Weiner, Cyber Cheating, and Gender: A Discussion

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.

Tom Matlack is a husband, dad, writer and venture capitalist (in descending order of importance). He co-founded the Good Men Project.

Amanda Marcotte writes for Slate’s Double X, RH Reality Check, and Pandagon. She lives the decadent life of a childless cohabitating cat lady.

—Photo mysticchildz/Flickr

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Comments

  1. jameseq says:

    wow, headwrecking reading.
    Weiner ‘sick’?? sick sir, sick? ;-)
    Tom were you really given the answers you really believed in, or saying what is the ‘correct thing’ to say?
    Your answered sounded political. But then you are a somebody while im a nobody, so i can afford to speak more freely

    In this article. You appeared more censorious, a more authoritarian nanny than Amanda. Your answers placed you firmly in the temperance, prudery wing of feminism. Your answers appalled Amanda, thats noteworthy
    I found myself agreeing with Amanda’s answers, although i had to strip out her pathological digs to men though lol

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I find myself agreeing with everything Amanda Marcotte said in this interview. (This doesn’t mean I always agree with her.) I also agree with jameseq that Tom’s responses seemed a little too politically perfect for my taste. I’m not saying Tom’s insincere, just that those answers seemed like “the right thing I’m supposed to say.”

    I like the point that Marcotte made that seeing marriage as nose-to-the-grindstone actually contributes to infidelity, not just prevents it.

    I know that the article/interview was asking about cyber cheating, so of course it’s going to mention marriage, but could we please stop using “man” as a synonym for “husband” or “father”? It’s a non-sequitur to ask the question, “why can’t men just have sex with their wives instead of….?”, because not all men are married. In fact, if trends continue, pretty soon the majority of American men will be single. (Already the majority of American women are single.) Am I imagining it, or is there a lack of attention to the possibility that a man could be a “good man” and be single and/or childfree? A good man need not be a husband nor father, need not even be in a relationship, gay or straight. My God, a good man may not even like sports!

  3. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Actually sex and food can both be addictions, and moralizing about them doesn’t help. But addiction treatment can help. I worked in addictions for four years, so I know. Sometimes “working on a relationship” with a therapist does help, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve worked as such a therapist. The “medicalization” of addiction is irritating, I’ll admit. But many in addiction treatment don’t take the “illness” model all that seriously. Addiction is basically conceived as an illness-without-any-details, and many physicians would agree that it’s not a medical condition. Actually Bill Wilson started citing “illness” to get the moralizers out of addiction treatment. It worked.

    One of the irritations of this site is that many come here to moralize. Won’t work.

    • Jameseq says:

      Youre right henry sex, food, infact anything can be an addiction. I disagree with amanda’s reply to q3, and agree with tom.

      I agree with both amanda’s AND tom’s replies to q4,5,6,7. Tom’s answers to q1,2 and 8 surprised me so greatly it initially overshadowed his other replies

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man bend over backwards harder to unjustly throw his gender under the bus. If you think so little of men and so much of women, Tom, why don’t you get a sex change operation? The fact that you made Amanda sound reasonable is truly truly a new low.

  5. Quijiboh says:

    Tom, your writing has taken a worryingly moralising tone of late. For someone who so recently talked about not ‘putting people in boxes’ and judging a person on their individual merits, you are remarkably quick to write Weiner off as some sex-addicted pervert.

    I found myself much in agreement with Amanda, who it turns out is pretty reasonable when she isn’t being so achingly patronising.

  6. ngz3120 says:

    Were Weiner republican, that false rape apologist creep would be over at her website rabble rousing up a lynch mob for him.

  7. I love, love, love The Good Men Project, but Tom your sensitive/evolved-guy answers were so boringly pat I could barely finish. Weiner is sick? Really? Please.

    Marcotte, on the other hand, was refreshingly spot on.

  8. After such a nice breakdown of generalizing men in Q5 he then turns around and just says, “Men just choose not to.” for the final question. Huh?

    And I think this Weiner thing puts a bit of a dent in the beleif that men can get in scandals and come out unscathed. People have been calling for him to resign for a while and I just saw an article on CNN where supposedly someone close to him says he’s considering doing just that.

