Men Defining Masculinity: It’s Not About Sex

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 In surveys of nearly 40,000 men in 13 countries, character, self-determination, and work topped the list of what defines masculinity.

Imagine being asked to complete a survey in which you were asked to rate 13 characteristics commonly associated with masculinity. What would move to the top of your list and what would go to the bottom? Is being honorable more important than having success with women? Making a lot of money?

In a pair of studies, research teams did just that. The initial study was based in the West, involved nearly 28,000 men from the United States, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain, and was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. A subsequent study surveyed nearly 11,000 men in Asia, from China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Taiwan, and was published in the Journal of Men’s Health. In both studies, the men ranged in age from 18-75, but participants skewed somewhat younger.

Is being honorable more important than having success with women? Making a lot of money?

The men were asked “what do you think is most important to the male identity (What do you think is important to be a real man)?” and given a list of 9 items (West) or 13 items (Asia). They were asked to rate each item on a scale from “not at all important” (score: 1) to “very important.” All surveys were administered on a computer. The item with the highest score was automatically identified; if men gave the same high score to multiple items, they were asked which of those items was most important.

Items 1 – 9 were included in both studies; items 10-13 were only asked in the Asian study.

  1.                  Having a good job.
  2.                  Having lots of money. (West: Having financial stability)
  3.                  Being seen as a man of honor.
  4.                  Having success with women.
  5.                  Coping with problems on your own.
  6.                  Having an active sex life.
  7.                  Being in control of your own life.
  8.                  Being physically attractive.
  9.                  Having the respect of friends.
  10.                  Being a family man.
  11.                  Having a manly image.
  12.                  Having an outgoing personality.
  13.                  Avoiding shameful situations.

The results showed that character was central regardless of country. “Being a man of honor” was the top ranked item among Western participants and 2nd among Asian participants. It received #1 rankings in six of the thirteen nations and was 2nd in three more.

“Being in control of your life” was ranked second among Western participants and 3rd among Asian participants. It took first place in four countries and 2nd place in seven more.

“Having a good job” took 3rd place. It was in 1st place across all Asian countries combined, but only took first place in one country. But it landed in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in nearly every country and thus took the bronze medal.

The two items related to sexuality – “having success with women” and “having an active sex life” – were in the bottom half. Success with women was ranked as the most important characteristics of masculinity by less than 3% of men in every country except Korea, where 14% – about one in seven – gave it priority and made it the 3rd most important characteristics. Less than 6% of Western men and less than 2% of Asian men said “having an active sex life” was the most important characteristic of masculinity, with averages of 3% of 1%, respectively.

The two items related to sexuality – “having success with women” and “having an active sex life” – were in the bottom half of the rankings.

It wasn’t an age thing either, even though survey participants skewed younger. The research team also looked at results based on age group, 18-29, 30-39, and so on, ending with 60-75. For these two items, scores changed by no more than one percentage point when the researchers broke it down by age group.

Asian participants were also asked about the importance of “Being a family man.” It made the top 5 list in every country except Taiwan (7th). Who says being a dad isn’t important?

What does all this tell us? It means that when guys are asked how they define masculinity, character, self-determination, and work/financial stability rise to the top of the list. If we’re really interested in helping boys and men become better people, we need to help them develop inner strength (or character), teach them how to make good decisions, and give them a meaningful education.

When guys are asked how they define masculinity, character, self-determination, and work/financial stability rise to the top of the list.

It also means we need to stop stereotyping guys as primarily or only driven by sex because most guys don’t define their masculinity that way. They – we – are much more than “roving inseminators” and place real value on being parents.

It’s time to kick the stereotype that men are only interested in sex, porn, and video games. Nearly 40,000 men in 13 countries spanning 3 continents told us we’re way off base.

– photo by Brad Barth/flickr

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About Andrew Smiler

Andrew Smiler, PhD is a therapist, evaluator, author, and speaker residing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (USA). He is the author of “Challenging Casanova: Beyond the stereotype of promiscuous young male sexuality” and co-author, with Chris Kilmartin, of “The Masculine Self (5th edition)”. He is a past president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity and has taught at Wake Forest University and SUNY Oswego. Dr. Smiler's research focuses on definitions of masculinity. He also studies normative aspects of sexual development, such as age and perception of first kiss, first “serious” relationship, and first intercourse among 15-25 year olds. Follow him @AndrewSmiler.

Comments

  1. If only these guys would also see character and honor as the most important in a woman… but “Being physically attractive” will always be 1st and at least 80% of what matters, if not the only important aspect. In fact, even girls/women will say their physical attractiveness is one the most important, if not the most, and that says a lot.

