In this episode of Thanks for Sharing, Jackie Pack and Rachel Allen continue their series on sexual health. This episode focuses on men’s sexual health particularly as it relates to growing up in a patriarchal society.
TRANSCRIPT: Men’s Sexual Health
Jackie Pack: Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack, and I’ve got Rachel Allen back with me for our third episode in the series that keeps growing. Now we’re thinking it might be 5 episodes, but that’s because there’s just so much good things to talk about.
Rachel Allen: It’s true. Sexual health is expansive. We said that in the first episode.
Jackie Pack: Right. So we got some questions after our last episode, or after, I don’t know if it was after the last 2 episodes, but we got some questions from a male that were really great questions and some things to cover and to talk about, so today we’re going to be talking about male sexual health and patriarchy and how all of that fits together.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, so I’m just gonna read some of these questions because I think that they were really powerful and kind of good to hear that these questions were even out there after our last episode. I went back and listened to our last episode, and it was a lot of this is how we set it up, and this is what society currently looks like, and I’m hoping that with the next few episodes, we can kind of answer, so what now? And that’s what some of these questions are asking. So the first one, well, I’m gonna skip around. So the first one that I think would be good for us to address is “Although there are certain examples of overt criminal misbehavior as a result of patriarchy, there are a lot more subtle and unconscious things. The biggest problems can be caused by the unwell but well-meaning behavior of ordinary men and women who often don’t realize they are making mistakes or harming others. How do we combat the unconscious false messages about sex?”
Jackie Pack: Yeah, I think that’s a great question because I think after the “me too” movement, and there is a question more specific to the “me too” movement, but I think the “me too” movement found a lot of people having these discussions, and men particularly saying, “Well I don’t want to be that, so what do I do and how, you know, if I’m not like the overt criminal misbehavior, I’m not sexually assaulting women or I’m not raping women and I’m not necessarily interested in that, so then what? Like how do I become better evolved or more informed or more inclined toward sexual health that way, right?” And so I think there’s a lot of things that men can do, and I think men are starting to have those conversations.
Rachel Allen: Absolutely. One of the things that when I talk to males it seems to come up over and over again is this idea of being like sexually attracted to someone vs. like sexualizing them or observing them or kind of doing… We would call them catcalls, or I always say like I can walk in a room and tell you which guys are being creepers because you can just feel it, like women are just hyper-aware of that kind of predatory behavior, most women are. And so like sometimes without even recognizing that, we’re doing it, like when we switch a female to an object, especially to a sex object in our brain, women know that, and it’s not… I think that those become like the more subtle things, right? Like when we say something that could be completely appropriate in one context but extremely inappropriate in the other based on how we’re saying it, our own body language, our own tone inflection, those are the things to be aware of I think.
Jackie Pack: Yeah, and I think both of us work with our clients, male clients particularly, saying it’s not abnormal to notice somebody you find attractive. Like our brain is constantly scanning the environment and we’re going to notice attractive people, we’re gonna notice unusual behaviors, we’re going to notice. It’s part of our survival skill, right, that’s always scanning the environment. So there’s a difference between noticing somebody who’s attractive and sexualizing somebody.
Rachel Allen: Right, like a perfect example, if you see a female running on the sidewalk, she’s not running for your benefit. She’s running for hers, so keep your eyes on the road. It’s the same for everyone.
Jackie Pack: And also I think where do we cross those boundaries? Like noticing somebody that you think is attractive isn’t necessary a boundary violation, but when you start undressing them in your mind or wondering if they’re married or wondering what they’re like as a sexual partner, like now you’re intruding into their personal life without an invitation, without consent to do that. That’s crossing a line, and that would be moving them into a sexual object rather than a human being.
Rachel Allen: Right. I think some of the other like more subtle things, like I often… like some of the things that we just kind of throw out there in society that I think can be really damaging is that “Boys will be boys.” There’s a t-shirt out there that if I had a son, I would buy it for him, but it says “Boys will be well-behaved humans.” And I really like that because the truth is like I know a lot of really respectful, very appropriate men in my life, and that group of men in my life were kind of like, “wait what?” with the “me too” movement because they wouldn’t have even thought to treat women that way or thought to think of women that way. But I do think that we have this like idea that you know, when little boys are picking on girls and we say “Oh that’s because he likes you.” No. That’s inappropriate behavior, right? So that would be some of that, let’s teach them how to be appropriate, how to be… maybe if they really do like this little girl, they’re not picking on her and they’re being nice and they’re verbalizing that. As boys get older, we do a lot around, you know, boys are just sexual or they can’t help themselves, like we talk to boys about sexual things without actually talking to them about it, like we’ll make jokes about masturbation, we’ll make jokes about like the girl that likes them, which then puts a lot of focus on a boy’s sexual prowess, which may not even be something they’re interested in.
Jackie Pack: And it also does damage, I mean we’ve worked with plenty of male clients who maybe were slower developmentally there, right? And so maybe they got pressure from family or church leaders or friends about liking girls, but they were just interested in sports at that point and it made them question their sexuality, like why am I not interested in this? And it had nothing to do with just their development was like their interest was baseball or basketball or whatever and that was still healthy development, but because they weren’t sexual they felt “other”, like I’m not part of that male group and what does that mean about me?
