Late Night Thoughts: Love, Realism, Talents, Happiness, and More.

(About 7 minutes to read) 

Terri, who occasionally comments on this blog, pointed out the other day in a discussion about compassion that some feelings or emotions are as strikingly beautiful as anything physical.  Of course, that is true not only of compassion, but also of love.  And to me, one of the most beautiful things about love is how it so often creates in us both a desire to improve the lives of our beloved, and a sensitivity to ways that might genuinely improve their lives.

When I composed the following poem, I had in mind more the desire to improve, than the sensitivity to know what would improve.  Still, I think the poem works in its own way.

Love is an ancient thing
That travels back before gravity was born
And forward beyond the last gods.
I have wanted to sip your breast
In between the lights of night and day
And tell you how I’ve taken sides
Against a mammoth
To bring you his tusks
So that you, my woman, my love,
Will be happy now
For all the worlds
You have given to me.

Should love — any kind of love — really be thought of as a single emotion?  Is romantic love just one emotion?  Erotic love?  Mature or deeply attached love?

Perhaps erotic love is but a single emotion, lust, but how can you make the same case for the others?  Romantic, mature, and other kinds of love do seem to have many characteristics, rather than just one.  For instance, in addition to making us desire to improve someone’s life, don’t both romantic and mature love also make us feel greater tolerance for the differences that might exist between us and our beloved?

It’s a tricky question, I think, because perhaps they only make us overlook the differences, rather than actually make us willing to tolerate the differences.  Or are those the same thing?

Most people, I believe, stubbornly accept reality just as conscientiously as they accept their religion.  That is, only when it is convenient to do so, but then conscientiously.  Realism is not our main strength as a species.

Have you noticed that humans so seldom are what they want to be?  Yet so much of our happiness, I think, comes from accepting ourselves as we are.

All that striving to be what we are not seems to produce more unhappiness than anything else, because — while we can change ourselves around the edges — we have much greater difficulty changing our core nature.

But then, what is our core nature?

I don’t think I have the complete answer to that question, but surely part of the answer is that our core nature includes our talents.  By “talents” I do not mean our skills, but rather our raw predispositions to such things as athletics, mathematics, music, drawing, writing, dance, mechanics, etc.

A good way to tell if you have a talent for something is to ask yourself two questions.  First, “Do I like doing this?”  We usually like doing what we have a talent for doing.   Second, “Does it come comparatively easy to me?”  I think the key word here is “comparatively”.   If you don’t have a talent for, say, mathematics, but do have a talent for music, you will usually find that music comes a whole lot easier to you than math.   Answer those questions honestly, without wishful thinking, and you will most likely gain a pretty good idea of where your talents lie.  At least that’s been my experience.

In my view, pursuing one’s talents in life by working to turn them into actual skills is — all else being equal — not only conducive to happiness, but perhaps more important, conducive to a sense of meaning.

Now, all of this might seem commonsense, and so obvious it’s hardly worth mentioning, but I have met far too many people who were more or less clueless about their talents for myself think “it’s just commonsense to know your talents”.

Why have so many people been ignorant of their own talents, though?

I think the single most important reason is that, in this matter, most of us listen way too much to the advice of others.  They usually mean well, but they don’t know you nearly as well as you yourself could — if you took a dispassionate look at yourself — know you.  Most often, other people of good will want what’s best for you, but their idea of what’s best for you is very heavily colored by what they know about what’s best for them.

The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.  — Ayn Rand

The main reason I think of Rand in something less than an entirely negative light is because several of my female friends have told me over the years that Rand helped them psychologically liberate themselves from the oppressive expectations and indoctrinations of the religious cults they grew up in.

While I think there are better — much better — authors than Rand for helping with that, I’m glad she did indeed help my friends realize just how greatly they had been lied to about their worth and potential as women.

Having said that, my overall impression of her is that she is squarely in the buffoon class of philosophers and social critics.  Indeed, I even think it was pretentious of her to have called herself a “philosopher” at all.  She did very little to push the envelope of rational thought, such as the great philosophers have done.  But that’s a minor peeve of mine.  A greater reason for calling her a buffoon is that she could not laugh at herself.  Have you ever known a buffoon who genuinely could?

I am of the view that humor, in general, evolved as an adaptive mechanism.  To put it somewhat superficially here, it seems to me that humor greatly facilitates logical reasoning and attention to empirical evidence.   More specifically, it can play a key role in helping us to overcome our innate cognitive biases, egotistical attachments to our beliefs, and general intellectual inertia, in order to change our minds when we are wrong about something.  And changing our minds when we are wrong about something can have obvious benefits to our survival, albeit it is quite often extraordinarily difficult for us to do — and nearly impossible for those who lack any appreciable sense of humor at all.

In that regard, self-deprecatory humor is no different than humor in general.  So far as I can recall, I’ve not yet in my sixty years met a man or woman who “took themselves too seriously” and who greatly understood themselves.

There used to be a saying among fire fighters that, for all I know, might still be current.  “Never fight fire from ego”.  Both myself and the men I worked with in the few years that I fought fires profoundly distrusted anyone who “fought fire from ego”.  We knew they could too easily get themselves killed — or far worse, someone else killed.

Today, forty or so years later, I still haven’t found anyone — whose ego has such a firm grip on them that they can’t laugh at themselves — that I would trust at my side in even a moderately demanding situation, let alone where my life might be on the line.  Yes, I know, I’m only thinking of myself here, but so be it.

Of course, you might want to make up your own mind about all that, rather than simply swallow what I say.  I have, after all, been certified as crazy by a group of scientists.  Personally, I don’t think the space alien scientists who have contacted me through my microwave know what they’re talking about, but it might still be reasonable of you to take my words — or anyone’s words, for that matter — with a bit of reflective thought, rather than reflexively.

Women’s Sexuality: “Base, Animalistic, and Ravenous”

What is the future of our sexuality?

How, in twenty maybe forty years, will we be expressing ourselves sexually?

Do we have any clues today about what kind of sexuality tomorrow might bring?

And why did my second wife doze off on our wedding night just as I was getting to the climax of my inspiring lecture to her on Socrates’ concept of love?  After all, she positively begged me for some “oral sex”!  Doesn’t make a lick of sense she fell asleep in the midst of it.

