"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

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What Does It Mean To “Do Something” About Climate Change?

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2014 at 8:01 pm


Oldspeak: “My question to climate “doers” is: What do you genuinely, realistically believe can be “done” on the real, external, national and international scene to reverse or end catastrophic climate change? At this point in the progression of catastrophic climate change, it is rapidly becoming impossible to keep up with the self-reinforcing feedback loops related to the release of greenhouse gases. These, of course, are the mechanisms within the progression of global warming that accelerate its severity, and humans have created at least 30 of those in our lifetime–and counting….It seems to me that we can yammer incessantly about how we don’t “like” the deliverers of bad news, or we can critically think their information.  We can also consider that some situations like Stage Four cancer, Ebola, and cobra bites are terminal. And rather than responding like the heroic, hopeful, “there must be something we can do” puppets of empire, we might pause to consider that life frequently presents us with existential dilemmas about which there is nothing we can “do” except open to what the dilemma might want us to learn, feel, and experience— and to the relationships it might want us to deepen, evaluate, treasure, or eliminate from our lives.” -Carolyn Baker

” Do Less. Be More. It’s the surest way to accept and recognize your true and authentic self. Anger, conflict, consternation, ego-stroking, blaming, resisting, screaming, yelling, are no longer useful expenditures of the little time we have left.  Let go of all your attachments to this rapidly disappearing world, it is no more. Every moment you breathe, it’s disappearing, never to be seen again.  This is ultimately, the nature of all living things, to die. Our fate is assured. Accept this. But while you’re at it go out with a fucking bang instead of a whimper. Why not?! You’re in Nirvana, right now.   “When you don’t resist change, you see that the changing world, which disappears like smoke, is no different from the Nirvana world.” -Alan Watts. What you resist, persists. Stop it. Embrace, accept, see the beautiful and profound oneness of it all.” -OSJ

By Carolyn Baker @  Speaking Truth To Power:

There is a great difference between being still and doing nothing.

~Chinese proverb~

When I speak about catastrophic climate change and the likelihood of near-term human extinction, I am often accused to “giving up” or choosing to “do nothing” about climate change. Even more charged for some is the notion of “living in hospice” which I argue is now the unequivocal predicament of our species. The typical rebuttal goes something like, “Instead of contemplating our navels or rolling over and preparing for death, we have to do something about climate change!”

Thus, I feel compelled to genuinely ask: What does it mean to actually “do something”?

First, I want to clarify that when I speak of preparing for near-term extinction by surrendering to the severity of our predicament or adopting a hospice attitude, I do not mean that we put on our favorite pair of pajamas, ingest a large dose of Ambien, draw the shades, lie down and set the electric blanket on “womb,” and then proceed to play dead and become comatose as we approach our demise. In fact, there is far too much we can do, both externally and internally to succumb to such meaningless sloth.

Each of us, whether we contemplate near-term extinction or not can consciously reduce our personal carbon footprint. We can drastically curtail our consumption and waste; we can grow our own food and eat local, organic food. Some individuals choose not to have cars or travel by air. Some people choose not to have children; some choose to unplug from empire as much as humanly possible. And yes, we can become climate activists—we can march in protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, we can join the Great March For Climate Action, we can write letters, and as a last resort, move to an area of the planet, such as the Southern Hemisphere, where it appears that the impacts of global climate change may not be as severe as in other regions–maybe. We owe these actions to ourselves, to other humans, and to the plethora of other species that are going and will go extinct. As my friend and colleague, Francis Weller, notes, this is a time to develop really good manners toward other species and make their demise as easy for them as possible. In summary, there is much within our power as individuals that we can do to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and lower the impact of catastrophic climate change.

However, the tragic reality of our personal efforts, as noble or as fervent as they may be, is that they are not enough to prevent near-term human extinction. Why?

In the first place, the impacts of catastrophic climate change are routinely minimized by the scientific community as Guy McPherson points out:

Mainstream scientists minimize the message at every turn. As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts. And in some cases, scientists are aggressively muzzled by their governments. I’m not implying conspiracy among scientists. Science selects for conservatism. Academia selects for extreme conservatism. These folks are loathe to risk drawing undue attention to themselves by pointing out there might be a threat to civilization. Never mind the near-term threat to our entire species (they couldn’t care less about other species). If the truth is dire, they can find another, not-so-dire version. The concept is supported by an article in the February 2013 issue of Global Environmental Change pointing out that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama.” Almost everybody reading these words has a vested interest in not wanting to think about climate change, which helps explain why the climate-change deniers have won.

What is more, despite the efforts of some nations to “do something” about climate change, the harsh, cold (no pun intended) reality is that it is too little too late. Halldor Thorgeirsson, Senior Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change remarked in September, 2013, stated, “We are failing as an international community. We are not on track.” Now realizing the dire state of warming due to inaction on climate change, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that “Global warming is irreversible without massive geoengineering of the atmosphere’s chemistry.” Of course, we already know that there is probably nothing that geo-engineering cannot make worse—for example the radical altering of rainfall patterns and the assertion by Live Science that “Current schemes to minimize the havoc caused by global warming by purposefully manipulating Earth’s climate are likely to either be relatively useless or actually make things worse, researchers say in a new study.” And earlier this month, Skeptical Science published an article entitled, “Alarming New Study Makes Today’s Climate Change More Comparable To Earth’s Worst Mass Extinction.” Moreover, according to the National Academy of Sciences “A Four-Degree Rise Will End Vegetation ‘Carbon Sink’ Research Suggests.”

For those who “don’t like” Guy McPherson’s analysis, Dr. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University earlier this month penned an article in Scientific American “Earth Will Cross The Climate Danger Threshold By 2036” in which he stated in protest of the voices who assert that global warming has ‘paused,’:

To my wonder, I found that for an ECS (equilibrium climate sensitivity) of three degrees C, our planet would cross the dangerous warming threshold of two degrees C in 2036, only 22 years from now. When I considered the lower ECS value of 2.5 degrees C, the world would cross the threshold in 2046, just 10 years later. So even if we accept a lower ECS value, it hardly signals the end of global warming or even a pause. Instead it simply buys us a little bit of time—potentially valuable time—to prevent our planet from crossing the threshold.

Yes, Michael Mann is hoping that we can still “do something” about catastrophic climate change, but his assertion more closely aligns with Guy McPherson’s projection that even if we “do something” about climate change there are likely to be few habitable places on the planet by 2030 at the earliest and 2050 at the latest.

Less widely discussed in the mainstream climate conversation is the ghastly rate of Arctic melting and the resulting release of methane into the atmosphere. In the video Arctic Death Spiral And The Methane Time Bomb, David Wasdell, Director of the Apollo-Gaia Project explains the absolute runaway nature of Arctic melting. Self-reinforcing feedback loops, he asserts, have taken over, and it is now becoming increasingly obvious that the Arctic will be mostly ice-free by the end of 2015. Other presenters in this video further clarify that we are approximately fifty years ahead of the worst case scenario in terms of Arctic melting. Dr. Peter Wadhams of the University Of Cambridge states that the effect of an ice-free Arctic on the world is enormous because it goes far beyond the Arctic itself in terms of the methane that is released as the ice retreats. Due to self-reinforcing feedback loops, once the melting process generates more CO2 than humans do, it will not matter what humans do to reverse the melting. In Arctic Methane: Why Sea Ice Matters, Dr. Natalia Shakhova notes that Arctic permafrost is losing its ability to seal in the methane, and even more troubling is the increase in seismic activity in the Arctic which creates additional pathways for methane to be released.

“Doing something” implies that developing nations of the world and the fossil fuel industry will come together and: 1) Agree that climate change is actually happening; 2) Understand that the situation is so dire that humanity’s living arrangements must be radically altered; 3) Sacrifice their economic security and industrial profits to significantly reduce carbon emissions; 4) Agree to the reality of climate change and the altering of their living arrangements in time to prevent another 2 degree C rise in temperature.

I dare say that the same people who believe this is going to happen would vehemently protest a belief in Santa Claus, but nevertheless, they cling to this chimera.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tim Garrett, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah tells us that “rising carbon dioxide emissions – the major cause of global warming – cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.”

Collapse of industrial civilization? Lovely idea; I’ve been applauding it for years. However, there’s just one small fly in the ointment. The collapse of industrial civilization means no food in grocery stores, no fuel at the gas station, and the breakdown of electrical power grids. According to Physics Forums, here’s what happens when a nuclear power plant loses electricity:

Nuclear power plants as well as power plants in general are not self-sufficient in terms of electricity. If a nuclear power plant loses outside electrical power, the plant must then be powered with emergency diesel generators which typically have about 10-12 hours worth of fuel, and then emergency batteries. When the batteries lose power, and they still haven’t gotten electricity going back to the plant, the cooling systems for the reactors won’t work because of no electricity, and then the reactors will overheat and melt. Inevitably resulting in a total meltdown.

There are more than 400 nuclear power plants around the world. The collapse of industrial civilization, attractive notion that it may be, necessarily means a host of Fukushimas around the planet which in itself would be an extinction event.

On myriad levels, humanity is in territory it has never before navigated. Of this, blogger Robert Scribbler writes:

The last time the world saw such a measure of comparable atmospheric greenhouse gas heat forcing was during the Miocene around 15-20 million years ago. At that time, global temperatures were 3-4 C warmer, the Antarctic ice sheet was even further diminished, and sea levels were 80-120 higher than today. This combined forcing is enough to result in a state of current climate emergency. In just a few years, according to the recent work of climate scientist Michael Mann, we will likely lock in a 2 C short term warming this century and a probable 4 C warming long-term. If the current, high-velocity pace of emission continues, we will likely hit 2 C warming by 2036, setting off extraordinary and severe global changes over a very short period.

My question to climate “doers” is: What do you genuinely, realistically believe can be “done” on the real, external, national and international scene to reverse or end catastrophic climate change? At this point in the progression of catastrophic climate change, it is rapidly becoming impossible to keep up with the self-reinforcing feedback loops related to the release of greenhouse gases. These, of course, are the mechanisms within the progression of global warming that accelerate its severity, and humans have created at least 30 of those in our lifetime–and counting.

I am a two-time survivor of cancer. The first time a doctor gave me a diagnosis, I really didn’t like him. The second time, I liked the doctor even less. And yes, I got second opinions both times. Then I had four doctors I didn’t like.

It seems to me that we can yammer incessantly about how we don’t “like” the deliverers of bad news, or we can critically think their information.  We can also consider that some situations like Stage Four cancer, Ebola, and cobra bites are terminal. And rather than responding like the heroic, hopeful, “there must be something we can do” puppets of empire, we might pause to consider that life frequently presents us with existential dilemmas about which there is nothing we can “do” except open to what the dilemma might want us to learn, feel, and experience— and to the relationships it might want us to deepen, evaluate, treasure, or eliminate from our lives.  To this end, I wrote “Preparing For Near-Term Extinction” in 2013 and recently published Zhiwa Woodbury’s wonderful article “Planetary Hospice: Rebirthing Planet Earth” on my website. They encapsulate what I am doing and intend to do about catastrophic climate change.

I’ve admitted myself to hospice, and I’m doing something about catastrophic climate change. I support those who join the Great March For Climate Action, but I will not be marching, nor will I write letters or sign petitions with the hope that omnicidal politicians and corporate profiteers will notice. What I will do is commit to a life of service, a life of creating extraordinary moments of beauty and love; I will immerse myself in nature, art, poetry, music, and really good stories. I will practice good manners with all beings; I will nourish my body with nutritious food and restorative movement. I will make every attempt to practice gratitude as often as humanly possible in one day, and I will give from the depths of my soul all of the love I can muster–to the earth and to every living being….