Rachel Allen: Right. Some of the sex and violence that gets intertwined in our culture, like I think that’s one of those things that we have to be aware of. It’s funny, again, you know, we talked about it in the first episode that I’m the residential nerd. It’s funny because when I first watched the movie Iron Man, I was just as upset about the women dancing around Tony Stark on stage as I was the violence, to the point that I kind of said, “Why did we need that? We didn’t need that. That didn’t add to the movie.” To which my husband responded, “Well Tony’s the playboy,” and I said, “Right, but every little boy wants to be Tony Stark.” And you know, well this totally feeds into my podcast, but Tony Stark and Cap are both sides of a toxic patriarchy. Like, Cap thinks that women can’t do things and he falls in love with this woman who’s very capable and she kind of puts him in his place several times because he keeps kind of stepping over that line, and then Tony Stark has no regard for women or their feelings, and Pepper gets run over multiple times. She becomes the CEO of his company, and he still kind of treats her as side fiddle, and so I think in that regard, we just have a lot of those messages. Like men are to be cool sexually, to dominate sexually, like Tony Stark and Captain America in the Marvel world are kind of presented as ideal men, and they’re not my favorite.
Jackie Pack: Right. Yeah. Well I think the other message that we give to little boys often is you know, if we talk about kind of these men rules that we’re teaching little boys about as they’re growing up, I talk to a lot of my male clients about emotions, right, and how part of their healing and part of their recovery is to claim their birthright to all of their emotions. And often society boils that down to men can have sexual desire as an emotion and men can have anger as an emotion, and sometimes those 2 things fuse. But even if they don’t fuse, those are kind of the options we give men is you can have sexual desire and express yourself that way. You can be angry and express yourself that way. And I will tell men like you have been robbed because there is so many more emotions that bring a richness and a depth to you as a person that have been labeled as “girly.” Right, that’s what girls do. And one of the worst things little boys can be called or men can be called is anything feminine. One of the worst insults is to be called a girl, and I think when we’re teaching boys that you don’t want to be a girl and girls do the emotions, we literally are handicapping little boys from growing up into mature, functional men.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, and I think that’s one of those things that it is a very subtle thing, right? But like I’ve watched people tell 5-year-old boys, “Don’t cry.” Have you met 5-year-olds? They cry a lot, right? They fall and skin their knee, they’re gonna cry. And so developmentally, that’s appropriate, but we start very, very early for boys cutting that off. We also tend to force boys to channel things away from the arts, right, like in our culture, which I think is super interesting, but in our culture specifically, we don’t like boys to like paint or draw or dance or theater or anything in that kind of art world, we don’t… cooking, right? Which is interesting also because some of the greatest writers, dancers, painters, sculptors, actors are all men. Chefs. Right, they’re all men. That’s not entirely true.
Jackie Pack: But there’s a lot of them.
Rachel Allen: But there’s a huge percentage of them that are men, you know when you think of Michael… like when you think about the Renaissance, they’re male artists typically.
Jackie Pack: I mean I also, I talk to my girls about how “anonymous” throughout history was most likely female so we don’t really have the females that were doing stuff at that time because they either went under a pen name or went under a male identity or were just anonymous.
Rachel Allen: Also there’s a whole like cult belief that Shakespeare was a female and was written by a female and just gave it to Shakespeare to put out there in the world.
Jackie Pack: Oh I’m not aware of that. Okay.
Rachel Allen: Anyway, so that being said, like I think you know, we have this tendency to narrow that scope for men and those are some of the subtle things that we do, like even in the way that we tell men to dress and the way that we tell me to show up, like one of the things here particularly in our culture that I think is really interesting is how like men have a uniform, like here in Utah specifically. And this happens kind of like culturally, like in the Southeast men have uniforms, I think it’s a little more diverse, but like you can tell that someone’s from Utah even from outside of the state by their haircut. They usually don’t have facial hair. They’re very polo and jeans or white button-up shirt. Like it’s very… it’s a uniform, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of allowing for exploring for that for men. And I think that’s true in different ways, like where I grew up, men were allowed to play with color a little bit more, but it’s still very much like this is how men dress, like there’s an expectation of that. If you went too far one way, then you were just effeminate. And so you know, there’s just some of those things that we expect I think of men.
Jackie Pack: And often they’re unspoken, but they’re very clearly understood. I also, when I’m doing presentations, I’ll talk about, I’ll say let’s say that we’ve got you know maybe an 18-month-old who’s mastered, well maybe not mastered walking, but they’re walking, they’re figuring out running, not so good sometimes. Their head gets a little bit ahead of their feet or different things like that. So let’s say that we’re watching this 18-month-old go down the sidewalk. They fall and they hurt their knee. And let’s make the gender of that 18-month-old a female. What typically is our response is to say, “Come here, let me kiss it better. I’ll give you a hug.” Right, like whatever that is, we’re literally inviting them into a relationship with us and telling them, “You need this connection. If you’re feeling sad, you need a connection.” And if we change the gender of that 18-month-old child to being a male, oftentimes that alone will change the response, right? 18-month-old skins their knee, kind of gets upset, and we say, “Jump up, bud! You’re okay. You’re tough. You’re strong. Keep going.” And we’re literally saying to him, “You don’t need connection. You don’t need relationship. You’re fine on your own. You’ve got this.” And then we wonder why men struggle in relationships so much. And I think if we change our approach to that and were more aware of how we are socializing and conditioning little boys, right, little boys, and starting to teach them that they also need relationships and that they are relational. And some of that means whether you’re a church leader to them or whether you’re a coach to them or you’re their dad or something like that, like you are talking to them about how they feel. You are talking to them about what they’re interested in and how that makes them feel, and you’re giving them that permission to feel a wide range of emotions instead of really narrowing those emotions down.