I’ve been wondering about those and other questions this morning but not, as you might suspect, because I’ve been binge viewing Balinese donkey on donkey porn again.  What inspires me instead is the emerging consensus in the science of human sexuality.  That consensus strikes me as a game-changer.

It’s sometimes said that the early human sexuality studies of Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, paved the road to the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s.  It seems to me today’s new, still emerging consensus could be like that — or it could be even more seismic than what we’ve seen before.

What’s at the core of this is women’s sexuality, along with a growing body of research that strongly suggests women’s sexuality isn’t what most of us nearly the world over have been taught it is.

To be sure, nothing is going to happen overnight.  For one thing, any really profound cultural changes that result from this new understanding of women’s sexuality are almost certain to take generations to be fully realized.  Deep cultural change is seldom quick.  Yet, sometimes great storms are proceeded by light rains blown ahead of the main storm, and something like that could happen here too.

For another thing, it’s always possible that the emerging consensus will fall apart.  The research seems to me solid so far, but as yet, not massive.

Some Old Ideas About Women’s Sexuality

To understand how the new science could transform our cultures, let’s first look at what’s at stake.  It seems that across many — but certainly not all — cultures there is a more or less shared set of beliefs about the differences between men and woman’s sexuality.  Among these beliefs:

  • Women are naturally much less promiscuous than men.
  • Women naturally seek and need emotional intimacy and safety before they can become significantly horny.
  • Women naturally prefer to be pursued by men, rather than to do the pursuing.
  • Women are naturally pickier than men when choosing a sex partner.
  • Women are naturally less horny than men.
  • Women are naturally less likely than men to cheat on their partners.
  • Women are naturally more suited to monogamy than men.
  • Women are naturally more traumatized by divorce than men.
  • Even more traumatic for women than divorce is a night spent with Sunstone.

What seems to be happening is that, idea by idea, the old notions of how men and women differ in natural sexuality from each other are being challenged by the new science.  Sometimes the challenges merely qualify the old idea, usually by showing that, although the difference exists, it is largely due to culture and learning rather than to innate human nature.  At other times, the challenges threaten to overturn the old ideas completely.

Some New Ideas About Women’s Sexuality

Bergner, and the leading sex researchers he interviews, argue that women’s sexuality is not the rational, civilized and balancing force it’s so often made out to be — that it is base, animalistic and ravenous, everything we’ve told ourselves about male sexuality.  –Tracy Clark-Flory

I believe that when thinking about the emerging new consensus, the emphasis should be put on “emerging”.  There are so many questions yet to be answered that I do not believe it can as yet be definitively stated.  But at this stage, the following four points seem to me, at least, to best characterize the most important findings:

  • Women want sex far more than almost all of us are taught to believe.
  • Their sex drive is as strong as, or possibly even stronger, than men’s sex drive.
  • Their desire for sex does not always depend on their feeling emotionally intimate with — nor even safe with — their partner.
  • Women might be less evolved for monogamous relationships than men.

But do women know this about themselves?  There’s evidence that many women might not.  One such bit of evidence:

Dr. Meredith Chivers attempts to peek into the cage by sitting women in La-Z-Boy recliners, presenting them with a variety of pornographic videos, images, and audio recordings, and fitting their bodies with vaginal plethysmographs to measure the blood flow of desire. When Chivers showed a group of women a procession of videos of naked women, naked men, heterosexual sex, gay sex, lesbian sex, and bonobo sex, her subjects “were turned on right away by all of it, including the copulating apes.” But when it came time to self-report their arousal, the survey and the plethysmograph “hardly matched at all,” Bergner reports. Straight women claimed to respond to straight sex more than they really did; lesbian women claimed to respond to straight sex far less than they really did; nobody admitted a response to the bonobo sex. Physically, female desire seemed “omnivorous,” but mentally, it revealed “an objective and subjective divide.”

Women, it seems, might not be in tune with their physical desires when it comes to sex.  But if this is so, it should come as little or no surprise.

The Repression of Women’s Sexuality

While significant efforts to repress women’s (and often enough men’s) expression of their own sexuality are not found in every culture (e.g. the Mosuo), they seem to be found in all major cultures, and they range from shaming all the way up to female genital mutilation,  honor killing, and stoning.  Indeed, rape — which is a nearly ubiquitous behavior — can be seen as largely a form of repressing women’s sexuality, especially given how often it is justified in terms of “she asked for it”, meaning that she in some way or another expressed her sexuality in a manner the criminal(s) thought invited attack.

But those are merely the enforcement mechanisms for more subtle ways of repressing women’s sexuality.  Sexual ideologies seem to be the primary means of repression.  By “sexual ideologies” I mean in this context anything from full blown systems of thought about what is proper or improper, right or wrong, natural or unnatural about women’s sexuality to unorganized and unsystematic ideas and beliefs about their behavior.   For instance, advising young women not to wear short skirts doesn’t count by itself as a true ideology, but for the sake of convenience I’m lumping such advice into the same bucket as true ideologies here.

Sexual ideologies are perhaps even more effective than the gross enforcement mechanisms at repressing women.  If you can convince someone that it’s natural, right, and moral to suppress her sexual feelings, then you do not need to rely on the off chance you can catch and punish her for them if she fails to do so.  Ideally, you can even get her to suppress her feelings to the extent she no longer knows she even has them, because if you can do that, then she herself is apt to become something of a volunteer oppressor of other women, especially, say, in raising her daughters.

Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.  — Rose Sayer, The African Queen (1951).

Disturbing Studies

Here are a few quick examples of the things being found out about women’s sexuality these days:

In surveys men routinely report having two to four times the number of sex partners that women report, which lends support to the notion that men are naturally more promiscuous than women.  But one study, published in 2003 in The Journal of Sex Research, found that when men were tricked into believing they were hooked up to a lie detector, the men reported the same number of sex partners as the women reported.  This is significant because it calls into question a fair body of research that is often cited in support of the notion women are less promiscuous on the whole than men.

A 2009 study published in Psychological Science found that pickiness seems to depend on whether a person is approached by a potential partner, or is themselves doing the approaching.  The experiment, conducted in a real-life speed-dating environment, showed that when men rotated through women who stayed seated in the same spot, the women were more selective about whom they chose to date. When the women did the rotating, it was the guys who were pickier.  This implies that women’s choosiness might largely depend circumstances, and not on innate nature.

