I can still vividly recall my teenage years… my family and mates most clearly… snippets of the surfing trips, the parties and the girls. And in the years since then I have known many men at various stages of life; with children, recently married, married 20yrs ago and many middle age and older. I’ve travelled across the world with a few and across the country with many. Of all these men I know only a few that I could say without a doubt would always be 100% faithful.
In all these men I have seen a real range of attitudes and behaviours; I recall one day in my teens, a young women walked past me and two mates. I made a comment about her being attractive. My mate who was in a newish but serious relationship said he doesn’t look anymore. I didn’t understand or believe it then and I still don’t today. How does any man just stop noticing beautiful women?
Business trips are real eye openers on men. In fact the more I think about it, for both men and women a business trip brings out the rawer sides of people. I have seen a married man ignore and reject a woman, only to end up in a toilet cubicle with her later the same evening. Or other more discreet men go out on the town alone because “I didn’t know where you guys were”. There have been a few that magically disappear in pairs without a word. And others that flirt openly to various degrees (yes, I guess I fit in here).
As I mentioned, there are a few though that seemingly reject the temptation and thinking all together. Sure they chat to women… even women whom are clearly interested in more. But they seem oblivious to any sexuality.
Proposition: Once in relationship, all men fight the limbic and rational drives which do make us notice and be attracted to women because it’s socially unacceptable. It is the unacceptability that we either dislike in ourselves, or worry others may dislike in us which cause us to manage our behaviours/thoughts.
So I think ALL men desire women. So far I have talked about, and named two distinct origins of desire; limbic (primal) and rational. The limbic is the hardest to argue against because it is instinctual. It is noticing the blonde hair in the crowd, a perfume, a body shape etc. We are as well equipped to automatically pull our hand from an open fire as we are at spotting potential partners. Regardless of what they say or how they appear to act, all men have ‘that’ primal (limbic) urge. Darwinism also applies here in that we are animalistic in our desire to procreate with the fittest of our species.
The second origin follows on from the limbic and is when our higher thinking properly kicks in. In this rational (and rationalising) side of the brain there are clearly elements of properly thought out desire. Desire for what we have been conditioned to desire… or developed our own thinking around; outgoing/caring/quiet partners or the ‘perfect body’ as popular media shapes us to want.
I should also quickly clarify my choice of the word desire. Lust, desire and attraction in the end all fundamentally come back to one thing – wanting. I could have used attraction but I felt it was too passive.
That old cliché “Love is blind” is a product of a misguided rational brain; we see what we want to see in people we are attracted to. Refer to any box office romance movie for the latest list of unrealistic ideals of both men and women we seek in others. What we each rationalise as the perfect partner differs far more than in our limbic system. Sex, status, religion, race etc all come into play in our rational definition of the perfect partner. Regardless of the detail we all still have a constructed picture of what we want.
So continuing along the rational line, I am also suggesting that some of our desires are commonly non-sexual needs, looking to be satisfied; validation/ego, power and nurturing to pick a few obvious ones. Flirting with others for a response that validates we are attractive would be fairly common. Therefore sometimes we act sexually with others from non-sexual motivations.
To recap, we have a flow of events that begin with the instinct to procreate and is quickly built on by higher level thoughts and actions. Those higher level thoughts and actions can be;
- sexual desire: physical ideal, experience, promiscuity etc;
- non-sexual desire: personality, values etc; and
- purely self fulfilling: validation etc.
The man and his animal within. As unlikable the aspects I find people begrudgingly accept the animal indeed exists; the primal/limbic side. It is accepted as an unlikable but normal part of all men, just as long as it isn’t visible or acted upon. Most seem to acknowledge men can be attracted to women regardless of circumstance. It seems women are accepting of their partners finding unknown women attractive because they aren’t ‘real people’. They do have issue with their partners finding known women attractive. This exemplifies a level of acceptance towards the limbic and intolerance for higher level / rationale desire for others. As a man, acknowledging an attractive figure is far less serious than commenting on how attractive ‘so and so’ looked tonight. Add in how much you enjoy spending time with them is really entering dangerous territory. The unacceptable behaviour is most clear in the higher level / rational thought areas.
When does what is normal (instinct) become prolonged thought (higher level desire)? I think it is any point beyond when you realise you have noticed someone attractive. Sorry guys but this is where I have to diverge from the decades of ground work we have all put in. “Look but don’t touch” doesn’t really work. Looking can actually be a higher level thought process in which we are identifying desirable characteristics (sexual and non-sexual) in another person. This appears to me to be the crux of the unacceptable behaviour because partners naturally find it extremely threatening. It is threatening because it’s unclear at what level the attraction is, because it is difficult to identify and separate the limbic and various higher level / rational motivations.
Another part of the threat also exists around our ability to control desire regardless of where it is coming from. At least one study I know (still to be published) lately indicated that more educated or intelligent men are far less likely to cheat (interview – http://bit.ly/bsXl22 ). I think this is because higher level thought on the pros and cons that go beyond instinctual benefits/gratification are being applied in decision making. We fight the urge for a greater benefit (greater according to current social rules).
Perhaps we have gone too far with what is deemed acceptable or not? Let’s also look at nudity. I can safely assume that most readers believe that nudity is natural and not primarily sexual. Most readers may also acknowledge that either/both male and female forms can be seen as attractive when portrayed in various pieces of art, cast in light and shadow, innocence or strength. Is there a reason we find the naked form attractive that isn’t sexual in some shape or form? But for some reason we try to maintain both exist; some rational intelligent artistic appreciation of the naked form separate from sexual attraction when in fact there is no distinction. And more than that, the attraction is primarily limbic and not naturally higher level / rational as we try to make it by suggesting it is art. It is normal and natural but not in the way the majority wants it to be. Nudity is beautiful because with care, respect and equality it is a perfectly normal desire we have to be touched, held, and sexual.
We need to understand that nudity as art is actually hiding significant issues in society such as objectification and hyper-sexualisation of women overwhelmingly but now slowly also men. Shifting the gender balance is not actually the fix. Rationalising where sexual attraction is right and wrong is normal. As opposed to creating a fictitious separation between types of nudity.
The same theory also applies to love. Our current definition of love doesn’t acknowledge the limbic (primal) motivations and demands ignorance of its existence. We are told we should be attracted to (love) only one person. We should love only one person for all our lives. That it’s not ok to love one person but find others attractive; because if we were truly in love those limbic urges would no longer exist right? No.
So the behaviours (accepted or not) commonly demonstrated (instinctual, consciously sexual and consciously non-sexual) by men in committed relationships are disliked because they threaten modern thinking around a single ultimate love and partnership. Right or wrong, normal or not, these behaviours conflict with cultural norms and social rules. The application of these social rules without critical thinking and ignorance on what is actually normal (the animal) has lead to a confused set of values which few can live up to and feel guilty acknowledging.
This isn’t intended to be used to justify behaviour. I think that through understanding we can be critical in the right areas and understanding in others. And expect what is achievable and reasonable. There are men who despite the animal apply honest higher level / rational thought to why love, trust, honesty etc are more fulfilling.