Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’


For this post we’ll go fXXXurther where I left off in my post about John Piper and nudity a while ago. There was one subject that we had to address there: the myth that ‘men are visual’.

Why do I speak of a ‘myth’ here? I in no way inted to use the word ‘myth’ pejorative, since I do think myths can be something very positive. I use it here as an explaining narrative that is believed in a certain culture. Think of Greg Boyds use of the word in his book title ‘the myth of a Christian nation. A myth doesn’t even just explain, it also forms identity.

What is meant with visual here? It is used for being aroused most by the things that we see. If we let go of the subject of sex here we see that different personality types do react more to different senses and different ways of data-input. Some people are better in learning stuff when they hear it, others when they read it, or when they experience it, etc… This differs from person to person, and has nothing at all to do with sex or gender.

So some people are visual. Their eyes are their main way of getting information and impulses through so that it connects. Visual people will get more from paintings and video’s (or written texts) more than spoken words or music or so. But it’s always a matter of degree, all people that are not visually handicapped are ‘visual’. But some are more auditive, or even tactile, or…

If we look at it this way, the question arises why all men would be mainly ‘visual’ when it comes to sex as our myth says, compared to women who seem to be not visual at all?

The first thing I can say is that I don’t believe that this is true. I am not that visual sexually myself, touch and closeness are much more important to me. And I’ve heard and read women who described being visual in a way that went far beyond anything I understand. I don’t get physically aroused that easily just from seeing a person of the other sex that is more or less attractive at all…

Recently I read a blogpost from an American ex-fundamentalist girl that now lives in Europe that often writes very interesting stuff. I quote it here not to expose here in any way, but as an example of a woman that clearly is ‘visual’ while I am a man that isn’t at all, if this is ‘being visual’. (I do disagree with her on something important, but we’ll get to that later)

When I see a man, dressed and all, I do not look at his impressive jaw or deep grey eyes or strong hands.

I look at your muscles, and your hips, and your nose (guess why). And if I can’t see them cause you’re wearing some fancy t-shirt, let me assure you: I can perfectly well imagine you naked. And even worse: I do it. all. the. time.

When I look at a man, I don’t stare at his eyes because they reflect some promise of love and tenderness. I look at your chest and imagine what it would look like in dim light. I wonder if you have a “V” and then I wonder if it would look good on you (it doesn’t on everyone).

(..)

I have all the imagination I need to picture you naked, even when you’re fully dressed. You cannot escape it, no matter how you behave or what you wear or say or do. I do not care about your positive character qualities. Not one – tiny – little – bit.

I’ll go back to this quote later, but let’s for now just say that it should be evident from my own experience, from what she describes, and from the people I met in my life some people (men and women) are visual when it comes to sex, and some are less visual (also men and women).

So our ‘men are visual (and women not)’ myth fails blatantly as a myth that tries to explain something, and to form identity. But on the other hand, our society is indeed oriented towards the exploitation of the male gaze and the female sexiness. A lot of money can be made of that in the advertisement industry if people can abuse sexy female to sell about just anything unrelated to female humans.
We just have to always remember, like I said before, this is in no way a question of ‘hard-wiring’ but of ‘programming’. The visual stimuli that arouse a person sexually aren’t even fixed. We Westerners seem to be obsessed with female breasts, but in some cultures men are used to seeing naked breasts without ever connecting those with sex. In other cultures even the sight of a bare ankle or arm might be very sexy and considered quite inappropriate. So what we’re talking about here is just a cultural thing, and a form of conditioning that is formed when we grow up.

So I a way it’s only ‘just’ a learned thing, in another way it is a programmation that might be hard or in some cases impossible to get rid of in this lifetime, especially if all you ever see is affirmations of it. But in no way it is a question of being ‘hard-wired’

We are no robots, remember?

So, some men and women are more visual than others when it comes to sex, but men are conditioned to be visual (because that can be abused commercially easily, although there will be other reasons too), and in some environments women are said that they are not at all visual. Which is a lie, some women are as visual as the most visual men, while others aren’t. this is quite damaging to women who are visual sexually. It’s part of a bigger ‘men want sex, women want love, so women just give sex to feel loved’ myth that is equally damaging and dehumanising to both sexes. I’m a man, but if I have to choose between a world without sex and a world without (romantic) love, I’ll choose to let go of sex, not love. Not in a million years

Another thing that should be noted is the logical fallacy of taking one step too far in the quoted blogpost, which seems to be very common. Like I said, being visual means that we get aroused though things we see. That’s all it means. It does not mean that there has to be a second step of reducing the person you see and find attractive to a sex object that you can use in your fantasy. Those things DO NOT have to follow from each other. Nakedness is just nakedness btw, we focus way too much on connecting nudity with sex. And no it’s not because I see a (clothed or naked) woman that I find visually arousing that I automatically have to make the step to fantasize about having sex with her.

