Sex or Gender

Alan Pease, author of a book titled “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps”, believes that women are spatially-challenged compared to men. The British firm, Admiral Insurance, conducted a study of half a million claims. They found that “women were almost twice as likely as men to have a collision in a car park, 23 percent more likely to hit a stationary car, and 15 percent more likely to reverse into another vehicle” (Reuters).

Yet gender “differences” are often the outcomes of bad scholarship. Consider Admiral insurance’s data. As Britain’s Automobile Association (AA) correctly pointed out – women drivers tend to make more short journeys around towns and shopping centers and these involve frequent parking. Hence their ubiquity in certain kinds of claims. Regarding women’s alleged spatial deficiency, in Britain, girls have been outperforming boys in scholastic aptitude tests – including geometry and maths – since 1988.

On the other wing of the divide, Anthony Clare, a British psychiatrist and author of “On Men” wrote:

“At the beginning of the 21st century it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that men are in serious trouble. Throughout the world, developed and developing, antisocial behavior is essentially male. Violence, sexual abuse of children, illicit drug use, alcohol misuse, gambling, all are overwhelmingly male activities. The courts and prisons bulge with men. When it comes to aggression, delinquent behavior, risk taking and social mayhem, men win gold.”

Men also mature later, die earlier, are more susceptible to infections and most types of cancer, are more likely to be dyslexic, to suffer from a host of mental health disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and to commit suicide.

In her book, “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man”, Susan Faludi describes a crisis of masculinity following the breakdown of manhood models and work and family structures in the last five decades. In the film “Boys don’t Cry”, a teenage girl binds her breasts and acts the male in a caricatural relish of stereotypes of virility. Being a man is merely a state of mind, the movie implies.

But what does it really mean to be a “male” or a “female”? Are gender identity and sexual preferences genetically determined? Can they be reduced to one’s sex? Or are they amalgams of biological, social, and psychological factors in constant interaction? Are they immutable lifelong features or dynamically evolving frames of self-reference?

Certain traits attributed to one’s sex are surely better accounted for by cultural factors, the process of socialization, gender roles, and what George Devereux called “ethnopsychiatry” in “Basic Problems of Ethnopsychiatry” (University of Chicago Press, 1980). He suggested to divide the unconscious into the id (the part that was always instinctual and unconscious) and the “ethnic unconscious” (repressed material that was once conscious). The latter is mostly molded by prevailing cultural mores and includes all our defense mechanisms and most of the superego.

So, how can we tell whether our sexual role is mostly in our blood or in our brains?

The scrutiny of borderline cases of human sexuality – notably the transgendered or intersexed – can yield clues as to the distribution and relative weights of biological, social, and psychological determinants of gender identity formation.

The results of a study conducted by Uwe Hartmann, Hinnerk Becker, and Claudia Rueffer-Hesse in 1997 and titled “Self and Gender: Narcissistic Pathology and Personality Factors in Gender Dysphoric Patients”, published in the “International Journal of Transgenderism”, “indicate significant psychopathological aspects and narcissistic dysregulation in a substantial proportion of patients.” Are these “psychopathological aspects” merely reactions to underlying physiological realities and changes? Could social ostracism and labeling have induced them in the “patients”?

The authors conclude:

“The cumulative evidence of our study … is consistent with the view that gender dysphoria is a disorder of the sense of self as has been proposed by Beitel (1985) or Pfäfflin (1993). The central problem in our patients is about identity and the self in general and the transsexual wish seems to be an attempt at reassuring and stabilizing the self-coherence which in turn can lead to a further destabilization if the self is already too fragile. In this view the body is instrumentalized to create a sense of identity and the splitting symbolized in the hiatus between the rejected body-self and other parts of the self is more between good and bad objects than between masculine and feminine.”

Freud, Kraft-Ebbing, and Fliess suggested that we are all bisexual to a certain degree. As early as 1910, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld argued, in Berlin, that absolute genders are “abstractions, invented extremes”. The consensus today is that one’s sexuality is, mostly, a psychological construct which reflects gender role orientation.

Joanne Meyerowitz, a professor of history at Indiana University and the editor of The Journal of American History observes, in her recently published tome, “How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States”, that the very meaning of masculinity and femininity is in constant flux.

