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June 14, 2006

Heading South

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Susie Bright points out a Washington Post article claiming that many college-aged men are having trouble getting it up. Assuming that there's something to the article's substance, how to explain this phenomenon?

My own attempt at a possible account goes this way. We're living in a pumped-up, lascivious, sex-saturated culture. Our erotic centers are being massaged, indeed attacked, almost constantly -- so relentlessly that we're left feeling that if we aren't spending every instant of the day on the verge of orgasm then there's something amiss. Lacking sexual desire, in other words, has become a taboo. And -- as will often happen with taboos -- some young men are becoming obsessed with this one.

Also, difficult though it can be to believe when you're 18, it's only human to spend the occasional nanosecond not thinking about sex, and not desiring sex. What happens to a young guy's psychology if he's made to feel that there's something wrong when he experiences these nanoseconds of nondesire? He might develop a complex. And complexes can indeed lead to droopiness.

As for the female role in all this ... Yeah, I guess I do wonder if the gung-ho, ultra-aggressive, and completely unmysterious young women that we have been cultivating in recent decades might be a factor in the equation. An environment consisting of Maxim clones, thong straps, Spring Break, bellybuttons, take-charge gals, and online porno supermarkets might not be an erotic paradise after all. Instead it might be completely unmanning. As The Wife enjoys saying: Men like to have hurdles to leap over.

So how do you explain the new non-stiffy?



posted by Michael at June 14, 2006


Pornography is the problem. Young men are being exposed to it at younger ages and for more prolonged periods. They spend time watching it and masturbating. This kills their "real life" sex drive when the "big moment" arrives. It must be terribly frustrating to both young men and young women when this happens. It's a strange phenomena, but if you want to get rid of it, you've got to greatly restrict the distribution of porn. Without the feminine mystique there can be no male sex drive. Pornography destroys the feminine mystique and substitutes a false image, an idealistic image that cannot exist. With this false image eating at his male desire, young men get hooked on pornographic images. They become addicted...literally. The "real thing" becomes a let down, so they can't get an erection with their female partner and seek an easier outlet with porn. It's a vicious trap. There are some books out there on the subject. Do a Google search.

Posted by: Raymond Grier on June 14, 2006 3:44 PM

The huge number of male college students who aren't lucky enough to be Alpha studs like bench-presser Adam or fratboy James must be laughing their posteriors off at this ridiculous article. "ED" is wholly irrelevant if you can't find a girlfriend in the first place. You won't see too many Star Trek nerds running out for Cialis prescriptions :(

Posted by: Peter on June 14, 2006 3:53 PM

My explanation is that I don't believe it.

Posted by: David Sucher on June 14, 2006 3:59 PM

Susie Bright says men are childish?

I link to her site on my weblog, so don't think I'm a prude.

Susie Bright's blog is a testament to stuck in time thinking. The "I'm a kickass feminist" routine is sophomore year in college at Santa Cruz, where she lives. She appears to base her entire existence on the kick that she gets from imagining that she's outraging the adults. Susie is stuck in a teenage clique.

In case you haven't noticed, she's also a Marxist... whatever that means in the world of the eternally spoiled brat. I think it means that she refuses to accept the world unless it matches her ideals.

So, take a look at Susie Bright and re-assess your view of the boys. While Susie appears to be offering endless porn sex without cost, I get the feeling that on a personal level she's a nightmare... childish, surly, endowed with a nutjob sense of entitlement, etc. I wouldn't put up with her for ten minutes.

Michael, I've got to tell you something. This notion that feminist, showboating white women are more likely to be better sex partners than a decent, church going traditional woman... well, it's not true. It is, in fact, easier to parade around in the nude in sex clubs than it is to form a satisfactory relationship with another person that develops into a sustainable sex life.

I'll take the traditional, Christian woman any day over a woman like Susie Bright. The sex, Michael, is better. Believe me.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on June 14, 2006 6:05 PM

Yeah, I guess I do wonder if the gung-ho, ultra-aggressive, and completely unmysterious young women that we have been cultivating in recent decades might be a factor in the equation. An environment consisting of Maxim clones, thong straps, Spring Break, bellybuttons, take-charge gals, and online porno supermarkets might not be an erotic paradise after all.

Well, duh, Michael.

