I was invited to speak to some college athletes about the impact of pornography. Now that the event is past, I have thoughts.
My focus was (as always) to present and clear away obstacles to Happily Faithfully In Love Forever with Great Sex. To be honest, I was originally a little insecure. The only woman speaking at this retreat among other men with better pedigrees than mine. I had a few nagging doubts about using my customary style which is: keep it simple, laugh at how ridiculous humans are, minimal theory with maximum practicality. Maybe I should lean into a more academic tone, à la heavy on the evidence and statistics? In the end, I stuck with what works for me, and I'm glad I did.
Picture this setup. You walk into a room and see the title of the talk is "This Is Your Brain On Porn." The speaker is short, round, white and her name is Karen (remember in their world, "karen" is a verb.) Given modern male culture, your expectation would be, "I'm about to hear about toxic masculinity and walk out feeling like crap."
No one would blame a guy for expecting exactly that -- so I anticipated some hostility. ;)
But these young men, in spite of whatever dread they came in with, were exceedingly gracious and respectful. They might have been steeling themselves for a rant about how all men are dogs who objectify women, but they still took their seats and arranged their faces to reflect, "OK, lady, I'll give you a shot." Men Are Amazing!
Through the introductory material, they seemed a little tense, as if they were ready and alert for a punch that was coming. But still with the attitude, we just have to take it. That tension was in the air right up to the moment when I described male sexuality as involuntary, automatic and visually-stimulated and followed it up with, "Its physical, visceral and specific, and there's nothing you can do about it." There was a palpable wave of relief, chased by a soft outburst, "Finally! Yeah, OK, she gets us."
Clearly, a frank conversation with a woman about the challenges of being visually assaulted by sexualized imagery and feminine fashion was a novelty. Men talk about it with men, but not many women even know the effort it takes to be faithful (this also brought some cheers.) Men Are Amazing!
Their response to how different female sexuality is, and the fallacies the culture of porn perpetrates on their culture, was to immediately take responsibility for what would happen next. There was no Poor me! It's not fair! Instead, as lightbulbs relative to their previous decisions, or unsuccessful relationships went on, their responses were, "Oh, I get it. I have to adjust my thinking and behavior."
None of them were thinking, women need to adapt to us. They were way out in front thinking like leaders. I saw heads nodding and expressions that read, Now I understand how and why she might be hurt, I want to prevent that from happening. Men Are Amazing! They want to do the right thing, but sometimes they need some insight to know what that is.
By the time I got to the end, presenting a challenge to a much higher standard, they were leaning in. They were formulating their own picture of what that would look like for themselves. I didn't have to shame them or chastise them. If anything, they received what I said in the much the same way they would take direction from a coach. They let me identify the problem and show them another approach. It was clear that they understood a change of attitude and behavior was in their interest. They immediately bought in, and saw there was benefit to doing the hard work if they wanted to reach the goal. No excuses, no loopholes, no victimizing. Men Are Amazing!
It was a genuinely satisfying outcome. These young men will influence others. They will stumble forward awkwardly at first until they get some momentum (hopefully getting more ENcouragement than DIScouragement as they try something new.) I hope in the very near future these young men will be run down by peers who see the quality of their character and relationships, and are asking, "How do I get what you have?"
I have a sense that something quite special will come of the few hours we spent together. I doubt very much they will shrink from the challenges before them -- because Men Are AMAZING!