Mad Hominem: Why Hatred Of The Human Species Is Not Helpful

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2014 at 12:52 am

Oldspeak: “What then is the appropriate response to our abuse and neglect of the earth community? I believe that it should be one of remorse and accountability, but also of grieving our behavior and making restitution to the best of our ability in present time. When we do this, we end the wall of separation between ourselves and all other beings. And here’s the gut-wrenching part: We are deeply humbled and perhaps ashamed that on some level, we are as guilty as the rhino poacher or the seal-murderer….If our days on earth are as drastically numbered as they appear to be, if we have entered a hospice condition, then how do we wish to live? What does it do to us to despise other humans? What does it do to us to open our hearts to them?…. When we vilify other humans, we obviously separate ourselves from them, and we, among other things, perpetuate the Cartesian dualism of “myself and the other.” In so doing, we increase the likelihood of becoming violent dominators. We never have to like poachers and polluters, we may never break bread with a Monsanto chemist or hold hands and dance around the world with Jamie Dimon, but hospice is not the time for hating other humans. Hospice is a time for recognizing the tragedy of the human condition and the horrors of human behavior, as well as committing to the most serious and thorough review of our own lives as humanly possible. Hospice is a time for compassion—for ourselves and all beings on earth. Collective salvation may never come, but if any salvation is to come, it will only come, as Charles Eisenstein says, “…when we face up to the ugliness of our own past and feel the mirror image of the pain of every slave lashed, every many lynched, every child humiliated. One way or another, we must weep for all of this.” And yes, we must weep for the more-than-human world victimized by our madness.” -Carolyn Baker

“We live in a contrived reality that is built on and fueled by separation. Separation from the ecology, other humans… We’re encouraged to view the world through a prism of dualism and focus on the faults of the “other”. We’re taught to make ourselves feel good or bad based on our relentless comparisons with others. Our ego-based contrived “reality” enables a whole spectrum of madness we inflict on ourselves and by extension the ecology. This madness is destroying us and all life. We must accept this actual reality and choose replace our hatred, violence, competition, greed and selfishness with unconditional love, compassion and free giving. We must allow ourselves to feel the completely valid and authentic feelings of depression, of sadness, of remorse, of our part in the destruction of our ecology. it’s time to accept that we are one with all things, the “good”, the “bad” and the “ugly”, realize that those words are just that, words, and are wholly based on our perception and subjective experience. Recognize “The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.” Continued focus on separation, will only serve to speed up our death march to extinction. Take the time you have left in this realm to be more human. To be humbly and fearlessly with your present experience. To expand your awareness of the wondrous beauty, divinity and love that surrounds and is within. Realize that the universe is looking at itself through you.  You’ll be happy you did. ” -OSJ

By Carolyn Baker @ Speaking Truth To Power:

Eventually we will abandon our bunker mentality and understand that the only security comes through giving, opening, and being at the center of a flux of relationships, not taking more and more for self; security comes not from independence but from interdependence.

~Charles Eisenstein, Ascent of Humanity~

In the first episode of my current five-part webinar, my guest Andrew Harvey and I were emphasizing the importance of adopting an attitude of service and giving in this era of collapse and possible near-term extinction when at one point I received a question from a student which asked something like, “You mean, love humans? The scum that is destroying the planet?” (My paraphrase) At the time I gave a short response to the question, but it set me thinking about the necessity of a longer and more detailed response, and for that, I am profoundly grateful to the student. This article is my attempt to articulate why an attitude of service and giving in relation to humans is as urgent as serving and supporting other species and why contempt for humanity is not helpful, but perhaps even ironically, anthropocentric.

Ah yes, that dreaded word anthropocentric which is essentially an assumption that the human species is the center of the universe and holds more significance than other species or living beings in the cosmos. Once we fully understand what humans have done to this planet, once we grasp the ghastly, breath-taking, mind-boggling pillage, plunder, and ecocide that homo sapiens have perpetrated on the earth, we are hard-pressed not to despise them. I know this one well. I admit it. I’m extremely selective in the company I keep with humans, but I have many fewer barriers in the company of animals. When I can afford to make financial contributions, I am far more likely to give to organizations that protect or rescue animals than I am to give to causes that benefit humans.

Self-Flagellation Profiteth Nothing

Yet I have come to understand that while I honor my comfort with and magnanimity toward other species, it is important that I do not revile humans. In the first place, to vilify other humans is to vilify myself. When I do this, I am doing something that probably no other species is capable of doing. A hyena may be angry with another hyena for being territorial or stealing its food, but it is not likely to hate another hyena for being a hyena or even for being un-hyena-like. As friendly as a lion may become with a lamb, each knows instinctually what it is and that it will never be another species. When I despise other humans, and therefore myself, I unintentionally remove myself from the circle of terrestrial beings and unconsciously deem myself unworthy of walking and breathing on the earth. Rather than cultivating appropriate humility in the presence of other living beings with whom I share the planet, I declare myself not an equal, but less than other species. Vilifying myself and quasi-deifying another species serves neither the other being nor myself. In fact, it demeans my own animal nature, and regardless of how much I sing the praises of the animal kingdom, to deem myself less than the animal is to deny my kinship with it.

Moreover, when any human recognizes his or her part in harming another being, human or otherwise, they have two options. One may choose to vilify oneself or one may choose to take conscious, intentional responsibility for one’s error. This is where the rubber meets the road, and this is also where things get really uncomfortable. Taking responsibility for our transgressions against the earth community means that first, we acknowledge that we are part of a species that is murdering the planet. Perhaps we are not at the moment poaching rhinos or bashing out the brains of seals on behalf of the fur industry, but no matter how pristine our lifestyle may be at the moment, we have in the past polluted, littered, contributed to overpopulation by bringing children into the world, consumed far too much energy, wasted too much food, and not have come close to replacing what we have taken from Gaia.

What then is the appropriate response to our abuse and neglect of the earth community? I believe that it should be one of remorse and accountability, but also of grieving our behavior and making restitution to the best of our ability in present time. When we do this, we end the wall of separation between ourselves and all other beings. And here’s the gut-wrenching part: We are deeply humbled and perhaps ashamed that on some level, we are as guilty as the rhino poacher or the seal-murderer.

In fact, if we are impeccably honest with ourselves, we will be forced to acknowledge that there is a Dick Cheney and a pair of Koch brothers within us. This is called the human shadow, and it’s the curse/blessing of being human. The shadow is the part of us that we say is “not me.” The human ego says, “Oh I would never be a trophy hunter or work for the fracking industry.” Yet the unconscious mind knows otherwise. It knows that despite the cacophony of our arguments to the contrary, any one of us could be the poacher, the fracker, the drone operator, or the NSA snoop. When we are forced to face this reality, we are also humbled by the territory of the human condition in which we abide. As long as we project the image of “human scum” on our fellow homo sapiens, we get to feel better about ourselves because we don’t have to confront the shadow.  A moment ago I said that the shadow is a curse/blessing. The curse is very clear, but what is the blessing?

For me, the blessing is that when I confront the shadow, I am humbled into both grief and gratitude. I mourn deeply for my transgressions against the earth community, and I also grieve for the omnicidal acts of other humans (and my own in the past) which, if I am honest with myself, is the emotion that I am warding off when I vilify them. What is more, when I can own my part in the omnicide, I have the capacity to arrive at more gratitude for the earth community than my hatred of other humans could have ever wrought. I committed my transgressions against the earth community out of ignorance and misdirection by my culture and family and was never taught how precious, how exquisite, how breath-taking, how unequivocally amazing Gaia is. When I confront my shadow and mourn for the ways I have harmed the earth community (which is an act of self-forgiveness), I can savor it more incisively and more passionately, and this is what I want to experience more than anything as extinction intensifies.

This is not about letting oneself off the hook for anything. As Charles Eisenstein writes, “Does this mean that I can excuse myself from all the hurt I’ve caused in my life thinking, ‘Well, my wound drove me to it, and I needed to do that to recover’? No. The healing comes only through the realization ‘My God, what have I done?’ It is the remorse that is healing.”

How Do You Want To Live During Your Stay In Hospice?

If our days on earth are as drastically numbered as they appear to be, if we have entered a hospice condition, then how do we wish to live? What does it do to us to despise other humans? What does it do to us to open our hearts to them?

When we vilify other humans, we obviously separate ourselves from them, and we, among other things, perpetuate the Cartesian dualism of “myself and the other.” In so doing, we increase the likelihood of becoming violent dominators. We never have to like poachers and polluters, we may never break bread with a Monsanto chemist or hold hands and dance around the world with Jamie Dimon, but hospice is not the time for hating other humans. Hospice is a time for recognizing the tragedy of the human condition and the horrors of human behavior, as well as committing to the most serious and thorough review of our own lives as humanly possible. Hospice is a time for compassion—for ourselves and all beings on earth. Collective salvation may never come, but if any salvation is to come, it will only come, as Charles Eisenstein says, “…when we face up to the ugliness of our own past and feel the mirror image of the pain of every slave lashed, every many lynched, every child humiliated. One way or another, we must weep for all of this.” And yes, we must weep for the more-than-human world victimized by our madness.

In fact, unless we weep repeatedly, we can never know kindness toward anything as Naomi Shihab Nye proclaims in her classic, poignant poem, “Kindness”:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.

In some sense it is much easier to be kind to other species because they are the innocent ones. They have not left the planet in shambles. It is much more challenging to be kind to humans—the perpetrators, the plunderers we may despise but which some part of us has the capacity to become.

The human species is far more connected than it is divided. I speak not in platitudes but rather in terms of the hard science of quantum physics, and I heartily recommend Paul Levy’s recent article “Quantum Physics: The Physics Of Dreaming, Part 1.” John Archibald Wheeler, theoretical physicist and colleague of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr stated that, “Nothing is more important about quantum physics than this: it has destroyed the concept of the world as ‘sitting out there’.” In fact, there is no “you” and “me.” Yes, you have a body separate from mine, and you live in another place on the planet, but we are interdependently connected.

Hospice can be nothing more than a waiting area on the way to extinction, or it can provide a deeper level of connection with all living beings than we have ever experienced, but in order for that to happen, our focus must be service and contribution. The question of the day and every day should be: How can I serve? What can I offer all other species and my own that will make their transition easier? Where can I offer kindness and compassion? This perspective requires an open heart, and while opening the heart always risks being rejected or misperceived, it also guarantees that at some point, one’s own heart will be met by another, and just one moment of profound connection with another heart, whether human or animal, could make life worth living and death worth dying.

So as my student asked: Are we to love and care for humans who have destroyed the planet? I answer with an unequivocal yes. If we accomplish nothing else in hospice, may it be that we fall back in love with the earth community, and yes, that earth community includes humans. “Our relationships—with other people and all life,” writes Eisenstein, “define who we are, and by impoverishing these relationships, we diminish ourselves. We are our relationships.”



Why Do Women Have Casual Sex?

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Oldspeak:“A researcher upends traditional thinking and argues that both genders are looking for the same thing: Pleasure. Duh. An interesting counter to the that traditional axiom that “Women give sex to get loveMen give love to get sex”.

By Tracy Clark-Flory @ Salon:

Forget what you think you know about the sexes when it comes to hooking up: A new study claims that women are just as likely as men to accept an offer of casual sex. That is, so long as they are sexually propositioned by Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, respectively.

OK, so that isn’t terribly shocking — but a study published in this month’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology raises some interesting questions about what it is that motivates no-strings sex. The University of Michigan’s Terri Conley set out to replicate a classic 1989 social psychology study that found men were likely to accept an offer of casual sex, but women never did. For ethical and legal reasons — pshh! — she wasn’t able to reproduce the social experiment exactly. Instead of having students proposition unwitting subjects around campus, Conley presented fully informed participants with a hypothetical situation and asked how they would expect themselves to respond. So, a grain of salt would be wise.

Based on a survey of which famous people students found most attractive and unattractive, researchers asked straight male participants to either consider a fling with Angelina Jolie or Roseanne. Hetero women were asked to either mull the possibility of a hookup with Johnny Depp or Donald Trump. The result: Women and men were equally likely to accept the proposal of the “attractive” famous person as they were to reject the “unattractive” celebrity. Conley writes that this is particularly interesting given the evo-psych view that women choose mates based on their good genes and capabilities as providers. “It is indeed difficult to imagine a better person to take care of a woman and her children than someone with the enormous resources of Donald Trump, yet women rejected him soundly,” writes Conley. “This challenges the assumption that women are driven to choose mates with great resources.”

What exactly is at play here is up for debate, though. “Perhaps the perceived gains in status afforded to individuals who have a sexual encounter with an attractive famous individual are so great that they offset any gender differences by reducing the stigma associated with casual sex for women,” Conley considers. But she ultimately settles on a more controversial hypothesis, suggesting that the disparity between men’s and women’s likelihood of actually getting pleasure out of a sexual encounter might be responsible for gender differences in willingness to engage in casual sex. In other words: Women are more discriminating about whom they sleep with in large part because they are much less likely to be sexually satisfied by the experience. There are countless other variables that I can’t even begin to consider here — but this study is at least fascinating as a conversation-starter and a kickoff for future research. I recently chatted with Conley about her findings, “pleasure theory” and the competing sexual pressures women face.