Rachel Allen: Right. Well and I think even like being aware of how boys and girls interact, right? Like if you have a group of boys that you’re taking somewhere, maybe you’re teaching them how to cook. Maybe you’re teaching them how to sew on a button or iron a shirt, like I think that some of those things are completely appropriate for men to know, and that in and of itself helps promote some of that balance that is good for them. Yeah. It takes away some of the stigma of like oh I don’t do that or I can’t do that. And it really gives them some self-efficacy. Like I can do this and it’s fine for me to embrace those things, and that’s good. That’s great.
Jackie Pack: I remember being, when I was getting married and being at one of my bridal showers, and it was the one that my husband’s side of the family was throwing, and they were kind of getting to know me and asking me some questions and his one aunt asked me something about like, “What day is gonna be your ironing day?” And I was so thrown off by that question. I was like, “My what day?” And she was like, “Ironing.” And I was like, “You mean ironing clothes?” And she was like, “Yeah.” And I said, “I don’t think I’m gonna have a day for that, like if I need something to wear and it’s wrinkled, I’ll iron it.” And she was like, “But what about my spouse?” And I was like, “Well, I’m pretty sure he knows how to use an iron.” Like I’m not.. like if he’s in a hurry and something needs to be ironed, I don’t mind ironing, so I’ll like, “Oh I’ll help you out.” But my husband also does that for me sometimes, like, “Oh you need this ironed? I’ve got a minute. I can go iron this.” Like some of those very stereotypical gender roles that we perpetuate, I think we have to start questioning those, and I think men have to start owning some of those because it’s good overall for their balance and their well-being if they can be a functional person who knows how to do those things.
Rachel Allen: Absolutely. You know, it’s funny. My great-grandmother was the sassiest woman in my life. I just love her so much, but when we were little my dad was complaining that my mom never cooked. And my mom had a full-time job. She was a terrible cook. She’s gotten much better now, but she just didn’t learn how to cook. That was not in her wheelhouse of things that she really desired to learn. She doesn’t enjoy it. Like to cook is to get food, that is kind of her thing, but my dad actually enjoys cooking, but he was complaining to my grandmother about the fact that my mother never cooked, and she said, “Well you know how to cook.” And he said, “Yeah, I do.” And he was like, “Yes, so she should, right?” And she said, “Then I don’t think she needs to. If you can do it, you can make your own food.” It was one of those like, “If you’re hungry, go cook it.” And it’s funny because we joke about that in my family a lot but I think that’s actually what started shifting that idea for my dad and really kind of opened those conversations up in our family a little bit. I wouldn’t say they were great at it, but my grandmother was very much against gender roles, like whoever had the capacity to do it, you do it.
Jackie Pack: Right. I’ve talked to people before about me as a parent, and sometimes I don’t know what I… you know, how I would be different as a parent had I had like 2 girls, 2 boys. I have 4 girls, and so I think my girls have had a unique experience being the only gender we have really, and so like if we needed help on something or if my husband was doing a project and he needed help moving something or lifting something, like he came and got me and he came and got the girls as they got older because that’s who was available to him, right? So he was just like, “Come help me do this.” And we would go help him do that, and that’s how my girls grew up. They didn’t know, they weren’t getting some of those gender messages about what girls do and what boys do because this is what we had, and even in my family growing up, like we didn’t really fall into some of the stereotypical gender roles either, and I think part of that is we had a single mom, and so we had 3 boys and 3 girls, and we rotated mowing the lawn as much as we rotated cooking dinner and doing dishes because with 6 kids and a single mom, everybody’s gonna have to be involved in that. So you know, there might have been part of me who didn’t stick to some of those gender roles because that’s not how I was raised, but I think also it was… I mean, my girls have talked to us, my husband and I, before and said it was a little bit startling when we started to get those gender roles the older we got, like you know, young women, young females, right, like 10, 12, 13, that… because it just wasn’t what they grew up with those messages, and all of a sudden, they were being told, little girls can’t do this and girls can’t do that, and they were like, “What? According to who? Because in my family, we do all of those things.” Right, and so I think also with boys having… whether it’s with girls or whether it’s with boys, I think we really have to look at the stereotypes that we traditionally have held and what the limits of them are in our current world.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, that kind of leads to this next question, which I think is really powerful. It’s “How do I examine an unhealthy history of patriarchy in my own life and adjust for me psychologically as an adult to promote a more healthy sex life?” So I think this is one of those like one, you’ve gotta get really comfortable with male privilege. Right, there’s just some things that men need to be aware of. I read a men’s group a couple of years ago, and we were talking about privilege, and privilege is one of those things that’s a buzzword, like you throw it out there and all of a sudden you’ve thrown gasoline on a fire. But we were specifically talking about male privilege, and I was the only female in the room, and a couple of them kind of balked at that, to which I responded, “Okay, so what is it you guys do every day to keep yourself safe? Like what are your thought processes? What do you do?” And I think they said like, lock their doors and you know, make sure that the lights are turned on at night or something. And then I started listing off like, so I don’t go to the grocery store late at night. I don’t get up and go running in the dark. I don’t… when I do go to the grocery store and it’s in the evening, I make sure I park close to a light. Here at work, I make sure I park where we have lights outside.
Jackie Pack: I carry my keys between my fingers in case.
