Are You Man Enough? Does Masculinity Therapy Work for Porn Addiction, Anger and Violence?

man lying on bedPorn Addiction recovery groups for men sound like a good idea. Telling your story to a supportive audience has been demonstrated as an effective way to gain more influence over your life. But what about challenging men to be more manly? Is this kind of ‘masculinity therapy’ really in the interests of men trapped by gender expectations and ever-tighter definitions of what it means to be a man?

Therapy Groups for Porn Addiction: Promises and Possibilities

Less than two weeks ago I read a newspaper article promoting peer support workshops for men struggling with their use of pornography. Workshops are an interesting addition to the landscape of therapeutic responses out there. Some men have tried, and abandoned 12-step groups like SLAA and SAA because being labelled an ‘addict’ was not so helpful to their recovery or because the dogma of the group did not fit with their personal experience. So if men get to discuss their own relationship with pornography in more open ways, it could only be a good thing, right?

A couple of aspects concerned me. This program was obviously not neutral towards, but decidedly anti-, porn. Of course this begs the question of the definition of porn, but in any case it seemed there was no room for men in the groups to negotiate their use of erotic imagery or literature. If you are told what you must think about porn, does it leave space for you to make up your own mind?

“They feel their natural libido return and feel more alive, more masculine, more in touch with their natural sexuality and they notice how women feel that.”

– taken from the pornography workshop group website

Secondly, I always wonder about the ethics of promises for such programs. ‘We will transform your life’ sounds to me like an impressive claim. Can therapists make that promise to a person? The other thing I noted were remarks about natural sexuality. What is that? How possible is it to experience sexuality outside the influences of culture? And who decides what is ‘natural’ and what isn’t?

How to Be More of a Man: Commitment or Con-job?

What about men who are not particularly interested in feeling more masculine or being drawn further into the gender binary? And what about gay men? According to the group promotion, these pornography use problems all come from our wounded child and yet the program still challenges us to be man enough. How often did you hear the following questions when you were growing up?

  • Are you man enough?
  • Are you a real man?
  • Are you a man or a girl?

If you poke around the Internet you will find many articles and websites addressing men’s loss of masculinity and even the crisis in masculinity. Of the crises that come to mind, ebola and the spread of religious fundamentalism through terrorism would be at the top of my list, but I am not sure what to make of a supposed crisis in masculinity. I’ve had quite a lot of men contact me reporting they don’t feel masculine or manly enough, but is the answer simply to boost masculinity?

After seeing this article, I heard about another violent attack at Sydney’s Bondi Beach where a man was hit with a ‘coward punch’. Apparently this is the preferred term to ‘king-hit’ these days, yet it suggests that using more than one strike or to have a ‘proper fight’ is somehow more honourable. The same weekend, one of the games of the Super League Grand Final at Manchester was interrupted when one of the players held down another on the field, repeatedly punching him in the eye. Then there was a report from Sayreville in New Jersey that a number of high school students had allegedly been sexually assaulted and anally raped, with objects and fingers, by older players on the school football team.

Are you man enough?

Back in Australia, we had the government Finance Minister refer to the leader of the opposition as a ‘girly-man’.

Aren’t you a real man?

To this, another politician made the observation: If we use ‘girly’ as an insult, what are we telling men & boys about being a girl? Isn’t it suggesting they are less confident or weak?

Toxic Masculinity and Competing Masculinities

What do all these stories of violence and abuse by and towards men have in common? Well someone (most likely a man from the mythopoetic mens movement) coined a term for the kind of masculinity that involves aggressively competing against and dominating others: Toxic Masculinity. What strikes me most is that the usual response to men not feeling masculine enough and the claims of crisis in masculinity is just to offer up competing brands of masculinity. And this seems to be the point of the pornography addiction workshops as well: return men to their natural sexuality make them feel more masculine and everything will be okay again.

The light in this dark week was an opinion piece by the English actor, comedian and writer Robert Webb of Peep Show fame.

Nobody ever told me: you don’t have to waste years trying to figure out how to be a “man” because the whole concept is horseshit.

– Robert Webb

Webb describes the orgy of make believe violence that was his childhood, learning to be a real man.

If you have time and it is still online, read the article in the New Statesman. Unlike the blurb for the porn addiction workshop, I can’t promise it will transform your life, but it might point you in the direction of an alternative.

Notions of gender pointlessly separate men from women, but also mothers from daughters and fathers from sons. The whole thing is – at best – just a stupefying waste of everyone’s time.

– Robert Webb

Undefining Masculinity, Recovering Humanity

Resorting to calls to be more of a man seems pointless, especially when these competing definitions of masculinity are what trap men into violent ways of being in the first place. Perhaps the competition between masculinities is toxic too. It would be inspiring to see less about being a man and more about being a human. That doesn’t minimise the principle of taking responsibility for your actions, it just suggests that perhaps it isn’t so important to obsessively define yourself in relation to women or the gender performances associated with women.

As for groups for men concerned about pornography use, I think they are a great idea but how about a workshop program which does not simply problematize porn use or require men to live up to new standards of masculinity. The Australian men’s mental health initiative softenthefckup argues…

We don’t need to redefine masculinity, we need to undefine it.

That makes a lot of sense to me. If you want to have a private conversation about being a man, your masculinity, your porn use or being more human, send me an email. I won’t tell you to stop what you are doing or expect you to be manly. You are welcome to be yourself and let me know what you want out of our time together.

About Forward Therapy

Ash Rehn is a counsellor and narrative therapist with over 20 years experience. He specialises in therapeutic conversations and collaborative therapy for anxiety, burnout, depression, midlife crisis, sex and relationship issues, pornography use problems and counselling for lesbians and gay men.
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