Category Archives: Men’s Health

Endocrine Disruptors: Are Our Boys and Men at Risk?

800px-Bassboat1The following article is another example of a problem that impacts boys and men considerably more than women and girls.   The difference is that this problem does not seem to be a result of feminism, gynocentrism, or our white knight legislators.  This is a result of our lifestyle, our corporations, and our biology.

The sad truth is that we are living in a world that is saturated by chemicals that mimic human hormones.  These chemicals have been dubbed “Endocrine Disruptors” since their mimicking confuses and throws off the delicate balance of our human endocrine system.  EDC’s as they are called, (endocrine disrupting chemicals) are all around us. They are in our streams, our lakes, our grocery stores, our carpeting, our lawns, our cars, in the food we eat, in our toothpaste, soaps, plastics and just about everywhere you look. Most of these are derivatives of fossil fuels, often plastics.  They are in fertilizers, pesticides, even the byproducts of pills like birth control pills,  This stuff is everywhere.

But what is the big deal?  Why get hyped up about these small amounts of chemicals?

The informative endocrinedisruption.org web site states that “Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) interfere with hormone signaling in a variety of ways depending on the chemical and the hormone system.”  They go on to state that “biomonitering of chemicals in the blood and urine has shown that 100% of the people tested have EDC’s in their bodies.” So this is not about someone else, this is about you and me.

This is not a small dilemma. The same web site states that EDC’s have been implicated in neurological diseases, reproductive disorders, thyroid dysfunction, immune and metabolic disorders and more. But guess what?  These chemicals impact boys and men considerably more than they do girls and women.  Look at the list of problems that are thought to be related to EDC’s and males:  ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, delayed puberty, hypospadias, obesity, early testicular cancer, male dysgenisis syndrome, prostate cancer and more.  Almost all of these problems have been growing each year.  ADHD has been increasing by 3% each year since 1997 and 5% a year since 2003. Many scientists are starting to believe that EDC’s are a part of this problem.

Imagine the havoc you could wreak if you started taking hormones into your body, you could throw off a very delicate balance of a finely tuned system by increasing the amount of one hormone or another.  Imagine we started giving boys and girls additional estrogen on a daily basis.  What do you think would happen?  It would likely confuse their  biological system and throw the normal process into chaos.  Right.  This is a crude description of what is happening in our world today.  Both boys and girls are exposed to substances (EDC’s) that mimic estrogen (most EDC’s mimic estrogen or in some cases block testosterone) and these substances are throwing off the natural balance of the endocrine system. But these are in such small amounts, you wouldn’t think they would be that harmful, right?  Wrong.

The endocrine system is extraordinarily sensitive.  In fact, it is amazing.  It makes decisions based on infinitesimal amounts of hormones that are released in the body. One of the pioneers in understanding Endocrine Disrupters is Theo Colburn, PhD.  Listen to the way she describes things in her book Our Stolen Future “The endocrine system is so fine-tuned that it depends on changes in hormones in concentrations of a tenth of a trillion of a gram to control the womb environment. That’s as inconspicuous as one second in 3,619 centuries.”  This is why it is so critical to worry over even tiny amounts of chemicals around us that mimic hormones.  A tiny amount can cause big problems.

The place those tiny amounts can cause the biggest difficulties is in the womb. It’s a contained environment that is controlled by minute amounts of hormones.  Developmental actions and processes are started and stopped in the womb by these tiny amounts of hormones.  If the mother has EDC’s in her system from the food she eats, the soft plastic raincoat she wears or drinking from plastic bottles this can cause difficulties to the infant in utero.  This is obviously the most vulnerable time since fetal development is often related to minute changes in hormone levels.  If you have substances in utero that throw off that sensitive balance by mimicking natural hormones you can have permanent damage to the fetus.  

Then shortly after birth the infant may be less vulnerable but is often subject to plastic bottles from which  they drink warm liquid, plastic pacifiers they suck on, or a huge array of other ways to ingest EDC’s.  Have you ever taken a swig of water out of a clear plastic bottle that had gotten warm in the sun?  When you did, did it taste plasticky?  What you were tasting was the endocrine disrupters that had been released from the plastic when heated.  You just got a dose of estrogen.

Theo Colburn calls EDC’s the “stealth” chemicals and for good reason. The government has been testing for cancer producing agents for some time but the tests needed to evaluate a possible endocrine disrupter are much more subtle.  With 12,000 new chemicals entered into our country every day it would be an overwhelming task to keep tabs on them all.  This means that many of the endocrine disrupters are probably going under the radar.    The EPA has been mandated to test for EDC’s for some time but has dragged its feet to such a degree that law suits have been filed to force them to do so.   According to Colburn the corporations are spending mega-bucks to keep this quiet.  They have a huge investment in their products and seem more concerned about their profit than about human suffering.

So how does this stuff manifest?

Scientists were shocked to find that male alligators at a lake in Florida had shriveled testicles and genitals.  The gators also showed high levels of female hormones.  What was going on?  They struggled to figure it out and ultimately came to the conclusion that these poor gators had been victims of EDC’s from the pesticide DDE that had found its way into the lake. These chemicals had created chaos in the male gators and their genitals proved it.   

Male fish are also taking a hit from EDC’s.  Many fish across the country are now swimming in water that has higher levels of EDC’s.  Fish tend to have their sex determined by the levels of hormones in their bodies.  When the hormones are at a certain level, that fish will be male, when it is at a different level it will be a female.  So now we have fish swimming in water that is higher and higher in EDC’s that mimic estrogens and guess what happens?  The EDC’s impact the males in a profound manner.  They turn the males into non-descript fish that have genitalia that is a bizarre mix of male and female.   It is  the male fish that have been seen showing the bizarre genitalia, sometimes the male fish will grow eggs instead of testes!  What a mess.

But what about humans?