Rachel Allen: I carry my keys between my fingers. I check the backseat of my car. I get dressed to make sure that I’m not too revealing or too out there or whatever that is. Depending on what time I’m going to the gym, I pay attention to what clothes I’m wearing so I’m not soliciting unwanted whatever. I’m you know, very aware of the times that I go to the gym, of the times that I go to the grocery store, of you know, just life. I’m very aware of whether or not there are going to be people working with me in my office and what time I’m getting out of my office and things like that. And so like, there was a list, right? And there are huge lists that women go through on a daily basis to “keep themselves safe”. And that was just one thing, right? Like that’s just one version of male privilege that most men don’t even think about. And truthfully, the thing that would keep us safe is men behaving well, right? Like it’s usually not women perpetrating on women. It’s usually men perpetrating on women. So just some acknowledgment that that’s what that looks like.
Jackie Pack: And it doesn’t mean right, ‘cause I know in that particular group that you’re talking about, there was some like, some of the men that balked at this, like they definitely didn’t enjoy all of the privileges white men can, right? They definitely had a lot of trauma in their life and they were looking at it that way, but I think one of the things that for them they started to become aware of is just some of the things they take for granted that they don’t even really have to consider or think about, and so while they may not enjoy all of the privilege they could, they enjoyed more than some people simply based on their gender or their race or whatever.
Rachel Allen: So I think the other thing, too, is… and this is always my favorite when I’m talking to adult men is the assumption that women can’t think for themselves, that they don’t have their own opinions or that they don’t care about sex. Like that’s 90% not true, and if that’s what your partner is responding, she may not have language for that, she may be in some sexual anorexia, which we’ll talk about in the next episode. But like, your partner, as an adult male, your partner should be your equal. You’re not above them. You’re not below them. There shouldn’t be this volley for power. Your partner should be your partner. And I’m talking specifically towards heterosexual males because I think we have the hardest time understanding that in heterosexual relationships. One of the things John Gottman actually talks about, and I can’t remember what book it is, it just left my head, but he was talking about in order for relationships to be healthy and enriching, males have to be able to take influence from their female partners.
Jackie Pack: And it wasn’t statistically significant if females accept influence from their partners because they do. We’re conditioned to do that. We do that all the time, but if males accept influence, it’s statistically less significant to the overall health of that relationship.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, which is huge, so I think that that holds a big piece of it.
Jackie Pack: I mean I grew up in a religion that is conservative, very patriarchal. One of the things that really bothered me is that in this particular religion, once a boy is hitting about 12, he is never going to have another female leader in his life. And what is that saying to him? Intentional or not, that boy is learning something about who he listens to and who leads him, and much more often in religion, my religion it did happen where women could lead women and men could lead women, but only men could lead men, and again that is very reminiscent of that patriarchal structure, so for men who are, you know, listening to women, there was a study done. It was in the STEM field, the science and technology field, and they submitted an application, and it was the same application. One was under the name Jennifer, and one was under the name John. And the resume was exactly the same. And Jennifer’s resume was deemed to not be as credible or what they were looking for, but John’s resume, they really went after him and offered him a nice salary to try to recruit him, and all that had changed was the gender name, like Jennifer vs. John. And so I think this still happens in the workplace. It’s not uncommon, and I think if you’re trying to see it and become aware of it, you will start to see it. Because it’s not rare, and so you know, if you’re sitting in a team meeting and a female may offer something, and nobody really picks that up and does much with it, but then a couple minutes later, the man says some version of what she had just said, and it gets a lot of traction and it gets talked about, and he’s credited for the idea, and she’s just like, “Oh okay, never mind.” Or she may not even be aware that like, “Hey, that was my idea.” You know, we know that both men and women interrupt women more often than men get interrupted, so I think being aware of that. Also the whole mansplaining thing, and I know men get sometimes really defensive and offended when we’re talking about mansplaining, but it’s a thing. And when you start looking for it, mansplaining is just that basic, like the woman’s talking about something, she knows what she’s talking about, and then he picks up and tries to explain it to her as though she doesn’t get it. On the internet, there’s been a lot of examples where, what was it? One of the women who, like she was a scientist and had done this whole project and some guy was mansplaining it to her.
Rachel Allen: Please explain this to me. It’s a book. But she mentions that she’s writing, she just wrote a book about whatever the subject is and he goes on about this great book that he just read and she should read it because it was great, and her friend goes, “That’s her book.” Yeah. And he couldn’t even believe.
Jackie Pack: He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that he was talking to the author and just kept telling her about this book. So you know, I mean when you start to look for those things, you will see them. I think that’s one of the best ways to start to become aware of it is to start to put in on your radar and start to look for it.
Rachel Allen: Well, and I think me and my husband have talked about this quite a bit because my husband actually does take a lot of female influence, and I think he’s really good at that. And one of the things that shows up for him, he actually started being aware of how many times women actually spoke into his life vs. males, and he like, even when we’re having a conversation he’s very aware of like the women in the room, so if women aren’t talking, he will specifically say, “What is your thought on this?” We’ve been in meetings where women have kind of sat silently about the subject matter that is really important to them, and he will look to them and say, “What is your thought on this? This is kind of your bread and butter. This is, you know, your beliefs.” There are times when people will ask him questions and he will immediately defer to me. “Rachel can answer this question better than I can.” Which I don’t know, like I’m so used to that, but I don’t see that in other relationships very often, and I will often see husbands talk for their wives,
Jackie Pack: Which is not a partnership.
