5 Lies that Distort Male Sexuality and Hurt Everyone

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence and Abuse

Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life came through sports. They taught me hard work, commitment, and teamwork. They also taught me some of my most foundational lessons about masculinity and sex.

Not all of these messages were problematic and harmful. I often had coaches talk to me in positive (though sometimes paternalistic) ways about “respecting women.” But looking back, most of the messages I received about sex and my masculinity’s role in sex were quite horrifying.

Perhaps one of the most terrifying messages that I received came from an older soccer player named Dave when I was in tenth grade. One day, he was bragging to me about his sexual relationship with his girlfriend, a girl widely recognized as “hot” and “popular.”

In the midst of his braggadocio, he mentioned wanting to perform an incredibly violent sexual act that would violate her consent and would likely lead to serious injury.

He said he was only joking, and I laughed along, but it didn’t sit right with me. No matter how uncomfortable it made me, though, I didn’t dare challenge the “joke.”

After all, to do so would not only have challenged a man I was supposed to look up to, but it might have led to me being further ostracized for being “gay” (because apparently men are gay if they stand up to violence against women, and being gay was the “worst possible thing” I could have been in high school).

To this day, I’m ashamed that I never said anything, but I simply didn’t know how. I was a young man lacking in confidence, and I felt like it was “normal” that we were talking about women in this way.

Though some might write this story off as adolescent immaturity, this story speaks to a wider problem of patriarchal masculinity and how we as men are taught to understand sex and sexuality.

Feminism vs. Patriarchy

For generations now, feminism in its many iterations has done an amazing job of pointing out the terrible impacts of patriarchal masculinity. And, increasingly, feminists have focused on how patriarchy hurts people of all genders.

With the rise of the Internet as a dominant force in so many people’s lives, though, the resistance to feminism has only grown louder and stronger.

The power of the Internet for organizing Men’s Rights Activists, Pick Up Artists, and other anti-feminist groups has meant a surge in numbers of those who see feminism as “anti-male” or who despise the ways that feminism subverts patriarchal masculinity.

And ironically, these groups prey on men who feel hurt, who feel insecure, who feel entitled to sex, but who struggle socially and can’t find fulfilling relationships.

MRAs and PUAs tell insecure men that the problem is feminism, not patriarchy, and in doing so, fuel a particularly violent online (and offline) misogyny.

Yet the hurt and frustration these men face when it comes to sexuality is almost always directly tied to the ways in which patriarchal masculinity distorts male sexuality – which is a battle that feminism fights.

In her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, bell hooks describes patriarchy as the single most life-threatening social dis­ease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.

If we are ever going to engage men more fully in dismantling patriarchy and ending misogyny,we need more men to understand how the messages we receive about sex hurt more than women. These messages hurt us in myriad ways, too.

Thus, though I could likely unpack just about every message about sex that we receive, I want to analyze five of the most prominent messages men are taught about our sexuality.

1.  ‘Sow Your Wild Oats’

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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Porn

One Man’s Journey: How I Stopped Watching Porn for 1 Year and Why I’m Not Going Back

DanMDan Mahle is a group facilitator, program coordinator, and occasional blogger on the topic of men and masculinity. His work reaches into many different arenas, from youth leadership and intergenerational collaboration to environmental justice advocacy and men’s work. He lives in Seattle, WA.

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Porn

Image from Fame Magazine.

I remember when I first discovered internet porn – I was 17 years old (1).  Fascinated by this world of unleashed sexual expression and fantasy, I couldn’t get enough of it. As I grew up and began exploring my own sexuality, I discovered just how different watching pixels on a screen was compared to the intimacy of making love with another human being. I thought I’d outgrow my porn habit over time. But I never did.

I didn’t know it then, but porn had become an addiction. And, like most addictions, it was a behavior that I was ashamed to talk about or even admit was a problem. “Yeah, everybody watches porn,” I remember hearing. It seemed so pervasive and culturally accepted that having an actual conversation about it was a total non-starter. So I kept it to myself.

I thought I had my habit under control. I thought I could quite porn whenever I felt like it. I even tried to quit a few times and then rationalized my eventual return to the addiction.

I didn’t realize how much watching porn manipulated my mind, warping my sexuality, numbing my feelings, and impacting my relationships with women. And I was not alone.

According to a recent study, more than 70 percent of men ages 18 to 34 visit porn sites in a typical month. And it’s not just guys watching sex online. It is estimated that 1 in 3 porn users today are women. Now, I want to be clear here that porn use extends beyond the male/female gender binary, but for the purpose of this post I am sharing my experience with porn from the perspective of a heterosexual, cisgender, White man.

