Posts Tagged ‘sexuality’

Philip Zimbardo on the Lives of Boys

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Philip Zimbardo, professor emeritus at Stanford University, gives his take on why boys are struggling:

I think he brings an interesting and valid perspective, but obviously there are more factors as to why boys are struggling in school and in finding a job.

Some of them may be:

  • Schools aren’t adapted to the learning style of boys.
  • Society has a negative view on men.
  • Boys living without their father (and there are many of them) have a hard time finding male role models, especially in school.
  • We lack a vision of what positive masculinity could be in a postmodern world. And when there’s no vision – you may as well play computer games and watch porn.


Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Circumcision (male and female) is a controversial subject in many places around the world. Female circumcision is generally considered to be a barbaric practice in the West, and it is often referred to as female genital mutilation. Personally I feel that this is a great label to put on the practice of female circumcision, since it emphasizes that it is an irreversible change to the female genitals, one that often is performed on young girls who have no say in the matter.

So what exactly takes place at a female circumcision; what pieces of tissues are cut off? As you can see here, there are at least three different ways of circumcising a girl/woman. Type I removes either the clitoral hood or (part of) the clitoris itself, whereas at the other range of the spectrum, type III removes most of the external sexual organs. All three types of female circumcision are considered to be wrong and illegal in many different Western countries.

So far so good. So what’s the deal with male circumcision? Male circumcision is the removal of some or all of the foreskin of the penis. As such, it is similar to type I female circumcision, described above. However, male circumcision is not illegal, nor is it generally regarded to be barbaric in the West. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Male circumcision is an integral part of the culture in some Western countries, most notably the US where 75 percent of the boys are circumcised
  2. Male circumcision never reaches the level of mutilation that type II and III of female circumcision do

Even though male circumcision is never as brutal as the most invasive procedures performed on girls, there is a logical inconsistency at play here. We do not accept any removal of genital tissue in girls, while we accept and condone it in boys. Can this be related to the general tendency of society (and humans) to protect women while considering men to be more expendable?

There is much controversy about whether circumcision leads to an increase in sexual dysfunction in men. More research is needed to conclusively prove or disprove this thesis, however, what we do know is that circumcision removes tissue that contributes significantly to sexual pleasure in males. Here is a quote from a research report:

The amount of tissue loss estimated in the present study is more than most parents envisage from pre-operative counselling. Circumcision also ablates junctional mucosa that appears to be an important component of the overall sensory mechanism of the human penis.

As far as I’m concerned, this information alone is enough to question whether parents should have the right to remove part of their child’s penis. I believe that every child, boy or girl, should be protected until they reach adulthood, and then they will be free to decide for themselves whether they want to have surgery on their genitals – for personal or cultural reasons.

Opposing female genital mutilation is an honorable stance. The question that remains is: when will we start protecting our boys?

Male Sexuality

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I recently came across an article about male sexuality that I found very interesting, and since I’ve been meaning to expound my thoughts on that topic anyhow, it gave me the nudge I needed. The article is called The Uncelebrated Beauty of Male Sexuality, and the name itself indicates that it’s an unusual theme for an article.

The article adds nuances to male sexuality that are badly needed:

Therefore, the more disgusting a pornographic visual is, the more a “real man” should not show disgust. But, privately, do most men really think they are “like that,” or do they experience their sexuality as more subtle, more diverse, possibly more erotic and even spiritual?

Another important misunderstanding about male sexuality is that the male sex drive is independent of the rest of the man, but this too is addressed:

In truth, the penis is a delicate part of the male being, responding with exquisite sensitivity to every nuance of emotion a man can feel. Erections come and go in men, during sex and during sleep. Most men say they seek desire, not the mechanical means of orgasm or creating erection.

So far so good. However, there is one statement in the article that I disagree with:

Although pornography frequently denigrates women — showing women beaten, black and blue, and liking it

Really? I’ve never seen any porn like that. Most porn, to the best of my knowledge, just shows two people having sex in different positions.

But the author then continues with a vital observation:

Pornography’s implication that men are beasts whose underlying unchangeable natures make them likely to be violent to women is misleading and dangerous.

Again, I’m not sure that most pornography portrays men as violent towards women, but there certainly is a tendency nowadays to regard male sexuality as dangerous. Before reading this article, I don’t remember ever seeing an article celebrating male sexuality.

