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Scents and Sensibility

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“Sexual chemistry” is more than just a way of talking about heated attraction. Subtle chemical keys actually help determine who we fall for. But here comes news that our lifestyles may unwittingly undermine our natural sex appeal.

By Elizabeth Svoboda

illustrated sex

Psychologists Rachel Herz and Estelle Campenni were just getting to know each other, swapping stories about their lives over coffee, when Campenni confided something unexpected: She was living proof, she said, of love at first smell. “I knew I would marry my husband the minute I smelled him,” she told Herz. “I’ve always been into smell, but this was different; he really smelled good to me. His scent made me feel safe and at the same time turned on—and I’m talking about his real body smell, not cologne or soap. I’d never felt like that from a man’s smell before. We’ve been married for eight years now and have three kids, and his smell is always very sexy to me.”

Everyone knows what it’s like to be powerfully affected by a partner’s smell—witness men who bury their noses in their wives’ hair and women who can’t stop sniffing their boyfriends’ T-shirts. And couples have long testified to the ways scent-based chemistry affects their relationships. “One of the most common things women tell marriage counselors is, ‘I can’t stand his smell,'” says Herz, the author of The Scent of Desire.

Sexual attraction remains one of life’s biggest mysteries. We might say we go for partners who are tall and thin, love to cook, or have a mania for exercise, but when push comes to shove, studies show, the people we actually end up with possess few of the traits we claim to want. Some researchers think scent could be the hidden cosmological constant in the sexual universe, the missing factor that explains who we end up with. It may even explain why we feel “chemistry”—or “sparks” or “electricity”—with one person and not with another.nice boobs

Physical attraction itself may literally be based on smell. We discount the importance of scent-centric communication only because it operates on such a subtle level. “This is not something that jumps out at you, like smelling a good steak cooking on the grill,” says Randy Thornhill, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico. “But the scent capability is there, and it’s not surprising to find smell capacity in the context of sexual behavior.” As a result, we may find ourselves drawn to the counter attendant at the local drugstore, but have no idea why—or, conversely, find ourselves put off by potential dating partners even though they seem perfect on paper.

Though we may remain partially oblivious to scent signals we’re sending and receiving, new research suggests that we not only come equipped to choose a romantic partner who smells good to us, but that this choice has profound biological implications. As we act out the complex rituals of courtship, many of them inscribed deep in our brain, scent-based cues help us zero in on optimal partners—the ones most likely to stay faithful to us and to create healthy children with us.

At first blush, the idea of scent-based attraction might seem hypothetical and ephemeral, but when we unknowingly interfere with the transmission of subtle olfactory messages operating below the level of conscious awareness, the results can be both concrete and devastating. When we disregard what our noses tell us, we can find ourselves mired in partnerships that breed sexual discontent, infertility, and even—in extreme cases—unhealthy offspring.

The Scent of Desire

When you’re turned on by your partner’s scent, taking a deep whiff of his chest or the back of her neck feels like taking a powerful drug—it’s an instant flume ride to bliss, however momentary. Research has shown that we use scent-based signaling mechanisms to suss out compatibility. Claus Wedekind, a biologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, created Exhibit A of this evidence by giving 44 men new T-shirts and instructing them to wear the shirts for two straight nights. To ensure that the sweat collecting on the shirts would remain “odor-neutral,” he supplied the men with scent-free soap and aftershave.

hair pullAfter the men were allowed to change, 49 women sniffed the shirts and specified which odors they found most attractive. Far more often than chance would predict, the women preferred the smell of T-shirts worn by men who were immunologically dissimilar to them. The difference lay in the sequence of more than 100 immune system genes known as the MHC, or major histocompatibility complex. These genes code for proteins that help the immune system recognize pathogens. The smell of their favorite shirts also reminded the women of their past and current boyfriends, suggesting that MHC does indeed influence women’s dating decisions in real life.

Women’s preference for MHC-distinct mates makes perfect sense from a biological point of view. Ever since ancestral times, partners whose immune systems are different have produced offspring who are more disease-resistant. With more immune genes expressed, kids are buffered against a wider variety of pathogens and toxins.

