Talking about male sexuality is a good way forward
In the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein that kickstarted the #MeToo movement, the New York Times published an opinion piece by author Stephen Marche arguing for more discussions about masculinity.
“[We were] having a public conversation about male sexual misbehavior, while barely touching on the nature of men and sex,” Marche wrote.
One year later, Marche’s idea still holds water because most rapists are men. In a movement that overwhelmingly implicates men as the criminals and women as the victims, there’s a strange lack of conversations regarding male sexuality. America has grappled with gender roles, political revolutions and social restructuring. But the male purview of physical sex has gone largely unnoticed.
This is unfortunate because the mixture of “maleness” and “sex” has been around since ancient times, and it warrants discussion: “It’s no good keeping quiet about it. You’d not present such f–ked-out flanks if you weren’t up to something foolish,” wrote Catullus, an erotic poet from Ancient Rome trying to get the bottom of his friend’s sex life.
Things are still basically the same, even two thousand years later. Men think about sex twice as much as women do — around 19 times a day, if a study of college students at Ohio State can be believed. Atlanta’s underground sex economy alone brings in hundreds of millions in illicit revenue, much of it flooded by male clients.
Sex sells, and accessing it is a big reason why gang members –– who have a curious tendency to be young and male –– join their gangs in the first place:
“One of the most consistent findings in studies of gangs is that they tend to attract most male members at the ages when the males are beginning to compete for sexual access to females,” researchers wrote in the Journal of Sex Research during the mid-90’s.
If the seedy underbellies of 90’s gangland weren’t enough, another study at Western Illinois University found that opportunities to meet women were a big reason why fraternity members actually became members. This is not surprising. Popular frat culture hinges on the underlying principles of sex — we see this through restricted access to parties, the prevalence of rape incidents and movies like “Alpha House.”
And if frat culture wasn’t enough, how about the everyday Joe? The New York Times recently released the stories of eight normal, if unspectacular, men who regretted sexual misconduct they committed decades in the past. Each story revealed a young man who was preoccupied with sexual fulfillment at the expense of anything else. One man, describing how he groped a classmate’s breast during a rough-housing game his high school classmates used to play, wrote, “I think I did it because she seemed otherwise out of reach for me; perhaps such one-sided contact was all the intimacy I could ever hope to enjoy with her.” And so the stories continue.
The moral gap between sexual predators like Weinstein, inner-city gang members, fraternity brothers and the average guys cited by the New York Times is large. But their hyper-sexualities bear a striking resemblance to one another.
So what does this mean, and why does it matter that “normal” men have such strong sex drives? The rub is this: #MeToo prides itself on dismantling the male power structures that have seemingly given rise to sexual abuse and harassment. We see this all over, from Hollywood to Washington. And, indeed, power is involved in male misbehavior. But it’s disingenuous to name “power” as the reason for sexual misconduct and to assume that powerful men are the root cause of such vileness. Power is just a vessel that makes sex easier to acquire. The foundation of both sex crimes and consensual sex lies with sexual desire, in the powerful and the plebeian alike.
At one point earlier this year, Weinstein had the audacity to seek treatment for sex addiction. This was crass, and it led to questions over the validity of sex therapy. For some, however, therapy can help control the worst of our sexual impulses. Sex and pornography addiction was at the core of Terry Crews’ marriage troubles, and Tiger Woods enrolled in rehab for the same condition almost a decade ago.
Both Crews and Woods maintained enough decency to end their moral transgressions before they crossed paths with the criminality of Weinstein. They kept their hyper-sexualities somewhat at bay and sought help. In Crews’ case, it saved his marriage. And if they can manage their innate drives, recognize the problem and receive help, there’s hope for the rest of us.
#MeToo has wielded an admirable sword against criminal sex acts, and its aftershocks will be felt for many years to come. The way we continue these conversations about masculinity will dictate the effectiveness of the movement. The best way to curb the sexual desires of men who can do terrible things is to be open and honest about them.
Written by: Nick Irvin — firstname.lastname@example.org
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