    I’m happy that they can see their honor is what matters the most as being a human, and that their careers/independence is important! And people still say boys/men have even less self-esteem… of course everyone have problems and they face it as well, but, in general, they are doing fine and know their real value!

    Isn’t it time for Americans to understand saying “defining our masculinity/femininity” is actually limiting and that we should just define our HUMANITY? Many men, that see themselves as men, will tell they are 100% feminine (masculinity and femininity is so subjective anyways). So is he defining his masculinity as femininity or just his femininity as powerful, or…? I just believe he is defining his character, as a human.

    • Adam Blanch says:

      Except that women will not define ‘having a good job’ as an important part of their femininity, so their are real differences between men and women despite this ridiculous post modern attempt to turn everything into homogenous gender porridge. Believe it or not, men have the right to define themselves as men, because being a man is part of their humanity.

      • I define having a good job (a job I enjoy, where I can be competitive and that allow me to be independent), as one of the most important parts of my life. That comes only after my health and personality/character/values. Maybe even ahead of the people I love, right at this point of my life. And I am a woman. I don’t define it as an important part of my “femininity” because I don’t define myself by these subjective labels, and I guess you just could not understand what I meant. I define it as a part of ME, as a human (that happens to be a woman, bisexual, white, left-handed, etc.). And if femininity is what you consider my role, as a woman, in this world (because you could consider anything as femininity or masculinity in this world), that will not change a thing and having a good job is still one of my priorities. So please, stop assuming and generalizing what someone will define for themselves only because of their biological sex.
        I totally believe and support men’s right to define themselves and never said otherwise.

        • Adam Blanch says:

          Yes, but for you its optional, socially speaking. Society won’t look down on you for not being employed, you won’t be rejected as a potential mate for not being employed, you won’t be seen by the opposite sex as a failure for not being employed. These men aren’t endorsing having a job because it’s something they enjoy, but because it provides the sort of financial stability that makes them a viable mate and father.

          You can come charging in with your feminist gender lens and talk about how masculine and feminine are ‘limiting’ exactly because you are a privileged western woman, with the emphasis being on ‘woman’. Your society is set up to protect you and give you options most men will never have.

          They cannot abandon their gender roles because no one will be there to pay their bills or feed their families if they do. So they define masculinity as their ability to fulfill the roles that they have to fulfill to support those they love, and they rightfully take pride in that. When you try to take that away form them, to de-gender them, you are saying that their ‘masculinity’ is worthless. This is the arrogance of privilege, you seek to impose your knee-jerk gender ideology without seeking to understand the experience of others.

          • Tom Brechlin says:

            Adam, if I may put it simply. A female mate/wife who chooses to not work has made a choice whereas a male mate/husband who chooses not to work is a bum/slug/worthless. Do I have it right?

    • “If only these guys would also see character and honor as the most important in a woman…”

      I agree. But…..character and honor does not get a man sex.

      Just the plain truth.

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      July, Adam B., & Jules,

      Even when we define ourselves as human, others – at least in the US – often evaluate us in terms of our gender (or race or age or…). It may not be fair, but it is common.

      Personally (i.e., not from the study), I think character, honor, and similar traits like honesty, often get omitted from conversations & lists because most people want those things and take them for granted as starting ground, in much the same way that most people don’t specify that they want someone of similar age or ideology/political perspective.

      I agree with Jules that character & honor probably doesn’t get a guy laid. But they are key to having an ongoing romantic relationship.

      • So basically everyone is responding to July by saying that men don’t find women with character as sexually attractive as a woman with a nice ass.

        What everyone seems to be hearing is that a guy can’t get laid if his standards for a woman has to do more with her character than her looks.

        Are all these people seriously suggesting that a woman will more easily sleep with a man if he calls her pretty than he would if he called her intelligent or honorable?

        Quite the low view of woman these people have. It’s almost laughable how low of a view they have of women. They think women are basically a bunch of airheads with no thoughts of their own except their inescapable desire to be told how pretty they really are and gain worth from it.

        But then there’s real women, not the ones guys make up in their head. whose concerns over their looks only goes as far as getting a guy to notice them in the first place. It has nothing to do with their worth as a person as much as it is a simply mating strategy because we know men care more about a woman’s looks than her character. It doesn’t matter what she does as long as she looks good doing it.

        Men automatically lose points with me when focusing on looks as it says a lot more about their character (as in the value they place in being visually appealing over being moral or kind) than it does mine. I don’t find more worth in myself by having a guy focus on my looks, I find less worth in them though.

