Becky Knight has a Masters of Public Health in Human Sexuality and is certified as a sexuality educator by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Her private practice focuses on women's sexual health and satisfaction. Read more »
I hosted an advanced screening of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s film “Don Jon” as well as a panel discussion afterward. Laurie Berzack (aka Carolinas Matchmaker) and Keema Mingo (film instructor) joined me in discussing the film and its message. I found it interesting that of all of the movies that JGL could have chosen for his writer-director debut (he also stars), he chose to tell this particular story. I’ve paid attention to what he has said in press interviews leading up to the release and I think this film was the result of a genuine desire to explore just how pervasively porn is influencing our culture, and how that normalization is affecting our views on sex, romance, and relationships.
Keema had some great things to say about story arc and how a good story follows the protagonist undergoing a change or evolution. So what was Don Jon’s evolution? He goes through multiple women a week (both online and IRL), using them only to bolster his insatiable ego. But his burgeoning relationships with two women (played by Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore) challenge him to re-think his approach.
My questions for Laurie were about her clients, who are looking for serious relationships and willing to pay her to find them, and how she sees them influenced (or not) by the supposed “pornification” of our popular culture. Are people’s expectations unrealistic? When the easily-satisfied ideal-looking women is only a click away, does a real woman–with a real body and emotional needs–have a chance of capturing a man’s attention? Or for that matter, what man can compete with the perfectly chiseled, funny, and endlessly romantic men found in Hollywood romcoms? We indulge in media that makes us feel good, but is it ultimately setting us up for disappointment when our real relationships just can’t measure up?
Whether we watch porn or romcoms or both, I think it pays to be mindful of the ways our media choices may be influencing our romantic and erotic expectations. Most entertainment is “entertainment” precisely because it is a departure from our routine daily existence — we can take a mental vacation to a place that satisfies our longings for excitement, connection, or any number of things. The problems isn’t necessarily in the desire to do so, but when the desire to do so comes at the expense of dealing with the reality.
The good news is that most people can separate fact from fiction. For us, an imperfect reality still trumps a perfect fantasy.
In preparation for a workshop I did in Los Angeles last weekend, I was reading Talking Sex with Your Kids by Amber Madison. It’s a great book for parents and covers a lot of important information. However, the section that really caught my attention was the following:
Why Your Daughter Needs to Know Boys Aren’t Assholes
… Now, imagine that we were able to convince all young women that guys were decent human beings who want more than “just one thing.” Suppose girls were taught that guys like relationships and that they value intelligence, a sense of humor, and a kind soul. For one, romantic relationships would seem much more obtainable and appealing. But secondly, girls would have an easier time learning to value those traits in themselves. When we tell girls that guys only want them for their vaginas, they get the message that their value lies solely within their sexuality. Wonder why so many teen girls seem overly consumed with their bodies, clothing and makeup? Because we inadvertently support the notion that a girl’s biggest asset is her sex appeal. If girls were raised hearing “what guys want is a girl who’s ambitious,” then to impress a guy, they would be hitting their books, not jumping in the sack.
What you tell your daughter about the opposite sex matters. It affects both how she will approach romantic relationships and what she will value in herself. Illuminating the fact that guys are real people with real emotions makes them less intimidating and makes it easier for girls to know what they should expect out of a relationship. If you let your daughter believe that guys are assholes, how can you insist she have standards for the type of guys she dates? Why not date losers–if all guys are jerks anyway.
So many straight men have no experience of being wanted. So many straight men have no experience of sensing a gaze of outright longing. Even many men who are wise in the world and in relationships, who know that their wives or girlfriends love them, do not know what it is to be admired for their bodies and their looks. They may know what it is to be relied upon, they may know what it is to bring another to ecstasy with their touch, but they don’t know what it is to be found not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but worthy of longing.
by Gloria Steinem
This piece originally appeared in Ms. magazine, October 1978.
Living in India made me understand that a white minority of the world has spent centuries conning us into thinking a white skin makes people superior, even though the only thing it really does is make them more subject to ultraviolet rays and wrinkles.
Reading Freud made me just as skeptical about penis envy. The power of giving birth makes “womb envy” more logical and an organ as external and unprotected as the penis makes men very vulnerable indeed.
But listening recently to a woman describe the unexpected arrival of her menstrual period (a red stain had spread on her dress as she argued heatedly on the public stage) still made me cringe with embarrassment. That is, until she explained that, when finally informed in whispers of the obvious event, she had said to the all-male audience, “and you should be proud to have a menstruating woman on your stage. It’s probably the first real thing that has happened to this group in years!”
Laughter. Relief. She had turned a negative into a positive. Somehow her story merged with India and Freud to make me finally understand the power of positive thinking. Whatever a “superior” group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever an “inferior” group has will be used to justify its plight. Black men were given poorly paid jobs because they were said to be “stronger” than white men, while all the women were relegated to poorly paid jobs because they were said to be “weaker”. As the little boy said when he asked if he wanted to be a lawyer like his mother, “Oh no, that’s women’s work.” Logic has nothing to do with oppression.
So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?
Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: Read more…
Women are fairly vocal about their frustrations with the unrealistic expectations placed on them, yet they often don’t realize that they perpetuate similar stereotypes about men. I heard all three of the following statements in sessions this week, and I was reminded of the damage that this kind of thinking does. Much of what we believe we “know” about men and sex is wrong: Read more…
(But I don’t mean it the way you probably think I mean it!)
I want his body, because I want to know what it feels like to be fast, confident, strong and powerful.
I have never been an athlete, and after three 10-pound babies, my belly is “like a bowl full of jelly” (a la Santa Claus). I am in awe of his sleek, muscular body that seems to be completely under his control. He seems indestructible and unstoppable. He is amazing.