Transgender activists, says Meyerowitz, insist that gender and sexuality represent “distinct analytical categories”. The New York Times wrote in its review of the book: “Some male-to-female transsexuals have sex with men and call themselves homosexuals. Some female-to-male transsexuals have sex with women and call themselves lesbians. Some transsexuals call themselves asexual.”

So, it is all in the mind, you see.

This would be taking it too far. A large body of scientific evidence points to the genetic and biological underpinnings of sexual behavior and preferences.

The German science magazine, “Geo”, reported recently that the males of the fruit fly “drosophila melanogaster” switched from heterosexuality to homosexuality as the temperature in the lab was increased from 19 to 30 degrees Celsius. They reverted to chasing females as it was lowered.

The brain structures of homosexual sheep are different to those of straight sheep, a study conducted recently by the Oregon Health & Science University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, revealed. Similar differences were found between gay men and straight ones in 1995 in Holland and elsewhere. The preoptic area of the hypothalamus was larger in heterosexual men than in both homosexual men and straight women.

According an article, titled “When Sexual Development Goes Awry”, by Suzanne Miller, published in the September 2000 issue of the “World and I”, various medical conditions give rise to sexual ambiguity. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), involving excessive androgen production by the adrenal cortex, results in mixed genitalia. A person with the complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) has a vagina, external female genitalia and functioning, androgen-producing, testes – but no uterus or fallopian tubes.

People with the rare 5-alpha reductase deficiency syndrome are born with ambiguous genitalia. They appear at first to be girls. At puberty, such a person develops testicles and his clitoris swells and becomes a penis. Hermaphrodites possess both ovaries and testicles (both, in most cases, rather undeveloped). Sometimes the ovaries and testicles are combined into a chimera called ovotestis.

Most of these individuals have the chromosomal composition of a woman together with traces of the Y, male, chromosome. All hermaphrodites have a sizable penis, though rarely generate sperm. Some hermaphrodites develop breasts during puberty and menstruate. Very few even get pregnant and give birth.

Anne Fausto-Sterling, a developmental geneticist, professor of medical science at Brown University, and author of “Sexing the Body”, postulated, in 1993, a continuum of 5 sexes to supplant the current dimorphism: males, merms (male pseudohermaphrodites), herms (true hermaphrodites), ferms (female pseudohermaphrodites), and females.

Intersexuality (hermpahroditism) is a natural human state. We are all conceived with the potential to develop into either sex. The embryonic developmental default is female. A series of triggers during the first weeks of pregnancy places the fetus on the path to maleness.

In rare cases, some women have a male’s genetic makeup (XY chromosomes) and vice versa. But, in the vast majority of cases, one of the sexes is clearly selected. Relics of the stifled sex remain, though. Women have the clitoris as a kind of symbolic penis. Men have breasts (mammary glands) and nipples.

The Encyclopedia Britannica 2003 edition describes the formation of ovaries and testes thus:

“In the young embryo a pair of gonads develop that are indifferent or neutral, showing no indication whether they are destined to develop into testes or ovaries. There are also two different duct systems, one of which can develop into the female system of oviducts and related apparatus and the other into the male sperm duct system. As development of the embryo proceeds, either the male or the female reproductive tissue differentiates in the originally neutral gonad of the mammal.”

Yet, sexual preferences, genitalia and even secondary sex characteristics, such as facial and pubic hair are first order phenomena. Can genetics and biology account for male and female behavior patterns and social interactions (“gender identity”)? Can the multi-tiered complexity and richness of human masculinity and femininity arise from simpler, deterministic, building blocks?

Sociobiologists would have us think so.

For instance: the fact that we are mammals is astonishingly often overlooked. Most mammalian families are composed of mother and offspring. Males are peripatetic absentees. Arguably, high rates of divorce and birth out of wedlock coupled with rising promiscuity merely reinstate this natural “default mode”, observes Lionel Tiger, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University in New Jersey. That three quarters of all divorces are initiated by women tends to support this view.

Furthermore, gender identity is determined during gestation, claim some scholars.