Hmmm. On the one hand, you are wont to complain about unmysterious young women. On the other hand, you have been known to link, with apparent great approbation, to certain young female persons who do not strike me as, shall we say, paragons of reticence and erotic nuance. Why, inexperienced young ladies, lacking wiser advice, might conclude upon clicking that the boys enthusiastically approved of this sort of thing and...well, young women, like young men, are often pathetically insecure about their ability to attract the opposite sex, and therefore likely to draw the wrong conclusions. Now it may be true that it's the human condition that one sex will always have daffily contradictory and irreconciliable erotic demands of the other sex - yes, women have their own version of madonna/whore irrationality - but it might be a good idea to try not to add to the confusion.

As for Shouting Thomas, I have no idea why he presumes to know anything about either the breadth of your experience or the satisfactoriness of your sex life, but he's probably right about Susie Bright. It's been a long time since I've read anything she's written, but I recall asking myself years ago, upon reading something of hers, "why is 'professional' sex advice always bandied about by the manifestly unsexy?" I think hers was the first usage I ever saw of "sex-positive", a stupendously anti-erotic, gruesomely hygienic phrase that could only have been gleaned from the Newspeak dictionary.

Posted by: Moira Breen on June 14, 2006 9:29 PM

As a delta-male (I'll rip off Kathy Griffin w/ that one), I can't help but snicker schadenfreudically. Now, contrary to all the hype, things are not turned upside-down from "the days when I was in college" -- girls still want guys to advance on them, girls generally don't want mere hook-ups, etc. But the minority of go-getters may number more than before. But let's think about what traits these minority go-getters have, and what traits they'd want in a guy.

An aggressive, go-getter attitude is more male-typical than female-typical, and if they're doing this partly for the thrill & novelty, then they're probably high scorers on tests of novelty-seeking and extroversion. So they're somewhat masculine extroverts. If they're masculine, they'll want a guy who's super-masculine, just to keep the male-female line clear, not some gentle guy or introvert. The profiles of the guys in the article matche this -- they're the top of the alpha dogs.

Now, these elite alphas are going to be the most aggressive & masculine of all guys, so when the female robs them of their conquest, it's like when you serve a lion a steak rather than let him hunt down live prey. It doesn't get his blood pumping -- and you know what that means.

If the girl had chosen a meek, introverted guy, his heart would explode. No problem there. But what aggressive girl wants a more female-typical guy? So, the only type of guy a go-getter girl would seek out is the very type that's guaranteed not to respond very well to her advances. Ha! That'll teach the young whippersnappers to challenge human nature!

Posted by: Agnostic on June 14, 2006 10:20 PM

Wow. What a bunch of hooey. Is there no end to news stories that try to discern a trend, dilemma or supposed crisis based on sketchy anecdotes, guess-work and unsupported conclusions? The one nugget of sense in the story is that men have more opportunities for sex than ever before and the law of averages as it relates to human sexuality says that sometimes things just won’t work, but since many young men and women believe that a healthy young guy should be ever ready, when launch failures occur everyone goes ballistic.

The increased use of anti-depressants is worrisome, but the story failed to connect drug use definitively with anyone’s problems. It’s also interesting to note that despite the sexual liberation movements of the 60s, sex (as opposed to mere reproduction) is defined by a guy being able to get it up and get it on, and that few of the students interviewed seemed adept at sex play.

The bit about “A hookup, or sexual act ostensibly divorced from feeling or relationship, can set a man up for disappointment…” is another sad example of the Oprahfication of the universe. Yes, sex may be better when one is in love, married or in a committed relationship, blah blah blah, but it is a polite fiction that hot lust depends on commitment.

Peter – I think you nailed it when you note that ED is the least of your worries if you don’t have a girlfriend in the first place. I think this is why in Dungeon and Dragons, a big wand ends up as an unsatisfactory substitute for … a big wand.

Shouting Thomas – the most boring sex partners known to humanity are traditional, church going women – and this includes those who have some skills, but who then get wrapped up in guilt and stupidity (especially Catholics), or those couples who foolishly believe that Jesus is going to bring them sanctified orgasms even though they barely know which sexual end is which. On the other hand, I do have some respect for those aspects of Judaism that insist that sexual knowledge and mutual sexual pleasure are essential to a marriage (as opposed to the insipid “it is better to marry than to burn” anti-sex sentiment of most of Chrisianity).