  9. Amanda’s comments are realistic and reasonable. Tom’s comments are judgmental, puritanical, unrealistic, and smack of the thinking of a self-loathing male radical feminist.

    • SnakeEyez says:

      I kind of disagree with you about the self-loathing male radical feminist thing. I kind of get the impression that Tom Matlack is more of the recovering addict type. You know the one who thinks everyone else is an addict too. He’s like the alcoholic that never really comes to terms with their problem but blames it on the alcohol: I’m not the problem but rather the object of my obsession/addiction is the problem.

  10. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Amanda’s off her tree here. She has no idea what she’s talking about.

    • Henry Vandenburgh says:

      Okay, I agree with some of her comments. She’s wrong about addiction and therapy.

      • Perhaps but look at it this way. I for one like the fact that when she doesn’t engage in personal attacks she is actually a reasonable person. Now if she were to have taken this civilized approach when talking about MRAs and PUAs….

  11. I think the oversimplification of sexual addiction/compulsion in this little Q&A does more harm than good: http://feministallies.blogspot.com/2011/06/on-sex-addiction-and-compulsive-sexual.html

  12. ngz3120 says:

    The fact that men want a piece of the “look at me, I’m so hot” action is a lurch towards objectification equality” . See how she spun the extra sexual freedom that women have as victim hood? “I fail to see why it’s primitive for men to want a piece of the exhibitionist action.” She neglects to mention that women already objectify men as status, wealth, sex, conception and sacrifice objects.

    And we as still waiting for her to comment on the false rape accuses that went on to child abuse and murder that she supported even after she was proven to be lying about being raped.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Marcotte deliberately took the words “work on your marriage” as if it meant some kind of dutiful nose/grindstone connection. Then ran with it. The term is generally meant to cover paying more attention to your partner as opposed to other distractions such as work or hobbies. Those can take over without any direct effort. It means making yourself a better partner. Hugo S. is always talking about the hard work involved in that.
    If you have a hard time talking to your partner about, say, sex, going digital is easier. But having to do some work to get over that isn’t an indication of some moral failing, nor is it grunt labor. She found an opportunity for a semantic gotcha and avoided other issues.

  14. Amanda made a lot of great points (as usual)….especially: Every instance of poor impulse control and overinflated bouts of entitlement do not need to be medicalized. She contradicted herself when she questioned the concept of working on a marriage” but then said this at the end of the interview: “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.” That’s what happens when you don’t do the WORK of maintaining your marriage. I am very familiar with Amanda, but her views on marriage and family are sometimes range from comical to contradictory because she lacks life experience.

  15. 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.
    ________________________________________
    Tom, thankfully most men do not think like you. If they did, the earth would be pretty empty.

    • “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.
      ________________________________________
      Tom, thankfully most men do not think like you. If they did, the earth would be pretty empty.”

      I think that masturbation is normal and healthy and does not effect population growth all that much as people have always been doing it. Do you also believe that women shouldn’t masturbate, use porn, machines etc…?

      • SnakeEyez says:

        Anyone who thinks human’s population are growing fast enough should really rethink their hypothesis. If anything we need to slow down population growth on a worldwide scale!

  16. I found myself agreeing with Amanda, who seems to understand what men think and feel a hell of a lot more than Tom. Was Tom’s wife in the room when he was responding? If he was being sincere, he would be the first man I have ever met that spoke in that moralizing tone sincerely.

  17. Anonymous Male says:

    Quote:
    “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.

    Me:
    I agree with the general sentiment here, that maybe for some men paying a little more attention to their relationships with their partners would result in a more fulfilling sex life than online masturbation provides. No doubt true in many cases.

    If only it was that simple for all in-person sexual relationships. This question presumes that 1) there is a spouse, 2) the spouse is ready, willing, and able to have great sex and is just waiting for some more attention, and 3) the cybersex is replacing the in-person sex. I would guess in the vast majority of cases of men masturbating to online porn, you won’t find all three factors.