In 2011, a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that women liked casual, uncommitted sex just as much as men provided only that two conditions were first met: (1) the stigma of having casual sex needed to be removed, and (2) the women had to anticipate that the man would be a “great lover”.   Contrary to conventional wisdom, the women did not seem to need to feel emotionally intimate with the man in order to enjoy casual sex with him.

In 2015, evidence was published in the journal Biology Letters that both men and women fall into two more or less distinct groups: Those who prefer monogamy and those who prefer promiscuity.  Curiously, the sexes were about the same in terms of the proportions of men and women  who favored one or the other.  A slight majority of the men favored promiscuity, while a slight minority of the women did.  This would seem to undermine the notion that men as a group are markedly more promiscuous than women.

The journal Psychological Science published a 2006 study that found women in general are more flexible than men in their sexual orientations, and that the higher a woman’s sex drive, the more likely she was to be attracted to both sexes (the same was not true of men).

In 2006, the journal Human Nature reported that both men and women in new relationships experience about equal sexual desire for each other, but sometime between one to four years into the relationship, women’s sexual desire for their partners began to plummet (The same was not true of the men: Their sexual desire held constant.)  Two decades into committed relationships, only 20% of women remained sexually desirous of their partners. Long term monogamy appears to sap a woman’s sex drive.   Ladies! Tired of the Same Old Same Old? Willing to dress up in a hen costume and squawk like a chicken?  Sunstone loves his rooster suit, and is currently available most evenings.  Simply call 1-800-BuckBuck! Motto: “He’s even more desperate than you are!”®

Disturbed Men

The new science has huge implications if it is indeed sound.  For instance, as hinted above, the sexual repression of women often enough depends on women buying into certain myths about their own sexuality, such as the myth that a woman’s sexuality, when compared to a man’s, is weaker, less urgent, less demanding.  If the myth is true, then an implication is women should sexually defer to their partners, place their own sexual needs on the back burner while tending to the needs of their man.

Yet, if the new science is sound, then men and women’s sex drives are more or less equal, and there becomes no ideological reason for women to not demand their rightful share of the fun.   That seems to disturb some men.

I can think of any number of reasons why some men are disturbed or put off by sexually assertive women, but none of them are relevant enough to go into here.  Yet, it should be kept in mind that some men  — but not all — are disturbed by the notion that women, being by nature sexually equal to men, ought to have equal rights in bed.

There are other implications of the new science men might find even more disturbing.  Perhaps the biggest implication might have at its core how women’s unleashed sexuality could affect men’s reproductive success.   The new sexuality might fearfully suggest to many men that their liberated partners are now more likely to cuckold them.  That’s not a prospect most men are entirely blissful about.

Grand Sweeping Summary and Plea for Money

Acceptance of reality is not, actually,  one of our major strengths as a species.  Even if the new science proves over time to be sound, it’s unlikely to be accepted without a fight.

If you are like me, you believe more research is needed into women’s sexuality.  Much more research.  Moreover, you are keen on funding some of that research yourself!  Yes, this is your opportunity to send me on a mission of scientific discovery to my town’s finest strip joint, where I will be surveying and assessing how women express their sexuality through dance, while flirting with suffering a heart attack from the intrinsic excitement of doing science.  Simply email me to arrange a transfer of funds!

Testosterone, Sex, and Intimacy in the Age of Porn

Why do heterosexual men seem disinterested in helping a lady along?  — Kacey

A lack of sexual satisfaction is more common in women than in men.  By all accounts, there are many reasons why that’s so:

  • Busy schedules can turn sex into just another task or chore.
  • Discontent with their bodies can leave women not feeling sexy.
  • Women’s reluctance or even their unwillingness to ask for what they want in bed can mean their partners don’t meet their needs.
  • Sex lives can be too predictable and thus boring.
  • Health issues can cause a whole variety of problems.
  • Stress can impact both the quality and ability to orgasm.
  • A woman’s socio-economic status can influence her sexual satisfaction (the higher the status, the better).
  • A history of sexual abuse can negatively impact sexual satisfaction.
  • Sexual guilt can also negatively impact satisfaction.
  • And additional reasons not listed here.

In doing the research for the above list, I noticed that none of the sources I used mention what to most of us might be obvious: A woman’s partner could be “unhelpful” in bed.  “You’re on your own, babe.  I’ve got mine, you get yours!”  It seems just a wee bit possible that might leave the lady a mite less than blissfully satisfied.

I have no idea what percentage of men are incompetent lovers (nor, for that matter, what percentage of women are the same),  It could be high or low.  Like most folks, however, I’ve heard the horror stories.  To give but one example, a wife emailed me a while back asking how she could communicate to her husband the fact that 15 minutes of intercourse without much at all in the way of foreplay just wasn’t doing it for her. In their 11 years of marriage, she hadn’t once moved him to depart from his routine.  Worse, he’d taken to leaving her soon after his completion, often with the departing words, “I’m going to get out of your way now so you can have some privacy while finishing yourself off.”  Paradoxically, she told me her husband was otherwise a decent man to her.

The strange thing to me about the stories I hear is that their horrors often enough seem so unnecessary.  Granting there are exceptions — difficult partners, poor health, work stress, much too much blog reading, taking Sunstone’s sex advice, and all that, but it usually isn’t hard to pleasure a woman; we are not talking rocket science or Olympic gymnastics here.  So we might ask why is it some decent men who ought not to be incompetent at sex, actually are incompetent?

Naturally, we can’t get into all the possible reasons in a mere blog post, so we’ll need to be picky.  I’m guessing you will find one of the more interesting reasons to be the role that testosterone can sometimes play in a man’s sexual incompetence.  Besides, it’s always fun to blame testosterone for everything!

Theresa L. Crenshaw is a medical doctor and sex therapist who in her book, The Alchemy of Love and Lust, discusses the sexually of men and women during the different decades of our lives.  She notes that men and women in their 40s tend to experience much greater sexual and emotional compatibility in large part due the man’s naturally decreasing levels of testosterone.

