How do we free ourselves of the shame society puts on our primal instincts while demonstrating true respect and equality between men and women?
Primal Man – he was a hunter-gatherer and procreator. He was not highly articulate, because vocabulary was relatively superfluous yet he was intelligent enough to survive against the odds. His home was simple, his needs were few and he lived by his instincts of fear, food and fornication and they pretty much run in that order. His innate senses protected him and needed to do little more than survive and ensure the survival of his genes.
His mate was an integral part of his life. She also was a hunter-gatherer and her survival instincts were the same as his. They worked along side each other, as far as we know, harmoniously.
Both Neuroscience and Biology tell us that those instincts are still just as valid in 2015 as they were for our primal forefathers. Fear is central to our survival and, even though we have learned to mitigate much of the risk, we have not yet evolved to a point where it does not control our motives. Food, although we now have it in excess, is also a given (assuming we don’t kill ourselves on what we are eating). And fornication, or fucking, call it what you will is still the third instinctive driver. A man carries the primal need to procreate, and since humans engage in sex for pleasure that’s also high on the list of wants.
Now, whenever I write about sex and men I receive a flurry of comments that say that sex isn’t all men think about and that men are about so much more than sex. Of course it isn’t, and of course they are. But this is about sex and men and how we perceive this particular aspect of men. It’s also about how we can help men to remove any shame they feel around something so closely linked with their biology.
Before I go on to my story I want to talk about shame and guilt. Well respected shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown defines shame as the things that say “I am….” And guilt as the things that I say “I did….”
When I see men holding shame around sex, they are often saying things like:
“I am over-sexed, I am too horny, I am not good enough.”
When they have guilt around sex, it is often statements like:
“I did expect too much, I did say/do the wrong thing, I did ________.” (insert whatever behavior here.)
Shame and guilt to me are the ‘mother’ of all debilitating human emotions. They can drive very good people to the most damaging conclusions of themselves and yet they are largely based in judgment and expectations imposed by others.
Last month in Chicago I was having a conversation with my good friend David Geary and he was explaining to me how he identifies with feminism. As a woman I always find this fascinating, so my attention was drawn to explore this further.
He said to me “I like to think of myself as a Caveman Feminist”.
Clearly I was riveted, and so he went on to explain how he supports women’s rights to equality, equal treatment and opportunities. He said, “ As a man I feel women should have all the things they want in the world to be seen and treated as equals.”
Fair enough! I couldn’t argue and I agree wholeheartedly that we should all have equal rights and responsibilities, and so I asked where being a Caveman fits into the equation. He explained is this way, “Well, I respect women and see them as equals, but I also desire some of those women – and when I see a woman I’m attracted to, I’m going to want to fuck her. And as a guy I want that to be OK – because… I’m a guy.”
I was intrigued to find out more and so we went onto to discuss the complexities around what we both knew to be a sensitive subject. What David was talking about here was not acting on his instincts, but respecting in himself and acknowledging that they exist.
I think we can accept that this is true for the vast majority of men and that he is no different from other men we know, but what I loved about this conversation was his honesty about the conflict he felt and how aware he was that his innate desires should also be an acceptable part of a man’s identity, yet it is a subject that has almost become taboo.
For the last few years feminism has been talking about objectification and how it demeans women, but there is a question about where this fits with our biology.
In the article: The Triggers of Sexual Desire, Psychology Today wrote,
“To begin with, it’s essential to note that the literature specifically studying men’s arousal patterns (gay as well as straight) has repeatedly emphasized their sensitivity to visual cues. As soon as the lust-inspiring image registers in their brain, they become turned-on—not only physically but psychologically, too. Exposure to such erotic stimuli immediately activates the parts of their brain related to getting an erection. And, as Ogas and Gaddam suggest, “Men’s greater sex drive may be partially due to the fact that their sexual motivation pathways have more connections to the subcortical reward system than in women” [or, in short] “men’s brains are designed to objectify females.”
Men of integrity, like David, don’t objectify women in the sense that feminism talks about, but his brutal honesty left me thinking that this is a part of the male psyche we should at least be acknowledging.
It raises an important question: by asking men not to objectify, are we asking them to ignore or silence their most primitive, but still highly functioning area of the brain? And if we are, what issues are manifesting in them as a result of the shame and guilt?
In our conversation, we discussed the nuance of objectification and desire. David’s thoughts were if you remove all objectification, you also remove all desire, and so it was his aim to have a kind of mental compromise of desire with respect. I imagine subconsciously this is what most men aim for. What I found unique in David is that he has the same level of respect for his own desire.
Working in the field of Sex & Relationships I openly talk about sex to both men and women in my circles. I have frequently said that I disagree with the opinion that most women don’t want to be admired on their looks. Outright objectification is different, but this applies to a negligible amount of men in our society. As an entrepreneurial woman I know that I am respected for my views, opinions and intellect, even though I am unashamed to express my sexuality, and it’s a big leap to me from respect and desire to objectification.
We continued to talk about the issues of men relating to women in today’s society and David shared more of his personal thoughts on defining success and some of the difficulties he faces in living up to ideals.
“Pursuing dreams that are passionate which don’t always bring financial security can be a huge challenge for a man.”
As an Artist, this was a big conflict for David, and he told me of his own sense of identity being challenged by the ‘real man’ dogma and how he often felt shame for not meeting societal expectations of a “proper job.”
“Art is seen as a luxury and people don’t always take my work seriously”
Implied or not, David felt there is a demand on men that they meet certain expectations from women in regards to income and generally speaking this is true of most men I speak to. Despite many women now having the option of equally capable contributors to the household if they choose, the burden still falls heavily on many men, again because of their close association to their instinctive nature to provide.
While we have all moved on emotionally and intellectually from caveman days, our biological make up has not. Perhaps it will benefit the communication between men and women if we can at least accept that men are often acting, thinking, and experiencing what is natural for themselves as men. And for women it’s worth noting that this is the same part of the brain that tells us to avoid a fight, protect our loved ones, experience emotions and feed ourselves when they are hungry. I don’t think we really want to lose that.
One of my greatest concerns, and the most prevalent issue I see facing men, is that of shame and its accompanying sense of guilt. Society can no longer ignore the impact this has on men when we are having conversations about sexual desire and all of our natural instincts if we are to honor them equally for who they are.
Photo Courtesy of David Geary, Artist. Used with permission.