But that doesn’t mean women prefer men whose MHC genes are most different from theirs, as University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Martha McClintock found when she performed a T-shirt study similar to Wedekind’s. Women are not attracted to the smell of men with whom they had no MHC genes in common. “This might be a case where you’re protecting yourself against a mate who’s too similar or too dissimilar, but there’s a middle range where you’re OK,” McClintock says.

Women consistently outperform men in smell sensitivity tests, and they also make greater time and energy sacrifices on their children’s behalf than men do—in addition to bearing offspring, they look after them most of the time. These factors may explain why women are more discriminating in sniffing out MHC compatibility.

Men are sensitive to smell as well, but because women shoulder a greater reproductive burden, and are therefore choosier about potential mates, researchers are not surprised to find that women are also more discriminating in sniffing out MHC compatibility.

Unlike, say, blood types, MHC gene complements differ so much from one person to the next that there’s no obvious way to reliably predict who’s MHC-compatible with whom. Skin color, for instance, isn’t much help, since groups of people living in different areas of the world might happen to evolve genetic resistance to some of the same germs. “People of different ethnicities can have similar profiles, so race is not a good predictor of MHC dissimilarity,” Thornhill says.

And because people’s MHC profiles are as distinct as fingerprints—there are thousands of possible gene combinations—a potential sex partner who smells good to one woman may completely repel another. “There’s no Brad Pitt of smell,” Herz says. “Body odor is an external manifestation of the immune system, and the smells we think are attractive come from the people who are most genetically compatible with us.” Much of what we vaguely call “sexual chemistry,” she adds, is likely a direct result of this scent-based compatibility.our what?

Typically, our noses steer us in the right direction when it comes to picking a reproductively compatible partner. But what if they fail us and we wind up with a mate whose MHC profile is too similar to our own? Carol Ober, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, explored this question in her studies of members of the Hutterite religious clan, an Amish-like closed society that consists of some 40,000 members and extends through the rural Midwest. Hutterites marry only other members of their clan, so the variety in their gene pool is relatively low. Within these imposed limits, Hutterite women nevertheless manage to find partners who are MHC-distinct from them most of the time.

The few couples with a high degree of MHC similarity, however, suffered higher rates of miscarriage and experienced longer intervals between pregnancies, indicating more difficulty conceiving. Some scientists speculate that miscarriages may be the body’s way of curtailing investment in a child who isn’t likely to have a strong immune system anyway.

What’s more, among heterosexual couples, similar MHC profiles spell relational difficulty, Christine Garver-Apgar, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico, has found. “As the proportion of MHC alleles increased, women’s sexual responsiveness to their partners decreased, and their number of sex partners outside the relationship increased,” Garver-Apgar reports. The number of MHC genes couples shared corresponded directly with the likelihood that they would cheat on one another; if a man and woman had 50 percent of their MHC alleles in common, the woman had a 50 percent chance of sleeping with another man behind her partner’s back.

The Divorce Pill?

Women generally prefer the smell of men whose MHC gene complements are different from theirs, setting the stage for the best biological match. But Wedekind’s T-shirt study revealed one notable exception to this rule: women on the birth-control pill. When the pill users among his subjects sniffed the array of pre-worn T-shirts, they preferred the scent of men whose MHC profiles were similar to theirs—the opposite of their pill-free counterparts.

This dramatic reversal of smell preferences may reflect the pill’s mechanism of action: It prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg, fooling the body into thinking it’s pregnant. And since pregnancy is such a vulnerable state, it seems to activate a preference for kin, who are genetically similar to us and likely to serve as protectors. “When pregnant rodent females are exposed to strange males, they can spontaneously abort,” Herz says. “The same may be true for human females.” What’s more, some women report a deficit in sex drive when they take the pill, a possible consequence of its pregnancy-mimicking function.