Milton Diamond of the University of Hawaii and Dr. Keith Sigmundson, a practicing psychiatrist, studied the much-celebrated John/Joan case. An accidentally castrated normal male was surgically modified to look female, and raised as a girl but to no avail. He reverted to being a male at puberty.

His gender identity seems to have been inborn (assuming he was not subjected to conflicting cues from his human environment). The case is extensively described in John Colapinto’s tome “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl”.

HealthScoutNews cited a study published in the November 2002 issue of “Child Development”. The researchers, from City University of London, found that the level of maternal testosterone during pregnancy affects the behavior of neonatal girls and renders it more masculine. “High testosterone” girls “enjoy activities typically considered male behavior, like playing with trucks or guns”. Boys’ behavior remains unaltered, according to the study.

Yet, other scholars, like John Money, insist that newborns are a “blank slate” as far as their gender identity is concerned. This is also the prevailing view. Gender and sex-role identities, we are taught, are fully formed in a process of socialization which ends by the third year of life. The Encyclopedia Britannica 2003 edition sums it up thus:

“Like an individual’s concept of his or her sex role, gender identity develops by means of parental example, social reinforcement, and language. Parents teach sex-appropriate behavior to their children from an early age, and this behavior is reinforced as the child grows older and enters a wider social world. As the child acquires language, he also learns very early the distinction between “he” and “she” and understands which pertains to him- or herself.”

So, which is it – nature or nurture? There is no disputing the fact that our sexual physiology and, in all probability, our sexual preferences are determined in the womb. Men and women are different – physiologically and, as a result, also psychologically.

Society, through its agents – foremost amongst which are family, peers, and teachers – represses or encourages these genetic propensities. It does so by propagating “gender roles” – gender-specific lists of alleged traits, permissible behavior patterns, and prescriptive morals and norms. Our “gender identity” or “sex role” is shorthand for the way we make use of our natural genotypic-phenotypic endowments in conformity with social-cultural “gender roles”.

Inevitably as the composition and bias of these lists change, so does the meaning of being “male” or “female”. Gender roles are constantly redefined by tectonic shifts in the definition and functioning of basic social units, such as the nuclear family and the workplace. The cross-fertilization of gender-related cultural memes renders “masculinity” and “femininity” fluid concepts.

One’s sex equals one’s bodily equipment, an objective, finite, and, usually, immutable inventory. But our endowments can be put to many uses, in different cognitive and affective contexts, and subject to varying exegetic frameworks. As opposed to “sex” – “gender” is, therefore, a socio-cultural narrative. Both heterosexual and homosexual men ejaculate. Both straight and lesbian women climax. What distinguishes them from each other are subjective introjects of socio-cultural conventions, not objective, immutable “facts”.

In “The New Gender Wars”, published in the November/December 2000 issue of “Psychology Today”, Sarah Blustain sums up the “bio-social” model proposed by Mice Eagly, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and a former student of his, Wendy Wood, now a professor at the Texas A&M University:

“Like (the evolutionary psychologists), Eagly and Wood reject social constructionist notions that all gender differences are created by culture. But to the question of where they come from, they answer differently: not our genes but our roles in society. This narrative focuses on how societies respond to the basic biological differences – men’s strength and women’s reproductive capabilities – and how they encourage men and women to follow certain patterns.

‘If you’re spending a lot of time nursing your kid’, explains Wood, ‘then you don’t have the opportunity to devote large amounts of time to developing specialized skills and engaging tasks outside of the home’. And, adds Eagly, ‘if women are charged with caring for infants, what happens is that women are more nurturing. Societies have to make the adult system work [so] socialization of girls is arranged to give them experience in nurturing’.

 

Let the Stronger Sex Be Revealed – You Choose

Gender significance and gender function as it relates to family, community and personal responsibility has been, in many circles a topic that evokes deep discussion and review; often unfettered and unfiltered. This conversation has been visited and re-visited, in town halls and great cathedrals; in bed rooms and bar rooms; at work or at play over many centuries, in many cultures, during many events of great magnitude, or small events of little importance. It has captivated the imagination of us all, with responses emotional in style and substance. There is not one person of legal age who has no opinion on this topic.