        • “So basically everyone is responding to July by saying that men don’t find women with character as sexually attractive as a woman with a nice ass.”

          YES!

          “What everyone seems to be hearing is that a guy can’t get laid if his standards for a woman has to do more with her character than her looks.”

          YES!

          It is neither fair nor right (in my view). But, it is the lay (no pun interned) of the land.

          How many women do you know want to screw a guy because of his “honor and character?” I think his shoulders, face, body, cock size all take precedence over honor and character. Anyone who says otherwise is simply being thoroughly disingenuous.

          Men are no different than women here. In fact, i would argue we are much better. We men have a far more expansive view of attraction in women. Far more varied than the ridiculously narrow view of male attraction held by most women (not all of course0.

        • @lilbit,

          “Are all these people seriously suggesting that a woman will more easily sleep with a man if he calls her pretty than he would if he called her intelligent or honorable?”

          Women fuck men whom they find attractive, period. Whether he tells her she is intelligent or beautiful is often a non factor in that decision. He could be a bum, thug, living in his mom’s basement, unemployed, womanizer, etc. If a woman wants to have sex with him, the only thing that matters is if he is safe (not going to be violent),

          The truth hurts, doesn’t it!

          Just saying.

          • Adam Blanch says:

            “He could be a bum, thug, living in his mom’s basement, unemployed, womanizer, etc. If a woman wants to have sex with him, the only thing that matters is if he is safe (not going to be violent),”

            Bullshit Jules. Women mostly fuck men who are genetically and socially viable partners. Tall, fit, wealthy, good looking etc. Short, fat bald men with no money do not get laid often. You would like us to believe that women are less shallow than men but it’s rubbish, they simply value slightly different things in their shallowness.

            • @ Adam,

              I must respectfully disagree.

              Women will fuck men whom they find attractive, period. He could be the pool guy, the yoga instructor, the poor ass artist, the local musician, the physical trainer…..etc. We’re talking fucking not marrying. Money is NOT a requirement.

              I know so many Black guys who are shagging the crap out of educated and professional White women. Why? Fetish and these guys are well built. These women perceive them as being studs with big dicks. The guys do not have any money. Have dick will travel!

              It happens everyday in America.

  2. “It also means we need to stop stereotyping guys as primarily or only driven by sex because most guys don’t define their masculinity that way”

    I’ve never thought that men defined their masculinity through sex, but instead defined any relationship with a female throught the lens of sex.

    Its not so much men get sex to prove masculinity as it is men get sex because that’s the only relationship of value when it comes to interacting with women.

    I know you’re not trying to get in my pants to score brownie points more than that’s the ONLY reason you would talk to me in the first place. When it comes to interacting with, connecting with and defining a relationship with a woman, sex IS the priority.

    Sex isn’t a priority for a man as a man, just the priority when interacting with women. when men look at themselves they can think about what they want and what’s important to them, when men look at women they think FIRST: would I have sex with her? And how they treat that women will depend on their answer.

    I never thought that this was how men defined themselves as it is how men define any relationship with any women.

    Of course there are going to be many facets to a man’s identity and sex isn’t going to be a priority to that man’s identity.

    Sex is only a priority when identifying with women. I’ve always thought the distinction was pretty obvious.

    • Adam Blanch says:

      Dear Libbit,

      the difference between this article and your comment is that the article is based on asking men what they think and yours is based on your uniformed opinion alone. Sex is one facet of how men relate to women, but what men actually value in women well ahead of sex is trustworthiness, kindness, good character, fairness and personality.

      Why is it that some women just cannot give up the need to see men as shallow and selfish? Are they justifying their own behaviour towards men, or the poor choices they have made? Is it their way of avoiding any responsibility about how their relationships turn out?

      • Dear Adam,

        I am a man and I think she’s on the money with her comment. When reading the article, this jumped out at me at the end as well:

        “It also means we need to stop stereotyping guys as primarily or only driven by sex because most guys don’t define their masculinity that way. ”

        That to me seems like a conclusion that sidesteps the question addressed in the study. The question as it was presented in this article seemed to be much more about what are important masculine qualities. The conclusion at the end seems to confuse what drives men with what they think defines them. I think if you asked the same group of men, how often do you think about sex any given day and how often do you think about the defining characteristics of masculinity… you’d get two very different numbers.