The tendency to favor mates with similar MHC genes could potentially hamper the durability of pill users’ relationships in the long term. While Herz shies away from dubbing hormonal birth control “the divorce pill,” as a few media outlets have done in response to her theories, she does think the pill jumbles women’s smell preferences. “It’s like picking your cousins as marriage partners,” Herz says. “It constitutes a biological error.” As a result, explains Charles Wysocki, a psychobiologist at Florida State University, when such a couple decides to have children and the woman stops taking birth control, she may find herself less attracted to her mate for reasons she doesn’t quite understand. “On a subconscious level, her brain is realizing a mistake was made—she married the wrong guy,” he says.

“Some couples’ fertility problems may be related to the pill-induced flip-flop in MHC preferences,” Garver-Apgar adds. No one has yet collected data to indicate whether the pill has created a large-scale problem in compatibility. Still, Herz recommends that women seeking a long-term partner consider alternative birth control methods, at least until they get to know their potential significant other well and are sure they like the way he smells. “If you’re looking for a man to be the father of your child,” she says, “go off the pill before you start your search.”

If you were on the pill when you met your current partner, the situation is more complicated. Once a relationship has progressed to long-term commitment, says Herz, a woman’s perception of her partner’s smell is so intertwined with her emotional reaction to him that it could be difficult for her to assess his scent as if he were a stranger. “If she’s in love, he could smell like a garbage can and she’d still be attracted to him.”

Crossed Signals

The pill subverts a woman’s ability to sniff out a compatible mate by causing her to misinterpret the scent messages she receives. But it may warp olfactory communication channels in the other direction as well, distorting the signals she sends—and making her seem less appealing to men, an irony given that women typically take the pill to boost their appeal in a partner’s eyes.

Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico and author of The Mating Mind, noticed the pill’s connection to waning male desire while studying a group of exotic dancers—women whose livelihoods depend on how sexually appealing they are to male customers. Non-pill-using dancers made about 50 percent more in tips than dancers on oral contraceptives. In other words, women who were on the pill were only about two-thirds as sexy as women who weren’t.

Why were the pill-takers in the study so much less attractive to men? “Women are probably doing something unconsciously, and men are responding to it unconsciously,” says Miller. “We just don’t know whether it has to do with a shift in their psychology, their tone of voice, or if it’s more physical, as in the kind of pheromones they’re putting out.”

The biggest earners in Miller’s study were non-pill-using dancers at the time of ovulation. Other studies have shown that men rate women as smelling best when they are at the most fertile point of their menstrual cycles, suggesting that women give off scent-based signals that broadcast their level of fecundity. “The pill might be producing cues that a woman is in the early stage of pregnancy, which would not tend to elicit a lot of male sexual interest,” Miller says. “It makes sense for men to be sensitive to that and for them not to feel the same chemistry with the woman.”

Drowning in Fragrance

The pill isn’t the only way we might confound sexual chemistry. Every day, far more people may be subverting their quest for love with soap and bottled fragrances. In ancestral times, smelling ripe was just a fact of life, absent hot showers and shampoo. This held true well into the 19th century, when the miasma of body odor in Parisian streets grew so thick that it was dubbed “The Great Stink of 1880.” Back when a person’s scent could waft across a room, a mere handshake could provide valuable information about attraction.

Since the 20th-century hygiene revolution and the rise of the personal-care industry, however, companies have pitched deodorants, perfumes, and colognes to consumers as the epitome of sex appeal. But instead of furthering our quest to find the perfect mate, such products may actually derail it, say researchers, by masking our true scent and making it difficult for prospects to assess compatibility. “Humans abuse body smell signals by hiding them, masking them, putting on deodorant,” says Devendra Singh, a psychologist at the University of Texas. “The noise-to-signal ratio was much better in primitive society.”