Let me also state clearly that I don’t think all porn is bad. I’ve seen some great videos of couples engaging in intimate and respectful sexual encounters – of course, these are often only found on feminist porn sites or in the “female friendly” category (It’s interesting to note what the category name “female friendly” implies about all the other categories). But I’m not here to judge anyone else for what they choose to watch. I’m simply sharing the impacts that porn has had on my life and what has changed for me since I’ve stopped using it.

To me, what is worrying about porn is not how many people use it, but how many people – like me – have found themselves addicted to it.

As Dr. Jeffrey Satinover stated in his 2004 testimony to the U.S. Senate subcommittee on pornography, “Modern science allows us to understand that the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction.”

Impacts of Porn (2)

A lot of studies have been conducted on the impacts of porn on men and women in society. Of all of those impacts, three most resonated with my experience:

1. Violence Against Women (3):  This includes an obsession with looking at women rather than interacting with them (voyeurism), an attitude in which women are viewed as objects of men’s sexual desire, and the trivialization of rape and widespread acceptance of rape culture – fueled by fake depictions of women in porn videos often pretending to desire violent and abusive sexual acts.

2. Numbness & Disembodiment: This can include erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm when not watching porn, detachment from your physical body, emotional unavailability and numbness, lack of focus and patience, poor memory, and general lack of interest in reality. Furthermore, these outcomes in men have been linked to boredom with their sexual partners, higher levels of sexual promiscuity, adultery, divorce, sexism, rape, abuse, and suicide.

3. Fear of Intimacy: Watching porn contributes to many men’s inability to relate to women in an honest and intimate way despite a longing to feel loved and connected. This is because pornography exalts our sexual needs over our need for sensuality and intimacy; some men develop a preoccupation with sexual fantasy that can powerfully impede their capacity for emotionally intimate relationships.

Why I Quit Watching

Continue Reading

Beyond Being a White Knight: 8 Ways Men can be Allies to Women at Parties

I spend a lot of time thinking about parties.

Not only do I love parties, but a big part of my work is encouraging sex-positive party culture on college campuses.

And while I love to party, I have to remember something: Parties can be profoundly dangerous places, especially for women.

So it leaves me wondering this: Aside from the environmental changes we can make to ensure party culture is more sex positivein what ways can men act as allies to women at parties, particularly as we look to prevent sexual violence?

Whether you’re in the club or at a house party or a school-sponsored dance, men have a responsibility to act in solidarity with women to ensure that parties are fun and safe for everyone.

When it comes to party environments, though, that’s not exactly simple to accomplish.

After all, attempting to be a good ally to women can quickly devolve into some paternalistic “white knighting” that can easily recreate the very systems of power and marginalization and oppression that we’re looking to undermine.

And as I sat down to write this piece, it ended up being a lot more difficult than I thought. Every idea I came up with for how to be a good ally at parties seemed to easily devolve into paternalistic ugliness.

So I reached out to my community!

And once again, I was reminded about how this work must be done in cooperation.

8 Ways Men Can be Allies to Women at Parties

In turn, the following list is reflective of my community: friends, acquaintances, other bloggers, family members.

While some ideas are my own, many, even ones not directly attributed, are reflective of the powerful community in which I am fortunate to be grounded in my work to prevent sexual violence on college campuses.

1.  Don’t Be ‘That Guy’ 

Arguably the most important thing that a man can do to act in solidarity with women in party atmospheres is to make sure you aren’t being the one to make others uncomfortable (at best) or to act predatorily (at worst).

What I often say is that men who openly espouse feminist ideals and who know how to “talk the talk” of solidarity are sometimes the most dangerous to women.

After all, those of us who can drop some bell hooks or speak to the performative nature of gender roles have the potential to gain trust and to exploit that trust to manipulate, assault, or otherwise hurt women.

In short, if we want to be allies, we have the most responsibility to buck our social conditioning of what it means to be a man.

We have the responsibility to consider the impacts of our actions on the women around us, even if we are not intending to make them uncomfortable.

In the words of my friend Jen, “If you comment on a person’s appearance, be aware it could be unwanted attention and make her uncomfortable (especially in alone situations or when it turns into harassment).  Don’t jump to calling her pet names (sweetheart, babe) or to making requests of her (smile for me, etc).”

In short, don’t be that guy – the guy who actively is hitting on everyone, who is ogling women’s bodies, who’s enabling other men to prey on women, who is performing traditional, toxic masculinity.

2.  Don’t Be Paternalistic

One of the trickiest aspects of attempting to ally oneself to women as a man in any context is avoiding paternalism – acting on behalf of women as if we know better than them – but it’s particularly tough to avoid in party environments.