Rachel Allen: It’s not a partnership, but there’s also some of that like, be aware. Just call some awareness to that, and I know that we’re talking a lot about like social constructs, but all of that plays into sexuality, right? Like if you can’t allow your partner to be equal and present in the world, then she’s not going to feel equal and present in sexual health. That’s… those things carry over, so bringing some awareness to that I think is really powerful and important. One of the things that I think is really powerful in the bedroom specifically, since we’re talking about sexual health, is being aware of what your partner wants and needs. It’s not just about your needs or your wants or your desires, but what does that look like for her? What does she need to even get there, right?
Jackie Pack: And the fact that she may at first not know, you know whether she doesn’t really know what her needs are or is uncomfortable saying that because she doesn’t want to be that bad girl, and you’ve got to still say in your head, “I don’t know. She hasn’t answered this for me, and so I’m not going to fill in the blank for her. I’m just going to bookmark this and I’m gonna give her time and space and we can continue to talk about this because I can’t presume to know what she doesn’t know.”
Rachel Allen: Right. I think there’s that scene in When Harry Met Sally when she fakes the orgasm in the restaurant and that was such a powerful scene, and yet is still happens, like women still fake their sexual desires because they either don’t know what their sexual desires are, they aren’t comfortable with that, they want to make their partner feel good, but faking doesn’t actually make their partners feel good.
Jackie Pack: No, and you and I, I mean we do get, it’s not the majority of our clients, but from time to time, we do get clients in who have never had an orgasm. And their partner doesn’t know that about them, and we have to break that apart and look at that for them and talk to them about that and how do you bring that up with your partner? And yeah, so I think for her to fake it is not going to work for him, and it is for him to look at that and say it would be an insult if she doesn’t show up as who she is, right? That’s not good for me either. I think also one of the things I was gonna say about this is you know, when it comes to the male/female dynamics, I think most often for men, you have gotten messages about knowing more, being able to do more, whatever that looks like, right? And so you’re going to have to be checking yourself on that. And I will say, I think my husband is fairly good. He grew up in a house of boys. He had one sister, and then as he’s created his family with me, it’s a house of girls. So he’s kind of went from one extreme to the other extreme, and he’s, I think he’s done a fairly good job of like finding the balance for him, and yet he will even say sometimes still “I made a mistake” or “I don’t get it”, and he’s open to me talking to him about that and him seeing that, and it was a couple of years ago, one of my friends had called and confided something in me. It was a neighbor. And at the time she had asked me like, I’m not… like she called me because she knew I was a therapist and she specifically wanted some advice about how to handle this situation with her children, and her and I had talked on the phone. She had told me like, “You can tell your husband, but please do not tell anybody else right now. I want a day with my children before this becomes common knowledge in the neighborhood.” So I called my husband. I was actually out of state at a training, and so I called my husband and just said, “Hey, here’s the deal. Here’s what happened. She doesn’t want anybody to know.” And particularly she did not want the local ecclesiastical leader to know. And there were some reasons why. He was pretty, you know, he took his leadership role very seriously and thought he knew better than women, and this neighbor was a single mom. And so I said, “She knows eventually he’s going to need to know, but she’s not prepared for that today.” And you know, so he and I kind of talked about it. I got off the phone. I went back into my training, I had stepped out to take the phone call, went back into my training, and maybe a half hour later, I get a text from my husband saying, “So the ecclesiastical leader knows.” And I was like, “What? How? Like, you and I are the only people who know.” And he said, “Well her next-door neighbor, she had told him.” So he knew, I knew, my husband knew, and then the neighbor knew, right? Then I said, “But how did that involve an ecclesiastical leader?” And he said, well, and I could tell he was kind of like, maybe I made a mistake. Like it made sense at the time, but like he could tell by my response of like, “What?” That he was like, “Oh, maybe I messed up.” Right? And so he said, “Well I was leaving for work and I saw her next-door neighbor, and he walked across the street and said, ‘Hey did you guys hear?’ and he said ‘Yes I did hear.’” And this neighbor thought, we need to let the ecclesiastical leader know, like she needs that comfort or guidance or whatever. And you know, my husband knew what I had told him, and he was like, “Well, I mean I think eventually,” and he said he was just like, “No, like he would want to know, and he would feel bad if he didn’t know right away, right? If we knew and he didn’t know.” So this neighbor had called the ecclesiastical leader, and I said to my husband, “Why do the 2 of you think you know better? She’s 40 years old. She has 4 children. Why do you think that the 2 of you know best for what she needs and what is best for her, when she specifically said this is not what I want?” And you know, he was kind of like, “Uh, I think because I just felt so uncomfortable with it and I wanted to do something.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s about you. That’s not really about her.” And he was like, “Yeah, but I don’t… like what do I do with these feelings?” And I said, “Well, you get to sit with them. And you could talk to me about them or you just have to let them be there. Like why are you chasing them away by trying to fix this or do something? Like, yeah, these feelings are big and they should be, and fixing this for her or telling somebody for her isn’t actually going to fix anything. That’s just the 2 of you not knowing how to sit with these emotions, and so you’re like coming up with what you think the solution is, but really that’s about the solution because you are both uncomfortable.” And I mean, my husband was like, “Oh, I totally get it. I see it. Like what do I do?” And I was like, “Well, I mean that train’s kind of rolling at this point.” And he did, you know, to his credit, he got off the phone with me and he called both the ecclesiastical leader, who was a neighbor, and he called this other neighbor and was like, “We messed up, guys, and this isn’t okay, and we shouldn’t have done this in the first place.” And he said both of them were like, “Oh you’re being too hard on yourself. Don’t worry about it.” And he said, “I don’t think I changed their mind. But I really did say, no, we had no business going around her. We had no business going around her.” And I think it’s one of those, like you know, to me, I appreciate my husband’s efforts. I know he’s not going to be perfect, but he’s willing to look at it and say, “I messed up” or “Wait a minute, why are you responding this way? Tell me what I’m missing.” And he will hear feedback from me. And again, going back to accept influence, he will accept that influence and then look at himself and say, “I made a mistake.”