Being visual (easily visually stimulated) and having sexual fantasies about strangers easily are not at all the same thing!

But we do probably have to come back to the conditioning problem here. If you’re used to making that step, it has formed a conditioned reflex, and it might be hard to unlearn it or imagine that people would not make that step. As hard as it is for me to imagine that anyone would be so perverted to automatically make that step… It must be very tiring if people really have a reflex every time the see an attractive person that’s their type to have fantasies about having sex with that person. I’m glad I’m not in that situation at all…

Ah, neuroplasticity

It’s also generally quite hard to communicate about these things because everybody has only their own experience (and the acummulated input of a lifetime) as a point of reference, and most people easily assume everybody (or everybody of their own sex/gender) is like them. What I’ve learned is that this way of thinking will always cause painful misunderstanding…

The other problem with the quoted blogpost, and with other expressions of the pseudo-feminist idea that women should master stereotypical but problematic macho maledom is that what is emulated here is an aberration of maleness, not at all how men should be, and actually not healthy for anyone, male, female or otherwise; It’s something we should unlearn because it only leads to dehumanisation of the gender one is attracted to.

(And to very bad TV shows like sex and the city and idiotic pop songs.)

One last thing is that it seems to me that the American ‘purity culture’ (that I still don’t understand at all) seems to be really fixated on this stuff. It’s every man’s battle to be visual and see women and want to have sex with them and watch porn all the time. This whole obsession might be more a form of projected belief that aligns all men including those who don’t have the problem into believing this stuff and becoming it.

(And it’s equally damaging to girls in other ways)

Isn’t that the opposite of what we need?

Shalom

Bram

See also

meditating on sexy models
Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Man as an automatic leader and/or utterly untrustworthy animal?
On the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…
A purity culture I don’t know…
Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?
Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
On cross-gender friendships and Christians…
teenage flashback: I’m not flirting, but I might need a hug…
christians and cross-gender friendships
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit

 

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5 responses to “Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’

  1. Oh wow I was quoted!
    I just want to add some thoughts to your post. I completely agree that my choice of words certainly came across as “pseudo-feminist” in a way that it imitates the stereotypical male macho talk. That’s also kind of the point of blogging and writing – some freedom in describing things, some creative, turn-around, see things from a different perspective style. I want to point out that I do not do this all the time with every man and the way I described things were very black and white. Of course there are people (both male and female) i simply admire for their beauty, and there are people I admire for qualities apart from the way they look. Unfortunately, as I do have many fundamentalist readers, my target audience often speaks a black-and-white language, and very often, even the smallest shade of grey will be interpreted as ‘caving in’ on the point you’re trying to make. Objectification of a person (any person!) in the sense described by me does occur – I’d be a liar if I tried to refuse that – however, it is not the basis of my relationships. I, for my part, would never abuse a person in a way that is often implied to be a “male quality” – fantasizing, then lieing to them to get them into bed, abuse them, leave them shattered (purity culture sees men as exactly that when they are not protected by women dressing and behaving a certain way). Matter of fact, I hardly believe that men would do that very often if they were not raised to believe that this is the kind of behavior attributed to them. So the question, the real question behind that post is not “are men and women different” or “is it ok to objectify people” or anything like that – the real question is “what is the basis of the male-female dichtonomy in the purity/fundemantalist culture” – that is questioning the basis of the idea that men need to be protected from their own minds.

    • Sorry for the late reaction, this last week I’ve been moving with my family and so living in between a lot of boxes without internet for a while…

      I’ve been wondering if it would even be right to quote your post actually, because of it being so personal and such a sensitive subject. I generally like your writing (even though we live in another world sometimes) and you seem like a person I could be friends with; I’d hate to hurt you… (I actually didn’t dare to read your comment when I saw you commented last week, and was willing to delete every trace to your post if you insisted.)

      I don’t have a fundamentalist background as I did grow up in secular (post-catholic) Flanders, and even with a pentecostal/evangelical background I find it hard to understand American fundamentalism, or the ‘photo-negative’ version a lot of ex-fundamentalist bloggers seem to have (I’m not thinking of you here) that is as difficult to understand from a non-fundamentalist POV as fundamentalism itself and completely tied to it, no matter how ‘liberal’.

      The thing is that the ‘male female dichotomy’ can be quite similar in ‘playboy/porn’-approaches to gender that have nothing to do with fundamentalism. Men are expected to just objectify women to sex objects whenever they see them naked, and having sex is what makes one a man. This same stuff exists in secular non-religious circles, I’ve seen it here both in workin class/technical school teenager groups as with university law students. (Muslims can have similar and stronger ideas too) So the question can be asked more broadly than American fundamentalist culture… (see also my older post here: https://bramboniusinenglish.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/on-similar-misandry-in-christian-fundamentalism-and-consumer-capitalism/ )

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