Sunday, July 31, 2011

Absolutes, Relativism, Nihilism

I was recently distracted by an opinion piece in the New York Times arguing that moral relativism necessarily morphs into nihilism (The Maze of Moral Relativism, 24/07/11). The argument begins with the claim, frequently made in philosophy, that notions of good and bad, right and wrong, belong to a particular normative domain: the domain of oughts and shoulds, rather than facts. Accordingly, descriptions of "what is" or facts would be considered illegitimate when used to support notions of what is right or wrong; only moral absolutes, such as are found in most religions, can be used to buttress a moral judgement. Since moral relativism rests on statements of fact, i.e., statements that something is right or wrong relative to a particular moral code, it cannot embody what is regarded as a moral judgment and, hence, would result in nihilism. The conclusion being that one must choose between belief in moral absolutes or nihilism.

I haven't outlined all the points elaborated in the article leading to that either/or conclusion; however, I harbor a skepticism towards all binary options. If it isn't possible to make moral judgments without reference to absolutes and those absolutes are most often found within religious systems, it would seem to follow that engaging in rational discourse regarding what is considered right or wrong, good or bad, would be fruitless; the ultimate reference point would be an article of faith. If we were discussing the morality of abortion, after one person arrived at his belief in the sanctity of human life from conception and the other arrived at a person's right to choose, we would be at an impasse. The person basing his position on the right to choose may assert that such a right is inalienable and-God given, which simply confronts us with conflicting absolutes. On the other hand, he might ague that the right to choose is based on the sort of society in which he prefers to live: a relativistic, factual statement which some would claim to be irrelevant from a moral perspective. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Humiliation in Sexual Play

The last posting on cocks elicited comments related to humiliation suffered by people with small cocks and referencing a recent study that documented the correlations between what is taken to be a smaller than average cock size, low self-esteem and the likelihood of being the bottom in anal intercourse. I wonder if that study implies that bottoms have lower self-esteem than tops; perhaps that would be the case. However, I believe individual narratives would differ considerably from general responses to a survey. There's no doubt that being a top is valued in the gay world; how could being more dominant and being seen as more masculine not be, generally, more preferred in our society? On the other hand, research also shows that most gay couples who practice anal sex are not exclusive in their roles. Does their self esteem vary according to the role they have chosen in a particular encounter?

My own conversations with gay men who make a point of always being a top have often indicated a fragility behind that preference: the fear of being perceived as less than a man if they were to assume the so-called passive role in anal sex. Understandably, behind that fear is usually a negative appraisal of what it means to be gay and a history of having resisted that identification. Taking refuge in the old shibboleth that a man who fucks a man is twice a man reflects the cultural stereotype of men as dominant and women as passive that has long been a lynch pin of homophobia. It is not surprising that many gay men, having been socialized as men, would subscribe to that cultural perspective and link their preferences in anal sex to their self-esteem. I would maintain that gay men who are more liberated, i.e., more critical of the norms of our culture, are less likely to have their self-esteem linked to a particular sexual role; their comfort with a variety of sexual roles being a sign of a deeper affirmation of their identity as gay.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cocks. My Experience

Well, not really my experience; that would be too shocking in a family-rated blog; more accurately, the experiences of my clients. Shocking enough, I suppose. You can't be a therapist conversing with gay men and be perceived as open to hearing about their sexual exploits and fantasies without hearing a lot about cock. I imagine the same is true of a therapist working with heterosexual men with the same openness to hearing about boobs. In fact, you can't really spend much time even in casual conversation with straight men without hearing a lot about boobs. Some forget that most gay men are socialized first as men, when men of any sexual persuasion get together for a few beers, their proclivity for objectification is hard to miss, even for those on the periphery of their well-oiled exuberance. While women tended in the past to be more reticent, the widespread practice of sexting indicates that the precocious amongst them are not immune to the pleasures of objectification and are shamelessly exchanging pics of their boobs for pics of the cocks of potential boyfriends over their smart phones.

