GMP founder Tom Matlack and Slate XX’s Amanda Marcotte discuss the Anthony Weiner scandal and men’s sexual indiscretions.
Question: Is the prevalence of the cock shot in the news a sign of male impotence?
Tom: Darwin had this theory about evolution moving always forward and relatively slowly. It seems that perhaps the male species, in certain cases, has begun to move in reverse and like our baboon ancestors we seem to think that a display of male genitals will lead to dominance and genetic longevity. Not sure that is working out so well. Perhaps we should be firing around electronic scans of our brains instead of erections, but that could just be me.
Amanda: As long as it’s all consensual, I have no problem with men wanting to show off their cocks. Women’s boobs, asses, and vulvas have been used to provoke sexual arousal for roughly forever, and the fact that men want a piece of the “look at me, I’m so hot” action is a lurch towards objectification equality. If you only learned about men and women through our advertising, you’d think that women’s natural posture is slightly bent at the waist, ass in the air. Considering the prevalence of women showing off the goods, I fail to see why it’s primitive for men to want a piece of the exhibitionist action.
Weiner is: good, bad, sick, irrelevant, all of the above, none of the above?
Tom: Sick with no value judgment. In all seriousness, human beings make mistakes, sometimes criminal ones, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find in the ashes of that horror a soul capable of doing meaningful and good things in the world. My hope is that Weiner is able to get better and find out whatever is the truth about himself.
Amanda: I strenuously object to the trend of medicalizing every instance of poor impulse control or even slightly illicit desire. Weiner isn’t sick. His need for attention from younger women is pathetic, sure, but if you judge everyone’s mental health by their worst impulses, there is no such thing as a healthy human being. Creepy dudes don’t need rehab. They just need to get over themselves.
Is rehab appropriate or just a way to gloss over the crime?
Tom: I do believe sex addiction is a real disease, not different from reliance on drugs or alcohol. It involves a complete lack of honesty and being willing to put sexual interactions above all else in your life with no regard to reason or self-preservation. I would think that Weiner fits that definition. I have no idea if rehab is the answer but the way he has been living his life sure doesn’t look like it is working out so well right now.
Amanda: I don’t believe sex addiction is a real disease. I think some people might need psychological interventions for compulsive sexual behavior, but characterizing sex as addictive troubles me. Will we start calling overeaters “food addicts”? People who sleep in on Sundays “sleep addicts”? At what point are we willing to say that someone is having “too many” orgasms? It seems to me that we’re overrating Weiner’s willingness to put his sex life above other things. He didn’t actually have sex with these women. He mostly seemed to be sexting with them to amuse himself while working and traveling, and if he hadn’t slipped up, it seems like he would have gotten away with it. If that’s addiction, then our nation should be deeply worried about the epidemic of Angry Birds addiction.
Is cyber cheating a big and growing issue as it relates to gender in America? If so, how and why?
Tom: I don’t have the stats but anecdotally it sure seems like it is a big problem, related to the explosion of the porn industry. Why would guys rather jerk off, go to a strip club, or send some woman pictures of their erection rather than work on their marriage? I can’t speak for all men, here or anywhere, but I do think there is this growing gap between male and female expectations when it comes to intimacy. The growth of porn and cyber cheating is just guys giving up on the old fashioned form of lovemaking. It’s too hard, too complex, and woman just don’t get it. Of course, the payoff is not the same either in my view. Sex is supposed to be, I think, about emotional connection, not just getting your rocks off. So in the end I am not convinced that men engaging in cyber cheating feel any happier or fulfilled or good about themselves. But they do it as a habitual behavior, kind of like an alcoholic drinks to numb out the pain of the last binge.
Amanda: My eyelids start to droop when I hear the words “work on your marriage.” Characterizing sex as “work” instead of, you know, “play” probably does more to drive people to look at porn instead of to their partners. If we stopped viewing our romantic relationships as jobs that need to be constantly attended to, and instead started seeing them as refuges from the stresses of everyday life, I think porn would be less threatening. Yes, sex is about fun and getting off. If we apply the “sex is fun” mentality to our relationships, they’ll be healthier than if we approach it as “sex is a duty in this job I call ‘marriage’” mentality. I suspect a lot of people get into sexting with strangers precisely because they want to have a sex life that’s about having fun, instead of doing it for the good of the republic.
Why has this story gotten so much coverage? Is the mainstream press’s obsession warranted?
Tom: We collectively have become the rubber-neckers at the pile up. And not just on Weiner but going back through the long list of male celebrities behaving badly. Of course it is a story that should be covered, but the fact that Arnold or Tiger leads the news and stays there each and every day is wrong. It distorts our view of manhood and distracts us from real issues facing our country. My biggest complaint is that the popular culture myth seems to be that by the transitive property this small group of famous guys caught with their pants down represent manhood in general, leading to books and articles about the end of men, men being lazy, and the dearth of good men on the face of the planet. Just look around and tell me that isn’t true. There are good and honest men everywhere you look.
Amanda: This story has been such a big deal because we’re a culture of “abstinence-only” and “work on your marriage,” which leaves us unsatisfied and deprived and more than a little lonely, and so we’re easily provoked into prurience. We’ve got a scapegoat for all our ill feelings about having these passions and urges that don’t fit into the picket-fence mentality, and we’re going to make the most out of it. The real story not being covered by the media is how we as a nation have gotten to the point where so many grown adults feel it’s appropriate to feign outrage at a really low-grade kink like taking pictures of your bits on a cell phone. Is this the 1950s? Could have fooled me.
Do you think the Republican Party had these images the whole time and is just firing off a new batch every day to keep the story alive and distract the country from more important issues?
Tom: This thought has certainly crossed my mind more than once. But rationally I think the answer is no. There is no grand conspiracy here. But I do wonder why somebody didn’t get all the information out there once and for all rather than this continued dribbling of lies leading to further damning information.
Amanda: No. There’s no way they could have held on to these pictures. And there’s probably more B.S. “scandals” down the pike. There’s endless opportunities to rile up the public at the thought that someone somewhere is having fun while they’re busy working 50 hours a week and trying to remember the last time they actually enjoyed sex with their spouse. There’s always teenagers having sex, if we need a quick story to gin up outrage.
What is the thinking behind prominent guys who leave electronic footprints every step of the way as they cheat?
Tom: Denial is a core part of addiction. The hit of cocaine is more important—much more important—than any consequence of getting it.
Amanda: Internet and real life are becoming so intertwined, it’s easy to forget that the Internet is different from real life in this one major way. But people have never been good about covering their tracks when they cheat. The whole point of cheating is to return to that mental space where sex is impulsive and exciting, like it was before your marriage became work instead of fun.
Why can’t we all just have a lot of great sex with our spouses rather than resorting to unsatisfying online masturbation?
Tom: We can. Men just choose not to. I say try it, you might actually like it.
Amanda: Masturbation and sex with our partners aren’t mutually exclusive. Watching porn is different from actually interacting with a person online. If you’d rather sext with strangers or watch porn than have sex with your partner, maybe it’s time to ask why sex with your partner has become a chore instead of a diversion.
This conversation also appeared on Slate’s DoubleX blog.
Amanda Marcotte writes for Slate’s Double X, RH Reality Check, and Pandagon. She lives the decadent life of a childless cohabitating cat lady.