One of the suspected connections with EDC’s is that of changing the timing of puberty for both boys and girls.  Girls onset of puberty has been steadily getting younger and younger. It used to be that girls would enter puberty around 11-12 years old with boys lagging about a year after them.  But now guess what is happening?  Girls are entering puberty when they are 9 years old on average and even younger in the black community.  At the same time the boys puberty is becoming delayed.  Many experts are thinking the EDC’s mimicking estrogens plays a part in this.

Human males also seem to be taking the hardest hit  from the EDC’s.  American boys today are three times more likely to be born with genital abnormalities then boys 30 years ago. The frequency of smaller then normal penis’s, hypospadias, and undescended testes are all examples of this.

Scientists are also thinking that the drop in testosterone levels of boys and men in the past 30 years may also be due to the EDC’s.  A 35 year old man today has 20% less testosterone than a 35 year old man 30 years ago.  Men just aren’t like they used to be…

Leonard Sax points out that the bone strength of boys seems to be deteriorating.  Boys today are nearly twice as likely to break bones as boys were 30 years ago and many are thinking this is related to lowered bone density due to EDC’s.  It seems at the same time that girls bone density may be going up.  Go figure.  

The only good news is that we do have some power in limiting our exposure to EDC’s.  Eating whole foods that are unprocessed, eating organic foods that have not been exposed to pesticides, wearing clothes are have not been treated with chemicals, and on and on.  We all need to become more informed about this problem, especially when it comes to women who are thinking about getting pregnant. For more information on EDC’s you can find some great information on youtube. Here’s a start but I would urge you to google it and see what you find.

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Some beginning resources:

Theo Colburn, PhD. has done a video titled the Endocrine Disruptors, The Male Predicament.   It is a quick introduction to this problem from the scientist who first named the problem back in the 1990’s. <7 minutes

Theo Colburn  —  Endocrine Disruption: Are Males at Risk?    < 48minutes

PBS FRONTLINE HORMONE DISRUPTERS / XENOESTROGENS  < 4 minutes

Theo Colburn reads letter to the white house about EDC’s < 18 minutes

War against boys. Are the ADHD Drugs Unsafe?

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Have you heard anything in the media about the meds used for ADHD being unsafe? I would bet not. But guess what? There’s been quite a bit of scientific data pointing towards that very possibility. Just have a look at this page:

http://www.leonardsax.com/stimulants.html

Leonard Sax, M.D. has been pointing out these potential risk factors for some time and I can’t remember seeing any articles in the news media other then those written by Sax.

The worst thing about these potential side effects and brain changes resulting from these meds is that they center around de-motivating the boy. The very thing that the medicine is trying to do, to help him focus, is negated by this potential impact of simply not wanting to get out of bed. Here’s what Sax says in his excellent book on boys, Boys Adrift:

“The stimulant medications appear to exert their harmful effects by damaging an area of the developing brain called the nucleus accumbens. Independent groups of researchers at the University of Michigan, the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of Pittsburgh, Brown University as well as in Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands all have found that exposing laboratory animals to these medications, even at low doses and for short periods can cause permanent damage to the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that is responsible for translating motivation into action. if a boy’s nucleus accumbens is damaged, he may still feel hungry, or sexually aroused. He just won’t feel motivated to do anything about it.”

Sax states that we can’t be certain yet about the damage in humans since the evidence is not fully in. However, he asks parents a simple question: Would you like to volunteer your son for a trial?

Most parents would say no. But that is only if they know the dangers. At this point very few people seem to know these drugs may be risky.  I have seen no headlines, heard no “60 Minutes” reports or specials on NPR. I have heard nothing about the possible risks involved. Silence. Just consider what might happen if medications used for mostly girls were found to have a similar risk. There would be a firestorm of articles about the misogyny of the medical professionals and the pharmaceutical companies labeling them as patriarchal evil doers and oppressors. It would likely be front page material. But not so with boys.

tractorBut it gets worse. The media is usually informed by medical professionals and those folks are simply not speaking up, or worse yet, they are saying the opposite. Take Dr Biederman for example. Dr. Joseph Biederman is the chief of pediatric psychopharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital. You know, the hospital associated with Harvard University.  Here’s a bit from Wikipedia about Dr Biederman:

In 2007, Biederman was ranked as the second highest producer of high-impact papers in psychiatry overall throughout the world with 235 papers cited a total of 7048 times over the past 10 years as determined by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI).[2] The same organization ranked Biederman at #1 in terms of total citations to his papers published on ADD/ADHD in the past decade.[3]

Biederman was the recipient of the 1998 NAMI Exemplary Psychiatrist award. He was also selected by the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society Awards committee as the recipient of the 2007 Outstanding Psychiatrist Award for Research. In 2007, Biederman received the Excellence in Research Award from the New England Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He was also awarded the Mentorship Award from the Department of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

This is someone who’s opinion is counted by all and especially by the media.

And what does Dr Biederman say about these drugs. According to Sax he has been “strenuously encouraging” their use. Why would the head of Harvard’s hospital pharmacology not mention the risks of these drugs? Well, we don’t know but we do know one thing, Dr Biederman received 1.6 million dollars from the pharmaceuticals and never bothered to tell anyone. You do the math.

Then there is Dr. Fred Goodwin, former chief of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Apparently Dr Goodwin has been singing a similar tune about these drugs being safe and guess what? He has now been outed as getting 1.3 milion dollars from the pharmaceuticals.

How many more Biederman’s and Goodwins are out there? Maybe these doctors are part of the reason we haven’t been hearing much?

Parents need to know the risks involved. If the media and our medical professionals won’t do it, we need to. Send this article and its links to parents who might need to know this information.

More from Leonard Sax, M.D.
Risky, Even Used as Intended
More info on Biederman, Goodwin and the kickbacks.
Boys Adrift on Amazon (on Kindle)

Ladies – How can you get emotionally close to the men you love?

This article is the first in a series of articles geared to help women get closer to the men and boys they love.  If you want more info on this topic you can see Tom’s new kindle book The Way Men Heal now available at amazon. Articles to follow will focus on the reasons men’s emotional pain is invisible, tips for getting close to men, getting close to young boys, and getting close to adolescent boys.