It's also evident that men of all sexual persuasions are concerned with the size of their cocks; the importance of mine being bigger than yours not being limited to its metaphorical applications. Most men are size queens; they feel proud about having big cocks and being well-endowed is, in fact, somewhat correlated with self-esteem. Talking with my women friends it would seem that many women share the preference for a large cock with men, though thickness seems to score more than length. There may be justification for that in the experience of sexual pleasure. Research seems to indicate, though, that women concerned about cock size form a sizable minority, but not a majority. In most surveys of women preferences about cock size are not high on the list of features seen to be important in a boyfriend.  A preference for big cocks seems to be more of a guy thing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Family, Responsibility, Guilt

Perhaps because my clientele consists primarily of gay men, I have often talked over the years with people who, as adults, are troubled by their relationships or lack thereof with their families of origin, especially their parents. That is no doubt due to the fact that sexual minorities often experience rejection by their families and often have to move elsewhere to fully live their sexual lives. It is also due to the fact that any therapist working with clients suffering emotional conflicts is likely to find that a significant proportion of their clientele has experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse within their family. Whatever the reasons for the abuse or rejection, few would deny that leaving the family is a healthy decision, especially if the abuse is continual and incorrigible. Usually, separating from the family is done as an older adolescent or young adult; the guilt, shame or sadness sets in as an adult, when the perpetrators are likely to be aged.

One way in which to conceptualize families is to see them on a continuum with close-knit, enmeshed family relationships at one end of the continuum and loosely connected, more distant relationships at the other. Most families fall somewhere between the two extremes and the patterns of relationship they exhibit tend to have characterized them for generations. Close-knit, enmeshed patterns are more associated with our tribal origins, though they still exist in tribal cultures today; times and cultures where civil society is weak or virtually non-existent; times and cultures in which kinship ties are paramount for survival in an environment of scarcity and for protection in an environment of risk. Such families are typically led by a matriarch or patriarch who keeps family members in line; assuring their allegiance and cohesion with the structures and values of the family through the exercise of guilt, shame and the power to punish and reward; at its most extreme manifestations, resorting to sanctions, such as so-called honor killings, to enforce family cohesion and loyalty. The concept of abuse is itself very attenuated in such societies because whatever is seen as necessary to assure family cohesion is seen as justified.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Awkward Desire: Patrick

Some would say that "awkward" is too mild a word and would use "unprofessional", "inappropriate", "bad", "immoral", or "sick" as ways to describe feeling sexually attracted to someone in a context where acting on that desire would be inappropriate, harmful or destructive; contexts, for example, in which you're a close relative of the person, in a position of professional responsibility for them or where there's a perceived vulnerability in the person you desire. Simply acknowledging that someone in such an inappropriate category as a sexual partner is attractive or sexy is usually seen as more of an intellectual judgment and, thus, not subject to strong disapproval, though there are some who recoil even from an uninterested appraisal. It is in acknowledging that you actually feel an attraction or sexual desire that condemnation, even horror, is more likely to be elicited; strange, because the existence of such attraction, even in its most taboo manifestation of parent and child, is the stuff of mythology and the grist of much psychoanalysis. The existence of such desire should hardly be news or shocking to an educated, western individual; yet it is.

I first heard of Patrick through my sons during their early years together at the fine arts core, elementary school. It seemed there had always been problems in his family; the mother was a health-care professional and the father a business man; a German immigrant, who reputedly had a penchant for womanizing and drinking. Patrick was their only child and even in his youngest years there seems to have been difficulties with their parenting of him. In the school he was regarded as very intellegent, though there were problems with his behaviour, especially outside of the school environment. I vaguely remember there was some interchange between Patrick's mother and one of the mothers in our collective concerning the struggles she was having trying to control Patrick. I also remember, again, vaguely, hearing that his father attempted using corporeal punishment to get him to obey; to no avail.