If you could summarize the importance of your findings in one sentence, what would it be?

Anticipated pleasure motivates both women and men to have casual sex and women would accept more casual sex offers from men if they believed that they would get good sex out of the encounter.

That brings up the “pleasure theory,” which looms large in your research. What is it exactly?

The idea behind pleasure theory — a theory developed by Paul Abramson and Steven Pinkerton — is that pleasure itself is evolutionarily selected. If people are pleasuring each other in many different ways, enough procreative sex will occur to propagate the species.

If women are motivated by pleasure theory, why is faking orgasms so common? Any hypothesis as to what larger purpose “faking it” serves in casual encounters?

Sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong has shown that women do not feel entitled to sexual pleasure in casual heterosexual encounters. They seem to be more focused on providing the male partner with pleasure. If faking is common in casual sex encounters, it is likely because women are trying to do what they believe their male partner will like the best.

What’s the motivator there?

Women are typically socialized to be more concerned about others’ need than their own. They are also perceived negatively if they take the lead in sex.

Isn’t the motivation to give men pleasure at odds with the general “pleasure theory,” though?

Yes, I believe it is; women have competing pressures — they want sexual pleasure but other social forces prevent them from asking for it.

Do we know whether women’s perception of which men will bring them more pleasure actually bears out? In other words, using the example from the study: Is Johnny Depp necessarily a better lover than Donald Trump just because he’s more attractive?

Women orgasm only about 35 percent as often as men do in casual sex encounters — again, according to research by sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong. Therefore, women’s estimations of the ability or willingness of the male partner to provide them with sexual pleasure seem to be accurate.

What does your research tell us about women and how they calculate the risk of a particular sexual encounter?

Pleasure is the motivating force for both women and men in sexual encounter. Risk — for example, STI risk or risk of violence — does not appear to affect whether they accept or reject a casual sex offer.

What weaknesses did your research reveal about the popular evolutionary view of how we choose whom we sleep with?

Sexual strategies theory proposes that women are motivated to accept sex because of the status of the potential sexual partner. I tested this possibility in several studies and it was never borne out. Moreover perceptions of status did not affect perceptions of the males’ sexual capabilities, either. SST variables do not effectively explain gender differences in casual sex.

Why Some Men Don’t Want To Get Married

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘Some men just don’t want to be married. Others do, but unrealistically wait for the “perfect” partner.’ -Hugo Schwyzer. An interesting, well reasoned, and inclusive take on the whole ‘to be or not to be married’ question. And what prevents many men from answering it.”

By Hugo Schwyzer @ The Good Men Project:

Last week, Jennifer Doll offered a familiar lament in the pages of the Village Voice“Dear Single Women of NYC: It’s Not Them, It’s You.Though her focus is on New York, Doll could have been describing almost any large American city in which the number of single, straight, employed, and emotionally competent men is apparently dwarfed by the number of women who want to meet them.

The “man shortage” is a perennial go-to for articles aimed at women readers; these pieces differ mainly in the degree to which they blame the crisis on women’s ambition, pickiness, or sexual aggressiveness.

Refreshingly, Doll gets that men also desire relationships. She interviews one guy who claims to be looking for marriage:

“I don’t want to be 34 and doing that thing that sketchy New York guys do where they go out and act as though they’re 24. I’ve seen too much of it … It’s a real cautionary tale.” When I told him that was refreshing, he said, “I think most guys feel that way.”

I think we can all agree that guys in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s who behave like overgrown teenagers is not a phenomenon limited to the 212 area code. Middle-class male adolescence is a countrywide phenomenon that can last a quarter-century or more.

Women’s sexual availability often takes the rap for men’s increasingly famous ambivalence about marriage. Pundits offer endless variations on the why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free aphorism. If women would commit to being less sexually available, the argument goes, men would be more willing to commit to marriage.

But that reasoning misses the mark on two counts. First, plenty of women like sex, and not just because it’s so irresistible to men. Second, it doesn’t take into account just how hungry many men are for an enduring relationship. Like the guy whom Doll found so “refreshing,” a lot of men — far more than the stories like hers let on — want more than an endless supply of free milk from new cows.


Doll’s interviewee is right: most guys do want to grow up. Most of us have winced as we’ve watched men humiliate themselves chasing women who are too young and not interested. What seems cool at 25 is embarrassing at 50. But how do we figure out when the moment is right to “settle down”? Do it too early, and we might be tortured by regret about all the new skin we’re missing. Wait too long, and we’re in danger of becoming the creepy bachelor uncle, the one about whom a niece warns all her girlfriends.

Of course, marriage isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. And being married — or being willing to be married — shouldn’t be the only benchmark for growing up. The marriage rate is falling, and one reason is that more people are finding alternatives that work better for them. But another reason is that too many young people — men especially — have such lofty expectations for marriage (and such fears of divorce) that they set themselves up to never be “ready.”

My dad once told me that the biggest mistake men make is “waiting to be struck by certainty.” Men expect signs. They want a “burning bush” or a billboard on the interstate; they want to hear the voice of God booming, “Marry her!”

Most guys see certainty as the total absence of doubt, and so they keep imagining that settling down is what you do when you’re 100 percent sure about someone. Problem is, it’s damn near impossible to be 100 percent sure about anything. In most ventures in life, we’re 70 percent sure at best. But then again, we don’t expect most ventures to last forever. And so we hedge our bets, we play the field, we wait for the one to come along who will strike us with certainty. And with no biological clock ticking (just the fear of turning into an aging “creeper”), we can spin out that waiting for a very long time.

A friend once told me, “I’ll know I’ve met the one when I don’t want to screw any of her friends, no matter how hot they are.” He would know he’d met his future wife when monogamy would seem effortless. For him, being “struck by certainty” would mean the complete absence of interest in ever having sex with anyone other than his “one.”


Growing up means letting go of the need for a “burning bush” moment. It means not holding other people hostage to your own indecisiveness and understanding that certainty comes after you make a commitment to something. It’s the result of an action taken, not a prerequisite for taking it.

Again, marriage isn’t for everyone. The willingness to make a commitment is hardly the only proof of maturity. But I’m not concerned here with the men who are certain they never want to marry. The problem is with the ones who very much want to get married but are waiting to be struck by (and keeping everybody else waiting for) that thunderbolt of certainty.

As men grow older, the poet David Justice wrote, men should “learn to close softly the doors to rooms they will not be coming back to.” What’s left behind in those rooms? The unlimited options and possibilities we love to contemplate.

The certainty you’re looking for comes only after that door is shut.


Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college’s first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image.

Trauma: How We’ve Created A Nation Addicted to Shopping, Work, Drugs And Sex

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2011 at 9:54 am

Oldspeak: “Post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed the conditions required for healthy childhood development. Dr. Gabor Mate discusses some of the elaborate ways we’ve avoided dealing with the unhealthy physiological/psychological consequences of our societal and economic systems in our children and ourselves.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: From disease to addiction, parenting to attention deficit disorder, Canadian physician and bestselling author Gabor Maté’s work focuses on the centrality of early childhood experiences to the development of the brain, and how those experiences can impact everything from behavioral patterns to physical and mental illness. While the relationship between emotional stress and disease, and mental and physical health more broadly, is often considered controversial within medical orthodoxy, Dr. Maté argues too many doctors seem to have forgotten what was once a commonplace assumption, that emotions are deeply implicated in both the development of illness, addictions and disorders, and in their healing.

Dr. Maté is the bestselling author of four books: When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease ConnectionScattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It; and, with Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers; his latest is called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.

In our first conversation, Dr. Maté talked about his work as the staff physician at the Portland Hotel in Vancouver, Canada, a residence and harm reduction facility in Downtown Eastside, a neighborhood with one the densest concentrations of drug addicts in North America. The Portland hosts the only legal injection site in North America, a center that’s come under fire from Canada’s Conservative government. I asked Dr. Maté to talk about his patients.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: The hardcore drug addicts that I treat, are, without exception, people who have had extraordinarily difficult lives. And the commonality is childhood abuse. In other words, these people all enter life under extremely adverse circumstances. Not only did they not get what they need for healthy development, they actually got negative circumstances of neglect. I don’t have a single female patient in the Downtown Eastside who wasn’t sexually abused, for example, as were many of the men, or abused, neglected and abandoned serially, over and over again.

And that’s what sets up the brain biology of addiction. In other words, the addiction is related both psychologically, in terms of emotional pain relief, and neurobiological development to early adversity.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the title of your book mean, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, it’s a Buddhist phrase. In the Buddhists’ psychology, there are a number of realms that human beings cycle through, all of us. One is the human realm, which is our ordinary selves. The hell realm is that of unbearable rage, fear, you know, these emotions that are difficult to handle. The animal realm is our instincts and our id and our passions.

Now, the hungry ghost realm, the creatures in it are depicted as people with large empty bellies, small mouths and scrawny thin necks. They can never get enough satisfaction. They can never fill their bellies. They’re always hungry, always empty, always seeking it from the outside. That speaks to a part of us that I have and everybody in our society has, where we want satisfaction from the outside, where we’re empty, where we want to be soothed by something in the short term, but we can never feel that or fulfill that insatiety from the outside. The addicts are in that realm all the time. Most of us are in that realm some of the time. And my point really is, is that there’s no clear distinction between the identified addict and the rest of us. There’s just a continuum in which we all may be found. They’re on it, because they’ve suffered a lot more than most of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the biology of addiction?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: For sure. You see, if you look at the brain circuits involved in addiction—and that’s true whether it’s a shopping addiction like mine or an addiction to opiates like the heroin addict—we’re looking for endorphins in our brains. Endorphins are the brain’s feel good, reward, pleasure and pain relief chemicals. They also happen to be the love chemicals that connect us to the universe and to one another.

Now, that circuitry in addicts doesn’t function very well, as the circuitry of incentive and motivation, which involves the chemical dopamine, also doesn’t function very well. Stimulant drugs like cocaine and crystal meth, nicotine and caffeine, all elevate dopamine levels in the brain, as does sexual acting out, as does extreme sports, as does workaholism and so on.

Now, the issue is, why do these circuits not work so well in some people, because the drugs in themselves are not surprisingly addictive. And what I mean by that is, is that most people who try most drugs never become addicted to them. And so, there has to be susceptibility there. And the susceptible people are the ones with these impaired brain circuits, and the impairment is caused by early adversity, rather than by genetics.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “early adversity”?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the human brain, unlike any other mammal, for the most part develops under the influence of the environment. And that’s because, from the evolutionary point of view, we developed these large heads, large fore-brains, and to walk on two legs we have a narrow pelvis. That means—large head, narrow pelvis—we have to be born prematurely. Otherwise, we would never get born. The head already is the biggest part of the body. Now, the horse can run on the first day of life. Human beings aren’t that developed for two years. That means much of our brain development, that in other animals occurs safely in the uterus, for us has to occur out there in the environment. And which circuits develop and which don’t depend very much on environmental input.

When people are mistreated, stressed or abused, their brains don’t develop the way they ought to. It’s that simple. And unfortunately, my profession, the medical profession, puts all the emphasis on genetics rather than on the environment, which, of course, is a simple explanation. It also takes everybody off the hook.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, it takes people off the hook?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, if people’s behaviors and dysfunctions are regulated, controlled and determined by genes, we don’t have to look at child welfare policies, we don’t have to look at the kind of support that we give to pregnant women, we don’t have to look at the kind of non-support that we give to families, so that, you know, most children in North America now have to be away from their parents from an early age on because of economic considerations. And especially in the States, because of the welfare laws, women are forced to go find low-paying jobs far away from home, often single women, and not see their kids for most of the day. Under those conditions, kids’ brains don’t develop the way they need to.

And so, if it’s all caused by genetics, we don’t have to look at those social policies; we don’t have to look at our politics that disadvantage certain minority groups, so cause them more stress, cause them more pain, in other words, more predisposition for addictions; we don’t have to look at economic inequalities. If it’s all genes, it’s all—we’re all innocent, and society doesn’t have to take a hard look at its own attitudes and policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this whole approach of criminalization versus harm reduction, how you think addicts should be treated, and how they are, in the United States and Canada?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the first point to get there is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.

