver’s politics all the time or his approach to tackling certain issues, I consider myself a fan of his show. Compared to other satirical comedy shows, he tends to strike just the right balance between quality comedy and tackling serious issues.

However, he recently took a comedic jab that deviated from his usual style and not in a good way. It occurred during his episode that focused on China’s controversial One Child Policy. It’s an issue that has been subject to plenty of controversy for years and I think Mr. Oliver was right to talk about it.

One of the major consequences of this policy, which Mr. Oliver rightly pointed out, was how it led to a massive gender population imbalance. Due to a historic preference for sons, there are millions more men than women in China. The disparity is so great that it has caused major social upheavals.

While discussing some of those upheavals, the issue of sex dolls came up. In a country where there are so many lonely men, it makes sense that they would seek some form of outlet and it helps that the market of sex dolls is growing. This is where Mr. Oliver did a little punching down and, unlike his jabs at New Zealand, this didn’t have the same impact. See for yourself in this clip.

Take a moment to consider what he’s joking about here. There are millions of men in China who, through no fault of their own, are likely doomed to a life of loneliness. It’s not because they’re bad men. They’re not creepy, cruel, or misogynistic. They’re just at the mercy of math and demographics. There simply aren’t enough women in their country.

For these men, the old saying that there’s plenty of fish in the sea is an outright lie. Their options are limited and Mr. Oliver is making light of that. He essentially claims that men who use sex dolls are somehow even more pathetic and destined for more loneliness. He makes that claim as someone who is married, has a child, and doesn’t have to deal with those prospects.

It’s not just bad comedy. It’s hypocritical. Earlier in that same clip, he showed sympathy and understanding to a Chinese woman who was forced to have an abortion against her will. He’s shown similar sympathy to people in other situations, from women dealing with restrictive abortion laws to prisoners who had been screwed over by an unfair justice system.

Why would he show no sympathy for these lonely men?

Moreover, why would he make a joke about it?

To some extent, it’s not all on him. There is an egregious double standard when it comes to men who use sex toys. A woman can walk into a sex shop, buy a vibrator, and talk about using it without too much stigma. Sure, there will be a few repressive, sex-negative religious zealots who will complain about anything that gives anyone unsanctioned pleasure, but most people don’t take them seriously.

For men, however, there’s a taboo surrounding the use of sex toys in any capacity. Some of that comes from men more than women. There’s this not-so-subtle assumption that a man who needs a sex toy is somehow less manly. Any man who has to resort to one must be somehow deficient. It can’t just be that he’s lonely or wants to use new tools to please his lover. That would make too much sense.

For the men in China, and other areas where there’s a huge gender disparity, the situation is even worse. These are men who are facing both loneliness and sexual frustration. There’s more than a little evidence that this is not healthy for them on any level. That’s not to say that sex dolls or sex toys will help fill that void, but it will give them an outlet, just as a vibrator gives a lonely woman an outlet.

Unlike a lonely woman, though, these men can’t expect much sympathy. As Mr. Oliver demonstrates, they can expect plenty of shame and stigma. It doesn’t matter that they can’t do anything about their situation. They’re victims of circumstance, demographics, and basic math. Adding stigma and taboo to the mix is akin to kicking them in the balls on the worst day of their lives.

I won’t say that Mr. Oliver should apologize for his remark. He’s a comedian. He’s a citizen in a free country. He can say what he wants. However, the fact that he can joke about lonely men and still get a laugh says a lot about the current attitudes towards lonely men, in general.

We know they’re suffering. We know there’s not much they can do about it, especially in places like China. While we’ll give plenty of sympathy to the lonely women who resort to using sex toys, we’ll stick to shaming and stigmatizing the men who dare to do the same. Then, we’ll pretend to be surprised when they get angry and resentful.

Is that fair? No, it isn’t.

Is that funny? No, I argue that it’s not, especially with the way Mr. Oliver went about it.

He’s no George Carlin. He’s no John Stewart, either. In this particular case, he’s just an asshole.

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The Stigma Of Being Single (Especially If You’re A Man)

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Picture, for a moment, a single woman in her mid-30s with no kids. What’s the image that comes to mind? For most people, especially those who watch sitcoms or have seen one episode of “Sex In The City,” a certain narrative plays out that helps shape that picture.

