Tag Archives: adolescence

The Opportunity Lost: Boys and Sexuality

To be frank, there is no place for my voice in the reckoning society is going through. I can fancy myself as inclusive as I care too. It won’t change the fact that I am afforded a single key hole through which to see and interpret the world. I can be educated, empathic, open to new ways of thinking and sensitive to the different world others see and it doesn’t matter. I am 44, male, white and middle class. I am as full of blind spots as anyone else and as imbued with the confidence inherrent in a man who has perhaps done good things but who has also been the great beneficiary of a world that has tilted toward him. What I can speak to is the perspective I have. As silly as it may sound now, I think I should. Because I was raised in a world that has produced and provided the elaborate permission structures that have allowed all manner of vulgar and vile atrocities to be laughed off, smirked at, dismissed and tacitly supported when not explicitly permitted. So I say my piece aware it is a tiny and possibly unhelpful observation, sure it will reveal unknown blind spots. I’m hopeful there is a grain of fresh perspective in it and accepting of the likelihood there isn’t. 

Male sexuality is to be feared. That is fair. History is replete with wreckage left in its wake. It is a blunt tool wielded too often, far too often, by brutal craftsmen and it is capable in its cruelest, bluntest form of destruction. It has been used to destroy  women, children and men. Wielded as power to subjugate and deprive. Yet it is given to each and every one of us. As such it’s important to be aware of its potential for harm and we should be incredibly cautious. 

This sucks. This is true and it sucks. Why does it suck? For a fairly obvious reason, actually. A reason that is far too often ignored. 

Sex is the porthole to intimacy for so many men. Connecting with other human beings in human ways, in face to face open ways, is not what so many of us are good at. Even those of us that appear well mannered and socially fluent often struggle maintaining relationships in those rare instances when we can initiate them. For many of us the actual physical act is the truest cure for the deep seeded, existential loneliness we live with daily. It truly is access to the divine beauty of the human experience. Not every time, but sometimes. And when it’s not it is always an expression of love in some form. Sometimes its the functional day to day love we give just by being there. Other times its the silly joyousness of sneaking around your kids to care for each other, to give to one another. Sometimes its to comfort and sooth or stoke and enliven. Unfortunately we rarely talk about it this way. I think we should. I think it would go a long way, over time, in reducing the great numbers (far greater than I ever knew) of men who wield their sexuality so overtly and aggressively. A nice side benefit might even be increased personal fulfillment. 

Our world is in the midst of a reckoning around the brutal sexuality we have tolerated, hidden, obfuscated and even celebrated since long before my first, nascent stirrings while sneaking under the coffee table to look at the parts of the JCPenney Catalog I didn’t know I shouldn’t have been scanning. I felt no shame lying my body heavy on the carpet. It felt good. I was five. I quickly learned I shouldn’t be doing that. I learned I should not want to feel that. I learned to sneak it. Innocently exploring sexuality unaware of the word ‘sexuality’, guided solely by native, natural instinct. I don’t actually recall how I learned it, I just did. I sadly would and probably have thoughtlessly facilitated the same type of realization for my own boys. 

The persistence of male sexuality in all it’s unpolished, garrulous, often aggressive insistence is something we can’t turn our heads from. That’s a sentence that has proven false yet still it feels important to state. Like ‘All men are created equal’ or ‘you will be insulated from repurcussion and you are encouraged to inform HR when you feel you have been harassed by a superior.’ These statements are presented as observations but perform as aspirations. We in fact have turned our heads from the day to day, inch by inch indecencies and do so by rote. We have proven to be pretty good at turning our heads from far more than that. From those offenses that cross several lines at once, up to and surpassing criminality. Ignoring transgression has been the norm. In fact very often, prior to this specific moment, and still in many cases in this moment, we seek to poke holes in the victims story immediately so as not to have to deal with it. 

Its going to be hard for any of us who are of a certain age to deny some level of complicity. Probably far more complicity than we think. Even us good ones. All because of a vile and crude understanding of the powerful, near universal sexual immaturity that our culture, western culture, has institutionalized in men. 