After all, parties tend to be loud, busy, complicated, and people are there for a variety of reasons.

Thus, we might see a woman on the dance floor who has someone grinding up on her. Even if she has a look on her face that we interpret as discomfort, it’s hard to know how to proceed.

After all, maybe that is how her face looks when she’s really into something! Or maybe she is uncomfortable, but doesn’t want help from a stranger. Or maybe she is uncomfortable and wants help, but not from a male-identified person. Or maybe she’s getting ready to handle it herself.

The key here is not to assume we can “save the day” and to be respectful and defer to women when possible.

If you have a relationship with the women in question, a simple check-in can go a long way: “Hey! How you doing? Wanna get a drink with me?”

If you don’t know the person in question, sometimes even making eye contact and giving a concerned look can allow her to signal whether she might want your help.

From there, perhaps the best way to proceed is to engage the guy who’s acting inappropriately.

Talk to him, distract him, and if she’s uncomfortable, she can move along. Doing so helps share the agency, allowing her to still make a decision about how things should go forward.

Perhaps, though, the best way to be an ally is, as my bestie Becca put it, to consider “how you position yourself in a room/situation. Sometimes removing yourself from a room/situation altogether can be a form of allyship in itself.”

In a party environment, sometimes the best thing we can do to avoid paternalism is to be aware of the space we are occupying in parties and consider how we’re interacting with women and act accordingly, which may mean removing ourselves from a situation.

After all, offering a woman a ride home (even with good intentions) could be the most threatening thing she’s experienced all night.

Lastly, recognize that when you try to be an ally, sometimes you’re going to screw up and totally “white knight” the situation.

If that happens, apologize where necessary and try to learn from that experience.

3.  Err on the Side of Intervention

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Your First Time: A Sexual Guide for Girls and Women

Last week I posted a link to a piece that I wrote for Everyday Feminism.  The piece attempts to offer young men and boys some information and advice to make their first sexual experiences more healthy, fulfilling, and safe for them and their partner(s).

The next day, Melissa Fabello offered some fantastic information for girls and women!  Check it out…

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Most sexuality education is terrible.

Like, beyond terrible.

And if you’ve received a formal sex education at all, it likely went a little like this:

“Sex is defined as intercourse, which involves a penis going inside of a vagina. But you probably don’t want to do that because then you’ll get pregnant and ruin your entire life and – oh hey! – here are some terrifying pictures of STI’s.”

Sex Ed: Mean Girls Style

Sex Ed: Mean Girls Style

Uhh, and we think that it’s time we change that.

Sex ed has to change.

Because if we don’t do a better job of teaching healthy sexuality, we leave it up to pornography, television, music, and movies to do our job – and none of those areaccurate, comprehensive sources of sexuality education.

It’s time we teach our young people about more than just biology, STI’s, andabstinence.

It’s time we teach about how to have amazing, fulfilling, consensual, and healthy sex.

It’s time to give them an accurate depiction of what sex should look and feel like.

And hell, if schools don’t want to do it, then fine. Everyday Feminism will. More specifically, the brilliant Jamie Utt and I will. Because it needs to get done.

And since I identify as a woman, I’ll finish what Jamie started yesterday by talking to the girls and women out there.

That said, let me be absolutely clear that I am a cisgender woman, and as such, many of these lessons come from a cisgender perspective and should be treated as limited in that way.

So what are some steps to take before diving into sex for the first time? What are some important facts to know? And why are they important?

Let’s take a look.

1. Get to Know Your Body

I know it sounds obvious, but hear me out.

The number of women who have approached me, as a sex educator, asking how to make sex more pleasurable without the slightest clue as to what their vulva lookslike – let alone feels like – is staggering.

Their explanation of this is usually along the lines of “it’s my partner’s job to take care of me sexually, not mine.”

My counter to that is: If I was leaving my pet cat in the hands of my partner, you’d better believe he would come with a to-do list, an explanation of his idiosyncrasies, and a score of emergency contact numbers.

Your body should be no different.

Unfortunately, we’re taught in our society that our vulvas and vaginas are gross, are dirty, are forbidden. We’re taught from birth not to touch, smell, or taste them. We’re discouraged from even looking at them.

So being told all of a sudden to masturbate can be kind of scary.

I get it.

But seriously. Masturbate.

Because you need to know your vulva. You need to understand your orgasm.

And if you’re not sure where to start, try here.

And that’s not to say that all sexual pleasure is achieved through only your genitals.

Because despite what mainstream media would have you believe (more on that next!), that isn’t true.