The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food, because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So that stress drives addiction.

Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very—there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m curious about your own history, Gabor Maté.


AMY GOODMAN: You were born in Nazi-occupied Hungary?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, ADD has a lot to do with that. I have attention deficit disorder myself. And again, most people see it as a genetic problem. I don’t. It actually has to do with those factors of brain development, which in my case occurred as a Jewish infant under Nazi occupation in the ghetto of Budapest. And the day after the pediatrician—sorry, the day after the Nazis marched into Budapest in March of 1944, my mother called the pediatrician and says, “Would you please come and see my son, because he’s crying all the time?” And the pediatrician says, “Of course I’ll come. But I should tell you, all my Jewish babies are crying.”

Now infants don’t know anything about Nazis and genocide or war or Hitler. They’re picking up on the stresses of their parents. And, of course, my mother was an intensely stressed person, her husband being away in forced labor, her parents shortly thereafter being departed and killed in Auschwitz. Under those conditions, I don’t have the kind of conditions that I need for the proper development of my brain circuits. And particularly, how does an infant deal with that much stress? By tuning it out. That’s the only way the brain can deal with it. And when you do that, that becomes programmed into the brain.

And so, if you look at the preponderance of ADD in North America now and the three millions of kids in the States that are on stimulant medication and the half-a-million who are on anti-psychotics, what they’re really exhibiting is the effects of extreme stress, increasing stress in our society, on the parenting environment. Not bad parenting. Extremely stressed parenting, because of social and economic conditions. And that’s why we’re seeing such a preponderance.

So, in my case, that also set up this sense of never being soothed, of never having enough, because I was a starving infant. And that means, all my life, I have this propensity to soothe myself. How do I do that? Well, one way is to work a lot and to gets lots of admiration and lots of respect and people wanting me. If you get the impression early in life that the world doesn’t want you, then you’re going to make yourself wanted and indispensable. And people do that through work. I did it through being a medical doctor. I also have this propensity to soothe myself through shopping, especially when I’m stressed, and I happen to shop for classical compact music. But it goes back to this insatiable need of the infant who is not soothed, and they have to develop, or their brain develop, these self-soothing strategies.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think kids with ADD, with attention deficit disorder, should be treated?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, if we recognize that it’s not a disease and it’s not genetic, but it’s a problem of brain development, and knowing the good news, fortunately—and this is also true for addicts—that the brain, the human brain, can develop new circuits even later on in life—and that’s called neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to be molded by new experience later in life—then the question becomes not of how to regulate and control symptoms, but how do you promote development. And that has to do with providing kids with the kind of environment and nurturing that they need so that those circuits can develop later on.

That’s also, by the way, what the addict needs. So instead of a punitive approach, we need to have a much more compassionate, caring approach that would allow these people to develop, because the development is stuck at a very early age.

AMY GOODMAN: You began your talk last night at Columbia, which I went to hear, at the law school, with a quote, and I’d like you to end our conversation with that quote.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Would that be the quote that only in the presence of compassion will people allow themselves—


DR. GABOR MATÉ: Oh, oh, no, yeah, Naguib Mahfouz, the great Egyptian writer. He said that “Nothing records the effects of a sad life” so completely as the human body—“so graphically as the human body.” And you see that sad life in the faces and bodies of my patients.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gabor Maté, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. He’s a bestselling author. He’s a physician in Canada.

In that first interview, we touched briefly on his work on attention deficit disorder, the subject of his book Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It. Well, just about a month ago, we had Dr. Maté back on Democracy Now! to talk more about ADD, as well as parenting, bullying, the education system, and how a litany of stresses on the family environment is leading to what he calls the “destruction of the American childhood.”

DR. GABOR MATÉ: In the United States right now, there are three million children receiving stimulant medications for ADHD.


DR. GABOR MATÉ: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And there are about half-a-million kids in this country receiving heavy-duty anti-psychotic medications, medications such as are usually given to adult schizophrenics to regulate their hallucinations. But in this case, children are getting it to control their behavior. So what we have is a massive social experiment of the chemical control of children’s behavior, with no idea of the long-term consequences of these heavy-duty anti-psychotics on kids.

And I know that Canadians statistics just last week showed that within last five years, 43—there’s been a 43 percent increase in the rate of dispensing of stimulant prescriptions for ADD or ADHD, and most of these are going to boys. In other words, what we’re seeing is an unprecedented burgeoning of the diagnosis. And I should say, really, I’m talking about, more broadly speaking, what I would call the destruction of American childhood, because ADD is just a template, or it’s just an example of what’s going on. In fact, according to a recent study published in the States, nearly half of American adolescents now meet some criteria or criteria for mental health disorders. So we’re talking about a massive impact on our children of something in our culture that’s just not being recognized.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what attention deficit disorder is, what attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, specifically ADD is a compound of three categorical set of symptoms. One has to do with poor impulse control. So, these children have difficulty controlling their impulses. When their brain tells them to do something, from the lower brain centers, there’s nothing up here in the cortex, which is where the executive functions are, which is where the functions are that are supposed to tell us what to do and what not to do, those circuits just don’t work. So there’s poor impulse control. They act out. They behave aggressively. They speak out of turn. They say the wrong thing. Adults with ADD will shop compulsively, or impulsively, I should say, and, again, behave in impulsive fashion. So, poor impulse control.

But again, please notice that the impulse control problem is general amongst kids these days. In other words, it’s not just the kids diagnosed with ADD, but a lot of kids. And there’s a whole lot of new diagnoses now. And children are being diagnosed with all kinds of things. ADD is just one example. There’s a new diagnosis called oppositional defiant disorder, which again has to do with behaviors and poor impulse control, so that impulse control now has become a problem amongst children, in general, not just the specific ones diagnosed with ADD.

The second criteria for ADD is physical hyperactivity. So the part of the brain, again, that’s supposed to regulate physical activity and keep you still just, again, doesn’t work.

And then, finally, in the third criteria is poor attention skills—tuning out; not paying attention; mind being somewhere else; absent-mindedness; not being able to focus; beginning to work on something, five minutes later the mind goes somewhere else. So, kind of a mental restlessness and the lack of being still, lack of being focused, lack of being present. These are the three major criteria of ADD.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to this point that you just raised about the destruction of American childhood. What do you mean by that?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the conditions in which children develop have been so corrupted and troubled over the last several decades that the template for normal brain development is no longer present for many, many kids. And Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, who’s a professor of psychiatry at Boston—University of Boston, he actually says that the neglect or abuse of children is the number one public health concern in the United States. A recent study coming out of Notre Dame by a psychologist there has shown that the conditions for child development that hunter-gatherer societies provided for their children, which are the optimal conditions for development, are no longer present for our kids. And she says, actually, that the way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well-being in a moral sense.

So what’s really going on here now is that the developmental conditions for healthy childhood psychological and brain development are less and less available, so that the issue of ADD is only a small part of the general issue that children are no longer having the support for the way they need to develop.

As I made the point in my book about addiction, as well, the human brain does not develop on its own, does not develop according to a genetic program, depends very much on the environment. And the essential condition for the physiological development of these brain circuits that regulate human behavior, that give us empathy, that give us a social sense, that give us a connection with other people, that give us a connection with ourselves, that allows us to mature—the essential condition for those circuits, for their physiological development, is the presence of emotionally available, consistently available, non-stressed, attuned parenting caregivers.

Now, what do you have in a country where the average maternity leave is six weeks? These kids don’t have emotional caregivers available to them. What do you have in a country where poor women, nearly 50 percent of them, suffer from postpartum depression? And when a woman has postpartum depression, she can’t be attuned to the child.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about fathers?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the situation with fathers is, is that increasingly—there was a study recently that showed an increasing number of men are having postpartum depression, as well. And the main role of the father, of course, would be to support the mother. But when people are—emotionally, because the cause of postpartum depression in the mother it is not intrinsic to the mother—not intrinsic to the mother.

What we have to understand here is that human beings are not discrete, individual entities, contrary to the free enterprise myth that people are competitive, individualistic, private entities. What people actually are are social creatures, very much dependent on one another and very much programmed to cooperate with one another when the circumstances are right. When that’s not available, if the support is not available for women, that’s when they get depressed. When the fathers are stressed, they’re not supporting the women in that really important, crucial bonding role in the beginning. In fact, they get stressed and depressed themselves.

The child’s brain development depends on the presence of non-stressed, emotionally available parents. In this country, that’s less and less available. Hence, you’ve got burgeoning rates of autism in this country. It’s going up like 20- or 30-fold in the last 30 or 40 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Say what you mean by autism.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, autism is a whole spectrum of disorders, but the essential quality of it is an emotional disconnect. These children are living in a mind of their own. They don’t respond appropriately to emotional cues. They withdraw. They act out in an aggressive and sometimes just unpredictable fashion. They don’t know how to—there’s no sense—there’s no clear sense of a emotional connection and just peace inside them.

And there’s many, many more kids in this country now, several-fold increase, 20-fold increase in the last 30 years. The rates of anxiety amongst children is increasing. The numbers of kids on antidepressant medications has increased tremendously. The number of kids being diagnosed with bipolar disorder has gone up. And then not to mention all the behavioral issues, the bullying that I’ve already mentioned, the precocious sexuality, the teenage pregnancies. There’s now a program, a so-called “reality show,” that just focuses on teenage mothers.

You know, in other words—see, it never used to be that children grew up in a stressed nuclear family. That wasn’t the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives. And they’re spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how the drugs, Gabor Maté, affect the development of the brain.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: In ADD, there’s an essential brain chemical, which is necessary for incentive and motivation, that seems to be lacking. That’s called dopamine. And dopamine is simply an essential life chemical. Without it, there’s no life. Mice in a laboratory who have no dopamine will starve themselves to death, because they have no incentive to eat. Even though they’re hungry, and even though their life is in danger, they will not eat, because there’s no motivation or incentive. So, partly, one way to look at ADD is a massive problem of motivation, because the dopamine is lacking in the brain. Now, the stimulant medications elevate dopamine levels, and these kids are now more motivated. They can focus and pay attention.

However, the assumption underneath giving these kids medications is that what we’re dealing with here is a genetic disorder, and the only way to deal with it is pharmacologically. And if you actually look at how the dopamine levels in a brain develop, if you look at infant monkeys and you measure their dopamine levels, and they’re normal when they’re with their mothers, and when you separate them from mothers, the dopamine levels go down within two or three days.

So, in other words, what we’re doing is we’re correcting a massive social problem that has to do with disconnection in a society and the loss of nurturing, non-stressed parenting, and we’re replacing that chemically. Now, the drugs—the stimulant drugs do seem to work, and a lot of kids are helped by it. The problem is not so much whether they should be used or not; the problem is that 80 percent of the time a kid is prescribed a medication, that’s all that happens. Nobody talks to the family about the family environment. The school makes no attempt to change the school environment. Nobody connects with these kids emotionally. In other words, it’s seen simply as a medical or a behavioral problem, but not as a problem of development.

AMY GOODMAN: Gabor Maté, you talk about acting out. What does acting out mean?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, it’s a great question. You see, when we hear the phrase “acting out,” we usually mean that a kid is behaving badly, that a child is being obstreperous, oppositional, violent, bullying, rude. That’s because we don’t know how to speak English anymore. The phrase “acting out” means you’re portraying behavior that which you haven’t got the words to say in language. In a game of charades, you have to act out, because you’re not allowed to speak. If you landed in a country where nobody spoke your language and you were hungry, you would have to literally demonstrate your anger—sorry, your hunger, through behavior, pointing to your mouth or to your empty belly, because you don’t have the words.

My point is that, yes, a lot of children are acting out, but it’s not bad behavior. It’s a representation of emotional losses and emotional lacks in their lives. And whether it’s, again, bullying or a whole set of other behaviors, what we’re dealing with here is childhood stunted emotional development—in some cases, stunted pain development. And rather than trying to control these behaviors through punishments, or even just exclusively through medications, we need to help these kids develop.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned you suffered from ADD, attention deficit disorder, yourself—


AMY GOODMAN:—and were drugged for it. Explain your own story.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, I was in my early fifties, and I was working in palliative care at the time. I was coordinator of a palliative care unit at a large Canadian hospital. And a social worker in the unit, who had just been diagnosed as an adult, told me about her story. And as a physician, I was like most physicians who know nothing about ADD. Most physicians really don’t know about the condition. But when she told me her story, I realized that was me. And subsequently, I was diagnosed. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And what was that story? What did you realize was you?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Oh, poor impulse control a lot of my life, impulsive behaviors, disorganization, a tendency to tune out a lot, be absentminded, and physical restlessness. I mean, I had trouble sitting still. All the traits, you know, that I saw in the literature on ADD, I recognized in myself, which was kind of an epiphany, in a sense, because you get to understand—at least you get a sense of why you’re behaving the way you’re behaving.