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pathLadies, how many times have you been frustrated to not be able to connect emotionally with the men you love?  Want to learn how to do that?  Keep reading.

The first thing to know is that there are a multitude of ways we deal with emotions.   What we want to guard against is the idea that “our” way is the “only” way.  If we get stuck in that sort of thinking we are in danger of not seeing the many ways that others might use.

What sorts of things help us when we have emotions? How do we help ourselves find balance? Many people, especially women, find talking about their emotions to be a top strategy, others see talking as something to be avoided. We know about the origins of this difference from the research of Shelly Taylor, PhD of UCLA. Taylor has helped us greatly in understanding that men and women have very different ways to deal with stress. She found in 2003 that nearly all of the previous research on stress had been done using male subjects.  Given this obvious bias, Taylor decided to find if women might have a different way from the standard “fight or flight” mode.  What Taylor found was that when stressed women don’t usually fight or flight, they instead, will “tend and befriend.”  When stressed, women are much more likely to move towards people and towards interaction. This is a remarkable difference and starts off our understanding of how men and women might have different ways to process emotions.  Taylor helps us see that women will be more likely to talk while men will be less likely to do so.

Why is it that talking and interaction helps many women heal?  The bottom line is that this is where they feel safe.  The first element of healing is to find safety.  Those people who use the tend and befriend mode will usually find help in talking and interacting because this is where they feel safe. Think of your way.  When you are upset, do you look towards others for support? Are there certain people who help you feel safer and more likely to open up?  Are there certain places that help you feel safer and open up with that person?  The more you feel safe the more likely you will feel free to open up, right?  You will be sensitive to your own safety and seek interactions that fit your safety needs. When you find that safety you will talk about your problems and difficulties. This is a win.

Men are no different but their safe places are indeed different. Most men simply don’t find the interactive tend and befriend mode to be so safe.

In the late 1970’s when I first started working at a counseling center my clients were mostly men. I started finding that the things that helped women didn’t seem to go over so well with men.  I was taught in grad school to sit and face my clients and make good eye contact.  Worked like a charm with women.  It seemed to help them feel safe.  With men?  Not so much.  Rather then help them feel safe it seemed to be making them more tense.  It was only later that I found that eye contact for men (especially with another man) had the tendency to increase tension rather then help them feel safe.  Eye contact for men means something very different.  For men eye contact often  means competition or confrontation.  Think about it.  Hockey has a “faceoff,” boxers face each other, when men compete they “face” the other team.  it took me some time to realize this and also to see that men feel considerably safer not in a face to face mode but by being shoulder to shoulder.

Before we go a step farther we need to back up a bit.  The differences that Taylor found and others that we will discuss in just a minute are not black and white.  For many reasons, including both social and  biological ones, there are some men who process things more like women and some women who process more like men.  We are called to not pigeonhole either.  We are all very different and each person needs to be understood for their own unique paths.  I have found that about 20% of men are going to process things more like women (tend and befriend) and about 20% of women will likely process things more like the men.  There are, of course, many people who are a blend of the two.  It’s not a simple split.

With that said, it is more likely for women to tend and befriend but what about men? Where do men find safety?  If we knew that we would find it much easier to enter into their safe space, right?  After working with grieving and traumatized men for over 30 years I have slowly come to see some of these differences.

Exercise one — Think of the man you love. Where do you think he finds safety? Where does he seem to feel safe? There are three basic places that people will find safety, Interaction, Action, and Inaction. Most of us will use all three of those but one will usually be primary and be more helpful than the other two. When he is stressed does he want to talk about things? (interaction) Does he move towards doing something? (action) Or does he isolate himself and get quiet? (inaction) Think of his way. You may want to talk with him about this when you see him. Just ask him where he feels safe and see what he says. You could even tell him what you do and where you feel safe when you feel stressed and ask him if that sort of thing works for him. It could prove to be a valuable conversation.

Men move towards action

In general, men tend to move more toward action or inaction but each man (and each woman) will be different and have different ways to find safety. We also know that men will find being shoulder to shoulder to bring more safety then being face to face. Men tend to get close to one another when they are on the same team and working towards a common goal. This is where men tend to relax and develop friendships especially if the situation is somewhat dangerous. Think of men who become close to each other, war time buddies, policemen who are partners, firemen who are at the same firehouse, players on the same team or even fishing together in a fishing boat all day. These are all places where men are shoulder to shoulder and taking part in an action together with a common goal. This is where men begin to feel close and it gives us a powerful clue about how we can get closer to them.

Once someone finds safety what is the next step? Think of what happens when you find your close friend, you have a safe place and you have time to interact. What happens? It’s obvious. You tell your story. There is something about telling the story that is healing and fulfilling. When you can get that story out and someone hears it you feel differently. Often we feel affirmed. These are the basic elements of healing that can be seen clearly in therapy or even a support group. Both therapy and support groups are built to help people feel safe and to then tell their stories.

path-oregThese two elements are the basics to how people heal from very strong grief and trauma. It has been my experience that these elements are also used for everyday sorts of emotional bumps and bruises but on a smaller scale. The human mind is built to listen to and tell stories and this is for good reason. Doing this helps us stabilize and find our center. People find safety and then they tell their story within that safety. When I first started working with men I assumed that everyone felt safe sitting face to face and that everyone would benefit from verbally telling their story. I was wrong. It took me quite some time to realize that the basics of safety and story were the same for both men and women but the specifics of safe places and the way the stories were told were very, very different. I began to realize that men often found safety in their action and then would use that action to tell their story. It was right there for me to see but I missed it due to my assumption that everyone healed in the same manner.

I can hear you now saying, “Wait a minute. How can anyone tell their story through their action? How does that work?” I can really understand this question since I struggled to understand it for years. Let’s take an example.