Maybe a foot massage or having your back kissed will work better for you. And that’s perfectly okay!

The point is: You’ll never learn if you don’t allow yourself to explore your body and the sensations that make you go ahh.

But you need to learn what makes you tick before you ever step foot into a bedroom with a partner.

And I promise that you’ll be far better equipped to talk to your partner about sexual pleasure.

2. Question Your Media Consumption

Growing up, I had a really good understanding of my body. I started masturbating at an early age, and by the time I hit puberty, I knew that this totally-awesome-wowfeeling was associated with sex. I felt wise beyond my years. And excited for what was to come.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

What Men Can Do to Stop Street Harassment

It’s that time of year again!

The weather’s getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and most of us can’t wait to get a little sunshine on our skin.

People are breaking out the shorts, skirts, sundresses, tank tops, sandals, and bathing suits. We’re hitting the parks, beaches, running paths, streets, back yards – anywhere we can get a little bit of that Vitamin D.

And with this time of year comes an increase in street harassment.

My Name is Not "Baby" photo

It’s not as if there is not street harassment in the dead of winter. As my friend Heather recently said to me, “I can go out in a full-length down coat, hat, gloves, and boots, and I will have some f*ck think it’s okay to yell about my ass.”

But it tends to get more pronounced when it’s a bit warmer, and there’s a bit more skin showing on your average street. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not the fact that skin is showing that’s the problem. It’s the fact that most men can’t seem to help ourselves once the skin comes out, and we just HAVE to comment and stare.

So let me say it plainly to my male-identified people out there: Street harassment and leering are never okay. Never.

Nope. Not ever.

In case anyone’s unclear, let’s look to the phenomenal folks atStopStreetHarassment.org to define precisely what we’re talking about:

Catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation, and assault. Most women (more than 80% worldwide) and LGBQT folks will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their life. Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop.

Yup. That’s right.

We’re talking about the “Hey baby!” Or the “Smile! I bet you have a pretty smile!” Or the “Damn, you’ve got a fine ass!” Or the licking your lips and staring as she walks by.

It’s all harassment. It’s all misogyny. And it all needs to stop.

And since men are the primary perpetrators of street harassment, men bear the responsibility for ending it. So with that in mind, here are a few things men can do to stop street harassment.

1. Don’t Leer or Harass!

It seems obvious, but it bears saying.

One of the single most important things men can do to stop street harassment is to refuse to participate.

That means that you should never be commenting on a woman’s (or any person’s) body or appearance unless you have a relationship with that woman and have anexplicit understanding that this is welcome (which means that you’ve talked about it and she’s consented to it).

But it doesn’t stop there.

Though I don’t recall ever hollering to a woman on the street, there are plenty of times in my life when I have used my eyes and body language to treat a woman as little more than an object.

And in the end, how is leering any different than cat calling? Both send the message that women’s bodies are public property.

Sometimes the most radical action we can take is refusal to participate in oppressive norms.

2. Listen in Solidarity

Stop.

Don’t say it.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Navigating the Difference Between the Appreciation of Beauty and Sexual Objectification

For the second week in a row, the CFW post is coming to you from Everyday Feminism.  This is, in part, because I have a backlog of work over there that is now slowly getting published.  It’s hard for me to find time to write more than one piece a week, so on the weeks that there is a piece over there, I usually just let that act as my post for both sites.

I’ve written about this topic a few times before, but I brought some new insights to my EF piece.  Hope you enjoy!

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Everyday FeminismAs I come to the end of my first Minnesota winter, I have never been more excited for spring.

Temperatures above 32 degrees!  Sunshine on my skin!  Long walks with my partner and the puppy!  Even just writing this makes me freak out a little in anticipation.

Which is why I was really surprised to see a woman express on Facebook how much she was dreading Spring.

“If it weren’t for the incredible weather, Spring would be intolerable.”

Comments immediately exploded with, “WHAT!?”  “Spring is the best time of year!!”  “Seriously?  Why would you ever say that!?”

She went on to explain, “Don’t get me wrong.  I want to love Spring, but the moment I step out in anything less than a full-length down coat, the street harassment-o-meter goes wild!  I can’t take it!”

I immediately felt incredible shame.  After all, when I am completely honest with myself, I know that I contribute to the kind of masculinity that causes her to dread Spring.

It’s not that I overtly participate in street harassment.  Quite the opposite, really.  Usually I try pretty hard to follow the lead of these guys.

But when I am completely honest with myself, I recognize that far too often, when I meet a woman, my eyes go down.

Every single woman knows exactly what I am talking about, as they experience it on the daily from pretty much every straight man (and even some not-so-sraight men).