What never made sense to me right from the beginning, though, is the idea of ADD as a genetic disease. And not even after a couple of my kids were diagnosed with it, I still didn’t buy the idea that it’s genetic, because it isn’t. Again, it has to do with, in my case, very stressed circumstances as an infant, which I talked about on a previous program. In the case of my children, it’s because their father was a workaholic doctor who wasn’t emotionally available to them. And under those circumstances, children are stressed. I mean, if children are stressed when their brains are developing, one way to deal with the stress is to tune out.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about holding on to your kids, why parents need to matter more than peers.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Amy, in 1998, there was a book that was on the New York Times best book of the year and nearly won the Pulitzer Prize, and it was called The Nurture Assumption, in which this researcher argued that parents don’t make any difference anymore, because she looked at the—to the extent thatNewsweek actually had a cover article that year entitled “Do Parents Matter?” Now, if you want to get the full stupidity of that question, you have to imagine a veterinarian magazine asking, “Does the mother cat make any difference?” or “Does the mother bear matter?” But the research showed that children are being more influenced now, in their tastes, in their attitudes, in their behaviors, by peers than by parents. This poor researcher concluded that this is somehow natural. And what she mistook was that what is the norm in North America, she actually thought that was natural and healthy. In fact, it isn’t.

So, our book, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, is about showing why it is true that children are being more influenced by other kids in these days than by their parents, but just what an aberration that is, and what a distortion it is of normal human development, because normal human development demands, as normal mammalian development demands, the presence of nurturing parents. You know, even birds—birds don’t develop properly unless the mother and father bird are there. Bears, cats, rats, mice. Although, most of all, human beings, because human beings are the least mature and the most dependent for the longest period of time.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the importance of attachment?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Attachment is the drive to be close to somebody, and attachment is a power force in human relationship—in fact, the most powerful force there is. Even as adults, when attachment relationships that people want to be close to are lost to us or they’re threatened somehow, we get very disoriented, very upset. Now, for children and babies and adolescents, that’s an absolute necessity, because the more immature you are, the more you need your attachments. It’s like a force of gravity that pulls two bodies together. Now, when the attachment goes in the wrong direction, instead of to the adults, but to the peer group, childhood developments can be distorted, development is stopped in its tracks, and parenting and teaching become extremely difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: You co-wrote this book, and you both found, in your experience, Hold on to Your Kids, that your kids were becoming increasingly secretive and unreachable.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, that’s the thing. You see, now, if your spouse or partner, adult spouse or partner, came home from work and didn’t give you the time of day and got on the phone and talked with other people all the time and spent all their time on email talking to other people, your friends wouldn’t say, “You’ve got a behavioral problem. You should try tough love.” They’d say you’ve got a relationship problem. But when children act in these ways, we think we have a behavioral problem, we try and control the behaviors. In fact, what they’re showing us is that—my children showed this, as well—is that I had a relationship problem with them. They weren’t connected enough with me and too connected to the peer group. So that’s why they wanted to spend all their time with their peer group. And now we’ve given kids the technology to do that with. So the terrible downside of the internet is that now kids are spending time with each other—

AMY GOODMAN: Not even in the presence of each other.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s exactly the point, because, you see, that’s an attachment dynamic. One of the basic ways that people attach to each other is to want to be with the people that you want to connect with. So when kids spend time with each other, it’s not a behavior problem; it’s a sign that their relationships have been skewed towards the peer group. And that’s why it’s so difficult to peel them off their computers, because their desperation is to connect with the people that they’re trying to attach to. And that’s no longer us, as the adults, as the parents in their life.

AMY GOODMAN: So how do you change this dynamic?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, first we have to recognize its manifestations. And so, we have to recognize that whenever the child doesn’t look adults in the eye anymore, when the child wants to be always on the Skype or the cell phone or twittering or emailing or MSM messengering, you recognize it when the child becomes oppositional to adults. We tend to think that that’s a normal childhood phenomenon. It’s normal only to a certain degree.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, they have to rebel in order to separate later.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: No. They have to separate, but they don’t have to rebel. In other words, separation is a normal human—individuation is a normal human developmental stage. You have to become a separate, individual person. But it doesn’t mean you have to reject and be hostile to the values of the adults. As a matter of fact, in traditional societies, children would become adults by being initiated into the adult group by elders, like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah ceremony or the initiation rituals of tribal cultures around the world. Now kids are initiated by other kids. And now you have the gang phenomenon, so that the teenage gang phenomenon is actually a misplaced initiation and orientation ritual, where kids are now rebelling against adult values. But it’s not because they’re bad kids, but because they’ve become disconnected from adults.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Maté, there’s a whole debate about education in the United States right now. How does this fit in?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, you have to ask, how do children learn? How do children learn? And learning is an attachment dynamic, as well. You learn when you want to be like somebody. So you copy them, so you learn from them. You learn when you’re curious. And you learn when you’re willing to try something, and if it doesn’t work, you try something else.

Now, here’s what happens. Caring about something and being curious about something and recognizing that something doesn’t work, you have to have a certain degree of emotional security. You have to be able to be open and vulnerable. Children who become peer-oriented—because the peer world is so dangerous and so fraught with bullying and ostracization and dissing and exclusion and negative talk, how does a child protect himself or herself from all that negativity in the peer world? Because children are not committed to each others’ unconditional loving acceptance. Even adults have a hard time giving that. Children can’t do it. Those children become very insecure, and emotionally, to protect themselves, they shut down. They become hardened, so they become cool. Nothing matters. Cool is the ethic. You see that in the rock videos. It’s all about cool. It’s all about aggression and cool and no real emotion. Now, when that happens, curiosity goes, because curiosity is vulnerable, because you care about something and you’re admitting that you don’t know. You won’t try anything, because if you fail, again, your vulnerability is exposed. So, you’re not willing to have trial and error.

And in terms of who you’re learning from, as long as kids were attaching to adults, they were looking to the adults to be modeling themselves on, to learn from, and to get their cues from. Now, kids are still learning from the people they’re attached to, but now it’s other kids. So you have whole generations of kids that are looking to other kids now to be their main cue-givers. So teachers have an almost impossible problem on their hands. And unfortunately, in North America again, education is seen as a question of academic pedagogy, hence these terrible standardized tests. And the very teachers who work with the most difficult kids are the ones who are most penalized.

AMY GOODMAN: Because if they don’t have good test scores, standardized test scores, in their class—

DR. GABOR MATÉ: They’re seen as bad teachers.

AMY GOODMAN:—then they could be fired. They’re seen as bad teachers, which means they’re going to want to kick out any difficult kids.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s exactly it. The difficult kids are kicked out, and teachers will be afraid to go into neighborhoods where, because of troubled family relationships, the kids are having difficulties, the kids are peer-oriented, the kids are not looking to the teachers. And this is seen as a reflection. So, actually, teachers are being slandered right now. Teachers are being slandered now because of the failure of the American society to produce the right environment for childhood development.

AMY GOODMAN: Because of the destruction of American childhood.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s right. What the problem reflects is the loss of the community and the neighborhood. We have to recreate that. So, the schools have to become not just places of pedagogy, but places of emotional connection. The teachers should be in the emotional connection game before they attempt to be in the pedagogy game.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program,Democracy Now!.

Being Single Can Be Great for You — And Your Future Relationships

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Oldspeak:”We need to get over this idea that being single is somehow less desirable than being married. Or that being single a just a way station before one is married or in a relationship. It’s not. It’s a valid and healthy way of being that is not a step in a “progression”. Being single doesn’t make you unworthy, unlovable or abnormal.”

From Greta Christina @ Alter Net:

In American culture, it’s generally assumed that everybody wants to be married, or to be in a long-term relationship. It’s assumed that everybody should be hitched up, and that everybody would be better off that way. Oh, sure, if you’ve just broken up with someone, it’s considered prudent to take a break between relationships. But it’s generally thought that this break is just that — a break. A temporary pause in the normal, correct state of affairs: the state of being in love. It’s assumed that, once a decent interval has passed, of course you’ll want to get back in the love game.

I was single for twelve years before my wife Ingrid and I fell in love. Very happily single. I am a huge fan of taking time to consider not just when to be coupled again and with whom, but whether to be coupled again. I am a huge fan of learning to be okay about being single: learning, not just to be okay with it, but to be actively happy about it. I am a huge fan of seeing our choices about romantic relationships include the choice, “None of the above.” I’m not alone in this. According to

Dr. Marty Klein,

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist (and author of five books on sexuality, as well as the Sexual Intelligence blog), the consensus in the therapeutic community is that taking time to be alone after a breakup is, if not essential, certainly very beneficial to making future relationships work.

But how does that work? How can I be an advocate, both for happy marriage, and for happy bachelor/ bachelorette-hood? There are two basic things going on here. They’re going to seem paradoxical, but they’re really not. Paradox resolution is forthcoming, I promise. Thing One: Being single for so long was, in and of itself, awesome. Thing Two: Being single for so long has made my marriage stronger. Let’s get to Thing One first. Being single for twelve years was one of the best experiences of my life. It taught me self-reliance. It taught me self-confidence. It taught me an immense amount about who I was. It taught me how to keep myself company. It taught me how to keep myself sane. And for most of those years, it was just plain fun. I did what I wanted to, when I wanted to do it. I went to the movies when I wanted. I hung out with my friends when I wanted. I went out to nightclubs or sex clubs or nerdy folk dances when I wanted. I let the dishes rot in the sink when I felt like it. (And I felt like it a lot.)

I fucked dozens of different women: casual personal-ad hookups, ongoing fuckbuddies who became genuine friends, women at sex clubs whose names I never knew. I never would have known how valuable and fun being single was if I hadn’t thought to try it. As Dr. Charlie Glickman, AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator and Ph.D. in Adult Sexuality Education, said when I asked him about this, “I’ve always said that the only way to know for sure if something works for you is to try it on. Whether that’s a shirt or a relationship, we can often make educated guesses but until we take it off the hanger and put it on, we don’t really know for sure. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who thought that a particular sexual activity or relationship structure wouldn’t work for them until they tried it.” And obviously, we can’t try out a relationship option — including the “None” option — unless we know it’s both available and valid. You can’t try on a shirt if you don’t know it’s on the rack… and you’re a lot less likely to try on a shirt if your friends are all telling you it’s ugly.

An important point to make here: For most of those twelve solo years, I wasn’t just happily single. I was consciously and deliberately single. I wasn’t single for twelve years out of bad luck or bad vibes or bad dating skills. I was single because I chose to be single. By the time I fell in love with Ingrid, I was beginning to be open to serious relationships…but for most of those twelve years, I actively resisted them. I made it clear to anyone I was dating, right at the outset, that dating me was not going to end with us walking down the aisle.

So why the hell did I get married? That brings us to Thing Two, and the apparent paradox. Yes, being single for so long was a completely valuable and fun experience for its own sake.

And at the same time: My marriage is stronger because of the years I spent on my own. Being single for twelve years laid the emotional foundation for my side of this marriage. A significant part of it, anyway. Some of that is because, when I was single, I did a whole lot of soul-searching. About love, and a bucketload of other stuff. Having room to just be myself for a few years gave me the chance to figure out some bad emotional habits… and to unlearn them. I learned how to sort out what I wanted and felt from what other people told me I should want and feel. I learned how to balance assertiveness and clarity with generosity and kindness — or, as I put it to a friend recently, how to find the window between being a demanding, high-maintenance asshole and being a doormat. I learned why I kept being attracted to emotionally broken drug addicts… and I learned how not to be.