Miller argues that modern hygiene may be such an impediment to sexual signaling that it could explain why so many people in our culture get so physical so fast. “Hunter-gatherers didn’t have to do a lot of kissing, because they could smell each other pretty clearly from a few feet away,” Miller says. “With all the showering, scents, and soap, we have to get our noses and mouths really up close to people to get a good idea of their biochemistry. People are more motivated to do a lot more kissing and petting, to do that assessment before they have sex.” In other words, the need to smell our mates—and the comparative difficulty of doing so in today’s environment of perfumes and colognes—may actually be driving the sexual disinhibition of modern society.

Scents and SensibilityOther scientists counter that odor detection is a bit subtler. For one thing, it’s possible we select store-bought scents to complement our natural odorprints, rather than mask them entirely: One study found that people with similar MHC profiles tend to go for the same colognes. And Garver-Apgar points out that in spending hours together each day, partners have ample opportunity to experience each other sans artificial scents. “Once you’re in a close enough relationship,” she says, “you’re going to get a real whiff at some point.”

Scents and Sensibility

There’s no way to know whether couples who shell out thousands of dollars to fertility clinics—and those who struggle to make a relationship work because “the chemistry just isn’t there”—suffer MHC incompatibility. We might never know, since a multitude of factors contributes to every reproductive and romantic outcome. But we can, at least, be cognizant of the importance of natural scent.

“Scent can be a deal breaker if it’s not right, just like someone being too stupid or unkind or short,” says Miller. Nevertheless, smell isn’t the be-all and end-all of attraction, but one of a constellation of important factors. Armed with knowledge of how scent-based attraction operates, we have some power to decide how much priority we want to accord it. Is it more important to be with the partner who smells amazing and with whom you have great chemistry, or with the one who may not attract you quite as much on a physical level but is honest and reliable?

“People tend to treat this as an either-or situation: Either we’re completely driven by pheromones, like moths, or we’re completely in charge of our own destiny,” University of Chicago psychologist McClintock says. “But it’s not a wild idea that both factors are involved.” While people like Estelle Campenni have reaped untold benefits by trusting their scent impressions, it’s ultimately up to us how highly we value what our noses tell us.—Elizabeth Svoboda

Follow Your Nose

How to put your nose to work in choosing a partner—or evaluating an existing one.

Think twice about opting for the pill if you’re seeking a long-term partner. The first few weeks of a relationship are critical to assessing compatibility, so make sure your nose is up to the task.

Try a fragrance-free week. Eliminate factors that could throw your nostrils off. Have your partner set aside scented shower gels in favor of fragrance-free soap, nix the cologne, and use only unscented deodorant.

Keep smell’s importance in context. If you sometimes find your partner’s scent off-putting, don’t panic; it doesn’t necessarily mean fertility issues are in your future. Connections between MHC compatibility and conception problems have yet to be confirmed in large-scale population studies, so don’t plunk down big bucks for MHC testing at this point.

Complete Article HERE!

The Downside Of Being A Male Escort

Awhile back I responded to a young fellow who was considering Turning Pro to pay down his mounting bills.  I began my response to him by saying:

You betcha I have suggestions…a lot of ‘em, don’t ‘cha know.

Being hot and liking sex are great assets if you decide to turn pro, but you’ll need way more than that. Being a sex worker is not like having sex for love or even having recreational sex. You will be exchanging sex for money and that makes it a business proposition. Therefore you’d be wise to approach this with as much forethought as you would any other career move. It is, after all, the world’s oldest profession.

toe curl

Here’s another perspective by TotallyOz

Becoming a gay male escort can be one of the most exciting decisions you will ever make. As an escort you will be able to make a good deal of money, have lots of personal freedom and not have to deal with the grind of being in an office or cubicle every day.

That said, being a male escort is not all wine and roses. Like any job, there are some downsides that you need to consider before you make the plunge. Not everyone is meant to be an escort, and you should fully understand all of the risks and consequences before you make your choice to enter the world of pay for gay.