I worked with a man once who experienced the death of his teen son in a car crash.  The man was stunned and reeling. What he eventually did to deal with the chaos of such a massive loss, was to begin to write a book about his son.  He interviewed his son’s girlfriends, ex- girlfriends, teachers, friends, religious leaders, coaches and anyone he could think of that had contact with him.  After interviewing each person he would write up the interview as a section for his book.  The conversations the man had with his interviewees were not unlike what some others might have in a support group, or in therapy, but this man had the conversations as a part of his action, the action of writing the book.   The project was meant to honor his son and his son’s life.  The project also pulled the man into the future: should he have an index? How will he get it printed?  Distributed?  Who should he interview next?  The entire project became a way for this man to tell his story of his son, and his loss.  But rather then simply talking about it, he told his story through his action, the action of writing the book.  it was an action that honored his son and pulled the man into the future. During this action and interviewing his sons’ friends and talking about his son’s life how could he not experience the emotions of this loss? By honoring his son with his action he was telling his son’s story and his own story and experiencing the emotions that were a part of that loss.  How could he not?

Now, imagine you are this man’s wife.  How do you get emotionally close to him?  Would it work to simply sit with him face to face and say, “Honey, how are you feeling about our son?”  Probably not.  Much better to simply ask how the book is going. It’s a very good bet that he will be very willing and even interested in talking about the book. The latest thing he had discovered about his son from the son’s friends etc. Better yet, how can you help him with the book?  “Honey, maybe I can round up some pictures that you could use in the book?  Would that help?” Men sometimes deeply appreciate someone taking an interest in their healing actions and working with them shoulder to shoulder.  That is where men tend to feel safe.

I can hear you saying, “Well Tom, my husband does not write books.” And you would be correct. However, it is likely that your husband uses some type of action to tell his story and if you know how he does it you will be in a much better position to both understand him and connect with him. But how does he do it?

Exercise 2 – Think of the man you love and remember where he finds safety. Now think of what he does once he finds that safety. It is likely that he will move into one of four spheres, creative action, practical action, thinking action or inaction. The men I have worked with will generally have one of those that is their primary path to tell their story.

Let’s take just a second to observe these four types of healing action. It’s easiest to start seeing these by observing what men tend to do following a very strong loss. Here are some examples:

PRACTICAL ACTION – This is probably the most common path where men use some practical action as a vehicle to tell their story. Some men might dedicate their work, others might build a memorial or start a trust fund, still others might dedicate themselves to better parenting. Think of the NFL when a player on a team dies. What do these men do naturally and without direction? They honor their fallen comrade with an insignia or patch on their uniform and they dedicate their season (their action) in honor of the lost friend. Their play is now connected to their loss and the future becomes a way to remember this friend and to tell your story. But all of this happens through action, not just sitting in a circle and talking.

CREATIVE ACTION – Many people use creative action to tell their story. You can see this in men who use actions like painting, singing, sculpting, writing music, listening to music, and a host of other creative paths. How many symphonies have been written by men that were in honor of a loss?

THINKING ACTION – Some men write like the man in our example. Some journal, some study grief, some dedicate their learning, some philosophize.

INACTION – This is simply telling the story internally, in our own heads, by ourselves. Some will do this before going to sleep, others while driving, and some others while taking a walk. It can happen anyplace. You simply won’t see it unless they tell you about it. They are likely telling this story over and over again in their heads. Like the other three types of action this one is basically invisible. You can’t see it.
It is this invisibility that kept me from seeing the way men used action in order to heal. Men are very good at making their healing paths invisible. It is likely that you don’t know the first thing about how he does this. The next article will be on why men try to keep their healing invisible and the reasons they do this. When we can understand this basic idea we will be in much better position to see more clearly the healing actions they are taking.

Here is a summary of what we have done thus far:
1. Men feel safer in a shoulder to shoulder mode on the same team
2. Rather than interaction, men often use action or inaction to tell their story
3. Rather than the past, men use the future to tell their story
4. Honoring and rebuilding are the tools that are used

Tom Golden, LCSW has written three books on the way men heal and has co-authored a fourth. Tom’s work has been featured in CBS Evening News, CNN, ESPN, The NFL Channel and many others. His latest book “Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: Understanding the Uniuqe World of Boys” offers the latest research about boys and their healing and how moms can use this to be closer. “The Way Men Heal” is Tom’s latest book specifically on male healing paths. It is available now at amazon as both Kindle and paperback.  Tom’s first book, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing continues to be a popular volume that offers mena map of grief and healing.  He offers online consults for women seeking to get closer to the men they love.  [email protected]

Why is it that men’s grief is so invisible?

For a much more detailed version of these natural paths for men and to see how they do actually heal and deal with their feelings you might want to check out my new and very inexpensive ebook The Way Me Heal.

Why is it that men’s grief is so invisible? What do you think?

mensbloginvismanThe first element that makes men’s grief invisible is our cultural taboo on men’s emotional pain. A man’s emotional pain is a problem while a woman’s emotional pain is seen as a call to action. People tend to avoid and disdain men’s pain.

The second element that makes men’s grief invisible is how men are locked into the provide and protect role. When you provide and protect others, who is providing and protecting you? No one. You better tough it out and do it quietly. If you don’t, shame is coming your way.

A third element that makes men’s grief invisible is the fact that our culture expects men to be independent and punishes men for being dependent. A dependent man is not seen as a “real” man. Is it any wonder that men avoid open expression of emotions? Here’s a quote from Peter Marin from an excellent article he wrote titled “Abandoning Men: Jill Gets Welfare–Jack Becomes Homeless”. Marin says: “To put it simply: men are neither supposed nor allowed to be dependent. They are expected to take care of others and themselves. And when they cannot or will not do it, then the assumption at the heart of the culture is that they are somehow less than men and therefore unworthy of help. An irony asserts itself: by being in need of help, men forfeit the right to it.” Exactly!