I was tempted to throw up my hands and just say, “What a bunch of wimps. These whining babies don’t even deserve to have cheap, sleazy anonymous sex.”

As for the supposed problem of pornography, this little quip about Internet porn that I found somewhere on the Web says it all for me: “When I was a boy, we had to walk 5 miles in the driving snow(all year long), uphill(both ways, there and back)-just to get to the Dirty Bookstore. And then, we had to pay for the porn! You kids don't know how good you have it...”

Posted by: Alec on June 14, 2006 11:50 PM

I've been thinking about this topic a bit lately myself. It seems strange how we look back on all the folkoreish prohibitions against masturbation as draining your stores of masculinity and such -- But I think there's more than a bit of truth to the idea that excessive outlets for all of that energy can lead to poorer overall quality of your endeavors, and a lack of eroticism from constant exposure to be sure.

I don't really think there's any kind of rash of ED among college-age guys, though. I rank it as highly unlikely. But from my own romantic endeavors I am definitely in favor of the view that less is more.

Posted by: . on June 15, 2006 12:19 AM

Leaving aside the increased medical awareness of ED and drug-induced side effects, I think the mythology of sex often outstrips the reality. Mass media portrays (whether they be porn, Cosmopolitan or R rated movies) create an illusion of spontaneous seduction, aggressive intensity and picture-perfect partners. In my limited realm of experience, I was always struck by just how different actual experience is from imagined experience, both good and bad.

I'll throw something out: given that more people are playing videogames like Second Life, a greater percentage are losing their virginity in an online world than in a real world. I tend to discount the harmful sociological influences of games/mass media, but even if online sex remains just "fun for geeks," it's going to become the new mythology. I for one can't understand the appeal of having virtual sex with 2 dimensional pixelated cartoon sex, but maybe the teens of today feel differently.

Posted by: Hapax Legomenon on June 15, 2006 2:22 AM

-Man-bites-dog sells newspapers.

-The plural form of "anecdote" isn't "data."

Posted by: Jonathan on June 15, 2006 6:13 AM

"I for one can't understand the appeal of having virtual sex with 2 dimensional pixelated cartoon sex, but maybe the teens of today feel differently."
Can you understand the appeal of Playboy, or of dirty pictures in general? Men were telling dirty stories before we could paint, and this is just new media applied to an old desire.

I have to say that when I did finally get laid, it didn't match the porn. I have to say I'm not sure why a low sex drive is such a bad thing--since women have less of a sex drive anyway, it makes partners more compatible, which can't be a bad thing.

Ah, the psychosexual implications of Dungeons & Dragons. Some cultural studies prof needs to take this up, and ensure his article will be read not only by his colleagues in the field, but by entire computer science departments. Looking back at the four basic character classes (they're up to 11 now but I'm not going through the ranger and bard, thank you very much):

The fighter. This is a Conan-like mercenary fellow. This has been the classic masculine archetype since time immemorial, and the appeal of this to nerds is obvious.

The wizard. Most obvious literary antecedent is Gandalf or Sauron from the Lord of the Rings: basically a guy who sits around reading books and starts out weak but as the game progresses winds up being able to throw fireballs, fly, change himself into a dragon, and turn invisible. Obviously the nerd fantasy of knowledge actually meaning something, instead of just making you unable to talk to the other guys about sports.

The thief. Based on the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser stories of Fritz Leiber. I think this is the whole antisocial thing, and may have to do with fantasies of being able to outwit and run away from bullies.

The cleric. I think the literary model was actually Archbishop Turpin from the Song of Roland. I'm not sure quite why Gygax (the creator of the game) saw fit to make a second magic-using class...maybe it was a nod to the real role of the Church in the Middle Ages? In the game, this is a healer and support person. I'm not sure what fantasy this fulfills, but it's probably the least popular anyway.

Oh, and if you're looking for phallic substitutes, forget a big wand and try a sword, they have very elaborate titles for these, like +5 long sword of dragon slaying.

