Submitted for publication to: The Good Men Project 9/29/16
I am a certified sex therapist who purposely de-emphasizes sex-related behavior and sexual performance in my clinical practice. Instead I prefer to explore issues of sexual identity and self-esteem with my male clients as well as how ones intentional behavior interfaces with fundamental evolutionary principles (see Evolutionary Principle below). In a previous Manly Man blog (captaincliff.wordpress.com) I discuss the downsides of living in a phallocentric society. Phallocentric is just a big word referring to those cultures that oversubscribe to stereotypical masculine principles and who worship the male genitalia otherwise known colloquially as the “dick”. I mentioned that Ancient Rome was a prime example of a phallocentric society and one which has been described as technologically advanced yet strangely obsessed with it’s own sexual vigor and political fortune. The Roman Empire wanted both qualities to last forever and even coined the latin term “Imperium sine fine” which roughly translates to “Power without end”. Paradoxically, their fear of losing power and control may have also helped to create a shadow aspect within their patriarchal culture characterized by considerable insecurity and rampant superstition. i.e., penis sculptures and phallic amulets strewn around practically everywhere, mostly for “good luck” and to ward off the “evil eye”.
Our modern world and the United States in particular also emphasizes the male genitals and it’s many symbolic and societal meanings, i.e.. power, authority, masculinity, strength, virility, etc. White men currently carry both the privilege and the burden of being the dominant stakeholders in our highly competitive patriarchy and capitalistic society. Well, what’s so burdensome about occupying an elite status and a governing socioeconomic strata you may ask? It’s more about the concomitant psychological weight in the form of “performance anxiety” and constant pressure placed upon men to succeed, to be the biggest and best, and to flaunt their success, superiority and sometimes even their shlongs like angry and/or insecure alpha male chimpanzees. If that description happens to sound like Anthony Weiner or Donald Trump, well then I guess the Bruno Maglia shoe fits….. and you must NOT acquit.
It’s not surprising that in times of stress and emotional turmoil human beings need to feel somewhat good about themselves and carry a supporting belief that they’ve been relatively “fortunate” in life, ie. lucky. When I use common terms like fortunate or lucky I mean to say that men want to feel that as a result of their intentional actions and agency they’re able to survive, adapt, and “surf” life’s challenges adequately as opposed to fighting a constant riptide of inevitable failure (think poor Prometheus). Similarly they want to maintain a positive self-concept and see themselves as successful actors and/or heroic figures rather than as insignificant specks floating aimlessly in a vast ocean or sailors drowned in a tsunami wave of bad situations, lousy relationships and repeated misfortune. To put it another way, like brave Ossysseus we all want to feel that the “Gods are smiling down upon us” or at least that they’re NOT in cahoots against us. What could be worse than believing that one’s God or a gaggle of God-like beings (as in the Roman pantheon) are either sitting around Mt. Olympus gossiping about you or actively conspiring to bring about your demise if not actual death?
Furthermore, even when the seas are calm and things are going smoothly in life, which is almost never, men want and possibly need to experience the hardwired warrior-hunter-gatherer adrenaline rush of accomplishment. Sure, sex in it’s multiple masculine forms feels good but it’s not quite the same thing as breaking in a wild mustang (either the horse or the sportscar) or reeling in a boat-sized marlin like in “Old Man and the Sea”. Human males not only are programmed to mate successfully but also have an irresistible need to occasionally belt a home run, bowl an impressive strike, or at least parallel park their station wagon like a champ. In the case of more “gatherer” type individuals (such as myself) the instinctual drive is to collect every known infomercial Chia Pet, professional baseball card, Star Trek episode and rare coin in the stamp and coin universe. Hunting and gathering not only makes men feel better but I would speculate it reconfirms our primal sense of masculinity on some unconscious level.
Neuroscience suggests that the brain seeks continual stimulation in the form of key neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins. The opposite state of a fully functioning and fully engaged manly man is a static depressed male or one who is crippled by anxiety and caught in a web of unhealthy or unproductive compulsions. Ironically, snorting mounds of cocaine or crystal meth are (at least physiologically speaking) potentially misguided and pathological attempts to “ignite” or reinvigorate ones essential inner caveman, particularly when the brain’s pilot light/ignition switch (just like on the manly outdoor barbecue grill) has stopped working. I say pathological because all that illegal drugs or dopaminergic stimulants like methamphetamine end up doing is turning the user into a pimply faced drug addict who needs to steal your 60 inch flat screen TV so that he/she can buy more drugs. Richard Pryor the stand-up comedian spoke of this misguided notion of compulsive masculinity, depression, self-esteem, and hubris when he literally lit himself on fire while smoking crack cocaine. The point doesn’t get much more visually graphic than that.
The quintessential healthy “manly man feeling” I am referring to is more closely associated with what one experiences when successfully achieving a tangible goal (or less tangible intrinsic reward or positive reinforcement) resulting from a “job well done”. In the process of reconnecting to our ancient hunter-gatherer heritage we become increasingly more motivated, confident, focused, and energetically alert. It’s sort of like taking Adderall XR but sourced in the primal desire to hunt, capture, consume and then “savor” something extra delicious (like Andrew Zimmern does on his show Bizarre Foods) rather than just the momentary excitement experienced from getting an A on the Geometry midterm exam….altho that’s still a good thing.