While every situation is different, there are some common challenges that nearly every male escort must face. Please, before you make your decision, read carefully and make sure that you can live with the following risks.

sweatpantsFamily Pressure on Gay Male Escorts. Face it. Nobody wants their son to grow up to be a gay escort. If you do become a rent boy you are going to either have to come up with a cover story to explain your income or else have the most understanding family in the history of the known world. No matter what you tell them, they are not going to believe that you don’t have sex with these guys for money. On the other hand if you seem to be unemployed but have lots of income they might come up with even worse fantasies of what you do for a living or think you are a drug dealer. While you may be able to come up with a good cover story, you need to make sure that you will be able to lie to your family for a long time without feeling like shit.

Gay Male Escorts Have Boyfriend Problems Too! If you have a serious boyfriend he’s probably not going to be too happy about you having sex with lots of random guys for money. He may be concerned about his health if he does not trust you to use condoms with your date. He may get jealous. Sure, there are lots of guys who might think its cool or get turned on by what you do for a living, but there are also many, many guys who will simply go batshit crazy over the issue. If you are in a relationship, have a talk with your partner before you go on your first date.

Every Gay Male Escort has to Learn how to Deal With Assholes It would be nice to think that every guy who responds to your ad plans on taking you out, giving you money and sucking your cock. But, that’s not the way the world works. Some guys will waste your time by talking to you constantly online, jerking off over your photo and then never bother to call you up. Other clients will ask you if you do things that repel you. You may even get some scary emails from gay bashers. The bottom line is that just like any other job, you may have to deal with some assholes along the way.shower butts

Stalkers are Uncommon but Possible in the Gay Male Escort Community One of the reasons men call up an escort is that they are lonely. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. But, it does mean that some guys will take you more seriously than you might think. After having hot sex with you, they may think they have fallen in love. Part of them might forget that you are only with them for the money and they might think you are in love with them too. Then, they have the potential to become stalkers, either by writing you constantly, getting jealous of your other clients or showing up in unexpected and inappropriate places. You need to find a way to have sex but keep their emotions at arm’s length.

All Gay Male Escorts Need to Watch out for The Money Honey Making a lot of money can be a great thing – and can provide you with more freedom than you have ever had before. But, there is a downside. Money can be seductive and it may be hard for you to ever get out of the business – because you are so used to having lots of cash around. Beyond that when you have more money it’s easy to make poor spending choices. Lots of guys start using way too many drugs – simply because they can suddenly afford to. Make sure that you are mature enough to handle the green before you get paid to handle the cock.

Escorts Can Have Legal Troubles Despite the number of escort ads and agencies that you may see every day, having sex for money is still against the law in most of the country. If you are not careful, the odds are fairly high that you will eventually get arrested. Your name might even get in the paper. Before you become an escort you need to make sure that you can be vigilant enough to not get busted – and that you are emotionally prepared and know what to do if the cops ever do slap the silver bracelets on your sweet ass.

machineryGay Bashing in the Escort World Putting out an escort ad is a big neon sign telling the world that you have gay sex. Some people hate guys who fuck other guys. Therefore there is always the chance that a homophobic fuckwit will make a date with you, simply so he can beat the living shit out of you. Be very, very careful who you meet – and if your instincts warn you away from a guy, take your gut seriously. You only have one life and you don’t want to lose it to a repressed shithead.

How Gay Male Escorts Deal with Ugly Clients Not every guy who calls you up is going to look like Brad Pitt. Some will have a face only a mother can love. Some will be fat, short and out of shape. Others will smell really, really bad. There is nothing you can do about this – if you want to get paid you’ll have to fuck them, even if they look like a prune with a two inch dick. Ask yourself if you are willing to have sex with the ugliest, smelliest person you have ever met. If not, you probably don’t want to become an escort or you will need a great way to talk yourself out of a date once it begins. Most real money in the business is made by repeats and once you get several of them, you will be set.

Gay Male Escorts often get asked to do Kinky Shit Most guys will simply want to suck and fuck with you. But, there are lots of guys out there who call up escorts because they want stuff that their partner is not into. Many of these kinks are silly and harmless – like wanting to jerk off on your feet. Others can be a little bit creepy. When you talk to a new client you need to make sure he understands what you won’t do – and find out if you are willing to do the stuff that will get him off. Otherwise you will just be wasting each other’s time.