I learned how to find the sexiness and the intensity and the compelling sense of fascination and intrigue — in sane, balanced, stable people. And without all that, I doubt that my relationship with Ingrid would have lasted six months — much less thirteen years. But there’s something else here: something more crucial, something that’s right at the heart of this apparent paradox I keep talking about. Knowing that I can be happily single makes it easier to be happily married. My marriage is stronger because I see it as a real choice. I don’t feel trapped into it, and it’s not a default slot I fell into. It’s a choice between genuinely competing options, with real plusses and minuses to each of them. I’m not with Ingrid because I’m afraid of being alone. I’m with Ingrid because I want to be with Ingrid. So when I’m feeling cranky about something that’s less than perfect in our marriage — a compromise we made about money that I’m not totally happy with, an evening when we’re both tired and cranky and are snapping at each other, a party I promised to go to that I just don’t feel like coping with — the upsets aren’t compounded by feeling trapped into them.

Remembering that this is my choice reminds why I made it — and why I continue to make it. When I’m feeling happy about our marriage — which is most of the time, by a significant margin — that happiness is enhanced by the freedom with which we chose it. Our happiness isn’t a slot we got slotted into and were lucky enough to fit. We chose it. We’ve worked our asses off for it. So it feels like ours. It belongs to us. But as passionate as I feel about this question of choice — of making our own conscious decisions about our own damn relationships, and not letting ourselves get slotted into them by default — I have to admit that things aren’t always that simple. More choices don’t always make us happier. Some research suggests that having too many choices can make us as unhappy as not having any. It can overwhelm us, paralyze us, make us anxious about whether our choices are right, make us blame ourselves when things don’t work out, create a perpetual loop of second-guessing, raise our expectations to an impossible level. (Think about shopping for olive oil. If there’s only one kind on the grocery store shelf, we don’t much like that, especially if it’s a kind we don’t like… but if there are a hundred varieties, that can be just as frustrating.)

This is a point Dr. Klein was emphatic about. When I interviewed him about this question — about default decisions in general, and about the specific default decision of being coupled over being single — he pointed out that not everybody is as enamored of choice as I am. Personally, he also has a strong philosophical attachment to making his own free choices about his own life… but from a practical, clinical perspective, he recognizes that many people are happier, and better able to get on with their lives, when they let some of their decisions, big or small, be made by social consensus. And while Dr. Glickman is another fan of tailoring our relationships to fit instead of just buying them off the rack, he also acknowledges the challenges to this approach. “The more you move away from the default option,” he says, “the harder it is to find role models, which can feel really unstable as well as making it more difficult because you might not think of a possible solution to the challenges you face.” So I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here. I’m not trying to make a new rule that everyone has to follow. I’m trying to be a role model for an option some people might not have considered. As much as the demanding, high-maintenance asshole in me would love to tell everyone to live their lives exactly like I do, I can’t seriously argue that absolutely everybody should be single, and should try to be happy being single, for X amount of time before they get coupled again. I don’t want to replace the old set of Thou Shalts with a new one. I’m just trying to say: Being single is an option.  It’s a valid option: temporarily, or indefinitely. It’s one that some people are genuinely happy with. I was, for close to twelve years. If you tend to feel trapped in relationships — or if you get panicky and freaked-out when you’re not in one — it’s an option you might consider. It’s an option that might make you happy, simply because it’s fun and valuable for its own sake. And it’s an option that might do a world of good for any future relationships.

I’m not trying to say, “Thou Shalt.”

I’m just trying to say, “Thou Might.”


Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.


Freedom from Sexual Self-Denial: Why Not Have Sex With People Who Aren’t Your Partner?

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2010 at 9:22 am

Oldspeak:”The usual assumption is that polyamorous people are selfish, immature, incapable of commitment, and their primary relationship is therefore doomed to failure, while monogamy is celebrated. But what’s so gutsy about living a life full of self-denial and insecurity, where the person you love most is also the person you most need to limit?”

From Gabrielle Robin @ Alter Net:

When my boyfriend, Jason, confessed to having sex with another woman, I cried. I cried almost nonstop for a full weekend, actually, in spite of the fact that I was the one who encouraged him to do it.

For the first two years of our relationship, I constantly teased Jason with dares that he fool around with any girl who hit on him. I maintained that I didn’t feel comfortable demanding monogamy, and that if he wanted to have sex with someone else, all I asked was that he be honest with me about it.

But Jason repeatedly said he was naturally monogamous. He didn’t like one-night stands—he was picky and prone to germophobia—and he didn’t want to have an ongoing sexual relationship with anyone else while we were together. He was a serial monogamist; he’d never had a “friend with benefits.” If he was having sex with someone, it was because they were dating.

Yet after years of being together, we hit a sexual wall. We’d tried meeting other couples and had two threesomes, but our efforts only yielded frustration and disappointment. I missed my days of effortlessly falling into bed with a new man and letting our chemistry lead the way. And I missed having dirty details to share with Jason about my past exploits (which he always enjoyed hearing). Together we decided that I would seek out another man, and though Jason would not necessarily look for another partner, he had license to seize the opportunity should it arise. That opportunity arose during a trip to New York, when a waitress gave him her phone number.

Although open relationships are not as shocking a concept today as they were 50 years ago, they’re still regarded with overwhelming skepticism and even disdain. The usual assumption is that polyamorous people are selfish, immature, incapable of commitment, and their primary relationship is therefore doomed to failure. When a letter writer askedPsychology Today columnist Hara Estroff Marano whether an open marriage might work for the writer and his/her partner—explaining that each had affairs in the past but still “remain committed to each other”— Marano (who is not actually a psychologist), replied “no.” She went on to accuse the letter writer of being in search of “Peter Pan escape(s),” closing with the snide line that staying in a monogamous marriage “takes guts; it’s much easier to look outside for excitement than to find the source within.”

But what’s so gutsy about living a life full of self-denial and insecurity, where the person you love most is also the person you most need to limit?

Janet W. Hardy, co-author of The Ethical Slut, is quick to point out that being “open” is not necessarily the path of least resistance, and that moving away from monogamy takes courage: “The difference between polyamorous people and monogamous people isn’t that poly people never feel jealous — we do. The real difference is what we do with our feelings of jealousy. […] By blaming the [unhappy] feelings on their partners, [most monogamous people] are able to make problems someone else’s fault. That way, they don’t have to feel responsible for figuring out what’s causing the feelings, or for finding a solution.” Those who have elected to allow their partner extra-relationship sex don’t “have that luxury. You don’t get to distract yourself from your feelings of loss, sorrow, insecurity or whatever by diverting them into anger toward him [or her.]”

This is part of why an open relationship can be such a challenge. In an article that came out earlier this year about one couple’s history of their open marriage, wife Cate specifically said “it seemed worth it to me to push my psychological limits, to just work through it. I wanted to get to a better self […] There were a million — not a million, but many — painful challenges. Enormous, terrifying. But if you have relationships that have real emotional depth to them, which is what we aspire to, then it is never safe. You’re terrified about losing the person. It’s high risk.”

Is that the thought process of someone who’s cowardly, careless or motivated only by hedonism?

I found out about such powerful psychological effects firsthand. My logical side was appalled by my crying—I was going to have other partners, too!—but my ego was screaming for comfort. My own experiences in the past had proven to me that I could have orgasms with men I wasn’t interested in dating; I could have good sexual chemistry with men who were not conventionally attractive; and I could even have a positive sexual encounter with someone without craving a repeat. I knew Jason had practiced safer sex and I knew that he loved me. There was no threat to my safety and no betrayal of trust. So why was I suffering so much? Probably because Jason’s news forced me to confront the way I perceived myself (impervious, rational, independent) versus the reality of how I actually am (insecure, emotional).

Janet Hardy puts this suffering in a positive light, by calling it “a gift, although it doesn’t feel like one. It means that you get to make yourself stronger by figuring out what it was that triggered your jealousy, and working to solve it.” And that’s what I started to do. As I searched for a word to describe my internal experience, only one came up: humiliated. This was not a sensation I’d dealt with much. It was hardly a word in my vocabulary. But Jason’s affair had unleashed a slew of overwhelming insecurities—that I’m not sexy enough or pretty enough or satisfying enough—that left me vulnerable and exposed.

Therapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, recognizes the volatility of such personal fears by encouraging the couples she sees to “find out where sexual exclusiveness begins or ends. When do you feel that boundaries have been stretched too thin and therefore the relationship is being threatened?” In my situation, it was less that I felt my relationship with Jason was threatened and more that I felt my own confidence, or rather my relationship with myself, was threatened. What I doubted was not his love of me but my own desirability and my worthiness to be loved. Personal issues that powerful wouldn’t disappear simply by requiring complete monogamy.

Furthermore, as Perel sees it, the distinction between monogamy and non-monogamy is erroneous. For her, “sexual exclusivity” and “fidelity” are more useful terms. “Fidelity is a relational constancy,” she explains. “A foundational respect, a pact, that may or may not include [sexual] exclusivity. Gay people have forever negotiated a monogamous relationship with a primary emotional commitment to one partner, with a deep sense of loyalty and devotion, that wasn’t necessarily sexually exclusive.”

Recent studies back her up. Although some estimates as to how many adults maintain open relationships are shockingly low (WebMD features two guesses that range from 4-9 percent to “less than 1 percent”) a study conducted by San Francisco State Universityfound that 50 percent of gay couples were having sex outside the relationship with their partners’ consent. This circumstance seemed to have no effect on the couples’ happiness within their relationships when compared to the satisfaction of non-open gay couples.

Sadly, therapists as open-minded as Perel are hard to come by. David J. Ley, clinical psychologist and author of the amusingly titled Insatiable Wives, recently called out other therapists for being judgmental and hypocritical in their routine dismissal of alternative relationships. According to Ley, most counselors don’t receive enough instruction in human sexuality, and they fall back on cultural and personal biases in the absence of training. Just weeks ago in the Chicago Tribune, much-loved Dr. Ruth answered a female advice seeker who said she trusted her husband deeply and wanted to bring a third party into their relationship with: “Don’t put [your marriage] at risk by having sex outside the marriage, in any form.”

Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life In An Open Marriage, doesn’t understand why an open relationship would seem more risky than a closed one when 50 percent of marriages already end in divorce. “Relationships are hard no matter what the set-up. Sometimes I think open ones have a better shot because they are (or at least the good ones are) steeped in honesty.” She is also a strong believer that no one should define themselves by their relationships. “Relationships don’t complete me. They complement me and I hope my partners feel they can say the same. Relationships should be about flexibility, not rigidity. They should be about love, not ownership.”

The dominant school of thought among journalists, therapists and the general public is that romantic relationships require a renunciation of desire in order to succeed, or at least a severe restriction of desire. “Self-sacrifice” comes up often, but rarely the question of why you want someone you’re in love with to make such sacrifices, or the possibility of long-term resentment and unhappiness if you yourself sacrifice too much. Desire, even when unconsummated, makes many of us feel vibrant and alive, more awake to the world around us.

Along with this assumption regarding self-control or self-discipline is the strange refusal to admit that most romantic relationships are not life-long or even decade-long; that marriages fall apart and true loves grow distant; that people staying in a marriage is not synonymous with being happy. As Sandra Tsing Loh so controversially pointed out, there comes a point where someone may choose not to “work on” falling back in love—but some of those people separate and others stay together. The assumption when an open couple breaks up is that their poly lifestyle destroyed an otherwise tenable relationship. I find myself wondering if open couples are not simply more honest about what they want and need, and unwilling to stay in a relationship that isn’t functioning. Of course, amid all this speculation is the proverbial elephant in the room whenever polyamory is discussed: the fact that so many “monogamous” individuals have extra-relationship sex anyway.

When it comes to open relationships, Esther Perel is pragmatic: “It’s not for everybody. But neither is closed. Neither is the traditional model.” She adds that, contrary to being irresponsible and greedy, “people who try out [an open] model are often people who are very respectful of the other person’s sexual exploration. Or there are couples that are hoping that by creating a different kind of boundary they have a higher chance to survive and to preserve themselves. It’s [a decision] made for the purpose of the couple lasting.”

Jason and I are still together. We’re still learning about our boundaries, each other, and ourselves. We’re not actively pursuing other partners, but we also haven’t ruled out the possibility that we may in the future. I hope and suspect that if our relationship comes to an end, it will be the result of sincere self-reflection and honest assessment, not a blowup over sexual attraction to another person or a perceived sexual betrayal. Jason’s affair in New York taught me that our relationship is durable, that I can be strong even while hurt, and that if two people are honest with one another, most situations become less scary. As Jenny Block says, “Ultimately, it’s not about the sex. It’s about honesty, trust, love and respect. If you have those, you have no cause for concern.”