Of course, testosterone is most famous as the hormone that produces horniness in both men and women.  Everyone agrees that men have much higher levels of testosterone than women, although I am not aware of any genuine consensus among scientists yet as to how much higher.  I’ve heard several estimates, however, and the one thing they all agree on is that male levels are much higher.  As in multiples higher.

Several decades ago, as well as I can recall now, a group of researchers wondered what would happen to women who were injected with peak male levels of the Big-T.   And so they did it.  The women, of course, were volunteers but were not told that they were being injected with testosterone.  Instead, they were told, “vitamins”.  Once injected, they were asked to spend the next half hour writing down their thoughts and feelings about sex — whatever came into their heads.

The women all but put the male authors of porn to shame.  They produced raw, graphic, sexually explicit streams of consciousness that were notable for being dominated by vivid images of naked men and their body parts.  Moreover, their writings seemed to reduce the men they wrote about to sex objects, or at least near to.  Furthermore, they wrote “eloquently” of their sudden, new-found feelings of intense horniness.   In short, the women’s thoughts and feelings were like those of young men whose testosterone levels are peaking, perhaps exceptionally high.

Comparatively few people know about the effects testosterone has on men other than to produce horniness.  For instance, many people have — or have noticed — the tendency of men to roll away in bed from their partners shortly after having had sex.  Far fewer people are aware that the cause of the behavior is ascribed to testosterone by at least some scientists.

But testosterone can play a much greater roll in how men treat women than just by rolling away in bed.  One of the foremost researchers into the effects of testosterone on men’s thoughts and feelings was James McBride Dabbs.

Dabbs found that high testosterone men can be driven to compete with and dominate others.  At its worse, this can involve brute force, violence, and fighting behavior of all kinds.  But even when that was not the case, Dabbs noted that high-T males can be “rough and callous”, their more tender feelings apparently “blunted” by the hormone.  Summarizing a few of Dabbs’ findings, Leon Seltzer has written:

…they [the high-T males] tend not to be particularly concerned about–or, for that matter, interested in–the feelings of others. And unmoderated feelings such as lust, resentment, or rage can easily preempt the softer feelings of love, compassion, or forgiveness.

Seltzer goes on to specifically address the problems high-T males (and their partners!) can face in dealing with intimate relationships:

I’d like to expand a bit on some of the points I made earlier about how high-testosterone males have difficulty treating the opposite sex with the consideration and respect they deserve. Insufficiently sensitive to a girl’s or woman’s feelings, they also struggle with simply appreciating these feelings. And so, among other things, they typically don’t function particularly well in marriages. In fact, the statistics available on this topic indicate that they’re more likely to divorce and–indeed–less likely to marry in the first place.

Additionally, having such a strong need for dominance virtually guarantees that their marriages will be problematic. Overall, they’re less satisfied in their marriage (as compared to lower-T males). And their difficulty accepting their mates as true (and non-competitive) equals assures a degree of conflict hardly compatible with the best unions. Here Dabbs cites the work of marital theorist John Gottman–perhaps the world’s pre-eminent authority on what makes intimate relationships work–by noting his findings that egalitarian marriages are the most successful. High-T males, with their propensity to dominate (and even pick fights–whether they be for fun or blood), hardly fit the picture of Gottman’s ideal husband, ready and willing to share power and control.

Although we have been talking here of an extreme — i.e. high-T males — it should be noted that even low-T males might echo, albeit more faintly, the behaviors of their high-T brothers. That’s to say, some effects of testosterone can be at least somewhat problematic for all men and, by extension, their partners.

When Kacey first suggested to me a week or so ago that I write a blog post on “Why do heterosexual men seem disinterested in helping a lady along?“, I thought of a number of possible reasons for it.  Culture, for instance, surely would be a huge part of any comprehensive answer to her question.  (I wrote a wee bit about the role of culture in an earlier post, “The Three Key Sex Acts that Cause Female Orgasms, According to Science”. )  But I think no comprehensive answer to Karina’s question is possible without mentioning the Big-T.

So, what can be done to ameliorate the negative effects of testosterone?  Well, we could encourage all women and girls to turn cynical and bitter about male sexuality, constantly snipe, whine, and moan about it, and ultimately refuse to have sex with males.  Ordinarily, that’s how I’d solve the problem, but I sense this time that might be a bad idea, if only for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.

I think the sane choice is education.  I have heard that currently, the public school sex education courses are generally in a deplorable state in America.  So I think they should be put back on their feet, and then expanded to cover not only the mechanics of sex and contraception, but also the psychology of our sexuality, very much including the effects of testosterone, and what to do about those effects.

I think I should mention here that I know of an educator, Dr. Karen Rayne, who conducts classes and seminars in sexuality, and who addresses some of these issues both in her classes and seminars, and in the books she has authored.  Dr. Rayne is top notch in her field.  You might want to contact her if you or your group happen to be in need of a seminar, etc.  Or if you want expert advice on how and what to say to your son or daughter about sex, romance, relationships and so forth.  Dealing with children and adolescent sexuality is her specialty.  (Full Disclosure:  I’m a huge fan of hers, she’s helped me out at times with my blog by arranging to have posts reprinted in online magazines, and I’ve had a crush on her for years.)

Now, I think internet porn factors into all of this as well.  Another renowned expert in human sexuality, Dr. Robert Weiss, was once asked, “What is the most common issue you see with today’s generation when it comes to relationships and sex?”  In response, Weiss pointed squarely to internet porn:

The most common negative issue I see with young people is a lack of understanding about how to build intimacy, trust and healthy sex.

This means that adolescents and young adults, because of their extensive exposure to internet porn, and sex without relationships (see Tinder) seems to be leading to untested expectations about what a partner should and should not deliver sexually and when. To put it simply, pre-digital age, if you wanted to get laid, and you weren’t going to pay for it, you had to be romantic, you had to have the charm and social skills to make someone feel safe and comfortable enough to want to be sexual.

Today, that skill set is no longer required [to get laid], but it is required to build romance, sexual intimacy and love. So I see heterosexual young men struggling with the idea that sex in real life should be like porn, and all the expectations that come with that.

I see heterosexual young women…with their new freedoms and openness to sex without relationships…. But also feelings of obligation and inferiority around sex with men who use porn as their standard.