Testosterone comes with many things and aggression and competition are certainly prominent among those things. They are not the only thing, mind, but they are prominent and naturally occurring. We exercise all manner of power in seeking to satisfy the dumb, basic urge to have sex. What we have become in so many other areas as a species since the cave dwelling days is startling in comparison to how little it would appear we have evolved in this area. We have adapted, appropriating new methodologies to achieve the clubbed-head outcome, but we have not evolved far from it. That’s sad.

It is not as sad, not nearly as sad as it is for the countless women and girls and boys (and some men for that matter)  who’ve had to navigate a world of near constant predation. I can only imagine, am only just now starting to realize how the world  is for so many, a world where there is very little benefit in trusting anyone. I am not sad for these men finally being held to account. But I am sad for the ones who are navigating childhood and are seeing ever more evidence that this natural occurring thing, this pleasure that forms out of thin air and in their bones, is not to be discussed, explored, thought about or talked about. As if holding it at bay is the best way to process emerging sexuality. Make no mistake, it is dangerous and hurtful and capable of causing calculable and incalculable damage and it should be repressed. Which of course to some degree it must be. But unless you’ve been the 7th grader arroused by nearly every damn interaction with anyone of any type, meaning even just having seen someone from across the schoolyard or accidentally seen the poster of the girl in the spandex gym clothes who is only there to sell your mom yogurt, and known you couldn’t stop your thoughts and your bodies reactions, you’can’t know what it’s like and how terrible you can feel about your bodies insistence.

No one wants to hear the nascent yearnings of the adolescent boy. That’s the problem. We run from the subject, we tell them to ignore this one thing they can barely control. Worse, we tell them to funnel their energy into sports. Great. Go channel this into war games with winners and losers largely determined by physical dominance. In fact be loyal to your teamates at all turns and work together to ensure you deceive, dominate and defeat your opponent. Good. WTF. I love sports, but it is a bit too broadly applied, this universal supplication to boys being involved at all times in it. 

The reality, one I’m frankly more aware of intellectually than I am emotionally, having been raised in a manner greatly fearing and rejecting my teen, male sexuality is the photo negative of the sexless sexiness that is constantly being put on teen girls. Except in the case of girls they seem to be far more engaged in at least the healthy exploration of feelings and relationships. Well, at least they are until all of it is taken from them by one of us viewing the world as a territory for acquisition, dominance and accrual. 

We need to start talking to boys about the beauty, the human nature of their own sexuality. We need to try to get them when they are being overrun by hormones and lack of judgement and act to civilize them. Don’t underestimate the male libido’s wily conceit. It arrives when full physical power does and before consistently sound judgement does. It is an evolutionary positive despite the chaos it can cause society. Who’s more likely to contribute to the growing of the species more efficiently than a horny teen after all. We need to not hide from this Mack truck of hormonal insistence that is sprung on these guys and we need to help them through it. 

Boys need to know that sex is communication on a deep, even transcendent level. They need to hear that it isn’t a game to be won. There is no value in the numbers and tallies. The value is inside the conversations and flirtations, it is in the moments  when you learn why she laughs and what moves her to tears. It is in the physical comforts of intimacy when we are feeling pain or comforting those we care for. It is in the note you write to cheer that special  person up and yes, it is in the kisses and caresses and fumbling eagerness of overpowering desire. And it is in the maddening misunderstandings and uncomfortable conversations. It is in the showing up and staying through the discomfort. It is in the thrill of the urge as much if not more than in the satisfying of it. 

Young men would laugh out of discomfort in being told these things. They’d say something typically stupid in many instances and dismiss the teller as irrelevant. So what. They do that with everything. They are teen boys. But we can’t keep going on forever ignoring, fearing, rejecting and judging the unavoidable sexuality of adolescent boys. Its a necesarry ingredient in making monsters of men. I don’t have answers and don’t know how we can make a world that embraces and fosters a fuller understanding. But I dream of one and hope it arrives in time for my own kids. 

Perfect

Girls weren’t so perfect when I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong. I went through the yearbook and put stars next to the girls I crushed on and even wrote ‘mint’ next to the two Kelly’s, both two years older then me and friends with my brothers. They were more then perfect in my eyes. They were better looking and just as unattainable as the starlets on the screen. They were fantasies that I lived and breathed with. Perfect, beyond perfect, in my eyes. But nothing like they are today.