Do Men Love Differently Than Women?

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Oldspeak:“It’s becoming more and more apparent that most of our behavior is evolutionarily and biologically driven, in spite of all our modern culture and technology. Fascinating!”

From Stephen Stosney @ Psychotherapy Networker:

Most of the couples I work with are referred by clinicians who find the man to be “too resistant” for therapy to continue. Typically, when the guys come in, they’re either defensively resentful, angry, or just emotionally shut down. Often they start right off by proclaiming that they’re frustrated as hell with therapy. As we talk, it becomes clear that, initially, they practiced the communication techniques they were taught and took to heart the insights they learned about relationships and family of origin. Yet, for reasons they can’t explain, they couldn’t bring themselves to make the long-term effort to use their new skills or apply their consulting-room insights on a routine basis at home. Of course, this failure to follow through makes their wives even more disappointed in them: “It was one thing when I thought he couldn’t do it; now I know he just won’t!” noted one angry spouse.

But beyond the frustration and resentment of the men I see is their utter bewilderment. Despite their time in therapy, they still don’t have a clue about what their wives and therapists want from them. Partly this has to do with having different expectations from their partners—men just don’t buy relationship-improvement books or read women’s magazines or watch Oprah. They find words like, connection, attunement, and validation mystifying, used less to enlighten than to point out their deficiencies.

Most of my male clients feel that their previous therapy experience was about forcing them to fit a template of what the Therapy World believes love and relationships should look like. While the therapeutic language of “intimacy” is supposedly gender-neutral, most men see it as reflecting values and ideals that appeal disproportionately to women. Nevertheless, when men don’t buy into our relationship template, we often wind up labeling them as resistant, manipulative, narcissistic, or, maybe worst of all, “patriarchal.” The message these “failed” clients get is that the way they express their love just isn’t good enough.

The reason men can talk about feelings and relationship patterns in consultation rooms, but are unlikely to keep doing it at home is simple: emotional talk tends to produce more physiological arousal in men—they experience it more stressfully. Unlike women, they don’t get the oxytocin reward that makes them feel calm, secure, and confident when talking about emotions and the complexities of relationships; testosterone, which men produce more of during stress, seems to reduce the effect of oxytocin, while estrogen enhances it. It takes more work with less reward for men to shift into and maintain the active-listening and self-revealing emotional talk they learn in therapy, so they’re unlikely to do it on a routine basis.

Some readers may be squirming right now at the very suggestion that there may be gender differences in the way people love. So let me emphasize that gender differences can never account for all of the nuances and complexities of individual behavior or render irrelevant the impact of personality variables, such as introversion, sociability, and neuroticism. It’s important to remember that research findings are always about group averages and thus provide room for lots of individual exceptions.

My colleague Pat Love and I begin our presentations standing side-by-side while making the empirically valid statement that men are generally taller than women. (Pat is 5 ft. 11 in. or so, while I’m just over 5 ft. 6 in.) If you randomly select 25 men and women, the average height of the men will likely exceed the average height of the women, yet probably there’ll be tall women and short men in the sample as well. There most assuredly are men who love to talk about feelings and women who hate it. For some couples, no doubt, emotional conversation is like a good, mutually enjoyable backrub—both parties love it equally. However, those couples are unlikely to seek therapy.

Broadly speaking, the men who do come into therapy want to feel understood and appreciated as much as their wives, but therapy typically involves asking partners to go beyond generalized expressions of appreciation to acknowledge that each partner’s point of view is reasonable or understandable in certain circumstances. The focus of most of today’s couples therapies is “validation”—conveying an understanding that you experience your partner’s mental and emotional states and that you value their experience. But the fact is that men often don’t want their thoughts and deeper feelings experienced or valued by their partners, even if their therapists think they should want these things. Unless we develop a better understanding of the real, intrinsic rewards men can experience as a result of being in therapy, they’ll just go through the motions or pursue their hidden agendas, like “Learning what I have to say to get laid.”

For men to engage in the hard work of change, the rewards have to be automatic and visceral, independent of the artificial environment of the therapist’s office and vague therapeutic concepts. They have to feel compelling reasons to change and, most important, to incorporate new behavior into their daily routine. I believe that the primary motivation keeping men invested in loving relationships is different from what keeps women invested, that it has a strong biological underpinning present in all social animals, and that it’s been culturally reinforced throughout the development of the human species.

The glue that keeps men (and males in social animal groups) bonded is the instinct to protect. If you listen long enough to men talking about what it means to love, you’ll notice that loving is inextricably linked, for many men, to some form of protection. If men can’t feel successful at protecting, they can’t fully love.

Protection and Connection

The main role of males in social groups throughout the animal world is to protect the group from outside threats. For the most part, males participate in packs and herds only if the group has predators or strong competition for food. Herds and packs without predators or competitors, like elephants and hippos, are matriarchal, with males either absent or playing peripheral or merely sperm-donor roles.

Male physiology is well-evolved for group protection, with greater muscle mass, more efficient blood flow to the muscles and organs, bigger fangs and claws, quicker reflexes, longer strides, more electrical activity in the central nervous system (to stimulate organs and muscle groups), and a thicker amygdala—the organ that activates the flight or fight response. That’s right, the first emergency response in male social animals is flight, with the option to fight coming into play only when flight isn’t possible. The principal protective role of males in social groups is to lead the pack to safety. (The primacy of flight over fight may be why the initial response of most men to conflict with their wives is to withdraw or shut down.) Significantly, males who are deficient in protecting—the ones poorer at escaping or, if necessary, fighting—have little access to the females of the species.

In species in which the females are the primary hunters, like African lions, males protect the pride from competition for food from other lions and hyenas. This sets them apart from lions in other parts of the world because they’re socially integrated with the pride. Some zoologists believe that this is because the smaller females, while excellent hunters, couldn’t protect their kills from hyena packs.

When most animal packs are under attack and can’t flee, the males form a defensive perimeter, while the females for the most part gather the young and hide them within an inner circle of protection. This scenario plays out in a great many human households, when the woman, who generally has keener hearing, detects a middle-of-the-night sound somewhere in the house. The man typically goes down to investigate, perhaps carrying a baseball bat, while she checks on the children.

Even when male animals are dominant in packs and herds, the glue of the social structure is maintained by females, who attend to one another in ways that are analogous to “validation”— sniffing, licking, and grooming other female members of the pride. This behavior calms and gratifies all the females involved, much the same way that a good emotional talk with girlfriends seems to calm and gratify women. If one of the females is missing from the pack, the others seem to worry. When she returns, the other females greet her with sniffing, licking, and grooming. The males remain connected to the group by virtue of proximity to the females, but don’t interact with them much. In contrast, it appears that frequent interaction among the females—along with fear of isolation—keeps them connected.

Anthropologists agree that humans were communal from our earliest time on earth, moving into pair-bonding relatively late in our history. There’s no reason to suspect that early human social structures were greatly different from those of other primates, where the larger, stronger males protected the tribe and the more social females “validated” each other. Both specialized activities—protection and validation—increased survival rates by enhancing group cohesion and cooperation.

Through much of history, the idea that men and women should consistently engage in intimate conversation and validate each other’s emotional worlds would have been laughable. As historian Stephanie Coontz puts it, previous generations widely assumed that men and women had different natures and couldn’t truly understand each other. The idea of intergender emotional talk independent of the need to protect didn’t emerge until the dissolution of the extended family, which began in the middle of the 20th century. Previous to that, the nuclear family—an intimate couple and children living as an isolated unit—was a rarity. Other family members were in the same house, next door, or across the street. Women got their emotional validation from other women, although they certainly wanted admiration from their men and vice versa. Today, research shows that the healthiest, happiest women have a strong network of girlfriends. In earlier times, men tended to associate mostly with other men—a cultural construct that’s still prevalent in many parts of the world, frequently reinforced by religious beliefs.

Male Protection and Self-Value

The survival importance of the instinct to protect makes it a potent factor in men’s self-value. Men with families automatically suffer low self-value when they fail to protect loved ones, no matter how successful they might be in other areas of life. Just imagine the emotional fate of a world-class CEO who distractedly lets go of his child’s hand, and sees the child run over in traffic. In contrast, a man’s self-value will likely remain intact, even if he fails at work, as long as he feels he can protect his loved ones. As a boy, I remember the manager of our Little League baseball team, a man in his mid-forties, who was beloved by his two sons and idolized by the rest of the kids, even though our parents considered him a flunkie for working as a grocery store bagger. Getting fired from a job is more tolerable for men who are more invested in the protection of their families than in their egos. They tend to search immediately for another job as a means of putting food on the table, while those who view failure at work primarily as an ego assault may face weeks of self-reproach and depression before they get up the energy to job-hunt. Under stress at work, women tend to want closer family connections, while men under stress are likely to withdraw if not isolate from their families to keep from feeling overwhelmed by their failure to protect. Men who abandon their families don’t respond to them as individuals with needs as much as symbols of their failure to protect.

Failure to protect drains meaning and purpose from the lives of family men. As a result, they often turn to some form of adrenaline arousal for motivation or stimulation—chronic resentment, anger, drugs, affairs, or compulsive behavior. When those prove insufficient, they succumb to a dispirited numbness or depression. I’ve never seen a depressed, resentful, angry, abusive, addicted, unfaithful, or compulsive man who didn’t see himself as a failure at protecting his family.

Violence and Failure to Protect

Male social mammals who succumb to fear and fail to protect the pack are either killed or driven away by its dominant males. Those who survive banishment often become rogue predators on the pack, raping females and killing juveniles who stray too far from the group. Among humans, violent criminals usually lack what sociologists term a stake in the community: marriage, paternal investment in children, a job, and positive neighborhood connections. Serial killers and terrorists almost never have intimate relationships or a close connection to their children. Historically, invading armies wanted soldiers before they married or had children; when they did have spouse and children, they were kept isolated from them. By contrast, defensive armies conscripted married men because they’d be willing to die to protect their families from invading hordes.

The increase in family violence since the 1960s parallels the diminishment of fatherhood in America. Fatherless homes have grown 400 percent by some estimates, greatly increasing the risk to women and children. A woman and her children are much more likely to be abused by a boyfriend who isn’t the father of the children and to suffer serious violence and death at the hands of a rejected father, compared to a woman and children who live with the children’s father. Men marginalized as protectors of their families are likelier to struggle for power and control over their wives or girlfriends. They compensate for loss of the capacity to protect with dominance and/or violence.

My early experience with court-ordered domestic-violence offenders taught me that when fathers are more involved in the lives of their children, they’re less likely to hurt women. Before developing our intervention for domestic violence, we studied a group of young men (with a mean age of 22), all of whom had at least two children from previous relationships and who were court-ordered for abuse of their current partners. (At that time, there was only one agency in the area offering batterer intervention, and it had a long waiting list.) As is too often the case with young violent men, none of our guys had a relationship with his children.

We gave them a course called Compassionate Parenting, which raised their awareness of the emotional worlds of their children, particularly their need for fathers who care about them and are willing to look out for them. These young men got more involved in the lives of their kids and, without any direct intervention for domestic violence, reduced recidivism of partner abuse to about 28 percent. The normal recidivism rate for unmarried men of this age group was more than 60 percent, after domestic-violence intervention.

Fur and Bone

In modern culture, male protection is defined almost entirely in financial terms. Protector is practically synonymous with provider, and a man’s worth is measured by how much fur and bone he can bring home to the cave. But the world has changed profoundly. Now few women have a choice between work and full-time motherhood, and more often than not, men aren’t the chief source of financial support in their families. The psychological toll on men conditioned by nature and society to equate being the provider and protector with personal value can be devastating. The predominant cultural message continues to cast men as the dollar signs of families, only now it upholds a standard of breadwinning that fewer men than ever can achieve.

The harm of making the dollar the measure of the man is twofold. First, it undervalues the emotional support that men can—and many do—give their families. In fact, our therapeutic message to men can appear to be paradoxical because we ask them to give more emotional support to their partners at the same time that the culture undervalues it. Second, overvaluing financial support creates a sense of entitlement in many successful providers. They think all they have to do is make more money to earn the “services”—emotional, sexual, homemaking—of their wives. The fact that wives and therapists expect more from them than being a successful breadwinner seems inherently unfair.