Your Regular Sex Life Can Suffer Being an Escort Anything you do for a living can become a drag. If you are getting laid for money five times a week, the last thing you may want to do on your day off is suck dick. Yet, having a normal sex life is a healthy thing. You have to be very careful that you don’t let being an escort take away your essential humanity.

Full Review HERE!

Your Kinks Aren’t Nearly As Weird As You Think

A survey shows many supposedly paraphilic desires are anything but abnormal

By

your kinks

The world of psychiatry considers a desire for spanking or whipping abnormal, despite “Fifty Shades” of evidence to the contrary. Now, a new study provides proof beyond the publishing phenomenon that these masochistic yearnings, along with several other taboo fantasies, are actually fairly normal.

In fact, researchers have found that nearly half of surveyed adults have an interest in at least one of a handful of desires that have been officially labeled as “anomalous.”

The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is often referred to as psychiatry’s bible, categorizes sexual interests as either “normophilic” or “paraphilic.” So, basically, “normal” or “abnormal” (which doesn’t seem like a totally healthy approach to sexuality, but that’s an issue for another day). The listed aberrations are voyeurism, exhibitionism, frotteurism, masochism, sadism, pedophilia, fetishism and transvestism.

The study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, was based on a survey that asked 1,040 Canadian adults about their interest in these eight “non-normophilic” acts. Researchers from the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres and Philippe Pinel Institute of Montreal found that 45.6 percent reported having a desire for one of the paraphilic behaviors, while 33.9 percent had actually engaged in one of the behaviors.

Voyeurism was the most popular, with 46.3 percent expressing a desire for it and 34.5 percent having experience with it. Next up, fetishism, which the study defined as sexual arousal by an “inanimate non-sexual object,” with 44.5 percent fantasizing about it and just over a quarter effectively saying “been there, done that.”

Coupled exhibitionism and frotteurism, which the paper defined as sexual arousal from “touching or by rubbing yourself against a stranger,” came in close behind. (Note: the definition of frotteurism given to the survey respondents, unlike typical definitions of the term, didn’t necessarily imply a lack of consent.) Finally there was masochism, with 23.8 percent reporting desires and 19.2 percent saying they had tried it.

All of these numbers are big enough to place these desires outside of what is considered statistically rare or unusual, according to the researchers. However, sadism, transvestism, solo exhibitionism (i.e. showing your genitals to a stranger, as opposed to having sex with a partner where someone could see you) and, thankfully, sex with children were found to be unusual or rare. If these results are to be trusted, several desires that the DSM defines as paraphilic, or abnormal, are actually within the statistical range of what’s normal.

you kinks 2

Back to the DSM, that incredibly influential tome that defines mental illness. Let us not forget, this is the same DSM that for more than two decades defined homosexuality as pathological. In fact, it was only three years ago that homosexuality was completely taken out of the manual. Suffice it to say, it’s a document that is informed by science but still subject to changing social mores, and the paraphilias are no exception.

In order for a diagnosis of paraphilic disorder to be made, the DSM requires that these desires have to either be intense, persistent and distressing to the individual or criminal and acted upon (as in the case of a pedophile who abuses a child or a frotteur who assaults people on the subway). Even without distress or illegal acts, though, a person can still be considered to have a paraphilia—but not a diagnosable mental disorder—if their interests are recurrent and as intense or more so than supposedly “normal” desires. But even if you’re less interested in pain play than, say, missionary-position sex, you’re still considered to have “anomalous” desires.

That means that regardless of whether you have an unwanted and deeply distressing kink or are a proud member of a thriving, consensual BDSM community, you’re still technically given the “freak” stamp by the DSM. Which is something many kinky people wear with pride—and that’s wonderful!—but it doesn’t seem all that accurate. Sorry if that ruins it for you.

Complete Article HERE!

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch

Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.