Rachel Allen: Yes, which I think is huge. So the next question is, “In the area of #metoo, many good men have looked back on their behavior in the past and said, hmm, maybe I wasn’t active in a positive way there. How do the average good men need to change their behavior to promote better sexual health for everyone?” So I have a thought on this. One, I don’t know that… like the term “good men” in this context is one that I struggle with, I think because I think that men are generally good human beings. We have conditioned men sexually to behave badly, and you have the extremes of that, which is the Harvey Weinstein, the Bill Cosby, there’s a whole list of things, the doctor…
Jackie Pack: Nassar. Larry Nassar.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, Nassar, I can’t even remember his name because I just like the judge, but you know, so you have those kind of extreme cases, but we also have to look at like 1 in 16 women have unwanted sexual experiences their first time. One in 5 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. This is not just Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar.
Jackie Pack: And 1 in 3 experience sexual abuse as a child.
Rachel Allen: Yes. So like, when we’re looking at the numbers and we know that the majority of those perpetrators are men, that’s not just the Cosbys and the Nassars and the Weinsteins. That’s a lot of men. And I’m not saying that men are evil or men are trash or men can’t control themselves. I actually believe very opposite of that. But what I do think is that men have to be accountable in those little ways, right? Like…
Jackie Pack: And oftentimes it’s going to have to take men being accountable to men. Because men aren’t at a place that they overwhelmingly will let women hold them accountable. So it has to be the men who are holding the men accountable, and that means speaking up and calling it out and not just going along with the behavior.
Rachel Allen: Right. I mean, like that’s, like regardless of what you think about our current president, the whole locker room talk fiasco, like one of the things that’s so appalling about that is that when men are by themselves, they make women feel very unsafe if that is the way that men talk in locker rooms. Now I’ve talked to a whole lot of men who are like, “That is definitely not how men talk in locker rooms, or that’s not how we talk in locker rooms.” But that whole concept of like when men are alone, you get a pass. I don’t know that you get a pass, so I think we start talking about like, that’s not appropriate.
Jackie Pack: Right, or that the men who would be calling that out who are feeling uncomfortable in those conversations and in those situations, the men who would be calling that out would somehow feel less than or that like they would be rejected as not being one of the guys if they were to say, “Hey, that’s not cool.”
Rachel Allen: Right, and so I think that’s some of it. I’ve talked to men, especially older men, older than me, I’ve talked to them and they’re like, “If this was in my teenage years, like if ‘me too’ had happened in my teenage years, I would be one of those guys.” To which I respond, like “Then you need to figure that out, like you’re gonna have to wrestle with that because up until this point, you thought that wasn’t a problem, and now there’s a problem.”
Jackie Pack: And if you raised boys and then if you raised grandboys, what message, what damage have you done, right? What do you need to set right? I think, was it at the time I think you and I were doing a men’s group at the time of the “me too” movement, and it became a topic for a couple of weeks. Not that we brought it up, but the men started bringing it up. And it was some really powerful conversations that the men in that group had as they were trying to look at that piece of like, wait a minute, I’ve done some of those things, and I sometimes take a lack of a no as a yes when I’m, you know, pursuing a woman or when I’m… yeah, like I’ve done some of those things, and they were asking the right questions. They were willing to reflect. None of them said, “No, that’s not you.” Right? Even as uncomfortable as it was, most of the men stepped up and said, “I’ve done this in one form or another and it’s making me uncomfortable now.”
Rachel Allen: Well, and I loved what they kind of came up with after that they were talking about like… so part of the 12-step group is to make an amends. Like that’s one of the steps, and this group of men were familiar with the 12 steps, and one of the things that kind of came out of that group is like, okay, if we can’t make amends to these past women because some of them we don’t even know who they are, like how to we make a living amends? How do we move forward and change our lives and be more aware and conscious of those things? And I think some of it just came out with maybe we talk to women about that, right?
Jackie Pack: And maybe we make financial donations to women’s causes or shelters or whatever that looks like.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, maybe we talk to boys if we are over boys about what consent actually looks like and what’s appropriate and not appropriate and she can say no, and that’ snot necessarily a reflection on you, but it’s a reflection on what she needs and wants and we respect that. Like, so there was some huge pieces that came out of that that I think were incredibly beautiful, and most of those men took that to heart and have continued to do this.
Jackie Pack: Yes, well and I had one of the men who was in that group was in a position in his company of hiring, so the admin after the “me too” movement broke and wasn’t like claiming down, was still gaining steam for a couple of months, they all kind of talked about it was all men at the executive level, and they talked about we just can’t hire women, and I remember him coming into a session and saying, “This is the discussion. I didn’t say anything but I need to talk to you about how, what do I say and how do I go back in and say, hey guys, that’s not cool, like you can’t just decide we’re not going to hire women because we can’t change men and we can’t punish women for speaking up about mistreatment.” And you know, we had a really good conversation in that session about what he could do and what words he could use and how he could frame that to go back in and make a point and be heard from the other men.