I think the key to understanding the impact internet porn is having on the sex lives of men is to grasp that it is providing the model for what sex should be — especially for young men, who do not yet have more or less firm notions about what sex should be.

Another thing porn seems to be implicated in is the creation of a certain newfangled sexual dysfunction characterized by experiencing real people as less interesting than porn.  Weiss again:

When people become adapted to hyper stimulation (internet porn, webcam sex) that level of intensity becomes their expectation and norm. Therefore meeting with a real, live person just isn’t that interesting. This seems to be a different population than the sex addicts that I have treated for the last 30 years as it is a problem that seems to develop in adolescents and young adults rather than related to very early trauma.

There are quite a few other problems associated with internet porn, including more kinds of sexual dysfunctions, such as erectile dysfunction, anorgamsia, low sexual desire, delayed ejaculation and lower brain activation to sexual images.  Add to that the fact that some porn — not all, but some (e.g. rape porn) — seems to be associated with increased sexual aggression in men who heavily view it.

I have not fully answered here Karina’s question, but have instead stuck to the impact of just two factors, testosterone and porn.  I would submit that their impact on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of men is enormous.  For one thing, they are found everywhere.  Testosterone because it’s in all our bodies, and porn because it is available via the internet, so their influence is ubiquitous.  An interesting question to me is whether education will ever be enough to ameliorate the negative effects of those things.   I’m not so sure it will be enough.  But what do you think is the best way to deal with  these realities?  Your views are welcomed!

One Reason We Oppress Ourselves

In some conversations, topics change so fast that the conversation itself is more than a wee bit like a time-lapse movie in which a whole 24 hour day rushes past you in just a few minutes.  Such conversations can be fun or exasperating, depending on your mood.  Yesterday evening, I was very much in the mood, and my friends Ami and Karina were obliging me with a rush of ideas.  Here’s a snippet of that conversation:

At some point near the middle of the conversation, Karina stated that, “Ben Franklin never said, ‘Some people are dead at 25, but not buried until 75’, even though that proverb is often attributed to him”.

Karina’s remark prompted Ami to say, “I think we often limit ourselves by saying something is uncharacteristic of us”.

And, naturally, that got me thinking about black raspberry ice cream.

Of course, on the surface, Karina’s statement, Ami’s remark, and my thought might appear to have nothing to do with each other.  Indeed, I must admit I can see how people other than Karina, Ami, and I might be put in danger of being driven insane trying to figure out the link between them.

But the three of us are in no danger — if only because we each are already so thoroughly maxed when it comes to insanity that we cannot be driven any further in the direction of it.   In fact, the link between Karina’s statement, Ami’s remark, and my thought is actually a tight one.  And the rest of this blog post will drive you just as bonkers as the three of us already are safely reveal to you how very tight that link is.

My small hometown didn’t have a proper ice cream store until I was about ten or eleven years old.  Until then, the only places you could find ice cream were in the two grocery stores, and they sold only the most popular flavors: Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.   This cruel and intolerable situation was relieved when an ice cream shop obviously devoted to saving my childhood opened up near the edge of town and began selling about a dozen flavors of frozen joy.

However, when I made my very first trip to the store, I was confronted with a seemingly insurmountable problem: I had not expected such a multitude of choices; I was completely overwhelmed; and I could not make up my mind which flavor to buy.  In the end, my mother rescued me by suggesting the black raspberry.

Never before in my life was I so convinced my mother was a genius than the moment I laid tongue to the black raspberry.  The flavor seized me and I was instantly enthralled to it.   In fact, I liked it so much that I never risked trying any of the other flavors the shop sold due to my mere suspicion they couldn’t possibly be as pleasurable as the black raspberry.  My relationship with the ice cream ran even deeper than that, however.

Most of know how something can become, not just a thing we like, but a part of us.  It’s a curious trait of our species that we can self-identify with just about anything, whether that be some tangible object like a car, a favorite sweater, or a flavor of ice cream; or it be some intangible thing like a political ideology, an idea, a religion, or even the roles we play in life of someone’s son, daughter, friend, wife, husband, etc.  That is, we frequently — indeed, we routinely — define ourselves as in part this or that thing.  Sometimes we say, “Those shoes are so me!” — and mean it.  I did exactly that with black raspberry ice cream.  I not only liked it, but I came to think of it as a part of what made me — me.

In one the most poignant tragedies of my childhood, the ice cream shop went out of business in a couple of years, and black raspberry disappeared from my town and my life.  I became a bitter, disillusioned addict in withdrawal, wandering the asphalt streets, haunting the graveled alleys of my town, living only for the memories I somehow managed to survive the closing.  But the story doesn’t end there.

A few years later while at uni I came across black raspberry again.  At first I was delighted to find it being sold in a campus shop.   That delight passed quickly though.  I discovered that my tastes had changed.  The flavor no longer grabbed me.  Indeed, it seemed surpassed by chocolate or even vanilla now.

Yet — once I rediscovered it — I kept ordering it!  Then one day, while licking a scoop of it, I had a moment when it all became clear to me: Though I no longer much cared for the flavor, I had self identified with it, and giving it up was just a bit frightening to me — as if it would mean giving up part of myself!

For reasons I don’t know, that day’s insight has never dulled in my mind.  It’s as fresh to me today as it was when it first jumped into my head.  So, the other evening, when Ami said, “I think we often limit ourselves by saying something is uncharacteristic of us”, pretty much my first thought was how well her remark tied into my experience of for a while limiting myself to black raspberry at uni even though I had by then become bored with it.

Of course, Karina’s remark that, “Some people die at 25, but are buried at 75”, also struck a chord with me.  The problem of unnecessarily limiting ourselves as a consequence of self-identification would be a very minor one if we only did it with a few things here and there, and those things were relatively unimportant to our quality of life.  But we do it routinely, and with myriads of things.  If we are not careful, we become one of those nearly ossified people who — perhaps even by an early age — has more or less ceased to develop and grow in any significant degree or way.

Yet, why does it happen?  Why do we oppress ourselves in that way?

I believe the best way to answer those questions is to make a study of the human self.  And by the “self”, I mean the psychological self, for each of us is not just a physical self, a body, but a psychological self, and it is our psychological self that identifies with things.  What, then, is the nature of this psychological self?