A fourth element that makes men’s grief less visible is that men tend to live in a dominance hierarchy. We are all aware of the dominance hierarchy of the Big Horn Sheep with their head butting but few of us are aware that human males are now being seen as living within a similar hierarchy. Within this hierarchy the males strive for status in order to improve their reproductive success. Usually this is done in niches and small groups where males compete but it can manifest on a national or international level. The important point here is that men will strive to portray their best sides in order to insure the best possible placement within the hierarchy. Of course this also means that they will have ample reason to want to conceal “weakness” and “dependency” and that of course includes their more tender emotions.

Women may scoff at this since they don’t have the same experience in this sort of hierarchical arrangement….except for one spot, attractiveness. Women will tend to compete with each other in a hierarchy of attractiveness. Ladies have you ever tried to hide or conceal a part of yourself that you see as less attractive? If so, this is very similar behavior to men not wanting to publicly emote.

The last element that makes men’s grief less visible is their unique biology. The impact of men’s hormones and their likelihood of having a “masculine” brain both play into men’s processing of emotions. Men have about 10 times the testosterone as their female counterparts. This seems to play a role in the processing of emotions by limiting emotional tears and diminishing the man’s ability to articulate his emotions as he is experiencing them. Both of these qualities have been badly misinterpreted with men all too often being seen as cold and unfeeling.

Men’s grief is simply less visible. When people start to understand these differences they are in a much better position to not judge men unfairly. All too often men are expected to emote and process emotions in the same way that women do. Women are seen as the default and men who fail to compare to that standard are deemed deficient. We need to see each person as an individual and avoid the trap of expecting them to be like ourselves. We are all different. Viva la difference!

 

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Tom Golden, LCSW has written two books on the way men heal and has co-authored a third. Tom’s work has been featured in CBS Evening News, CNN, ESPN, The NFL Channel and many others. His latest book “The Way Men Heal” is available now at amazon as a kindle book. He offers online consults for women seeking to get closer to the men they love.  [email protected]

Boys Raped More Often Than Girls

by Tom Golden

hillDo boys face sexual abuse as children? According to research the answer is a very powerful yes.   A CDC study in 20051 showed that 1 in 6 boys experienced unwanted sexual contact by the time they reached the age of 18. The number for girls was a bit larger, it was 1 in 4.  So 25% of girls and 16% of boys were reported to have had unwanted sexual activity prior to the age of 18.

I am sure that some of you are wondering exactly how the question was worded in order to get to those numbers.  We live in an age where definitions have become so watered down that statistics really don’t tell the story.  So for those of you who are wondering let’s look at the exact wording. This is taken directly from the journal article:

“Four questions from Wyatt36 were adapted to define sexual abuse during childhood and adolescence: “Some people, while they are growing up in their first 18 years of life, had a sexual experience with an adult or someone at least 5 years older than themselves. These experiences may have involved a relative, family friend, or stranger. During the first 18 years of life, did an adult, relative, family friend, or stranger ever (1) touch or fondle your body in a sexual way, (2) have you touch their body in a sexual way, (3) attempt to have any type of sexual intercourse with you (oral, anal, or vaginal), or (4) actually have any type of sexual intercourse with you (oral, anal, or vaginal)?” A “yes” response to any of the four questions classified a respondent as having experienced CSA. In addition, the frequencies for each component were calculated.”

This wording seems fairly straightforward and accomplishes the important task of not using the word abuse.  We now know that males have been reluctant in the past to answer that they have been abused because males often times simply don’t see their experience as having been abusive.  One study6 used a sample of children, both boys and girls, who DHS had defined as having experienced childhood sexual abuse.  Of that group only 16% of the boys thought that they had been abused. You can compare that to 64% of the girls who thought they had experienced abuse. In this sample four times as many girls who had been designated as having experienced sexual abuse as children believed their experience was “abuse.” Only a fraction of the boys felt they had been abused even though they had a similar experience. This has likely been a factor in some previous research showing that boys were less frequently sexually abused as children.  Simply using the term “abuse” in a research questionnaire would throw off the numbers. Things seem to shift drastically when you only ask about the exact experience and not label it as abusive.  This study shows that when you do ask about specific experiences the boys and girls have similar rates of abuse.   The men and boys will answer the questions honestly, it is simply they have a different view of the word “abuse.”

The idea of 1 in 6 boys having been sexually abused as children is not limited to this research nor is it new. There are a number of other  studies that have come to very similar conclusions. (See references) The range seems to be between 14% and 18% for the boys. We knew even in the 1980’s that boys comprised a sizable number of those children who experienced sexual abuse.  The classic and best selling handbook for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse “The Courage to Heal” estimated that 1 in 7 boys faced the trauma of sexual abuse as children.  The book, like so many other media sources focused almost totally on female victims.

The idea of 1 in 6 has become so accepted there is now a web site 1in6.org that offers information specifically for boys and men on childhood sexual abuse.  It provides a place for men’s stories about their abuse, has information for the men, their family members , therapists and professionals.  It is well worth a look. I think it’s a breath of fresh air.

This particular study went farther than only examining the incidence of sexual abuse among boys and girls.  It also kept track of the sex of the perpetrator.  For many years the assumption has been that the perpetrators of sexual abuse of boys are primarily men.  This research and other recent studies challenge that assumption.  This study found that of the boys who were abused nearly 40% of the abusers were female.  It also found that 8% of the perpetrators of sexual abuse of girls were also female.

The study also examined the life impact of their childhood sexual abuse.  It found that both boys and girls were negatively impacted in a similar manner.  This also challenges some of the old assumptions that it was the girls who were abused that faced the greatest hardships/trauma and negative life impact due to their abuse.  This study says that is far from the truth.  They conclude that both boys and girls are impacted and the impact is very similar for both.