The social science community has examined and re-examined this topic since “big bang” went boom, pardon the hyperbole. Theories have been developed and redeveloped, debunked and lauded, debated and discarded, but most have taken a position in one of three sociological perspectives: functionalism, conflict theory, or interactionism.

A functionalist point of view embodies, in a practical sense, human kind in tune to, or at odds with the elements of nature. The need to survive when faced with the harsh realities of nature’s forces that define the struggle, allowed the logical evolution of each gender’s biological strength to blossom. Men hunted as the possibility of danger and death loomed over head; women nurtured their offspring to help maintain the species. These defined roles worked well in reference to what was indeed necessary.

However, conflict theorist further refined and stratified the roles once it was clearly established that “power concedes nothing.” Men were considered the stronger of the sexes and by way of natural progression should lead by virtue of that fact. By establishing “the pecking order” as defined by the stronger sex (men) ensured that dominance. The power to design and interpret the direction of the family and, by extension the community, was secured, sanctioned and ultimately valued as a guarded function of said gender. Thus maintaining the status quo became the top priority.

Consequently, as socialization within and between the sexes evolved so did the roles of the sexes. The interactionism theory explained this phenomenon in the following manner. Levels of detailed stratification were taught to youngsters by adults, and when appropriately, understood to each other. All were encouraged to internalize, adapt and live by these responsibilities. The solidification of these gender roles was critical to cultural competency. The need to purposely commune and interact as the sex roles outlined, relative to the aforementioned description, provided the means by which the community grew and evolved. Based on my interpretation and non-scientific observation, this may have helped to establish institutional sexism.

The above theories seem to have a complementary relationship. The first complements the second, the second complements the third. The reciprocal may not however hold true. Given the evolution of the populous, expansive evaluation of social interconnection and formal observation inevitably followed. All offered a significant contribution when needed. Each theory sought to galvanize and reinforce the controlling position developed, defined, and promoted by the stronger of the two, men. This of course under scores the premise that enhances and highlights inequality of the sexes.

Nurture or nature: The question of comfort, tolerance and which is most functional in western civilization invites a reasonable discussion on androgyny. If roles are so profoundly defined, categorized, and labeled, is then the observation that women are more at ease with both male and female characteristics an inevitable one? Men essential have designed the gender roles to fulfill and accommodate their power and solidify their control. By encouraging everyone to accept a basic premise, they established a superior and inferior dichotomy that is difficult to refute or overcome. Hence, the fundamental design of the socialization process deeply contributed to the development of attitudes encouraged by it. Females became the nurturing providers, expected to be tolerant, loving and supportive. Men were expected to meet goals and objectives, be less tolerant and forgiving; and above all abhor weakness and failure. If one were a male, one would be expected to engender all characteristics attributable to that status. Having female tendencies is not considered a male characteristic. Thus displaying such invites ridicule and disdain. In contrast, females were programmed to accept, what herein is considered a flaw in the human genome. So tolerance, love and acceptance would be expected and observed.

 

Do You Have a Porn Addiction?

For some men this might be a confronting question, but for someone who knows they have a porn addiction, it is possibly one of the most confronting questions they could encounter. Once we have explored more about porn addictions the reasons for this may become clearer.

So, do you have an addiction to porn?

Firstly, let’s understand what we are talking about. The term ‘porn’ itself probably doesn’t need much clarification. However, the term ‘addiction’ is something that is often used very freely in our society to define a broad range of behaviours.

There are an infinite number of different ways that addiction has been defined, but one of the most generic and simplest is Wikipedia’s definition of it as “a continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it”.

From this definition it is clear that the term ‘addiction’ could be applied to any number of different challenges. Alcohol and drug addictions are commonly understood issues in our society. Other addictions that counsellors might regularly encounter include sex addictions, gaming addictions, TV addictions, etc. There is a debate within the helping professional about whether porn addictions actually exist, and whether they should be classed in the same was as other ‘addictions’.

So while someone may be addicted to something like porn or gaming, it does not suggest that the behaviour or the activity itself is problematic or an ‘issue’. Issues and problems relating to addiction generally only apply when the behaviour is ongoing and continues, despite impacting negatively on other areas of one’s life or the life of those around you.