Little Weirdo

Boys too, but it’s different I think. The perfect of today is pristine, calculated and ultimately sad. On the bright side, these bright, emotional and soulful people dressing up like plastics, yearning and striving to out perfect the next girl in line are unable to outrun their humanity and as a result, if they are able to learn to love and respect themselves they will find something that developed in the sadness, in the yearning, in the very straw that broke their backs and set in motion their will and determination to be seen as perfect, beautiful and flawless. It’s the same drive we had as children, a thing society forgets about teens, they are children. Its falling off of perfect that makes you human.

When I was about 27 years old or so I learned that if I kept telling myself that I was gross and awful it motivated me to eat only pears, and I mean only pears, for a whole summer while working out harder and harder and working round the clock at a camp for individuals with great needs for support. I ultimately lost about 60 pounds. I’ve lost the photos because whatever perverse pride I took when I was living like that was offset by disgust at the lollipop-head that I saw in those pictures. When people would ask, ‘How’d you do it?’ my response was always a simple joke that diffused any further probing. It had the added benefit of being not at all a joke in the ‘its not true’ sense, though I was able to laugh it off that way.

‘It’s easy.’ I’d say. ‘The trick is to just hate yourself. It’s a great motivator at the gym and the only way to get a six-pack.’ Genetics are funny and I’ve had personal friends that couldn’t avoid the six-packification of the midsection, but for me this wasn’t the case. To have a six pack I had to feel I didn’t deserve food. I had to punish myself daily with workouts that were painful. Worst part, it felt freaking great physically. Being long and lean when you are naturally stocky is buzzingly awesome. It feels good in your organs and your bones. It feels terrible in terms of your human relationships, but inside your own vessel, just freaking awesome. It creates its own momentum until it doesn’t. The same way drinking and gorging myself on crap and alcohol as a 19 year old had reinforcing factors on the way to gaining the the freshman 80. That’s not a typo. I went from 185 upon entering college, to 265 upon returning after my freshman year.

Nobody ever thinks about, or even thinks to think about the underlying emotional issues that might be affecting a male, a young male at that, who chooses to maintain a slide for so long that they are simply begging to be noticed. Truth is I’m an outlier to some degree. Don’t get me wrong. There are a gazillion outliers like me, men who react this way to some external stimulus. In my case my best guess is that I was trying to find a sense of control on the one side of the coin and on the other I was engaged in avoiding all responsibility. But this came mostly from within. I didn’t have to deal with what it seems like young women have to confront on their journey through the minefield that is the process of going from girl to woman. It’s a transition that is confusing enough without the terrifying landscape they seem to confront.

The act of becoming is fraught with self doubt, harsh self-criticism, misunderstanding and missteps. It always has been. But in this new day when we are constantly exposed and constantly watching everything and everyone, I fear we’ve come to a place that is harder to navigate. I can’t for the life of me think of a more terrifying thing then being a 14 year old girl in this world where every flaw, every natural and beautiful imperfection is multiplied a million times by the microscope of ever present marketers deeply invested in exacerbating every insecurity of every fragile adolescent for the purposes of selling a thousand cures. The devils have even discovered that they can get these girls to do their work for them by training them through constant and ever present shaming images and ideas that result in a culture of competition that tricks sisters into believing that sisterhood is not a support but a competition to be won or lost. In every interaction. It’s a brutal world they’ve created and feed constantly in order to sell product. It’s an evil landscape that they have no choice but to navigate and there is virtually no path through that can’t be obscured and camouflaged by the game makers constantly scanning the landscape to ensure that no passage be readily available to their prey.

These young girls are trained, constantly, on the strive to an unreachable perfection. Its unreachable ever. In fact the message they are responding to, the one that so convinces them that they cannot rest until perfection is obtained is a lie. Any perfection found on this path is just another vantage point from where you are taught to look further down the road, where even greater perfection lies. Keeping you always underwhelmed, overworked, too perfect and further and further from acceptance and happiness.

It’s hard enough to find without the game being rigged against you.