The woman is probably not a supermodel, nor could she be mistaken for Sarah Jessica Parker. She probably has a stable career. She probably has her own money, a tight social circle, and a fair amount of independence. She likely has a few hobbies and passions outside her career. Even if she isn’t in a relationship, it’s easy to imagine her being happy with her situation.

The fact that she’s single wouldn’t raise many red flags. That said, there are some stigmas associated with being single at a certain age for women. There’s still this misguided notion that women who are single at that age have somehow come up short in life. Every woman has different reasons for being single. By and large, though, we tend to have sympathy for women who stay single.

Now, picture a single man in his mid-30s with no kids. What image comes to mind in that instance? Chances are it’s not the same as that picture you imagined of a single woman. A single man in his mid-30s probably won’t inspire mental pictures of Channing Tatum. Hell, it probably won’t even inspire pictures of Jonah Hill.

A single man in his mid-30s with no kids will likely raise more red flags than the woman. It’s not just that the man is struggling to forge a meaningful relationship. He’s not just unlucky in love. There’s something wrong with him. A man like that must be a creep to some extent. He must have some sort of shortcoming or deficiency that repulses the opposite sex.

Maybe he has unhealthy hobbies.

Maybe he has a short temper and abusive tendencies.

Maybe he’s just a lazy slob who doesn’t even try.

It’s still entirely possible that a single man in his 30s is just content being single. He doesn’t feel inclined to pursue a relationship at the moment. He’s healthy, relatively attractive, and contributes positively to society. He’s not opposed to being in a relationship, but not just for the sake of being with someone.

No matter how common that possibility is, though, that’s probably not the first assumption you would make if all you knew about a man was that he’s over 30 and single. Even though marriage rates are declining, there’s still a stigma associated with being single beyond a certain age. It exists for women and men, but the stigma is more pronounced for men.

There’s no getting around it. A single man in his mid-30s is going to evoke a different reaction. It’s not a double standard like some of the others I’ve cited. It’s just the byproduct of different expectations and assumptions. I know this better than most because I’m a single man in my mid-30s with no kids and I’ve witnessed some of these reactions.

It’s subtle, but noticeable. When I tell someone I’m single and in my 30s, I get this weird look. If the person doesn’t know me very well, I get the sense they’re a little concerned. Once they learn that about me, I suspect they think that’s creepy or odd. There have been times when I’ve seen people, mostly women, get uncomfortable when they learn I’m over 30 and single.

There was even one instance where a woman at a store asked if I was gay. That really caught me off-guard, but it was the first time when I really felt the stigma of being single. I laughed it off at the time and so did the woman. However, when I later recalled the incident, I felt genuinely anxious about my status. I worry that it will undermine my ability to find love in the future.

I’ve even seen it among relatives. While most of my family don’t make a big deal out of it, there are a few who express concern about me. They see my age and my relationship status as a problem to be solved. I can understand that sentiment. I even appreciate it because I know it comes from sincere concern. Even so, I still feel the stigma on some levels.

I know I’m not alone in that. As much progress as we’ve made in society, with respect to tolerating non-traditional relationships, there’s still this over-arching sentiment that being single is a deficiency. It’s not so much a choice as it is an excuse. When it’s less subtle, it can be downright demeaning. It takes many forms, but often carries similar themes.

Your standards are too high.

You’re not a desirable companion.

You’re too high-maintenance and clingy.

You’re past your prime.

You’ve got little to offer.

I’ve seen this levied at women and men. I know women who get very combative when someone tries to figure out why they’re not in a relationship after a certain age. I honestly don’t blame them, but I’ve seen those same women get plenty of sympathy. Even when they make excuses, men and women alike will offer them support when they need it.

As a man, though, I feel like I can’t get away with that. If I were as apprehensive as some of the women I’ve known, I wouldn’t get a lick of sympathy. If anything, I would be scorned. Men would look down at me as desperate and whiny. Woman would look down on me as pathetic and weak. None of those traits warrant much sympathy or support.

On some levels, I  understand why being single is stigmatized. For society to grow, it needs people to get together, forge close society bonds, and creature stable families. People who remain single aren’t contributing to that growth and stigma is just one way of incentivizing them to try harder, even if it creates distressing taboos.