Porn itself often carries a negative stigma. This may originate from a family or religious value system. As a result, some people may find that they have a number of responses or reactions to their behaviour, either during or after having viewed pornography. For someone who has been raised with values that suggests porn is ‘wrong’, there can be a sense of guilt or shame. Other elements of self-judgement can arise too, such as thinking that one may be a ‘bad person’ or ‘feeling worthy-less’ or worthless. For many men accessing porn may be something that they do in secret, either a secret that they keep alone, or possibly one that is shared with a close friend or partner.

So what is the difference between simply watching porn and being addicted to porn?

Perhaps you can ask yourself these questions:

1. Do you access porn on a regular basis? Perhaps more than once per week?

2. Do you notice any anxiety within yourself if you aren’t able to access porn as often as you’d like?

3. Are parts of your life being negatively impacted because you are accessing porn?

4. Are any of the relationships in your life being affected?

5. Do you often intend to do some other activity and then somehow find yourself accessing porn instead?

6. Are you regularly getting less sleep than you should because of porn?

7. When you access porn do you often find yourself spending far more time than you had intended?

8. Have you increased your broadband plan to accommodate your porn needs?

9. Do you often tell yourself you’re going to stop or you’re going to limit the amount of porn you access, but then it doesn’t actually happen?

I’m not going to tell you that because you’ve answered these questions with a ‘yes’ that you definitely have a porn addiction. To do so would simply add to the ‘judgements’ that you’ve possibly already heaped on yourself. However, if some of these questions do apply to you, then perhaps there is something there for you to explore.

Often someone with an addiction will focus all of their efforts on trying to stop the addiction. They will set themselves goals, such as “I’m not going to do it for 7 days”. Sometimes there is even a reward at the end: “if I abstain for 2 weeks I’ll reward myself with a…”. They will often question why they do it, and what it’s caused by. The addiction, and stopping it, can be something that begins to consume their life and their thoughts, and can have a significant impact on how they feel.

From my experience in working with clients, persistent behaviours such as porn addictions, often suggest an absence of something else in their life. While it is important not to completely ignore the addictive behaviour, often the journey towards a better balance in life is through actually focussing on other aspects of one’s life, such as relationships, family of origin issues, and other feelings deep within that are desperate to be explored and heard.

Addictive behaviours are sometimes a way for men to cover up, or hide away, something else in their lives that they don’t feel they are ready to deal with. For some men, they may not be aware of what these other issues are, or even that they exist.

Porn addictions can occur in cycles. There can be a time where one accesses porn very often, almost not being able to stop. And, then there are other times when the feeling is not as strong, or life is interesting and busy enough that one doesn’t even think of porn, or perhaps because there isn’t an opportunity. Because of the cycle of addition men may sometimes commit to seeking help for their addiction, but then when they are feeling less addicted, or less attracted to the porn, they tell themselves they are on the right track and don’t follow through. And then the cycle begins again.

My professional experience and training suggests to me that it is extremely hard for someone to find a ‘solution’ to their addiction, or to let go of their addiction, on their own. Most often it is necessary to engage some help. Because of the nature of porn addictions it can be really hard for many men to seek help from those close to them. They may not want anyone else to know.

By seeking help from a professional who has the experience to help you and is also bound by a confidentiality framework, it is possible to find a way forward in a safe and supportive way. It is important to realise that the journey to healing addictions has many ‘ups and downs’. Having a professional who is able to expertly guide you and remain a constant for you during this journey, is invaluable.

So, whether you have a porn addiction or not, if you feel that porn is an issue in your life, try to seek some support and help from a qualified professional.

It’s good to talk.

Footnote:

While I don’t want to suggest that porn is either good or bad, the porn industry does have a reputation (which may or may not be valid) of sometimes exploiting individuals. A concern that is often expressed about porn is that it treats men and women as objects. By accessing porn in which anyone has been exploited we can become de facto supporters of that exploitation ourselves. However, for the purposes of this article, I am assuming that we are referring to porn where all the participants are informed consenting adults.

Disclaimer: This article is meant to provide men with general information about porn and porn addictions. This article should not be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan or course of action. Before making any decisions about your health, you should consult a qualified health professional such as a counsellor, therapist or doctor.