And just about every straight man knows exactly what I’m talking about — because we’ve done it.

More Than Just Attraction

When I try to talk to other men (and some women) about this, I often get, “What’s the problem?  It’s completely natural to look at another person’s body with attraction.”

And they’re right.  I don’t mean to communicate that we should experience shame for feeling lust or for checking someone out.

And I suppose if my eyes wandering down existed in isolation, one could argue that it is simply a natural part of attraction.

We want to appreciate beauty, and part of that is taking in the physical beauty of the people around us.

But our actions never exist in isolation.

My wandering eyes exist as part of a daily onslaught women face where their bodies are treated as public property – leered at, jeered at, and objectified in every major media outlet and in the eyes of most men.

Objectified.  Though the word is used on the regular, it is powerful.

Read the rest of the piece at Everyday Feminism.

How We Can Address Sexual Violence on Campuses

Everyday FeminismThis week’s post is published over at the incredible Everyday Feminism.

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On every single college campus in the United States, there is a powerful, committed group of feminists and feminist allies who are working to prevent sexual violence and respond to the needs of survivors.

These incredible coalitions of students, professors, staff, administrators, and wider community members are working every single day to ensure that survivors have the support they need while working to prevent further sexual assaults.

Too often, though, they are working against institutions and campus environments that shame survivors, protect perpetrators, and reinforce the rape culture that is endemic in our society.

The grim reality is that at least 1 in 4 college women are survivors of sexual violence, and our institutions are not doing enough to stem this terrible tide.

It is time that more of us join these committed activists in transforming the culture and climate of our college and university campuses.

Whether you’re a parent, a student, an alumni, or simply a concerned community member, here are a few ways that you help:

1. Change How We Talk About Sexual Violence

The messages that are sent to women and men about sexual violence on college campuses tend to be misguided at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Whether the message is delivered formally through a New Student Orientation program or through norms and mores, the traditional wisdom for sexual violence prevention on college campuses can often be boiled down to:

“Ladies, be careful so you don’t get raped.”

Whether we tell women to go out in groups, watch their drinks, or never walk across campus alone at night, the conversation is the same – the responsibility for preventing sexual violence is on women.

But considering that the VAST majority of rapes are committed by men, we can’t afford to leave men out of the conversation!

To place the responsibility for sexual violence prevention on women not only completely ignores those who perpetrate the majority of sexual assaults, but it lends itself to victim blaming.

“You shouldn’t have been dressed that way.” “You shouldn’t have gone out alone.” “You shouldn’t have been drinking.”

Thus, in both our informal conversations and as we look to change how our institutions address sexual violence, we must shift the conversation to ones of positive sexuality, enthusiastic consenthealthy masculinity, and support for survivors.

First, if sex and sexuality is talked about openly and honestly, we can begin to have more accountable conversations regarding positive sexuality.

We can introduce the ideas behind and methods for realizing enthusiastic consent. We can encourage healthier relationships and healthier sexuality in all their forms. So that people of all genders understand what healthy and consensual sexual relationships can and should look like,

Secondly, we must also end the culture of male sexual entitlement, disrespect, cat calling, and objectification that protects perpetrators of sexual violence.

Men, women have been trying to tell us these things for ages. It’s time for us to be the leaders in ending sexual violence. We, as men, need to work with other men to change how we talk about and practice sex.

Third, we need to change how we talk about sexual violence so that it reflects reality and not myths about rape.

A good place to start is changing where we place the onus for prevention. The only person responsible for a sexual assault is the perpetrator. Plain and simple. From there, we can do a better job of supporting those who experience sexual assault.

Finally, we have to make sure that our conversations don’t accidentally silence survivors who don’t fit our understanding of “normal.” Any person of any gender or any sexual orientation can experience sexual violence. 50% of transgender peopleexperience sexual violence and approximately 8% of all men (by conservative estimates) are raped by a former partner.

Often, conversations around rape focus solely on straight relationships, but lesbian, gay, and bisexual people commonly experience sexual violence too. Further, 1 in 10 survivors of sexual violence are men, and we need to have resources that support male survivors.

Lastly, we need to expand the conversation around sexual violence beyond rape (forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration) to other types of unwanted sexual contact and coercive sexual activity (including forced kissing, groping, forced hand jobs, non-consensual kissing, etc).

Otherwise, those who experience sexual violence that they would not call rape may feel like their experience is not legitimate or worthy of attention. But they often still experience trauma like rape survivors because it was still not consensual.

In short, we can make our conversations more inclusive, and we can push to make our campus programming more inclusive.

2. Transform Party Culture

Read the rest of the article at Everyday Feminism.