Touch Isolation

By Mark Green

“Boys imitate what they see. If what they see is emotional distance, guardedness, and coldness between men they will grow up to imitate that behavior…What do boys learn when they do not see men with close friendships, where there are no visible models of intimacy in a man’s life beyond his spouse?” -Kindlon and Thompson, Raising Cain
(With thanks to BRETT & KATE MCKAY)

Recently I wrote an article titled The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer in which I asked people to consider the following:

American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives. I’ll call it touch isolation. Homophobic social stigmas, the  long-standing challenges of rampant sexual abuse, and a society steeped in a generations old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days or weeks at a time without touching another human being. The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.

Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is lasting and meant to provide connection and comfort. Think, leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.

Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

Touch Isolation2While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt. Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as cry babies.

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.

In America in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay for an article they titled: Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

The McKays note in their article the following observation:

But at the turn of the 20th century, … Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images.  You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put ten people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in his article, Escape the “Act Like a Man” Box. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.

“As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society.”

Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support gay marriage initiatives. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.

Recently, when visiting my 87 year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair. Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show fifty years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial. I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed/obsessed American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

Complete Article HERE!

REVIEW — Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin

In celebration of black history month.

The proof that one believes is in action. — Bayard Rustin

The proof that one believes is in action. — Bayard Rustin

The best way to destroy a culture is to deny, suppress, or appropriate that people’s history. A culture without its art, without its myths, without its heroes will soon wither and die. For millennia indigenous peoples all over the world have suffered this kind of cultural rape at the hands of more powerful invaders. In America, slavery and segregation did its worst for African culture. And, in a rather different way, homophobia robbed LGBT people of their sense of self.

Do you know who Bayard Rustin is? I’m gonna guess not. That’s no surprise really, because his life exemplifies the impact that both segregation and homophobia has had on our culture. Despite being pivotal to in the struggle for civil and sexual rights for well over 50 years, he is all but forgotten now. His memory has been whitewashed, if not totally wiped out, and our culture is the poorer because of it. But thanks to Time On Two Crosses this American patriot is reinstated to his rightful place in the American pantheon.

Time On Two Crosses showcases the extraordinary career of this black, gay civil rights pioneer. The book combines classic texts ranging in topic from Gandhi’s impact on African Americans, white supremacists in congress, the antiwar movement, and the assassination of Malcolm X, with never-before published selections on the call for gay rights, Louis Farrakhan, affirmative action, AIDS, and women’s rights.Time on Two Crosses

Bayard Rustin was a key civil rights strategist and humanitarian whose staunch advocacy of nonviolent resistance shaped the course of social protests from the 1950’s through the close of the twentieth century. And he was also openly gay at a time when that simply didn’t happen, especially among people of color.

Perhaps because of his unique position at the crux of the struggle for civil rights and sexual rights, Rustin insisted on the interconnectedness of all human rights and justice movements. He focuses not only on overturning racism and prejudice but also the systemic causes of injustice and disparity in the US and around the world. And his message on many issues is as relevant today as it was in his lifetime. He writes of himself:

“I am Bayard Rustin, Chairman of the Randolph Institute and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which is composed of over 150 national groups dedicated to human rights for all. As one who has been active in the struggle to extend democracy to all Americans for over fifty years I am opposed to any attempt to amend the recently enacted law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

I have been arrested twenty-four times in the struggle for civil and human rights. My first arrest was in 1928 merely for distributing leaflets on behalf of Al Smith’s candidacy for President in a climate of anti-Catholic hysteria. Since that time I have fought against religious intolerance, political harassment, and racism both here and abroad. I have fought against untouchability in India, against tribalism in Africa, and have sought to ensure that refugees coming to our shores are not subject to the same types of bigotry and intolerance from which they fled. As a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council I have fought anti-Semitism not only in the United States but around the world.”

But Rustin’s sexual openness and his controversial political positions came at a great personal cost. He wound up behind bars for practicing his nonviolent Quaker faith (from 1944 to 1946 in a Pennsylvania prison for conscientiously objecting to serving in World War II) and for practicing homosexuality (60 days in a California jail for “sex perversion” in 1953). And his many achievements — like pioneering one of the first Freedom Rides, refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus in 1942, more than a dozen years before Rosa Parks did, and helping found the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition to support the efforts of a then young, largely unknown minister named Martin Luther King Jr. — often were tainted under the threat of exposure for his unpopular behavior and criminal convictions.