    And, theoretically, if online self-pleasure is not as good as in-person sex, then maybe the problem is not being good enough at the online self-pleasure. Did anyone consider the idea that online masturbation could be better than it usually is? There is more than one kind of sexual exploration, after all. I get the sense that much of society feels threatened by the idea of men spending “too much time” masturbating. Of course it could be addictive and has the power hurt one’s relationships. Just about every pleasurable thing does.

  18. I find the comments nearly as interesting as the article. While complaining about Tom’s judgmental and moralistic tone, commentors sound pretty judgmental themselves. Placed in the context of the two year conversation Tom has been having with his readers, it is clear that Tom is honestly conflicted about what it is to be a “good man”. And that is the point of this Project. And why I find it so compelling.
    I don’t always agree with Tom, but he does always make me think.

    I found myself agreeing with both Tom and Amanda. Tom is right in saying that marriage is hard work; should be hard work; commitment always is hard work; and I understood Tom to be saying that many men don’t always “get” that for intimacy to be satisfying and fun, it requires attention to the hard work of commitment and to the importance of foreplay which happens way before the bedroom. Amanda is right in insisting that intimacy can and should be fun — that men and women who enjoy the sexual dimension of their marriage have avoided the trap of viewing it as duty and obligation. Those two realities are not mutually exclusive.

    • Quijiboh says:

      I would disagree that the criticism in the comments necessarily amounts to being judgemental. If people’s reactions were anything like mine, it was mostly being utterly perplexed at how vehemently Tom laid into Weiner. I’m not endorsing what Weiner did, but Tom’s response seemed to lack any sense of proportion. I was astonished at how quick he was to throw out words and phrases like “sex addiction” and “sick”. It also seemed completely incongruent when you consider, as you say, “that Tom is honestly conflicted about what it is to be a ‘good man'”.

      I think Amanda was more concerned with the mindset that the phrase ‘hard work’ might suggest. Loving relationships aren’t a job. It’s not a transaction in which you perform a task in exhange for an incentive. Cold, grey, economistic thinking is already far too intrusive in our daily lives. Granted, that’s not what everybody takes the phrase to mean, but surely there’s a better way to put it than making it sound like a career investment?

      • I don’t understand the issue with Tom’s choice of words. If it is not an addiction that Weiner is dealing with, then it certainly seems to be an obsession that has affected both his career and his marriage. As Tom knows, in order to face something that has thrown your life out of balance, you have to call it what it is. Also, I understood Tom’s use of “sick” not to be judgmental, but descriptive. Again, Weiner’s career and marriage have been threatened by his actions. That is an imbalance that has thrown his life into termoil. It is controlling him, in a way that is not healthy. That is pretty much a description of what it means to be sick.

        • Quijiboh says:

          It is only ‘controlling’ him in the sense that the very public nature of his career means that the media frenzy surrounding him threatens his image and thus his electability. It is not a behaviour he engaged in to the exclusion of all others. Other than the media circus, it did not impinge on his ability to function as a congressman or in most other parts of his life. It doesn’t seem like it was any more an obsession than the out of hours activity most people engage in. As someone with a degree in psychology, that does not fit any reasonable definition of addiction to me.

          Sure it’s an unhealthy behaviour, but that does not equate to sickness. I just ate what was probably an unhealthy amount of pizza, but that does not mean I have a pizza-related illness.

          Medical terms such as ‘sickness’ and ‘addiction’ should denote something much more serious, otherwise they become meaningless. Because in the end, Weiner is just a guy who willfully made a lot of mistakes. He doesn’t have a condition. He’s just an idiot.

          • Great points. Those words do lose their meaning when carelessly applied. I would argue that “sick” is not really a medical term, though. My doctor has never told me “You’re sick.” He is more precise in his description of symptoms and diagnoses. “Sick” is a convenient cultural term, in my view, to describe a something that creates dis-ease in our lives. I may be contributing to the problem you describe, but that is how I have come to view that word in this context.

            You may have more, or different, information about Weiner than I, but I am under the impression that this is not an isolated incident for Weiner – that his marriage has been strained by his “interest in” pornography. It may not qualify as addiction or obsession, but if my information is correct, then it is at the very least a “problem” with which he has not dealt successfully.

            Now let’s talk about your pizza-fetish…….

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