I can also understand why the stigma is more pronounced in men. Like it or not, men tend to commit more crime. Men who lack the influence of a stabilizing relationship tend to cause more deviance and there’s even some research to back that up. It’s one of those instances where a particular prejudice has some statistics behind it.

However, statistics rarely tell the entire story. More often than not, they leave out critical details. In my case, the primary factor that has influenced my single status is a desire not to be with someone just for the sake of being with someone. I’ve seen more than one person fall into the trap of being with someone who is totally wrong for them, but stays with them to avoid being single.

I don’t want that for myself. I want any relationship I have, be it romantic or platonic, to be for the right reasons. Being single hasn’t made me feel more inclined to commit crime or do something deviant. It’s a reasonable choice that I made for myself and I don’t regret it. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating when other people make misguided assumptions about why I’m single.

I’ve met women who’ve made similar choices. I’ve also known plenty more who are single for different, but understandable reasons. They’re not selfish predators who are just holding out to marry a prince who will love them, cater to their every need, and be their personal pocketbook. There are women like that, but they’re the annoyingly loud exception and not the norm.

When it comes to being single, the lingering stigma feels like a very small battle in a much larger war involving gender, society, and politics. As a self-professed romantic, I’m all for encouraging people to find love and forge relationship. It’s a beautiful thing and I feel like that same stigma undermines the beauty.

On top of that, it shoves yet another wedge between men and women when we already have too many of those. We’ve steadily moved away from the notion that an unmarried woman at a certain age must either be a widow, a prostitute, or a nun. There’s still room for improvement, but we’re steadily making progress in empowering people to find their way, regardless of whether they’re single.

At the same time, a man remaining single is not prone to as much scrutiny as we’ve seen in in the past. There are still assumptions and anxieties that are uniquely associated with single men. Regardless of whether single men or single women have it worse, I feel as though one part of the stigma is being addressed while the other is being overlooked.

Like it or not, this is going to be an increasingly relevant issue. As women stay single for longer, there are going to be more single men. That’s just basic math. The desire to find someone special won’t go away anytime soon. The stigma is just making it more difficult and a lot less romantic.

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How Atheism May Improve Your Sex Life

Relationship with passionate affection

When it comes to improving your sex life, there’s no one way to go about it that works for everyone. Human sexuality is complex, diverse, and exceedingly kinky. What works for one person won’t work for another and may even be detrimental in some cases.

Conversely, there are also variety of ways to undermine or ruin your sex life. That same sexual diversity that helps the human race find novel ways to get intimate with one another can also backfire horribly. Some are minor, in terms of effect, but other forces can have a much greater impact.

That brings me to religion, a topic that tends to inspire the best and worst in people. Like sex, it’s a complex phenomenon that impacts everybody differently. It can inspire great charity and compassion in some. It can just as easily incur greed, exploitation, and outright atrocity.

For those reasons, and plenty more that are too numerous to list, any effort that involves mixing sex with religion is akin to mixing napalm with TNT. I’ve made an effort to discuss both topics in a fair, balanced manner in the past. I feel as though I can only go so far before I totally inflame certain audiences.

I’m still going to try to push the conversation a bit farther. That means taking a few risks and since religion is still such a prominent force in the world, it’s effect on our collective sex lives is unavoidable.

For this particular discussion, want to focus on what happens when religion is removed from the equation. If religion is really that powerful an influence on our lives, and both history and current politics indicate that influence is not entirely trivial, then it stands to reason that the impact of its absence can reveal something about the extent of that influence.

That’s not to say that this is going to be a glowing endorsement of atheism. I prefer to let the data, the logic, and the implications speak for themselves. Since religion is on decline in many parts of the western world, I think exploring the potential impact is critical and even a little urgent.

Information on the sex lives of atheists compared to those who consider themselves religious is somewhat difficult to come by. The act of assessing and measuring someone’s sex lives, as well as the extent of their religiosity, is extremely difficult without the aid of lie detectors or mind-readers. The information we do have, though, does offer some intriguing insights.

Back in 2011, a survey entitled “Sex and Secularism” surveyed approximately 14,500 people revealed that those who identified as religious had less satisfying sex lives than their non-religious counterparts. On top of that, those same religious participants reported a high level of guilt that came along with their sex lives. Given how some religions build their theology around guilt, that shouldn’t be too surprising.