It seems to me that it is no mere accident that the psychological self identifies with things, but that it is its very nature to identify with things.  It can be thought of as always seeking to define itself in terms of its relationships to the things — both tangible and intangible — of this world.  It is important to recognize that it can perform that identification both positively and negatively.  That is, we can define ourselves positively — like I did — as being in some part and way my fondness for black raspberry ice cream.  But it is conceivable that I could have under other circumstances (say, I was repelled by the taste of it) defined myself negatively as being in some part and way a person who doesn’t like black raspberry ice cream.  For instance, a great many people identify themselves as not just “a progressive”, but also as “not a conservative” too.  So, I think the first thing to recognize about the psychological self is that it is always seeking to identify itself in terms of its relationships with things.

A second thing to recognize is that it is always trying to maintain and preserve those relationships.  That is, it can be thought of as wanting them to stay fixed pretty much just the way they are.  Typically change is threatening to the psychological self unless — and this is key — the change in question amounts merely to an aggrandizement of it.

To illustrate, suppose you took up studying Hinduism and quickly came to think of yourself as “someone who is studying to become a Hindu”.  It is doubtful in those circumstances that you would feel threatened by learning more and more about Hinduism.  After all, what you are learning does not contradict your image of yourself as “someone studying to become a Hindu”.  Instead, it expands on that image, it aggrandizes it.

But now suppose you pick up a book on Islam and you come across a passage in which the author asserts that Islam is the one true religion, and that all other religions are false, including Hinduism.  Now you might feel threatened because the author’s view contradicts your image of yourself.  The psychological self readily embraces new things and changes that aggrandize it, but just as readily rejects new things and changes that diminish it.

But if all this talk of the psychological self happens to be true — and that’s something for you to decide — then why does the self behave as it does?

I believe the psychological self is essentially a defense mechanism.  More precisely, it functions to identify or define that which we should defend in order to survive.  This might not be so easily seen if all you’re thinking of is the self identifying with a scoop of ice cream.  A scoop of ice cream is certainly not all that important to our survival.  Why would we need to identify with it?  But the self identifies with much else, and much that is key to our survival.

I am reminded here of the time Jiddu Krishnamurti met a tiger.  He and a few friends were traveling in a car through a forest in India when they came upon a tiger in the road.  The driver stopped the car, and the tiger began to prowl about it.  Krishnamurti’s window was open, and as the tiger passed beneath it, Krishnamurti — who at that moment happened to be in a meditative state in which he was selfless — spontaneously moved to reach out and pet the tiger.

Even Krishnamurti himself later admitted that it was fortunate one of his friends immediately leaped to pull back his arm and then roll up the window.  The incident illustrates the importance of the psychological self.   Without it, we would not defend ourselves against many — perhaps even the overwhelming majority of — the threats and dangers we face in life.  We might still have our defensive reflexes — such as reflexively ducking when an object is thrown at our head, or throwing our arms up when a tiger is actually charging us — but we would lack an ability to imagine threats to us: To see in the non-charging tiger who is at the moment merely passing peacefully beneath our window a potential threat to our selves.   In order to conceive of something as a threat to us, we must first and perhaps foremost have some notion of an “us”.  That is, some notion of a self.   By identifying and defining what is us, the psychological self functions as a key component of our self defense.

To be sure, its functioning is by no means perfect.  For one thing, it so quite often causes us to defend when no defense is actually needed.   I think nearly everyone knows at least one or two touchy people who have some nonessential image of themselves that they nevertheless defend as vigorously as if their lives depended on it.  I once knew a woman who so self identified with the brand of cigarettes she smoked that I one day inadvertently brought her nearly to tears by saying nothing more threatening to her than, “I have never been able to stand the taste of cigarettes, including your brand.”  From what she said to me next, it was as if I’d slapped her.

The psychological self, then, by functioning to define our self images creates the self that we will strive to preserve and maintain, while allowing that self to change only in ways that aggrandize it.  Although this is a vital, albeit imperfect, component of our defense against dangers to us,  it can turn on us oppressively if we are unskillful in coping with it. When that happens, we can become as inflexible in our views, attitudes, routines and behaviors as stone, rendering us ridged, insensitive, and uncreative when meeting the challenges of life, and unable to seize upon those challenges in order to develop ourselves in new, perhaps unforeseen ways.  In short, we become the tyrant of our own lives, our own oppressor.

Your thoughts?

Against Black and White Thinking

I have a young friend, just over twenty years old now, who is struggling with one-dimensional thinking.  That is, he tends to see things in black and white terms.

It’s not that he lacks brains.  He’s one of the smarter people I know.  But, apparently, one can be pretty smart and still think one-dimensionally.

Thinking one-dimensionally is a problem because, of course, it isn’t fundamentally realistic.  As you know, it’s pretty safe to say no one is perfectly realistic, but some failures to be realistic typically have worse consequences than others, and one-dimensional thinking is among those failures that tend to have bad consequences.  You can try cruising through life thinking in black and white terms about everything, but if you stubbornly persist in that error, then you will sooner or later suffer more than most of us — and most of us suffer quite a bit already.  Good luck to you, if that’s your thing!

Recently, I had a conversation with my friend about Dan Savage that fairly well illustrates his one-dimensional approach to most things.  Here’s how that conversation started:

ME: “I think Dan Savage nailed it with his campsite rule.  You know, ‘treat your lovers like you would a campsite by leaving them as well off or better than you found them.’   Seems like a good rule to me.”

HIM: “Dan Savage?  The sex columnist?”

ME:  “Yeah.  Sure.”

HIM: “But he’s a turd!  He’s total bullshit, both transphobic and biphobic.  Haven’t you heard what he says about transgendered and bisexual people?”

ME: “I haven’t heard any of that; I just know that he often gives pretty good advice, and that his campsite rule is especially good advice.”

HIM: “That’s not important.  Nothing excuses to me what he’s said about transgendered and bisexual people.”

Later on, I looked up Dan Savage on the internet to get the details of the controversy.  As it happens, it’s hotly debated whether Savage is trans- and biphobic.  And from what I can gather, I’d lean towards giving him the benefit of the doubt.  But I don’t mean to digress into an analysis of his positions here.