I am grateful to these researchers for their even-handed examination of this problem and their ability to ignore the status quo politically correct version that focuses on girls who are victims and ignores the hardships and needs of boys.  They take a very important stand on this issue as can be seen in their conclusion (emphasis is theirs):

In conclusion, the data presented provide important implications for public health and preventive medicine. First, childhood sexual abuse is a common
form of childhood maltreatment in both men and women. Second, childhood sexual abuse and severity of the abuse have a similar relative impact on behavioral, mental health, and social outcomes for both men and women survivors, as reported during adulthood. Moreover, it was demonstrated that female perpetration of CSA upon boys was common (40%), and increased the risk of behavioral and social outcomes among male CSA victims.

 

The Title of This Article

I do have one bone to pick with this research. It has to do with one of the tables of data they offer in their article.  Table 2 on page 433.  Here’s a graphic of that table:

 

research-table

 

Notice that this table separates the male numbers from the female numbers of those who experienced childhood sexual abuse.  A quick look at the table shows that a total of the various types of abuse sum to 16% of males and 24.7% of the females.  Okay.  But look at the numbers for the least intrusive sexual abuse.  This is the category that one would assume would be the largest for both boys and girls with declining numbers to follow.  But what you find is that  13.2% of the boys experienced this lowest level of abuse and 22.5% of the girls experienced this lowest level of abuse. Still not a problem but obviously the girls experienced much more of the least intrusive type of abuse.  But look what happens with the more severe abuse.  In the next category “forced to touch an adult” the boys outnumber the girls, 8.1% to 7.9%. Then in the next level of abuse of attempted intercourse the boys are 7.3% and the girls 8.6%.  But it is the last most abusive category that got me wide eyed.  In this category of completed intercourse the boys outnumber the girls 6.7% to 5.6%!  This seems to say that more boys then girls were raped as children.  That is a notable statistic.

My beef with the researchers is they didn’t highlight this difference and question the reasons for such a startling stat.  It was basically glossed over. While I deeply appreciate these researchers focusing on boys and showing they need and deserve compassion. And I really appreciate their focus on boys being just as negatively impacted by their experiences of sexual abuse.  I just can’t forgive them for not putting this stat into their discussion and pointing out that their data indicates that boys are more often the victims of severe sexual abuse as children. The more severe the abuse becomes the more boys and girls are in equal numbers with boys being slightly more likely to experience the worst types of sexual abuse.  That is what their data says and that is a very powerful message that might wake up some of both our slumbering psychological professionals and the general public. The least they could do would be to get a discussion going about the reasons that boys outnumber girls in that most intrusive category.

The popular percentages of 16% of the boys (1 in 6) and 25% (1 in 4) of the girls having experienced childhood sexual abuse is a bit misleading.  The standard 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused may be technically correct but I think it misleads a bit especially when it is compared to the 1 in 6 of the boys.  It makes it look like many more girls face sexual abuse.  The fact is that many more girls do face the least intrusive category of sexual abuse, nearly 1 in 4.  All the while about 1 in 8 boys faces this least abusive category.  But when you only look at the more severe forms of abuse the numbers change.  Now for both boys and girls it is more like 1 in 14 with slightly more boys experiencing the most severe forms of sexual abuse.

I don’t want to minimize the impact of the less severe forms of sexual abuse but at the same time I think it is vitally important to insure that the fact that both boys and girls are equally susceptible to the more severe forms of abuse gets into the public knowledge base.  Our media has painted a picture over the last 40 years that girls are the real victims of sexual abuse in childhood and men are the primary perpetrators.  If you think about your own perceptions I would bet that you would go along with those ideas. We have gotten only half the story from the media. When you only know half the story you carry a potent bias.  It leaves us with a disinterest and even a disbelief in the pain and hardship that boys face.

Just imagine that our media was biased in the opposite direction.  Just imagine they were much more interested in the hardships that boys face and preferred to ignore the hardship of girls. How would they go about taking the findings of this study and promoting their bias? A media like that might produce the following headlines:

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 9.09.47 AM

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 10.54.55 AM

 

These headlines show what a biased media might do if they were only concerned about the needs and hardships of boys and men.  We have had nearly 50 years of the opposite: a media that is only concerned about women and girls. The above headlines don’t lie, they simply only tell half the story.  This engenders a very false image in the minds of their readers.   We have all been duped.  Most people believe that women and girls have a corner on the market of hardship and discrimination.  This is a completely false message as can be seen by the research discussed in this article.  We need a media that shows compassion and interest in the needs and hardships of boys and girls.  Not just girls. This research study is a good example of the beginnings of this sort of thing.

And let’s not forget, Men Are Good!

 

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Tom Golden, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice.  His office is in Gaithersburg MD.  Tom also does consults via the internet and phone.  His newest ebook “The Way Men Heal” offers a quick look at the masculine side of healing. You can find him here: [email protected]

 

References (these were taken from the 1in6.org research page https://1in6.org/the-1-in-6-statistic/)

1. Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Whitfield, C.L., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430–438.

2. Briere, J. & Elliot, D.M. (2003). Prevalence and psychological sequelae of self-reported childhood physical and sexual abuse in a general population sample of men and women. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 1205–1222.

3. Holmes, W.C., & Slap, G.B. (1998). Sexual abuse of boys: Definition, prevalence, correlates, sequelae, and management. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 280, 1855–1862.

4. Lisak, D., Hopper, J. & Song, P. (1996). Factors in the cycle of violence: Gender rigidity and emotional constriction. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9, 721–743.

5.     Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics, and risk factors. Child Abuse & Neglect, 14, 19–28.

6.   Widom, C.S. & Morris, S. (1997). Accuracy of adult recollections of childhood victimization part 2. Childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Assessment, 9, 34–46.