Conversely, those identifying as non-religious didn’t just report better sex lives. They had better sexual education and were more open to discussing sex in general. Everything from personal fantasies to simple tastes was fair game and less affected by guilt. That openness, along with considerably less stigma, was conducive to a more fulfilling sex life.

That effect was more pronounced by those who had once been religious, but had since become atheist. Between the absence of religiously-motivated guilt and the sexual taboos that are often theologically driven, the cumulative effect is pretty striking. This notable quote from the researchers summed it up nicely.

“People who had lost their belief and became atheists reported a significant improvement in sexual satisfaction,” the paper went on to say. Apparently the guilty feelings that religion creates around sex dissipate after a while.

Now, I can already hear the outrage sincerely devout religious crowd on the conclusions of this study. More than a few people who consider themselves religious will claim that their sex lives are superior and they may even have a case to make. Many religions offer a simple, one-size-fits-all approach to sex that is uncomplicated, straightforward, and safer. The fact that it’s also ordained by a divine power is also a factor.

I don’t deny that there are plenty of religious couples out there who have satisfying sex lives. There are probably plenty of atheists out there who have terrible sex lives, as well. However, in order to draw larger conclusions about the impact of religion on sex, we can’t just go by a few anecdotal experiences. We have to step back and see the forest from the trees.

From a psychological and physiological perspective, it makes sense that guilt, religiously-motivated or not, would undermine anyone’s sex life. Guilt has measurable effects on people. It makes it harder to focus. It keeps us from enjoying things. It’s a powerful distraction that makes us feel stress and anxiety. All of these forces can do plenty to undermine your sex life.

In my musings on taboos, I often cite religion as a driving force behind them. Organized religion has made no secret of its intent to regulate, control, or outright exploit human sexuality. There’s plenty of theology, especially among the Abrahamic religions, that imparts divinely-mandated guilt on sex.

In these religious cultures, sex isn’t just some basic biological act that people do for intimacy, procreation, and recreation. It’s subject to all sorts of holy and unholy connotations. The deities involved in these religions aren’t just interested in the kind of sex you’re having. They’ll actually punish you if you do it the wrong way.

That does more than just impart extra guilt for doing anything that strays from what priests, mullahs, monks, and rabbis deem appropriate. It also instills a very rigid family structure, one centered around a specific manifestation of sex that has very little room for fun, kink, and exploration.

That manifestation involves strict gender roles where men do the hard labor and women do the child rearing. The only sex that is sanctioned is the one that involves producing babies who subsequently grow up to be adherents/soldiers/patrons of a particular religion. The fact that type of sexual expression indirectly benefits religious institutions is probably just a coincidence.

The act of enjoying sex for non-procreative purposes would constitute a distraction. A distraction is dangerous in any religion because if people become too distracted, then they pay less attention to the religious institutions and the duties they espouse. As such, it’s in the interest of any successful religion to maintain a strict control over someone’s sex life.

That kind of control is naturally prone to stress. Given how the biological wiring of human sexuality is not conducive to that kind of narrow expression, there’s bound to be temptation. The best way to combat temptation is through stigma and taboo. By hijacking powerful feelings like guilt, it’s possible heavily influence peoples’ sex lives, even if it’s impossible to control them.

It’s akin to putting lead weights on somebody’s limbs and convincing them that the weight is normal. Even if they come to accept that, the weight still skews perceptions and that can only do so much in terms of circumventing basic biology. It also means that when those weights come off, the effect is pretty striking.

Suddenly, the stigma that once kept someone from seeking the sex they desired are gone. The burdens associated with thoughts and feelings that religious institutions deem unholy are lifted. Like any form of stress relief, it can be pretty liberating.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the 2011 survey is conclusive. It has been criticized for being unscientific in some aspects. Some of those criticisms are valid and the researchers concede that, but to the extent the data is consistent with what we understand about how religion can affect our sexuality, it passes some critical filters.

Our sex lives are complicated. Religion, in its many forms, is complicated as well. Regardless of how you feel about one or the other, mixing them is almost certain to compound both. Atheism, like not playing a sport or not having a hobby, simply removes one of those complications.

It’s not a universal fix. It doesn’t subvert other potential issues that may undermine someone’s sex life. There’s plenty more research to be done and religion is still evolving with each passing year, but when it comes to removing divinely-imposed, theologically-driven guilt, atheism stimulates the necessary aspects that make for a satisfying sex life.

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