        I know for myself, I don’t spend much(any?) time at all thinking about what makes me a man. Testicles? Y-chromosome? etc? It doesn’t matter much to me. I do spend a lot of time thinking about sex. I am certainly driven by sex; it gives me great pleasure and makes me feel vibrant and alive like nothing else does. When I don’t have a lover, I miss that in my life. Because a lover is a source of much pleasure, not because I’m less of a man for being alone.

        I don’t think the ranking of traits in that study is unreasonable or surprising, or that I’d order those traits very differently myself. But I’m not driven by them, don’t dwell on them, or worry about them. I live my life as an individual. I don’t worry if my actions are masculine enough.

        I think it does a great disservice to take these studies and present men in ways that we may not be. It denies our true wants and needs. It gives women a false impression of us–not that I think many would be convinced by the arguments in the article. Presenting male sexuality as this tangential thing that’s not as important to us, supposing people take that idea seriously, seems likely to lead to unhappy relationships, for both men and women.

      • @Adam,

        ” Is it their way of avoiding any responsibility about how their relationships turn out?”

        Now were are getting some where! This is precisely what I think and believe.

        Very very few American women take responsibility for their conduct. It s always something like, “oh, well, I was going through this phase…..”

      • Michael Rowe says:

        I’m with Adam on this one. The ease with which some women help themselves to explaining men to men is surreal. Remember, this is the generation of women who invented the liberally applied, and idiotic, term “mansplaining,” often used derisively about men who explain women to women. Listening, a marvellous idea, goes both ways.

    • I agree with your whole comment, Lilbit, but with only one restriction: many men are not like that.
      Yes, a lot of men really think like that, and even some men that aren’t that extreme still show a little bit of this.

      “Sex is only a priority when identifying with women. I’ve always thought the distinction was pretty obvious.”
      I agree sex or physical attractiveness (on women) will get a very higher ranking if that was about women. And many men will agree with that; many men actually act like that all the time. But that’s not all of them. And for the majority of them, even when sex/physical attractiveness is their priority (even more when it comes for what they are looking for in a partner) it is still not the only thing that matters. Believe me, many men still see women as humans.
      Heck, even the most selfish men will want to know a woman’s personality. You don’t want to end up with a liar, psychopath or something like that, you know. ;)

      • @July,

        “And for the majority of them, even when sex/physical attractiveness is their priority (even more when it comes for what they are looking for in a partner) it is still not the only thing that matters.”

        Agree. This clearly is the case for the vast majority of men. Only that 20%-25% of men whom most women find sexually desirable have the privilege of picking and choosing what women they want to have sex.

    • “Sex is only a priority when identifying with women.”

      Oh wait. And women do not engage in this practice. I scoff at the notion.

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      Lilbit,

      I’ve met a few guys who define themselves & their masculinity primarily in terms of number of people they’ve had sex with (female or male, as the case may be), but they’re definitely the minority.

      The stereotype is pretty common in US cluture and one that we seem to buy: consider guys like Charlie (2.5 Men), Sam Malone (Cheers), The Fonz (Happy Days) and the boys from movies like American Pie or Porky’s, to name a few.

      I think sex is definitely a priority…but only in those situations where relevant. It’s not just about who, but also when: If you work with women (& are hetero), then you’re probably not really thinking about having sex with those women every time you talk to them at work.

      • I would agree that a majority of men don’t define THEMSELVES by the sex they have, but rather define their relationship with women in those terms. I believe all people do this to some extent, as an instinctual reaction. Is it food? is it threat? is it a mate? they’re basic human drives. The amount of focus that is put on these reactions I believe is stronger in men than in women even though both have these reactions.

        This idea is simply by the observations of converstaions the woman have about men and men about women (obviously in my experience overhearing converstaions or being part of one – no studies I”m pulling from) Women will talk will focus on the man’s personality/accomplishments whereas when a man talks about women the focus is on whether she is hot or not. It is the base for which the rest of the converstaion is grown out of. (I can’t even say this is “personal” experience as this is the same focus in tv interviews, new casts, politics etc.)

        Again. I’m not saying ALL men do this and NO woman has, I’m saying that there seems to be a stronger focus on it among men than among women. And perhaps men have a stronger focus because society encourages it. and it has nothing to do with a man defining himself as much as his interactions with others.

      • @ Andrew,

        “………but they’re definitely the minority.”

        Of course we are the minority. There are not many men who can boast of a high number of sexual conquest. Remember, in America damn near 10-15% of men are involuntarily celibate!

    • @ lilbit,

      “….when men look at women they think FIRST: would I have sex with her? And how they treat that women will depend on their answer.”