Posted by: SciFiGeek on June 15, 2006 8:38 AM

Gee, Alec, what's your personal experience of sex in a committed relationship with a woman of faith? There has been more than whiff of Manicheanism in Catholic teaching, but read John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" and then you can make informed comments on real Catholic teaching regarding sex rather than fall back on stereotypes. Even with Catholics contracepting at the same rates as everyone else, there are reasons we're still having all those kids!

Posted by: Bradamante on June 15, 2006 9:38 AM

I met Susie Bright in the early 90s. She was highly intelligent, energetic, and fun to talk to. Sadly, she appears to be talking about the same things from the same perspective 15 years later. People like her (men and women) are briefly useful in the collective debate, but never seem to get over their time in the sun.

Posted by: the patriarch on June 15, 2006 10:33 AM

Raymond -- I think I'm with you on all that. I sometimes like porn, and I'm prone to thinking that adults should have access to it, like they should have access to other potentially dangerous pleasures (booze, pot). But I do marvel at what's become of the world when porn and porn values more generally become as available and even pushy as they have. Porn, pot, and booze are powerful stimulants, and easily abused. Do we want kids getting hooked on them? Still: realistically, how to handle any of this in the internet era? Beats me.

Peter -- ""ED" is wholly irrelevant if you can't find a girlfriend in the first place" -- that's a very funny line..

David, Alec, Jonathan -- You're raising multiple interesting questions, at least as far as I'm concerned. What kinds of "proof" standards do we want from impressionistic/lifestyle/trend journalism? I'm pretty free and easy about it myself. I wouldn't want the lifestyle pages of a newspaper to require science-journal-like substantiation. And I like giving some journalists the license to go out and notice things. If what they notice chimes with stuff that I've noticed or semi-noticed, and they turn up some evidence that a little something might be going on, then I'm content, interested and entertained. But maybe I'm laxer about these things than you are. In this case, I've been wondering about impotence and young men and the new porno-ified environment for a few years, so I was pleased to see someone else thinking about it too. But I'm curious to know: What kinds of standards do you want for such pieces?

Shouting Thomas -- Being a Santa Cruz sophomore ... Ah, how I wish I'd had that chance! Not that it's something I'd want to be now, of course.

Moira -- I think you're well ahead of the curve. Many guys (especially the young set, of course) can't imagine what might be wrong with a life that resembles being in a strip club. Why, it's everything a man wants, right there! And ain't that what it's all about? Learning how to use (and enjoy) rewards, pleasures, indulgences and luxuries ... Sigh: for most people it's a learned skill, not something we're born with. I don't think our culture is doing a very good job of encouraging a sensible (yet fun) view of pleasure. As usual, we bang back and forth between priggishness and over-indulgence. I'm forever wondering why this should be so, and why we find the idea of equilibrium at the center of it so hard to wrap our minds around ... Annoying. But it makes for a great spectacle, if you're in a black-hearted mood (which I sometimes am) ...

Agnostic -- That's a funny and smart chain of reasoning. There's another phenom I'm seeing that I'd love to see you puzzle your way through. I see a lot of gung ho girls, er, young women, seemingly fully in charge, very dynamic, etc. And around them, a lot of ever-more-metrosexual guys, looking well-groomed, vain, a little sheepish. It seems clear the girls are the alpha people, and the guys are basically hanging around, hoping to be tolerated and maybe score some nookie at some point. Yet (at least in the early-mid 20s) a lot of these girls seem to like these guys, and to want them as partners. This would seem to contradict the ages-old idea that gals want a guy they can look up to. These gals seem to want (or to imagine they want) a guy who's a bit of a poodle, and a bit of a servant. I'm seeing enough of this to think that it's a genuine new pattern.What's your hunch? The gals will go on to alpha males? And what's to become of the metrosexuals?

"." -- I'm an old fart, of course. But I find the constant out-there-ness of a lot of today's media and self-presentation exhausting. Having my built-in male reactions pounded isn't finally very pleasant. (While having them tickled, provoked, flirted with, ignored, etc, can be delightful.) There's a kind of literal minded insistence about current styles ("You will look at me, goddammit!") that, however cute the bellybutton, isn't really very erotic. Well, that's basically a turn-off, at least once you've gotten over the "Would you look at that!" response. Is it the over-aggressiveness that's unattractive? Hmmm.