Bayard Rustin introduced Martin Luther King, Jr. to the precepts of nonviolence during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, thereby launching the birth of the Civil Rights Movement in 1955. When that movement needed a man who could get things done, even his detractors acknowledged he was the best organizer in the country. He was the man who was able to turn out 200,000 people on the Capitol Mall in an orderly fashion when no one else had ever done such a thing. He singlehandedly created the blueprint for the modern American mass political rally. The 1963 March on Washington was the pinnacle of his notoriety.

cover of LIFEFew African Americans engaged in as broad a protest agenda as did Rustin; fewer still enjoyed his breadth of influence in virtually every political sector, working with world leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, President Lyndon Johnson, and Golda Meir. Yet, for all his influence and all his tireless efforts, Rustin remained an outsider in black civil rights circles because they refused to accept his homosexuality, which remained a point of contention among black church leaders, a controversy that sometimes even embroiled Dr. King himself.

The very people who he was fighting for shunned him. He was indeed the proverbial prophet “not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house”. (Mark 6:4)

For example, in 1960, Rustin and MLK were preparing to lead a protest of African Americans outside the Democratic National Convention. This would have deeply embarrassed the leading elected black politician of the day, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. Powell threatened to spread a rumor that Rustin was having a sexual relationship with King. King canceled the protest, and Rustin resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization he helped found. Bayard Rustin felt that his homosexuality, which he never tried to hide, put him in a unique position, a minority within a minority, as it were.

That year was not the first time Rustin was forced to negotiate how much sex could be a part of his life. After his 1953 arrest, in which he’d been picked up with two men in the back seat of a car in Pasadena, California, he wrote, “Sex must be sublimated if I am to live in this world longer.”

Though marginalized by the Civil Rights movement he helped found he was not embittered by the experience. Yet, when one lives in a society in which they’re constantly being told that they’re less than or that they’re not as good as, because of being black, or a Jew, or gay, or anything else deemed less than, a certain amount of the negation is bound to get internalized. That can’t be helped.

Despite it all, Rustin remained upbeat. In 1986, just a year before he died, Rustin gave a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in which he exhorted gay people to “recognize that we cannot fight for the rights of gays unless we are ready to fight for a new mood in the United States, unless we are ready to fight for a radicalization of this society.”

Veering into the economics of poverty, Rustin said, “You will not feed people à la the philosophy of the Reagan administration. Imagine a society that takes lunches from school children. Do you really think it’s possible for gays to get civil rights in that kind of society?”

His thoughtful writing ennobles us all. Rustin never fails to come down on the proper side of a moral or ethical question, no matter whom it may offend or support. He was willing to stand up for people — even though they had mistreated him — if it was a matter of principle.

Rustin’s legacy doesn’t live in the past, but in the present and future of America. His work linking sexual, racial, and economic rights was not only forward-thinking in 1963, but it is also forward-thinking today.

“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers,” Rustin said in one of his most famous quotes.

Time On Two Crosses is the first comprehensive collection of Bayard Rustin’s writings ever published, comprising forty-eight essays, speeches, and interviews, many of which were never widely available. From the birth of nonviolent direct action to the rise of Black Power, Rustin’s writings function as a road map for the meandering course of the black protest movement over the past century.

As a gay man, I found Bayard Rustin’s writing fascinating and uplifting. They give an unvarnished look into the civil rights movement through the ‘50s and ‘60s, and also a view into the heart and mind of one of the most remarkable men of our time. The book also includes twenty-five photos from the Rustin estate and a foreword by Barack Obama, and an afterword by Barney Frank.

Bayard Rustin is a true hero for the ages. And Time On Two Crosses is a marvelous and edifying read.

Full Review HERE!

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