Dr. Philip Zimbardo and I are co-authors of Man Interrupted: Why Young Men are Struggling & What We Can Do About It (Conari Press, 2016); also published in 12 other countries. If you buy an English version, get Man Interrupted, it is the most up-to-date version and took into account criticism of the Man Disconnected. All the versions are a bit different, as the publishers had differing requirements and word limits.
Man Interrupted is an elaboration of our 2012 TED polemic Demise of Guys that delves much deeper into the important discussion about young men and the complex issues and challenges they face. Man Interrupted has also been restructured by symptoms, causes, and solutions, making the issues easier for readers to understand and navigate. Some of the topics covered include fatherlessness and its ripple effects, the failing school system including the unbalanced ratio of female to male teachers, the increasing costs of living, patriarchy myths, obesity and environmental factors, and the overprescription of ADHD medications in boys.
We felt it was important to approach the topics from multiple angles, thus the book weaves together the perspectives of a young female (me), and an older male (Phil), along with the views of many young men and women, making it a unique collaboration. In order to challenge our personal views, we developed a detailed online survey with a host of questions that touched on different aspects of Demise. We posted it alongside Phil’s TED talk, asking questions such as, “How would you change the school environment to engage young men?” and “How can we empower men in pro-social ways?”
Remarkably, in barely two months, 20,000 people took the short survey. About three-quarters (76 percent) of the participants were men; more than half were between 18 and 34 years old. But people of all ages and backgrounds and both sexes shared their thoughts and feelings about these issues and their subplots. In addition, thousands of respondents were sufficiently motivated to go further by adding personal comments, from a sentence to a page long. After reading all of the responses, I followed up with some of the respondents for personal interviews, and their opinions and experiences are shared throughout the text.
I began a series of paintings called Orgasm Portraits when I was 20 years old; I started this project because I wanted to do a series of abstract portraits based on an experience that everyone could have (and therefore, anyone could be a part of).
It was actually the Orgasm Portraits series that initially got me interested in men’s issues. I interviewed over 40 people for the series – half were women, half were men. When I spoke with the women it was a fun bonding experience. But when I spoke with the men it was like a confession or an emotional release for them. Many of them had never discussed anything intimate about themselves because no one ever asked or cared! I thought about how good it feels to be able to be open and expressive and how many men don’t feel like they have that option.
The series also sparked my interest in men’s issues because what I discovered was people are all incredibly unique, but there is so much overlap between our human needs and desires. Most of us want the same things at the end of the day but have different ideas about how to get there.
In general, sex means more to men; they remember more details about the whole situation. In part, it’s because men have to work harder to get sex and then perform, whereas a woman just has to say “yes.” Women more often remember the feelings and emotions around sex and orgasm. Trust is the biggest factor in women’s pleasure. For example, one woman told me she never orgasmed until she was married — she realized she had a mental block around truly letting go until she could trust in the relationship. Most of the other women I spoke with found the most satisfying experiences happened when they were deeply connected to their partner.
Through these conversations I was struck by how much more selfless men actually are than women, how much more compassionate and appreciative of life they tend to be (even though society tells us the opposite). I think it’s because men are more often faced and have to make many more difficult decisions throughout their lives. They have more responsibility and are more disposable so they have to work harder. Women, in general, don’t have as much awareness around when the times are good. We tend to be more focused on what we don’t have. All these things came out in the conversations and I could start to connect people’s attitudes with how they approached and experienced pleasure.
After doing extensive research and co-writing Demise of Guys and later Man Interrupted I realized just how lacking sex education resources are. So I teamed up with sex therapist Keeley Rankin to start the BetterSexEd blog to offer objective information and candid discussions about sex, relationships, dating, and related topics. I figured we may as well talk about the whole puzzle and not just one piece of it. One of my goals with BetterSexEd is to help each sex develop more empathy for the other sex, and help bring men and women on a more balanced footing. I am pro-relationships and pro-family, which makes me, above all, pro-communication. I think the better we are able to discuss intimate topics, needs, and desires, the stronger our relationships will be. BetterSexEd is slowly growing; in our first year we surpassed 100,000 views, and more and more people are contributing their perspectives with guest blog posts.
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