Lisa Hickey reviews Andrew Smiler’s new book that shatters stereotypes of young male sexuality.
Stereotypes abound when it comes to men. “All men cheat.” “He can’t keep it in his pants.” “Men only talk about beer, sex and sports.” And as soon as it gets in revealed in the media that a man had sex with someone, the media seems to gleefully trot out the example as “See, all men are like this!”
So it’s a breath of fresh air to have Andrew Smiler come along and do a comprehensive, sweeping analysis and in-depth research that says, “Not true, not true, not true. Oh, and that stereotype over there? Not true either.” His book, Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male debunks the myth that teenage boys and young men are barely able to control their sex drives. Unlike Giacomo Casanova, whose name became synonymous with promiscuity and “womanizer”, Smiler shows us in multiple ways that boys actually want relationships. “Imagine what would happen,” writes Smiler, “If we widen the options so that boys and men are encouraged to enjoy relationships.” How much better would that be than feeling put upon to act like an 18th century Italian whose last years were filled with isolation, despair and boredom?
At the Good Men Project we like nothing better than to take stereotypes about men and crush them into oblivion. Our favorite stereotype-crushing method is storytelling. Andrew Smiler combines storytelling with a detailed and encompassing look at the data on young male sexuality to conclude that the “Casanova Complex” describes only a minority of men. On average, says Smiler, Casanova-like promiscuity that goes on for over a year is no more than 5% of the population.
But the real problem, and the crux of Smiler’s book, is the harm that this myth can have when it comes to boys who are coming of age. “If we educate boys that acting like Casanova is the norm,” he states, “we’re giving our kids incorrect information. That’s irresponsible behavior by the adults.”
Stereotypes are deep-seated. Smiler takes me back to my own childhood with this reminiscence:
When I was growing up, we boys used a baseball metaphor; each of these was a base and sex was a homerun or scoring a run. This metaphor was sufficiently well known to show up in popular media, perhaps most notably Meatloaf‟s “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” – the baseball announcer tells us what‟s happening in the back seat of the car.
The Casanova Complex tells us that the important part of sexuality is getting laid and having more partners than other guys. And if there’s one thing the baseball metaphor is especially good at, it’s keeping score.
First of all, I hate to break it to guys, but us girls were talking about the exact same metaphor. And secondly, here’s why it’s so harmful:
In baseball, you play a game against an opponent. If your framework for sex is that a guy’s role is to push for more sexual contact and try to get around the bases, and that a girl’s job is to be a sexual “gatekeeper” and say no, then you’ve got a scenario where the people who are having sex together are also opponents. Guys who endorse “traditional” notions of masculinity, including the Casanova Complex, tend to adopt this kind of adversarial description of romantic relationships. Of course, that’s consistent with our cultural conception of a “battle of the sexes,” even though 90% of us are sleeping with – and will marry – the “enemy.”
And yet the whole notion of “keeping score” is not only a harmful metaphor—it turns out it’s not even what most guys want. When it comes to dating and why guys want romantic relationships, writes Smiler, he finds that guys motives are actually “complex and multifaceted.” What guys want, explains Smiler, and “it doesn’t matter if we’re asking 14 year olds or 20 year olds or older” is companionship, connection, emotional support and intimacy, fitting in with peers – and oh, yeah, physical intimacy. Sounds pretty human to me.
As Smiler says in his introduction:
The Casanova Complex distorts all of our perceptions about what’s normal for guys. It tells us that guys are primarily interested in sex, not relationships. This contributes to the notion that guys are emotional clods who are incapable of connecting with their partners because, hey, they’re just guys and guys are only interested in sex. As a result, guys shouldn’t be expected to achieve any type of “real” emotional intimacy with their partners.
As I said at the start, we’re all about smashing stereotypes here at The Good Men Project. And Andrew Smiler just gave me one big, important, thoughtful, well-researched book to help do so.