More importantly, my friend’s one-dimensional attitude towards Savage more or less illustrates his attitude towards most things.  About two years ago, he got his first girlfriend.  But that didn’t last long: He dumped her after discovering she had a few flaws.  Since then, he’s dated a bit but not too often the same woman more than once or twice.   Girlfriends are just one of the many things he applies black and white thinking to.

To be fair to my friend, we seem to live in an age that encourages one-dimensional thinking.  You only have to surf political sites on the net to discover that people and policies these days are routinely represented as either all good or all bad.  To far too many people, for instance, Bernie Sanders is either a saint or a demon.  There’s too little recognition that people, and most other things, are almost inevitably mixes of various traits, some of which you might approve of, and some of which you might disapprove of.  Very few of us, if any, are truly either saints or demons.  But in effect, the net seems to encourage us to indulge in one-dimensional thinking.

Of course, one-dimensional thinking is nothing new and predates the internet.  The Holocaust is the most infamous example of it in history.  Millions having nothing in common but the fact they were Jews were systematically murdered. They were as fully human as any of us today,  six million individuals, six million personalities, six million hopes, dreams, and ambitions — reduced by one-dimensional thinking to just one thing: Jew.

Thinking one-dimensionally about people is to dehumanize them.  Once you have reduced a person to just one thing — whatever that thing is — it is but a small step to condemn that thing, and by condemning it,  condemn the whole person.

I remain ever hopeful that my friend will grow out of his one-dimensional thinking.  But I worry that, if he persists in it, it will sooner or later bring him, and perhaps those around him, to mischief and suffering.

The Limits of Being True to Yourself

Like most Americans, I devote far too much time to thinking I’m a grizzly.

Grizzlies are a solitary species who can survive by themselves without the aide of any other grizzlies, and — as the world knows — most Americans believe themselves to be rugged individualists who can survive alone without the aide of any other Americans, excepting only the 90% of their lives when they can’t.

Despite any appearances to the contrary, I was born resenting authority, social pressures to conform, the powers of both the government and the uber-wealthy, and leash laws for dogs.  I have only grudgingly come to an understanding in middle age of the legitimacy of many of the claims society makes on us.  But I still rebelliously ask, “Why must it be this way?”

Of course, the short answer to that question is: Human nature.  Some pretty conclusive science shows that our brains are to an extent hardwired to deal with living in groups, and there is even a theory now that the very size of our brains is an evolutionary result of social living.  Annoying as it might be to us wannabe grizzlies, the evidence is substantial that we are a social species.

Yet, the recognition that we are a social animal can be taken too far, for we are not even close to being as social as some species.  Mole rats and honeybees are both far more social than us.  No, humans are more like an improbable mix of social and solitary animal.  That mix is the root of much conflict.

History shows a perennial tension between the rights or claims of society and the rights or claims of the individual.  Homo sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years.  During most of that time we lived in relatively small, more or less egalitarian groups of hunter/gathers.  Those groups left no historical records, but from what might be known of them by studying the last very few hunting/gathering groups left on earth, they not only tended to be egalitarian, but they also leaned towards individualism.  There wasn’t much difference in power or authority between people.  Everyone had a voice in group decisions.  And even leaders could not typically compel people to follow them, but usually had to persuade them  to do so.

All of that began to change about 5,500 years ago when the first complex, hierarchical societies were invented in what is today Southeastern Iraq.  Now you have distinct, hereditary ranks in society: Royalty, nobles, commoners.  And you also have the invention of alarming, new ideologies justifying the ranks.  These ideologies almost always take the form of “The social order was created by the gods, and the gods want us to stick with it”.  In general, these complex, hierarchical societies have tended throughout history to lean unpleasantly towards the social conformity side of human nature.   Which is a mild way of putting the fact that, for the most part, they have trod very heavily on individual human rights.

Of course, the rights of the individual are crucially important to anyone concerned with being true to his or herself.  The tragedy has been not merely that complex, hierarchical societies have trod heavily on human rights, but that they have for the most part done so unnecessarily.   For instance, in many times and places, cheerfully suggesting that the ruler was an imbecile could easily get you murdered by the government.  And it still can in some places.  But today we have many examples of societies that somehow manage to endure and even thrive despite the fact nearly everyone in them is absolutely convinced their rulers are imbeciles.  Criminalizing such things, and murdering the people who indulge in them, is not only immoral, but unnecessary to protecting the social order as well.  Yet overall, doing so has been largely the norm for complex, hierarchical societies.

So are there any limits to being true to yourself that your society can legitimately impose on you?

Well, I think there are two general areas in which your society has a right to impose limits on your being true to yourself.  First I think it has a right to require you to be socially responsible even if that means you can’t always be true to yourself.

By “socially responsible” I mean that your society has a right to obligate you to (1) respect the rights of others, and (2) to cooperate in promoting the general welfare.  Basically, that means (1) that you cannot abridge someone’s rights merely because you would be true to yourself to do so, and (2) you cannot dodge your obligation to help in promoting the general welfare merely in order to be true to yourself.

To give examples: Your society can demand that you do not steal from someone, and thus deprive them of their property rights, even though stealing from them would be a case of your being true to yourself.  Furthermore, your society can demand that you pay taxes to support public schools, since public education promotes the general welfare, even though paying taxes might in some cases deprive you of money you could otherwise use to more fully express yourself.

Second, I think your society also has a right to require you in some circumstances to be environmentally responsible even though that might mean you cannot always be true to yourself.

By “environmentally responsible”, I mean your society has a limited right to obligate you to help create or preserve a livable environment not just for yourself and other humans, but for other species as well.  I say “in some circumstances” because I can imagine how giving your society an unlimited right to compel you to help create or preserve a livable environment could easily result in tyrannous acts.  “By the way, your government has decided to demolish your house and return your land to its natural state.  Please vacate by Saturday.”

So, to my thinking, those are the two general ways that society can legitimately limit our right to be true to ourselves.  Of course, it is endlessly debatable how they should be applied in practice.  But then, what isn’t endlessly debatable these days?