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A Survival Guide for Men in Couples Therapy — Part One

ID-10070272When men enter into couples therapy with their wives or significant female others they will often come into what seems like foreign territory.   Things don’t make sense and the language used is not so familiar. His needs seem far less addressed than his female partner. It seems to men like they are “out of place.” The first section of this article intends to offer men a primer on the basics of why they may feel out of place.  The later section will focus on ideas about what they can do about it and tips for getting the most they can from the experience.  It is worth noting that for biological reasons there are probably about 1 in 5 men who will feel more comfortable in the couples therapy setting.  It is also true that 1 in 5 women will be more like most men. When this article addresses “men” it is directed towards that 80% of men and 20% of women.   Bottom line?  We are all very different and if you are a man or a woman and want to know more about the nature of couples therapy you may find this article useful.  (For more information on these differences see  my book The Way Men Heal at Amazon)

1.  Men and Couples Therapy –  Why is this hard for men?

The whole idea of sitting face to face and talking about emotions and hurt seems odd to many men.  Men might feel more comfortable taking this sort of problem and hashing it out as they play a game of horse or shoot 18 holes of golf. They may feel more comfortable shoulder to shoulder or even by themselves but that is not the way this system of couples therapy is set up. This is just one of many factors that make this experience one that is more difficult for men.

Language

Couples therapy uses a unique language that most men simply don’t know but most women speak fluently.  This has an impact on what happens in couples treatment.  Imagine visiting France.  Your wife speaks fluent French and you speak a little.  A Frenchman invites you to his table at a restaurant and a conversation unfolds.  Who is he going to speak with?  How will the conversation flow?  Likely you will be secondary since you are simply not as fluent and your wife will translate to you the details that you miss. You rely on her to keep you informed about what is happening and you make your best guesses about the rest.  Both your wife and the frenchman will probably not judge you harshly for not being fluent but even so, you will likely feel on the outside.  Now think about a couples therapy session.  You are likely not as fluent as the therapist and your wife, you will probably feel on the outside in a similar manner but there may be a difference.    In the couples therapy arena when you are not as fluent you are likely to be judged and seen as inferior, ignorant, even as cold and uncaring.  The truth is that many therapists think that men should be fluent in the language of feelings and tend to judge them for their apparent deficiency. They believe that men, if only they wanted to, could easily learn this feeling language and would then want to talk about their emotions. Simple right?  “Just try a little harder honey, it’s not so hard if you will just try.”   What these therapists don’t seem to know is that men’s biology is working against them. Their brains are more geared towards building and understanding systems and are not as interested in the emotional side of things. There is some evidence now that testosterone actually limits a man’s ability to articulate emotions even when in the midst of feeling them.  Men have a very different way to process emotions but this difference is rarely acknowledged in couples therapy and men’s unique ways are often interpreted as being deficiencies or are simply ignored.

Another aspect to the language problem is that it likely creates a bond between your wife and the therapist and just as you depended on her translations at the French restaurant you now depend on her.  The difference is that in a couples therapy scenario, she may be antagonistic towards you since your interests are now in conflict. The likelihood of getting a good translation goes down as you must depend on her emotional maturity and only a truly mature woman will be considering your needs at a time like this. I have seen women use their fluency in the language of emotions as a tool to prove her side and to show the man as being the problem.

Details

Another difference is in the details.  Have you ever noticed that women seem to remember in great detail relationship events from years ago?  You know, the time you insulted her by saying she was fat in 2007.  She remembers.  You don’t. Why is it when you are in a session with a couples therapist, she can rattle off a long series of your indiscretions over the past several years?  All the while you are struggling to remember the events she is describing much less coming up with your own examples.  This sort of memory gives women a distinct advantage in couples counseling since they have a much better grasp on details of problems and disagreements from the past. She often keeps a scorecard.  You usually don’t. Her barrage of memories and your silence make it appear that you have no case.

We don’t know why women remember and men don’t. Maybe it’s that men seem to treat their relationship problems and upsets like fishing.  When they catch a fish that is too small they simply throw it back in, forget about it, and focus on catching the next one.  Most men don’t keep score and catalogue the small everyday relationship deficiencies. Could it be that men see small indiscretions in relationships as being like the small fish and let them go by just throwing them back in rather then hold on to them and file them into a growing pile of hurts and resentments?  Could it be that men are simply forgiving and letting the small stuff go? Perhaps when it comes time for couples therapy the men don’t have a huge stockpile of past hurts since they have already let them go while his female partner has a bucket of old hurts which seem geared to prove he is an uncaring sort?   You be the judge. YMMV.

Avoiding Men’s Emotional Pain

Also at work are misandrist attitudes that are held by almost everyone in the US culture that have an impact on men in couples treatment.  These attitudes are led by the idea that a man’s emotional pain is basically taboo.  No one wants to touch a man’s pain, no one wants to hear a man’s pain, no one knows what to do with a man’s pain. Men are aware of this distaste for his emotional pain and avoid publicly emoting.  No brainer. Men are simply not dumb enough to emote publicly, they know the judgement they would face. Contrast this with the norm for female emotional pain which rather than being taboo is more a call to action.  When people see  a tearful women in public the first thing that comes to their mind is “How can I help? Oh, poor thing, she needs support.” When they see a tearful man they will often see him as someone dangerous who needs to be avoided. These vastly different responses to men and women’s emotional pain has an impact on couples treatment. I have noticed that at least some therapists carry a portion of this bias. Those who do carry it seem unaware. It is obvious that if this bias is present in therapy the man’s emotional pain is going to get little attention while the women’s emotional pain will likely be the focus of treatment.  Add on to that many couples therapists are female and this will give the female therapist a much better understanding of what it is like to grow up as a girl and be a woman but leaves her devoid of the same understandings about men and boys. She will be more likely to compare him to the female norm she has in her minds eye. This sort of thing can leave the man terribly misunderstood. I have known men who had huge stressors like recent major surgery, the loss of a job, and the death of a parent all having happened in the previous month and the therapist decides not to focus on his pain but instead focus on the wife’s emotional pain from something much less significant and question why he hasn’t been more attentive to her needs. This simply disenfranchises his reality and reinforces the therapist’s and the wife’s avoidance of the man’s pain.  My experience has been that when the men’s emotional pain is avoided in therapy the men are left feeling even more bewildered and alone.