      You would have us believe women do not engage in this too? In reality, about 60%-70% of men are rejected by women right out of the gate!!! We NEVER get the opportunity to even discover your kindness, personality, intelligence, etc.

    • J.Crawford says:

      Nice Stereotype and Generalization of Women, SMH.

      There ARE Men that actually Want to be Friends, Good Co-Workers and overall Civl towards Women w/o looking for Sex. Priorities and Ambitions do often times come Before Sex, as the study and this pos suggests, so unles YOU have some Figures to prove otherwise…………… Please have a _/

  3. Adam Blanch says:

    Great article. Radical Idea, actually asking men how they define themselves instead of telling them who they are. Interesting that the first two comments are from women trying to pick holes in it and either find some way to deny the essential goodness of men or trying to divert the conversation into gender ideology.

    • Josh K. says:

      So it is about masculinity, male identity or just being a man (real man at that)? It is about what they see as masculine behavior, male behavior or what they want and cherish in themselves? I’m confused right now.

      What if they don’t believe masculinity defines them? What if they wanted to define their femininity? What if some of them want to be successful with MEN? I guess masculinity only supports heterosexuality?

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      Hi Adam, Hi Josh,

      Sadly, social scientists asking the folks they’re studying to define a key concept – in this case, masculinity – is radical. There are reasons for that based on How Science Works, but sometimes, that doesn’t make much sense when you need to apply the findings. And sometimes, it works fabulously well.

      Josh: the question does ask about both male identity and real man, and I’ve relabeled those as masculinity. For me, and in general, I think those are all pretty closely related, especially when talking about averages drawn from a large group. The distinctions are important, but I don’t think there’s a large group/public that would agree on the definitions for all 3 of those terms.

  4. Thanks Andrew for confirming what men have understood but perhaps not been as good at expressing. As a father I am intent on developing my son’s character, hi self-leadership, and making sure he is developed in those areas where lie his gifts, talents and abilities. Glad to know there are a multitude out there with the same intent.

  5. It would be interesting and perhaps reassuring to know who the respondents were (age, location, financial status) and how they were selected as repondents.

  6. “The two items related to sexuality – “having success with women” and “having an active sex life” – were in the bottom half of the rankings.”

    This is because most men know if they have #s 1, 2, 3 then the sex and success with women will follow.

  7. Tom Brechlin says:

    Yes,it is time that we stop stereotyping men. And it is time that we start looking at number one, which could be an article within itself.

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      Thanks Tom. GMP is very much interested in challenging those stereotypes. And that’s a good suggestion for an article. If you’d like to write, there’s a submission portal on the right side of the screen; new contributors always welcome.

  8. Given the way the survey was constructed this is good news and definitely helps to break stereotypes.

    At the same time, it seems like women could define themselves in much the same way. So the question remains 1) is there something nonbiological that distinguishes men from women and 2) need there be?

    Maybe when it comes to the question of “What makes a man/masculinity” it makes more sense to distinguish men from boys.

    It’s unclear in this survey what the comparison point is.

  9. Rainbow Explorer says:

    While men may not define sexuality as the hallmark trait of masculinity, it’s clear that power and greed are core to their perception of it. The competitive and anti-social themes are inherent within the top priorities, across cultures. This bodes poorly for cooperative, anti-violent, and democratic processes – especially as “getting along with women” isn’t very highly valued (wonder what ranking they’d put on “getting along with children”, since women and children make up the majority of the world’s population)!

    Why are men so obsessed with “Coping with problems on your own”, when there is no human institution that functions well without group/shared problem-solving? Families don’t function well without it, nor do schools, health care institutions, faith-based organizations, governments, military organizations, businesses, charitable groups, etc. There’s no sense of them valuing “teamwork” – just making certain they’re independent, wealthy, and high in job status amongst their male peers, (though they don’t care all that much even about their friends). What a tragic survey!

  10. I don’t think this survey had enough items on it. There are some key stereotypes about masculinity that are missing. I would have liked to see a longer survey that included things like “Being involved with sports” and “Having a nice car” and “Spending time hunting or camping”… lol.

  11. Andrew, which term did the studies use: “being a man of honor” or “being seen as a man of honor”? They are qualitatively different and thus quite important in revealing something about masculinity.

  12. carolyons says:

    Survey questions can often skew results. This study was conducted in a quantitative manner, but would have been more valid if qualitative methods were used. Obviously qualitative studies take a lot more time, but if you want to truly understand male attitudes and values globally, it would have been worth the effort. Quantity does not necessarily represent quality.

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