Every society has an image (and most often more than just one image) of what is an ideal human.   In all too many complex, hierarchical societies the ideal for the elites has been notably different from the ideal for the commoners.  The elites are encouraged to be true to themselves; the commoners are encouraged to suppress themselves in the interests of maintaining the social order.

At times in ancient Greece, the ideal for an adult male elite was to become a socially responsible individual.  That is, he was expected to fulfill certain obligations to his polis, or city-state, and also to develop himself as an individual in order to live a full and happy life.  Today it seems possible to build on that ideal by expanding it to include everyone — man or woman, elite or not elite — and adding to it an obligation to not only be socially responsible, but also environmentally responsible.  The tragedy is, as always, that governors, the uber-rich (who often own the governors), and other elites too often oppose the realization of such ideals for selfish reasons.  Hence, a perennial theme of human history has been — and perhaps always will be — the tension between the individual and society.

Being True to Yourself and Marriage

The notion that one should marry for love is a recent invention.   Only about 200 years old even in the West, where it originated.  Younger still in other parts of the world where it is still catching on.

Of course. men and women have fallen in love with each other through-out history.  But only recently has it become predominant in some cultures to marry for love.  Two hundred years is so recent in historical terms that we can consider the notion as still in its trial stages, still very much an experiment.

Despite marrying for love still very much being an experimental thing, all sorts of myths have grown up around it.   I believe one of the most damaging of those myths is that you should only marry for love, and not for anything else. If you do, things might still work out for you, but I think the odds of that are less than if you also take other things into consideration.

I think one of the most important “other things” you should take into consideration is how your anticipated partner in marriage feels about your being true to yourself.

Being true to oneself is, in my opinion, crucial to a happy, meaningful life, despite that it’s so difficult to accomplish that almost all of us only accomplish it imperfectly.  Lucky for us, we don’t need to be perfect at it; we just need to achieve it to a significant degree.  But that is especially hard to do if our partner disapproves of who we are, and perhaps even actively opposes our efforts to be true to ourselves.  So I’m of the opinion that we should be very sure our anticipated partners will accept, support, and affirm who we are.

Of course, if someone is genuinely in love with you then it should be pretty much a given that they accept, support, and affirm you as you are — but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Indeed, there are a number of reasons someone who loves you — or at least seems to — might not accept you.   Perhaps the single most important reason is a wee bit difficult to explain, so please bear with me.

So far as I can see, there is more than just one kind of love.  In fact, I believe there are at least four that can occur between sexual partners.  And three of those — the three most common — can at times be problematic when it comes to accepting others as they are.   I call those three: Erotic love, romantic love, and attached love.

Erotic love is basically sexual attraction.  It’s quite common — and I think a cultural prejudice in the West — to dismiss erotic love as “not true love”, but I prefer to acknowledge it.  When we love someone in this manner alone, we tend to ignore everything about them that has little or nothing to do with sex.  Because of that, there can be a great deal about the person that we do not accept, but which we are unaware of not accepting. I suspect most of us who love merely in this way alone are wise enough to soon realize the fact, and avoid marrying someone solely out of erotic love of them.

Romantic love is more problematic.   When we romantically love someone, we are almost guaranteed to idealize them, to put them on a pedestal, and not quite clearly see any incompatibilities they might have with us.  Romantic love tends to last a few weeks to a couple years or so, and people who get married while it still dominates their view of each other can sometimes discover after romantic love wears off that there are actually quite a few fundamental things about each other that they do not accept.

Attached love is, in my opinion, the most problematic of the three.  It comes about as a profoundly deep bond that forms between couples who’ve been together for awhile.  Unfortunately, that bond can — and often enough does — form between people who fail to fundamentally accept each other.  They may be intensely in love with each other, but they do not fundamentally accept each other.

There are a number of other reasons someone who loves you might not accept you as you fundamentally are, but I believe the fact each kind of love can cause its own kind of trouble to be among the most important reasons.   It therefore seems to me wise to be very careful to marry someone who accepts, supports, and affirms your authentic self. I will tell you that, in my experience, there is no loneliness on earth greater than the loneliness of a person whose bed is made with a man or woman that rejects their fundamental self.  It is a dozen times better to live alone, than to experience that kind of loneliness.

But what happens if you do manage to marry someone who loves you — the real you?

Well, if you love them in return then congratulations!  You’ve won the lottery!  Not just the marriage lottery, but the at least equally important being-true-to-yourself lottery.  Perhaps there’s no better word for what can happen next than “magic”.

A mutual love like that can bring not only happiness but inspiration.  I think most of us are unaware of just how suppressed we are.  We are so accustomed to being suppressed that we scarcely notice in our hourly lives how frequently we censor, repress, and inhibit ourselves.  This quite often takes the dual forms of (1) our trying to be someone we are not, and (2) our trying to hide who we really are, in order to fulfill the expectations of those around us.

Trying to be what we are not, and hide what we are, emotionally deadens us.  But because we are so accustomed to carrying around that dead weight, it astounds us if and when it is ever lifted from us.  A mutual love based on accepting each other as he or she is can — and very frequently does — ease that weight at least a bit (and sometimes quite a bit!).   When that occurs, we not only become happier with our lives and ourselves, but magic can happen.

We can suddenly be inspired to fulfill ourselves by turning a talent we before didn’t even recognize that we had into a new skill.  Or we can find it remarkably easier than ever before to express a positive character trait, such as kindness.  Life problems that once nagged us can become surmountable or even insignificant.  Almost needless to say, our confidence and self-esteem can take flight and soar.  The full list of potential benefits is a long one.  Sometimes these things are fleeting and transient — but sometimes they turn into lasting changes.  Even when transient, they are worthwhile to experience.

Being true to yourself — or being authentic — is a difficult thing to accomplish.  Very few of us accomplish it perfectly, but both our happiness and sense of purpose or meaning in life can crucially depend on the extent to which we do indeed accomplish it.  Authenticity can be made extraordinarily more difficult to realize by a partner who opposes our basic nature.  But that’s not the only reason one should be careful to chose a partner who accepts, supports, and affirms who we fundamentally are. Another — perhaps even more important reason — is to reap the benefits of loving someone for themselves who loves us for ourselves.  Those benefits, even when fleeting, are perhaps among the most powerfully life enhancing and life affirming experiences we are capable as humans of having.