2.
There is yet another important and related factor involved in the bias we see in couples therapy.  It has to do with sex roles. Women’s sex roles have been changing over the last 40-50 years but men’s?  Not so much.  The traditional male sex role calls for him to provide and protect.  Specifically, it calls him to do those things for his spouse that provide her with the supplies she needs/wants while also offering her a safe place. This idea of a safe place can and does include the idea of being cared for.  If a woman does not feel cared for she is likely not going to feel safe so it is rolled into one big package for which the man is responsible. Bring her the provisions she needs to do her job and help her feel safe and cared for. On the other hand, the traditional sex roles of women were to birth, raise, and nurture the children and care for the home.  He may get some benefit from this but her focus is not on him, it is on the kids and the home.  These roles link the spouses in a very different manner.  Her happiness is linked directly to how he performs in his providing and protecting.  Does he give her what she wants?  Does he give her a safe place?  If not, he is open to judgment and criticism from his wife. This is his primary responsibility, to make money to provide and to insure safety.  Her needs are his responsibility and his needs and his happiness are not attached in a similar manner.  He needs to get the job done first and provide for her.  This makes it simple to see the flow of energy in a traditional marriage as being from man to woman, and her flow of energy is from woman to children and/or home.  This gives the woman a platform to judge his success or lack of success in providing for her. It gives her reasons to complain about his failures. Her needs are seen as primary.  But what about his needs?  No one is responsible.  His needs are his problem. There is no one mandated to provide and protect for him. No one.  It’s easy to see how this plays out in couples therapy.  The woman’s needs and satisfaction are a primary element.  His needs are much less front and center if they are even dealt with.  This being the case it would be easy to see how most couples therapists will have a tendency to focus on HER and not so much on HIM. It would also be more likely that he wouldn’t even think of focusing on HIS needs and wants. He is programmed to care for her needs, not his.  Plus, he is graded on how well he performs his providing and protecting for her but she is less likely to receive a grade for her treatment of him.  “I can’t do everything, I’ve been taking care of the house and kids.”

To make matters worse the man’s role of provide and protect leaves him with a mandate to maintain his independence.  Being dependent or needy is not acceptable.  In order to be the best provider and protector he needs to be independent and he will usually struggle to do so.  What do we ask of men in therapy and specifically in couples therapy? We ask them to talk about their problems, their vulnerabilities, and their feelings.  All of the above are huge signs of dependency and neediness.  So we are asking men to do a 180 degree turn and suddenly they are supposed to just magically be comfortable with showing neediness and dependency.  The women think this should be easy since their roles are not as demanding of them to be independent.  In fact what are the old demands  of women’s roles?  Nurturing and caring right? So just imagine for a moment putting women into a situation where they had to talk in ways that would show they were not nurturing and caring!  Would they have an easy time with that?  I don’t think so.  We need to have some compassion for our men and the bind they are placed into by coming into couples therapy.

Therapy is Friendly to Women

Therapy has evolved over the years to be friendly to women. Why?  Well, it’s pretty simple, women are the ones who come into therapy. Therapists will naturally move towards creating an environment that caters to and welcomes those who are showing up and paying!  This is one of the reasons that therapy is based on the more feminine ideas of who is relating to whom and who cares about whom.  This is the currency. This is what drives things.  In a more masculine environment the currency would more likely be who is governing whom or who is admiring or respecting whom.  These are very different spaces.  If you are presently in couples counseling it is likely that your wife is attempting to make the point that you simply don’t care about her and she will go through the litany of things you have done that prove you don’t care. Caring is the index. She attempts to convince the therapist that you have committed numerous sins of not caring and now need to change your ways and that her negative behaviors are justified by your indiscretions.  This puts you into a defensive position.  You spend most of your time defending yourself and trying to rebut her claims about your uncaring behaviors. This is yet another problem for men in couples treatment.  They will often find themselves in such a defensive position that they neglect telling their own story, their own needs etc since they are so overwhelmed with just trying to defend themselves.

This sort of imbalanced approach neglects to look at the man’s side of things.  He probably isn’t even thinking about voicing his own needs. It is partly his fault for not bringing things up but he is all too often under water in trying to defend himself and feeling out of place in a world that shows little interest in his needs or his feelings. This pattern has been going on for thousands of years and continues to this day, that women voice what they need in relationship whether it is about their own safety or the provisions they feel they require. The men do their best to provide what is requested or protect them if they are in danger. The men are then evaluated on their performance. It’s easy to see how in couples counseling it would be simple to focus on the woman’s complaints and needs and expect the man to step up and meet those needs while at the same time placing his wants and desires a step down. The byproduct of this formula is that men’s emotional pain and needs are marginalized and avoided.

Yelling

Another problem that often surfaces is that of volume.  Women have a very different threshold for determining when someone is yelling.  Two men can be actively and politely arguing a point at what seems to them to be reasonable volumes but if that same tone and volume is used with their wives, she often claims he is yelling.  This often frustrates the man no end.  He simply says, “I am not yelling.”  And in his mind this is the objective truth.  But remember when entering couples therapy your masculine rules and limits stop being applicable.  You have entered a more feminine space. The biggest danger of this dreaded “you are yelling” meme is that it is sometimes used when the man is making a very good point, a point that can’t be easily countered.  By claiming he is yelling the focus of the conversation shifts quickly and completely.  Now the focus is whether he yelled or not…AND how hurt she is that he was yelling at her.  (remember the keyword is “caring”, a caring person wouldn’t yell)  Now the focus leaves his point and instead centers on how hurt she is and his responsibility for this. This is a devastating development and leaves the man feeling ambushed, helpless and completely unheard. It also importantly lets her off the hook.

Now let’s change gears and look into what a man can do to improve the chances of couples therapy being helpful to him and his relationship in Part Two.

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Tom Golden, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice.  His office is in Gaithersburg MD.  Tom also does consults via the internet and phone.  His newest ebook “The Way Men Heal” offers a quick look at the masculine side of healing. You can find him here: [email protected]