Instead, male sexuality in the media is one story after another about rape, child molestation, sexual harrassment, and so on. These things certainly exist, but they are not an expression of normal male sexuality – they’re an expression of a man who’s mentally ill and/or who hasn’t been taught normal impulse control.

At this point in time I believe we need to emphasize two different aspects of male sexuality:

  1. Male sexuality is more nuanced, emotional and even spiritual than pornography or society’s stereotypes of men would have us believe. Men can enjoy their sexuality and sensuality in many different ways, not only through mechanical intercourse.
  2. Many (straight) men, do have a strong drive to penetrate, which is perfectly OK (and it’s only to be expected, given the survival benefits that this drive has had). Having a raw, animal side to your sexuality does not make you a rapist or a dangerous individual. However, this drive to penetrate is not separate from the rest of the man – it is connected to his emotions, his mind and his soul. Pornography is but a poor caricature of the male drive to penetrate, devoid of any emotions, passion or meaning.

In my opinion, we need positive images of male sexuality, as an alternative to pornography and the media’s representation of men. Any ideas how to create these kinds of alternatives? Or is there already something out there?

(Just to clarify: my criticism against porn has nothing to do with nudity or sex or men’s animal side; what I don’t like are the barren soulless depictions of male sexuality.)

Abortion Contradictions

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Abortion is a procedure with a dark past. For a very long time, secret abortions performed without the necessary medical competence was the norm, and as a consequence women died or were maimed for life. An absence of safe, legal abortions is still the case in many countries around the world, which is something I vehemently oppose.

I believe that every country that hasn’t already done so should have their abortion laws reformed, so that abortions can be done legally and with complete medical support. I fully support legislation that allows for free abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with a possibility of granting an extension as long as the fetus isn’t old enough to be able to survive outside the womb.

However, I do not support the view that once free and legal abortion is in place we have reached the goal of reproductive freedom. It’s true that free and legal abortion bestows reproductive freedom, but only upon half the population. We’ve liberated women by making available abortions that are safe, legal and in many cases included in medical insurances or government funded health care. Men however, have no rights and no freedoms  whatsoever vis-à-vis abortions.

Men and Abortions

If a woman becomes pregnant, then the woman can choose to have an abortion, even if she and her partner had agreed beforehand to have the baby. Similarly, if a couple has agreed to get an abortion in case of an accidental pregnancy, the woman can decide to keep the child and make the man pay child support for the next 18 years! No method of contraception is 100 percent safe, so accidental pregnancies do happen regularly.

These facts lead to a scenario where the woman has all the power, all the rights and all of the freedom. The woman’s decisions are the reproductive destiny of the man, in a very real sense. Every man is expected to trust a woman 100 percent, whether they are carefully planning to have a child, or if the couple is instead trying to avoid a pregnancy. 

How can we motivate men to be responsible fathers under these circumstances?

Here’s a breakdown of what pregnancy means for a man nowadays:

  1. Prenatally, the mother has all the rights. She can keep the child or have an abortion, even if that goes against what the couple had decided beforehand.
  2. Once the child is born, fathers are expected to take on 50% of the responsibility, and even if the man never wanted the child he will be forced to pay child support.
  3. In case of divorce, the woman is usually favored by the courts and women win the majority of custody battles.

This is a very confusing situation for men, to say the least. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand; you cannot expect men to be responsible if men are not awarded any rights, yet this is exactly what we expect of men in relation to pregnancy.

What’s the Solution?

In my mind abortion is actually one of the “hard” problems of the gender field, i.e. a problem where there is no obvious solution and no obvious way to improve the current situation. I don’t believe in removing the woman’s legal right to decide when and if to get an abortion, since I cannot conceive of how that could be done in a satisfactory way.

Instead, I think we need to focus on cultural values, and how we discuss abortion in society. Instead of saying things like “my body, my choice”, I think we need to propagate the idea that men and women should make conscious agreements on how to handle accidental pregnancies, and then respect those agreements. If no agreement has been made, the potential mother and the potential father should sit down and discuss what needs to be done, from the perspective of all the affected parties.

Abortion is not about the woman having rights and simply doing whatever she feels like doing, even if she’s legally entitled to do so. It’s about taking all the affected parties into account, which include the fetus, the potential mother and the potential father.