Friday, 21 September 2012

Men and Sexual Myths - Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

One of the major areas of psychosexual work with men is myth and mystery. As men, we grow up with messages from parents, peers, porn and elsewhere... all of which add to our collective understanding of sex.

Unfortunately, as we know, much of the material taken up during this process is actually unhelpful. Porn, for instance, grew (and continues to sustain) the "two feet long and hard as steel" myth of men's ideal sexuality. It gives a skewed picture of what real sex is like. This can lead to problems later on in sexual relationships.

So, much of my work with men can be about unpicking these unhelpful beliefs and attitudes - getting them back to a much more realistic - and forgiving- position with themselves and their sexual lives. We are often surprised by how refreshing and empowering this can be.... it really can lead to a more fulfilling sexual life. For that reason, I enjoy doing this kind of work with men.

My heart sank when I walked into the toilet of a local supermarket recently, and saw this on the wall:

A number of things disturb me about this. The main one is the choice of company name - "Perform" - although it might feel a bit more acceptable to attach a sub-label "wellbeing", it still smacks of competitive sexuality. Just what we don't need - another covert message saying that to "perform" is the goal of sex....

Looking at the items for sale; it's unsurprising, indeed quite acceptable, to see condoms. The buzz ring is a relatively recent addition to the 'open' market in Britain (quite common now to see these in pharmacies etc), and so that feels realistic, too.

What really gets me seething is the all-too-familiar "blue pills" which contain very little but seem to promise so much. These things appear with tedious inevitability these days, in my email inbox, on Ebay, and elsewhere.

"BLUE ZEUS", they are called here, with barely-veiled references to god-like prowess, no doubt with lightning-like erectile response, thunderous orgasms from dozens of naked writhing bodies, the air filled with screams of abandon and pleasure. One might also envisage the others, the mere mortals, only dreaming to reach the heights of such winged blue prowess if they do not posess this great potency.

Poor Bernie Zilbergeld, who did so much to debunk men's sexual myths, would be chilled to see so much of his work undone in one fell swoop. For starters, how about these, from the "New Male Sexuality" ...

Myth 5 - A Real Man "Performs" in Sex
Well, a condom machine emblazoned by a company called "Perform" is hardly going to advance men's perceptions of sexuality in the 21st century, now is it?

Myth 6 - Sex is Centred on a Hard Penis and What's Done With It
I suppose our friends at "Perform" would make far less money if this machine dispensed advice leaflets on, say, foreplay, sexual communication and mutuality. So, blue pills for hard-ons it is, then.....

Myth 7 - If Your Penis Isn't Up To It, We Have a Pill That Will Take Care of Everything
Since a large proportion of erectile problems are at least partly psychological, the notion that a pill will do the trick is awfully misleading. Medicating men, instead of educating them and enhancing their relationships, is dubious if not potentially damaging. The "recreational" use of drugs and herbal preparations (when not medically indicated) is a costly side-step from the real issues.

So our condom-selling friends at "Perform" are also, sadly, purveyors of these unhelpful myths. Men - particularly young men, whose internal model of sex is still developing, are still being fed this stuff AND paying for it at the same time.


Once, when I was feeling incredibly sarcastic and mischievous and angry, I decided that I would collect a large number of blue Smarties and advertise them for sale on Ebay, thus:

"These are SWEETS. They have no ingredients that have been proven to enhance your erections or make you last longer. But who knows, they just might - and they're a lot cheaper than those "Hercules Hugeness" tablets you've been buying from Japan, right? Why not give them a try??"

I decided not to go ahead, but.....Maybe I could have made a few bucks....?

Friday, 24 August 2012

Free the Child!

Recently I visited a lovely open farm in rural East Anglia. During a brief interlude (a pee-break) I was standing there minding my own business, when I overheard the following conversation:

Boy, around 7/8 years old: "Dad, why didn't you feed the Alpacas too?"

Dad (disparagingly) "That's a children's activity!"

Boy: " (pauses)..... Mum fed the Alpacas......"

Dad: "Wash your hands."

For a long time, therapists have described people has having a young child within them. Of course every 'flavour' of therapist has their own way of describing this psychic structure, whether conscious or unconscious. But it turns up in therapeutic situations time after time, when someone experiences that familiar inner conflict between their natural spontaneous desires and the conditioning of the environment.

In Transactional Analysis, it's commonly described as the conflict between the Free (or Natural) Child ego state and the Adapted Child. The Natural Child is capable of uninhibited acts of joy (or aything else for that matter), and is spontaneous, creative, and free. The Adapted Child (as the name suggests) has learned what "works" in his/her environment - I can get good feedback for behaving like this.... and people don't love me if I do this.....

So begins a process where kids learn how to behave... and as grown-ups they find themselves holding back from certain acts of spontaneity.

The most obvious forms of parental shaping of the child in this context, then, are the positive reinforcement of 'acceptable' behaviours and the sanctions against unacceptable ones. The Adaptation takes place in the context of good or bad feedback.

