Once again I am proposing that male and female differences in anatomy predetermine how men and women experience sexuality. Men’s anatomy is external, visible and penetrating while women’s is internal, invisible and receptive. Sexuality for boys and men can be as the poet says, “A thing apart.” (Lord Byron’s Don Juan, Canto 1; Stanza 194.) Men can, on occasion, “think” with their sexual organ so that it has a life of its own. Monuments have been built to the male sex organ, the penis. It is a symbol of power and has been for millennia.
Fortunately for all of us, human beings do not have to be at the mercy of their anatomy and physiology. We have an enormous cerebral cortex that allows us to manage the formidable signals that our bodies send us. In this time in history women can choose whether or not they will have babies. Men can decide whether or not they will be controlled by an addiction to porn. The challenges for each are different in part as a function of anatomy.
In last week’s blog I talked about women’s sexuality as contextual—a door opening to a whole reproductive cycle. The challenge for women is to bring their sexuality out of the future and into the present—mindful sexuality. The challenge for men is to bring intimacy into the sexual act. If their only goal is merely to get off quickly their chances of finding tenderness and affection in a relationship will be minimal.
How do we convey this goal to our boys—that of enjoying sexuality within relationships? We don’t do it by trying to eliminate all access to porn. That would be like limiting access to food. As thinking beings we have to learn to manage our excesses and vices. We manage what we eat. We can also manage the time spent in viewing porn or thinking about viewing porn. We can limit it to a reasonable amount of time in a week or as a “reward” for a job well done.
But it goes deeper than mere time management. In order for men to ground their sexuality in a relationship they must monitor how they view women and girls. A quote from a young women in TIME(April 11, 2016, p. 47) is quite telling in this regard: “I’ll be hooking up with some guy who’s really hot, then things get heavier and all of a sudden my mind shifts and I’m not a real person: it’s like, This is me performing. This is me acting…It’s some fantasy girl, I guess, maybe the girl from porn.”
The idea for parents to impart is that girls and women are not objects, never objects. It means that children from early on need to see a model of men treating women with respect, valuing their opinions, being considerate of their feelings. It means that both boy and girl children must understand the need to see their mothers as human beings—not robots who pick up after everyone and always subvert their own needs to those of their children.
It is not enough however to address the male/female relationships in the privacy of the family. There are broader societal messages that assault us daily about the relative places of men and women and their value in our culture. We will talk about that next week.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.