Rachel Allen: Which it’s interesting because as the “me too” movement kind of has happened, like I have heard kind of that response in different ways. Like if the women were just staying at home with the kids like they’re supposed to, we wouldn’t have this problem. If you know, women weren’t so ambitious and pushing for positions that are dominated by men, we wouldn’t have this problem, to which usually my response is, if men would just stop mistreating women, we wouldn’t have this problem. And I think that some of that, too, is recognizing there is a difference, there’s a huge difference between being friendly with a woman and being sexually inappropriate with a woman. Being friendly doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable. In general, we kind of like that. We like people to be nice. We like people to show respect and be courteous and say thank you, but that also comes from acknowledging what they’re saying, recognizing them as equals. If those things are happening, then we’re in relationship, but if you are over women and in a position of power, you do need to be aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
Jackie Pack: And how that message is being carried out down through the ranks, right?
Rachel Allen: Yes. So the next question, and this kind of ties to the last question, so I kind of want to wrap it in together, is “If I’m a youth leader in a church, how do I teach about sexual health in the face of patriarchy?” So I think there are 2 ways to do this, and specifically right now we’re talking about males. I would like to bring this question in next week when we’re talking about females, too. I do think this gets really complex if you’re working as a youth leader in church because we like for our youth leaders to talk about sex in a very like shut-down, don’t do it kind of way.
Jackie Pack: Or we know you kind of have those desires, just please try to contain them until you’re married.
Rachel Allen: Yes. And so like, I think that youth leaders get the short end of the stick in what parents will “allow” you to say because typically in conservative patriarchal societies, we don’t want anybody talking to our kids about sex except us, but we don’t have to talk about sex with our kids either.
Jackie Pack: Right, or if they’re gonna talk to them about it, just say don’t.
Rachel Allen: Just say don’t. Right. And we see that across the lines in terms of like what sex education looks like in schools in conservative states vs. more liberal states or where churches are more powerful tend to be more conservative and abstinence sex education tends to be at the forefront of that. So I will recognize, and I have complete compassion for if you are in a youth leader position, you are in a sticky situation. I think there’s a lot that you can do to empower parents to talk to their kids and what your state of like being relational with the parents is super helpful I think in that, and saying “Look, this is what healthy sexuality is. This is what we’re trying to teach them. This is what we’re trying to present. We would love for you to promote this at home.” Right? I think that curriculums are great for that. Gail Dines has some great information around how to talk to your kids about consent and porn and things like that. That being said, I think that specifically for males, I think that we need to have a lot more focus on general respect. Just respect one another. Respect the females in your life. And not because they’re your sister in Christ or not because they’re the daughters of God. Because they’re human, because they are equal people that deserve respect. I think that’s really powerful. Believing females when they come to you is huge. There is normal sexual teenage behavior. Just recognize that. Like there’s some of that, but being sexually inappropriate or being dominating, I know that you have a few experiences where males were kind of being inappropriate and you had to kind of put that in your life because you did work with youth for a while.
Jackie Pack: Right, right. And I mean, there was one I’m thinking of particular, I was at a youth activity as a leader and both boys were there, girls were there, male leaders were there, female leaders were there. It was a boating activity in the summer, and we were sitting around talking and I happened to be the only female sitting there at the time and I was making some sandwiches, and they were waiting for the sandwiches to be made, and so they were kind of just sitting there and there were a couple of male leaders and then a couple of boys, like 16, 17-year-old boys. And the one was talking about this date that he had planned, and he and a friend and how great it was and how funny it was, and they literally like kidnapped the girls and made them think that they were gonna be raped. And I mean, I’m like just overhearing this, and I’m like on fire, right? I’m like, what in the hell are we doing? And I kind of looked at the 3 male leaders. They didn’t say anything, and this kid just kept talking about it, and I, you know, I stopped making my sandwich, and I just turned to him and I said, “I hope the parents of that girl have never let her go on another date with you again.” And he was like, “What?” And I said, “I hope her parents taught her that that’s completely inappropriate and she should never go out with you again.” And he was offended at what I said, and he was like, “Well, no. I didn’t actually rape her.” And I said, “Right, but you thought it was funny to make her think that.” And I said, “That is such an inappropriate thing for you to do. I would hope her parents would take a firm stance in that and say, never again, and that you would learn how inappropriate it was.” And the 3 male leaders kind of standing there, like 2 of them kind of shifted, like this is getting uncomfortable, and the one kind of backed me up and was like, “Yeah, she has a point, like I don’t think I would want my daughter to have that experience on a date.” And so, fortunately one of them kind of joined in with me, but I kind of had to lead that, and I think just having those conversations, like I think sometimes male leaders in the church get a reputation for playing basketball and hanging out and getting ice cream, and that’s kind of what they do with the boys, and I think we’re missing so many things if that’s what we do. Even if we just go camping, even if we you know, do work on scout stuff, like whatever you’re doing, if you’re not bringing in conversations, if you’re not bringing in the emotions of that, if you’re not even talking about these relationships and the relationships among the boys, right? Because all of this stuff is then transferable to other relationships that they get into.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, and I think too specifically, we’ve worked with youth before, and one of the things that we kind of do is lead by example when we’re working with youth, me and my husband. And I teach as much as he does, right? I speak in front of, I mean not as much as he does, but there are definitely times that I present things that are really important and really powerful, and I think it’s important having that kind of experience. I honestly think it’s great to have females come in and talk to males about female sexuality, and you know, like so that they know that they’re not…
Jackie Pack: And I think if that’s happening, the male leaders in the room, how they’re responding to that, if they’re on their phone, if they’re not really paying attention, all of that is saying, you don’t really need to listen to this. This isn’t really for us.