Due to our genetic make-up and evolutionary status as the biggest baddest apex predator, Homo Erectus (us) may very well have a built-in biological need to win, “score”, succeed, make a touchdown, or at least conquer something or someone every so often. I’m sure the testosterone thing also plays a major role in that part as well. Overall, women appear to have a much lesser need to purposely sink a sharp spear or musket ball into an opponents chest to prove their existence and re-confirm their gender identity.
Thus, every time Cro-Magnon man actually did manage to kill “two birds with one stone” or spear a really big fish something probably went off in his noggin like the sound of a slot machine hitting payola in Vegas. Even in the Old Testament it appears that God (Yahweh) enjoyed having the proto-patriarchal Israelites exult after beating the crap out of their Holy Land competitors. All that smiting and smoting not only gave proof of their divinely inspired success, fealty and faith, but it also probably felt damn good to kick some Philistine ass and “win” a hard fought biblical battle. So why do guys need to succeed or “win” so badly? Who knows. It’s pretty clear it sucks to lose badly as any online gambler would admit and practically every elementary school kid learns from playing dodgeball in P.E. class. Getting the “I participated” ribbon or a cheap plastic medal on “Field Day” once a year doesn’t usually cut it for many competitive males and is fairly equivalent to receiving the “Biggest Loser” or “Slowest Runner” award. Let me repeat. In general, guys want to be warrior heroes and they want to provide safety, security, and sustenance for themselves and their loved ones. They live in fear of being “cucks”, “goats”, or “losers”. Ladies, ask your man what day your birthday or anniversary is and he will probably hesitate. Ask him for a specific example of when he struck out with the bases loaded or literally MISSED the slow rolling rubber ball for a called strike in kickball and he will remember it like it was yesterday. Along with Pearl Harbor these are the REAL days and dates that “live in infamy”.
Like a guy claiming final victory in the popular board game Risk (akin to taking over the world like Alexander the Great or Attila the Hun) or putting out the last sore loser in Monopoly, gaining a sense of mastery and control (which like it or not often involves succeeding over others) triggers some selective pleasure center in our lizard man brain. Whether it is purchasing a 1.3 billion dollar winning lottery ticket or getting a free bagel with every dozen bought at the local deli, we seek out and “hunt” for feel good manly moments, successes, and fortunate circumstances that we can claim for our own….and later post to our unrestricted Facebook page. In other words it’s not all that abnormal for a man to want to climb Mt. Everest or something else tall and treacherous and then plant a flag at the top….even if it almost kills them. This may again have something to do with the feel good endorphins, some “risky gene” in our DNA or a bio-behavioral adaptation passed down from our brutish caveman ancestors. All things equal and cultural norms notwithstanding, men care more about their personal achievements in life including the specific acts of courage undertaken (or endured) to better their lives and the lives of their loved ones than they do about having sex. Obsessing about one’s penis size and spending money on worthless infomercial/internet products in an attempt to grow a “bigger one” is a sad example of how core masculine values become skewed and diminished in a sex and genital focused culture.
So like it or not we are a competitive lot and a carnivorous species that enjoys winning. Without a big win or a few timely successes many men become despairing, depressed, bitter, lethargic and all around miserable. Look at the average Chicago Cubs fan (until this year) or Atlanta Braves season ticket holder. Something important is missing in their pitiful lives that can only be cured with a pennant win. Over time their vitality, free testosterone and essential lifeforce has drained from their increasingly sedentary, diabetic and morbidly obese bodies. Screaming insults and eating tons of crappy food at the game is the very best they can do. This particular kind of ill-tempered Bleacher Bum, whether they realize it or not really wants to bring down a charging buffalo or crack the skull of a nosey Neanderthal attempting to get with his kin but all they can do is sit and watch the other team round the bases over and over and cuck dance in the dugout. No wonder they settle for getting plastered and starting fights with other angry drunk and depressed guys. They, much like Donald Trump and Anthony Weiner are still stuck in psychological adolescence comparing and contrasting their penis size. They haven’t learned to expand their definition of masculinity and have failed to embrace the deeper and far more mature meaning of the expression, “Buddy, It’s not the meat, it’s the motion”.
November 3, 2016 Addendum: Last night the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. It’s as if the entire city of Chicago has taken Viagra. They finally got their manly man mo-jo back.
Tony Soprano’s Penis Dream: https://youtu.be/apkoUIBj91w
Maria Muldour: It Aint the Meat, It’s the Motion
The Evolutionary Principle is a largely psychological doctrine formulated by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss which roughly states that when a species is removed from the habitat in which it evolved or that habitat changes significantly within a brief period (evolutionarily speaking), the species will develop maladaptive or outright pathological behavior.
Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. is a sex therapist and Clinical Psychologist living in Atlanta, Georgia. He has three grown manly man sons and loves everything Pirate. Contact: 404-932-7193