Male Protection in Therapy

As a practical matter, it’s useful in therapy to educate couples about the role of protectiveness in the male psyche as a way of normalizing the difficulties they have in forming a more perfect union. Couples typically find it particularly interesting that males remain connected to social animal groups by proximity to the females, even though they don’t interact much, while the females enhance group cohesion by frequently interacting with one another. If the couple has had a boy and girl toddler, they can see this difference in social orientation for themselves early on. Assuming that the children are both securely attached, the boy will tend to play in proximity to the caregiver, always checking to see that he or she is there, but seeking far fewer direct interactions—talking, asking questions, making eye contact, touching, hugging—than the girl. As long as he knows his caregiver is present, his primary interaction is with the environment.

Similarly, a man can feel close to his wife if he’s in one room—on the computer, in front of the TV, or going about his routine—and she’s in another. He’ll likely protest, sulk, or sink into loneliness if she goes out, which she may well do since he isn’t talking to her anyway. To her, and to uninformed therapists, it seems that he wants her home so he can ignore her. But he isn’t ignoring her; her presence gives stability to his routine.

This little example of why proximity to his wife is crucial to him works wonders in opening a man’s eyes to that fact that his wife gives meaning and purpose to his life. In fact, we tend to think about meaning or purpose only when we’re losing it, which is why men tend to fall in love with their wives as they’re walking out the door, with their bags packed. Evidence for the drastic loss of meaning and purpose that men suffer when they lose their wives is seen in the effects of divorce and widowerhood on men: poorer job performance, impaired problem-solving, lowered creativity, high distractibility, “heavy foot” on the gas while driving, anxiety, worry, depression, resentment, anger, aggression, alcoholism, poor nutrition, isolation, shortened lifespan, and suicide. The divorced or widowed man isn’t merely lonely—he’s alone with the crushing shame of his failure to protect his family.

I’m able to use education about the effects of divorce on men clinically, because most guys know someone at work who’s lost his family and become a shadow of his former self. As a quick way of accessing men’s fundamental sense of the meaning and purpose of their lives, I ask each man to write down what he thinks is the most important thing about him as a person. “How do you want those you love to remember you,” I ask. “Near the end of your life, what will you most regret not doing enough of?”

Because meaning and purpose are elusive psychological concepts—a way of describing why we do something rather than what we do—men will rarely hit the mark at first. They say they want to be remembered as a “good provider,” “hard worker,” “loyal man,” choosing mostly protective terms. I then ask them to imagine that they have grown children and how they’d most like their children to feel about them when they’re gone. “Dad was a good provider, hard worker, loyal, etc. I’m not sure he cared about us, but he was a good provider, worked, and was loyal” or “Dad was human; he made mistakes. But I always knew that he cared about us and wanted what was best for us.” On a deep level, all the men I’ve worked with have wanted to be remembered with some version of the second statement—as both protective and compassionate. Helping men learn to express care and compassion directly to the people they love is the key to bridging the divide between their protective instinct and their reluctance to show their emotions.

To Love Big, Think Small

Most of my work with couples centers on helping men come up with ways to approach expressions of emotional support and compassion as a form of protection. We start with enhancing a man’s daily awareness of how his desire to protect his family gives meaning and purpose to his life. He signs an agreement in therapy to remind himself every day that the primary reason he does most of what he does is to protect his family.

My experience in working with men has taught me not to be misled by the interest they might show in therapeutic topics during sessions. They’re often curious about patterns of behavior and communication, as well as family-of-origin issues. They’re also capable of impressive catharsis during sessions. Typically, however, their curiosity and catharsis won’t translate into sustainable behavior change, as 20-plus years of doing regular follow-ups with couples indicate. For all its repetitive tedium, behavior rehearsal is more effective with men in the long run than insight and catharsis.

That’s probably because men are creatures of habit, who generally don’t like surprises or departures from routine. They tend to be less tolerant of interruptions in their relatively rigid daily regimens—eating the same thing for breakfast every day, brushing their teeth at the same time and in the same direction, putting their keys in the same place at the same interval after they arrive home. Because routine is paramount for most men, behavior change based on insight and catharsis eventually sinks beneath the grind of daily habits. But if their routine incorporates small behaviors that enhance their relationships (by increasing their sense of protectiveness), change is likelier to endure.

Early in therapy, I ask men to come up with some brief, symbolic rituals that will build an awareness of the meaning and purpose of their role as protector into their daily routine. A few of my favorites include lighting a morning candle, posting “I love you” notes, putting a flower petal on his wife’s breakfast plate, sending affectionate text messages, and writing one line of their favorite song every day. To increase the chances of compliance, the rule for the small rituals is that they’re spread throughout the day and take less than two minutes total to enact. The goal is to build a mentality of caring over time.

Although men in treatment almost invariably buy into compassion as a deeper form of protection, there’s one aspect of this important bonding emotion that’s hard for both men and women to grasp: true compassion is giving what the other person needs, not necessarily what you want to give. The kind of protection men want to give often comes off more like control than the help and support their partners desire. It’s easy for any of us to confuse control with support when we feel protective of loved ones. If you doubt that, just ask your children. What seems controlling to them, you feel you do out of concern and protectiveness. I use several techniques with couples to convert control into support.

First I explain that control is: implying that she isn’t smart or creative enough to decide things on her own, or that her perspectives and opinions aren’t valid, relevant, or important. It’s telling her what to do and then criticizing or withdrawing affection if she doesn’t do it. By contrast, protective support is: respecting her competence, intelligence, creativity, and resourcefulness. It’s giving her encouragement to find the best course of action and then standing by her if what she decides to do doesn’t work. The therapeutic practice I use is role-playing advocacy—he’s her lawyer presenting her case (i.e., perspective) in a disagreement. This forces him to focus on the strengths of her position, rather than trying to undermine it. We practice this until the ability to see both perspectives simultaneously becomes automatic to him. The nice thing about this exercise is its built-in reciprocity effect; women tend to begin see both perspectives simultaneously, too, when their husbands start doing it.

A major challenge to lasting change in marriage lies in the fact that couples’ day-to-day interactions operate largely on automatic pilot. Emotional response is triggered predominantly by unconscious cues, such as body language, tone of voice, and level of mental distractedness. Negativity in any of these inadvertently sets off the automatic defense system that’s developed between the parties. Once triggered, the unaware couple can easily spiral into dysfunctional patterns of relating. They tend to get lost in the details of whatever they’re blaming on each other, with no realization of what’s actually happened to them—namely, an inadvertent triggering of the automatic defense system.

To offset the escalating effects of the automatic defense system, I try to get men to use their negative emotions as cues to protect. If he feels guilty, ashamed, resentful, or angry, she’s most likely feeling anxious or afraid, even if those vulnerable emotions are hidden beneath harsh resentment or anger. I ask the guy to remember times when he first felt negative emotions in any given interaction with his wife. He recalls the feeling and briefly “physicalizes” it, noting what it feels like in his neck, jaw, chest, shoulders, back, arms, and hands. He associates these physical sensations with a moment’s mindfulness of the things he most values about himself as a person, which is to be protective and compassionate to his family. He then shifts focus to the anxiety or fear underlying his wife’s resentment/ anger. He makes some gesture of reassurance—a demonstration of protectiveness to ease her anxiety—usually making eye contact, touching her hand, rubbing her shoulder, or just asking if he can help. The gesture has to convey that he cares about how she feels and that he very much wishes her well. This level of compassion has to be established before they address the content of their dispute. Once emotional reactivity is regulated by compassion, any dispute becomes easier to resolve. We practice the exercise in treatment until it seems automatic to the couple.

This is sounding much more mundane and plodding than it is in execution. It’s actually exhilarating to help a man use his protective instinct to strengthen his vulnerability. It’s exciting to watch him move from perceiving his wife’s requests (and complaints) as indictments of his ability to protect to experiencing them as cues to activate his desire to protect. He can then see, hear, and support—that is, protect—the most important adult in his life. When he’s able to do that, she feels validated. They both feel “connected,” for want of a better term, even though they’re in different emotional states and doing different things for different rewards. Rather than forcing themselves to act like the same instruments playing the same notes in a duet, couples who begin to interact in this way become like two different instruments playing different notes to create something together that neither can do individually—relational harmony.

25 Year-Long Study Finds Kids Of Lesbians Have Fewer Behavioral Problems; Better Adjusted

In Uncategorized on June 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Oldspeak: “How bout that. Gargantuan hole blown in that anti-gay marriage/parenting argument. Two loving parents works pretty good, sexual orientation is irrelevant. ‘Growing up in households with less power assertion and more parental involvement has been shown to be associated with healthier psychological adjustment’ ”

From Madison Park @ CNN:

A nearly 25-year study concluded that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers.

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, followed 78 lesbian couples who conceived through sperm donations and assessed their children’s well-being through a series of questionnaires and interviews.

Funding for the research came from several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, such as the Gill Foundation and the Lesbian Health Fund from the Gay Lesbian Medical Association.

Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the author of the study, wrote that the “funding sources played no role in the design or conduct of the study.”

“My personal investment is in doing reputable research,” said Gartrell. “This is a straightforward statistical analysis. It will stand and it has withstood very rigorous peer review by the people who make the decision whether or not to publish it.”

Gay parenting remains a controversial issue, with debates about topics including the children’s psychological adjustment, their parents’ sexual orientation and adoption restrictions.

Wendy Wright, president of the Concerned Women for America, a group that supports biblical values, questioned the legitimacy of the findings from a study funded by gay advocacy groups.

“That proves the prejudice and bias of the study,” she said. “This study was clearly designed to come out with one outcome — to attempt to sway people that children are not detrimentally affected in a homosexual household.”

Gartrell started the study in 1986. She recruited subjects through announcements in bookstores, lesbian events and newspapers throughout metro Boston, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California, and Washington.

The mothers were interviewed during pregnancy or the insemination process, and additionally when the children were 2, 5, 10 and 17 years old. Those children are now 18 to 23 years old.

They were interviewed four times as they matured and also completed an online questionnaire at age 17, focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships and academic progress.

To assess their well-being, Gartrell used the Child Behavior Checklist, a commonly used standard to measure children’s behavioral and social problems, such as anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior and social competence.

The answers were coded into a computer and then analyzed. This data was compared with data from children of nonlesbian families.

The results surprised Gartrell.

“I would have anticipated the kids would be doing as well as the normative sample,” she said. “I didn’t expect better.”

Children from lesbian families rated higher in social, academic and total competence. They also showed lower rates in social, rule-breaking, aggressive problem behavior.

The involvement of mothers may be a contributing factor, in addition to the fact that the pregnancies were planned, Gartrell said.

Tell iReport: Growing up with gay parents

The children “didn’t arrive by accident,” she said. “The mothers were older… they were waiting for an opportunity to have children and age brings maturity and better parenting.”

This also could have occurred because “growing up in households with less power assertion and more parental involvement has been shown to be associated with healthier psychological adjustment,” Gartrell wrote in the study.

Some of the teenagers reported being stigmatized by peers because of their parents’ sexuality. Researchers compared the figures in terms of the psychological adjustment between children who had experienced stigma versus those who did not.

“We found no differences,” Gartrell said. “That leads us to asking why and how are young people managing discrimination? That will be the topic of future papers. We’ll look into what the ingredients are to allow them to cope despite adversity.”

Gartrell studied only lesbian families, because circumstances surrounding gay male families are different. Gay men becoming fathers is newer in comparison with lesbians, because their options have been limited to adoption or surrogacy. Lesbians often conceive through donor insemination.

“This study shows that the 17-year-old adolescents who have been reared by lesbian families are psychologically happy and high functioning,” said Gartrell, a Williams distinguished scholar at the UCLA School of Law. Restrictions of child custody and reproductive technologies based on sexual orientation are not justified, she said.

Wright questioned the objectivity of Gartrell’s research, saying the author can “cherry pick people who are involved and the info they release.”

“In essence, this study claims to purport that children do better when raised by lesbians,” she said.

Studies have shown that children thrive having both a mother and a father, Wright said.

“You have to be a little suspicious of any study that says children being raised by same-sex couples do better or have superior outcomes to children raised with a mother and father,” she said. “It just defies common sense and reality.”