When I overheard the conversation above, my heart sank. It reminded me how important it is for kids to be given Permission to have (and keep) their Natural Child. Otherwise, they risk becoming inhibited, too grown-up, and maybe unfulfilled in all kinds of ways.... in their work, in their relationships, in the bedroom, and elsewhere.

I realise now that I like working in this area. I often find myself asking people to consider their Natural Child needs, and inviting them to give themselves Permission if they need it. On other occasions, I have found myself offering it - usually in some irreverent comment, or playful act. (I remember once climbing up and standing on my desk, Dead Poets-style!).

When I heard that Dad speak, I would really have liked to have appealed to the Child in him - perhaps through humour - and invited him to go and PLAY with his kid. What a valuable Permission he would have been offering! One that he most likely lacked himself, of course....

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Something in the air......

I was interested to read, after my cynical musings last time, that I'm not the only one to be asking who is making money from the DSM-5. Crazy thought it may sound, it seems that a large proportion of the DSM team have ties with drug companies. As they say - go figure.

I'm rather happy to see that there is a growing number of individuals, groups, and organizations who are rallying to show their opposition to DSM-x, on ethical, moral and political grounds. They range from the satirical: Here, on a page called DSMSucks! there is even a link to a "new psychiatric disease generator" which is funny and has a point ...

... to the serious call-to-arms of an 'occupy' movement who are planning a protest at the APA meeting in May. It has obvious echoes to a similar protest in September, 1969.

One of the root traditions of Transactional Analysis is that of Radical Psychiatry - a movement which sought a move away from diagnostic labelling, with all its interpersonal, societal and political implications, and back to the practice of 'soul healing'. This wasn't a 60's love-in... it was a move against the rise of Big Psych, one of Big Pharma's older cousins.

These days, the arguments are familiar and just as relevant. People are being labelled, and they shouldn't be. People are making money and gaining power over others because of this. The process is mystified so the power dynamics are camouflaged. People are alienated - from themselves, each other, the medical establishment, and from any feeling of what's normal and human.

"Call out the instigators, because there's something in the air
We've got to get together, sooner or later, because the revolution's near
.... and you know it's right"
(Thunderclap Newman)


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

DSM 5 - it's all medicalized now

One vocal critic of the DSM-5 bereavement issue is Allen Frances, MD. He has been blogging for some time that the 'mission creep' of the DSM has slipped out of control.
He speaks from experience, as a member of the task force that worked on DSM-IV.

So, why the 'mission creep'? How come the DSM's land-grab in the world of psychic difficulty has extended so far? Here in the UK I would expect the average Daily Mail reader to voice the (reasonable) suspicion that 'someone somewhere is making money out of it'. Perhaps - after all, the production, publishing, and distribution of the DSM is a high-value business. Most successful businesses need to update their stock from time to time - keep the customers interested. Offer a 'new, improved' version of the old product, and suddenly you have a new revenue stream.... for the APA - and oh, lest we forget - for the drug companies who will no doubt profit hugely from the new avenues of prescribing that are offered.

But I don't think for a second that it's just about the money. I think it's also about power and control. In the face of human suffering or distress, the medical model usually responds with an effort to contain or remove it.... diagnose, treat, cure. One could see this as a way of defending against the (more difficult?) reality that life is tough, and sometimes awful, and not always can we do anything about it. As existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom said, "the medical model is a wafer-thin barrier against uncertainty".
One suggestion to add, then - DSM-x (I'm adding an algebraic symbol here, as I am assuming the revisions will continue....) is revamped time after time, to give the APA further reassurance that they have the power over all these individually classified sufferings. The mission-creep into territory that is NOT mental illness, but represents genuine and normal human life, serves to add to the fantasy of control - we can even help with this horrid stuff too, you see.

The idea that we could (or should) try to map all the ups & downs of the human psyche seems a bit grandiose to me, actually. We mapped the human genome, which has had some useful implications, but we still know that there are huge complexities and gene interactions that we have yet to fathom. So it is with our internal world. Why assume that we can solve all the mysteries?


Monday, 20 February 2012

DSM 5 - Some thoughts.....

I see that a major journal of the medical establishment has spoken out about the American Psychiatric Association's new revision of the "Bible" - the DSM.
An article in the Lancet questions the rationale for removing the 'exclusion' of bereavement.

This exclusion, at present, draws a distinction between those who are suffering grief from an understandable recent loss, and those who are clinically depressed. In my view, this is an important boundary to maintain, for two reasons:

1. People who are suffering from a normal grief reaction aren't normally helped by being told they have some kind of disorder

2. Medics need to be reminded sometimes that there is a difference between a normal emotional reaction and a 'disorder'. See my comments on this in the palliative care field

There was some reaction from the President of the APA, Dr John Oldham. I'll offer some thoughts on his statements later.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Internet 'addictive like alcohol' ... ?

Recent reports suggest that the internet may be 'addictive', and that being 'connected' is becoming compulsive for some.

Although there seems to be plenty of evidence that we are all becoming more and more dependent on the WWW for the general running of our daily lives, I am not yet convinced that the term 'addiction' really fits this phenomenon.

As for me, I am reasonably content that I don't yet fit into the criteria for internet overuse. After all, look at the date of my last post.....