Hapax -- Those are very funny and perceptive musings. I often think of sex as being like dancing. You can flail away by yourself, and that can be fun as long as you're into acting out and discharging energy -- ie., masturbation. But there's also partner dancing, which (done right anyway) can sweep you into a whole other realm where two become one, etc. Funny how the whole "it's better to do it with someone else" side of sex has grown ever more overlooked in recent years. It's as though "having a great time masturbating" has become a shared cultural ideal. Weird times.

Sci-Fi Geek -- The virtues of a low sex drive haven't been extolled enough, that's for sure. There are some people (strange but true) who just aren't that interested in sex, or erotic experience. Nothing wrong with that. It must be odd to be such a person in a culture as lascivious as ours has become.

Bradamante -- I had an aunt who enjoyed remembering something the kids in her high school used to say back in the '30s: "Jews are the easiest, Catholics are the best." I have no idea whether there's anything to the line, of course. My own response to it is to giggle and say, "Why not enjoy 'em both!"

Patriarch -- I wonder how it'd affect me if I had a moment in the sun ... Odd how some people are really altered by a bit of fame, while others aren't changed much at all, isn't it? I'd love to see more studies done about the psychology and experience of fame and success ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 15, 2006 11:14 AM

Does anybody actually KNOW a young man with ED? How would all these middle-aged folks know what turns these guys on (or not) anyway! It would be interesting, if you could find one to admit it, what HE'D say about real girls, and reel girls, and pixels, etc.

Posted by: annette on June 15, 2006 12:46 PM

"Virtues of a low sex drive"

That reminds me of something my grandfather said about one of the unexpected joys of aging. I remember it verbatim:

"It's a relief to be out from under the tyranny of the male sex drive."

I was in my early 20s when he said that and I was taken aback. It does sometimes feel like we are but humble serfs subject to the whims of a tryrannical beast. Of course, that is no excuse for bad behavior.

Posted by: the patriarch on June 15, 2006 1:10 PM

Metrosexuality -- Ha, Michael, remember that you live in a bubble nabe of a bubble city. Overall, I don't see girls going for more well-groomed guys per se. The only visible difference is among the go-getter career girls, but again, human nature doesn't change that quickly. A cynic would say that a vague air of metrosexuality is just the most recent hard-to-fake badge that high-status males wear in order to broadcast their high status. Steve Sailer says the same about illegal immigration enthusiasts -- it says, "Look at how rich I am; I'll never have to worry about those proles taking my job!"

To get a better feel of this -- what if a go-getter gal found a metrosexual guy who lived w/ his parents, made half the salary that she did, and had an unmistakably lower-status job (he an elementary school teacher, she a banker, let's say). Now, what if she found a not-so-well-groomed, not-so-stylish guy who owned a condo in an exclusive neighborhood, earned twice what she did, and had an unmistakably higher-status job (she a lawyer, he a senior partner at a law firm, say). We've teased to two traits apart, so which one wins? Bingo.

Posted by: Agnostic on June 15, 2006 1:52 PM

Sexy album cover art: I don't find this cover art sexy, and it wasn't really intended that way, but some people do and I doubt that it could be released today.

Cover art

Posted by: John Emerson on June 15, 2006 5:41 PM

I doubt that this cover art could be used today:

Blind Faith

Posted by: John Emerson on June 15, 2006 5:44 PM

Sorry, wrong thread. And the post didn't seem to take so I redid it.

Posted by: John Emerson on June 15, 2006 7:39 PM

"A cynic would say that a vague air of metrosexuality is just the most recent hard-to-fake badge that high-status males wear in order to broadcast their high status."

But ARE most metrosexuals actually high-status?

Posted by: Peter on June 15, 2006 9:33 PM

In the newest "Vanity Fair" Christopher Hitchens has some interesting observations about balky inflatables. He says that fellatio, which used to be something exotic that came late in a relationship, has now shifted around to being a sort of prequel to full sexual relationship (reference Bill Clinton) that doesn't really "count." I wonder how much of this has to do with the fact that sperm come with a "made in XY" label that can cost either child support or (almost) the presidency? And how much of it is a matter of inflating the reluctant flesh?

Hitchens, who has no fear of forbidden topics, puts a literary spin on his article by speaking of Lolita.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 16, 2006 2:11 PM

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