In doing some research, I stumbled onto some fascinating insights about men and their sexual socialization.
With the advent of Viagra-type products, there is an increasingly reductionistic and medicalized focus on the sexual functioning of body parts while ignoring the relational aspects of sexuality.
The trend to medicalize sexuality and reduce problems to body parts feeds into the cultural phenomenon of boys and men being socialized to be disconnected from their emotions, limiting their capacity for intimate communication and connection.
The common socialization pattern for young men is a limited expression of caring and connecting emotions, creating significant deficits in their development of emotional empathy. This is reinforced by the objectifying of women, and of associating sex with the feeling of lust without any requirements for effective or healthy relating to the individual.
This “nonrelational sexuality” not only objectifies women, but teaches men to view women as mere instruments in meeting their sexual needs. Unfortunately, some women also buy into this distorted perspective, allowing their worth to be determined by their sexuality.
The Centerfold Syndrome
The name of this cultural phenomenon is “The Centerfold Syndrome.” It is understood as a dysfunctional constellation of attitudes and behaviors representing a pervasive distortion in the way men are taught and reinforced in their relating to women and sexuality. Five problematic components of the Centerfold Syndrome include:
- Voyeurism — an obsession with visual stimulation that trivializes all other features of a healthy relationship.
- Objectification of women — an obsessive focus on body parts and the rating of women by size and shape.
- Sex for masculinity validation — having one’s manliness and self-worth tied up in one’s sexual prowess.
- Trophyism — treating women as collectibles and property.
- Fear of intimacy — an inability to get beyond airbrushed sexualized images of women in order to have a real relationship.
Counteracting the Effects of the Centerfold Syndrome
It is easy to see how such cultural conditioning and the ingesting of pornography can have a seriously detrimental effect on intimate relationships.
Fortunately as men become aware of this conditioning, and are able to identify it’s influence in their own lives, they can then begin to counteract the distortions with corrected and empathic understanding of women and an understanding of the divine designs of sexuality as a relational experience.
One therapist let me know that he uses my book And They Were Not Ashamed as required reading for the men in his therapy groups to help them restore emotional empathy for women and their sexual perspectives. He said the book has also helped men gain a new understanding of the divine designs of sexuality in marriage.
Sexual issues in marriage must be seen in this broader context of the interpersonal nature of sex rather than as simply being about needing a pill, for instance, to improve one’s erection. A pill will do nothing for the relational ecstasy available in lovemaking if there is an absence of emotional connection.
As men also enhance their capacity for sensuality beyond their sexual senses, and develop greater emotional intelligence, they will be more capable of communicating and connecting intimately and enjoying the exquisite bliss it can afford.
Brooks, G. R., & Levant, R. F. (2006). Is Viagra Enough? Broadening the conceptual lens in sex therapy with (heterosexual) men: A case report. International Journal of Men’s Health, 5(2), 207-215.
The Centerfold Syndrome (http://www.protectkids.com/effects/centerfold.htm)