Rachel Allen: Right. You know, I think it’s helpful for male leaders to engage, to ask questions. I also think, too, just in my experience with teenage males, they’re desperate for good information. They don’t want crappy relationships. They don’t. And they want to know how to do it correctly or how to do it right, like I think just presenting that like, look this is what consent looks like, and again, consent is a yes is a yes. Anything after a yes isn’t consent, isn’t a yes.
Jackie Pack: And I think as a leader, if a boy, if you know a boy likes a girl and he asks her out and she says no, you don’t tell him to keep trying. Like, you tell him like, well…
Rachel Allen: We respect that.
Jackie Pack: That’s unfortunate. How do you feel about that? Whatever. And you’ve got to move on.
Rachel Allen: Sometimes we like people that don’t like us back. That’s part of human nature. We have to…
Jackie Pack: And you don’t just keep going to try to wear her down and make her like you.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, I think another example of that that I think is really, really powerful is teaching boys specifically what it means to take a no and how to do that gracefully. I don’t know that we, like we teach men to be pushy and pushers and kind of get their way, and…
Jackie Pack: And close the deal.
Rachel Allen: Close the deal. And I think that teaching guys how to be respectful in that way is really powerful. I also think it’s super important to teach kids that life needs a balance, right? Like of course your hormones are raging right now. Of course sex feels like the most important thing. It’s not. And we don’t want to put more focus on that than is absolutely necessary, so maybe we talk about like how do we keep that in balance? How do we deal with that imbalance? And that’s gonna be… and here’s the thing, like healthy sex is not always what the church teaches. Again, like I think that I don’t know that masturbation is necessarily a bad thing and can teach us a lot of really great things about our own bodies doing it mindfully, doing it in a meditative kind of practice, doing it in a way of respecting ourselves, respecting our body and respecting others can be very powerful. I don’t know that we can actually talk about that in churches yet. Hopefully one day. But we do have this vague idea that masturbation is wrong, but there’s actually not a whole lot of scriptural precedence for that.
Jackie Pack: Or even like research that backs up that that causes problems.
Rachel Allen: Right, in fact, sometimes it doesn’t, so like I think having open and honest conversations about like you’re a teenager and you’re probably going to masturbate, and instead of, you know, again, like I would empower parents to talk to their kids about this too.
Jackie Pack: And where’s the healthy balance, right? Like if you’re masturbating to manage your emotions, probably not the healthiest thing, right? If you’re depressed and you’re masturbating to feel better, again we’ve got some other issues that are going on and you’re using this sexual thing to cover or to regulate that.
Rachel Allen: Right, so yeah, and I think you and I kind of talked about this earlier, like part of this is you have to be really comfortable with your own sexuality. It’s not super helpful to be an adult and be uncomfortable about sex. Because children, especially teenagers, are desperate for right information. They’re desperate to have these conversations, and if you’re like, “I don’t know and that’s awkward and hahaha.”
Jackie Pack: Or if you’re super uncomfortable, they’re gonna pick up on that. I mean, you and I have both had the experience where we’re having a conversation and you know, we say the words and people are like, “Oh my gosh that like rolls off your tongue,” and we’re like “I say this every day, all the time.” Yeah, it is super comfortable for me, so I can talk about these things, I can ask questions, I can say things and I don’t get uncomfortable, and the people I’m talking to about it don’t get uncomfortable.
Rachel Allen: And I think that that’s the thing that hits me kind of hard a lot of times is like, I will be in a conversation and I feel that other people are getting uncomfortable and then I’m like, wait is this not normal? Like I start to like kind of balance myself and kind of have to ask like, wait, am I saying anything inappropriate? No, no, this is all scientifically appropriate.
Jackie Pack: These are all adult words.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, and so you know, I also think using proper language is really important with teens. Don’t use slang. Don’t try to be cool. Don’t try to get in their space, like use appropriate language. Use appropriate terms. Let them come up with the slang. Let them be that…
Jackie Pack: But as an adult you use the proper terms.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, as an adult, use proper body parts, and just to be clear, when you’re talking about the female anatomy, the vagina is the actual cavity. The vulva is the…
Jackie Pack: The vagina is pretty much hidden. Not something people would ever see.
Rachel Allen: No one ever sees that unless they’re really, you know, your doctor. It’s the vulva that’s actually kind of the whole female genitalia.
Jackie Pack: Like what we see on the external.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, so let’s start using that language appropriately, too because we make jokes about vaginas all the time or teenage boys do. It’s not even the same thing, and I think that we need to get comfortable with that. Boys have more than one sex organ. Boys have more than one sex body part. So do girls, so let’s be aware of that. Let’s start using that language. Let’s make that common.
Jackie Pack: Well and also I think let’s use it appropriately because it can be joked about in every situation, right? And I’ve had, I mean several of my kids are in their 20s now. I’ve had a lot of teenagers over at my house. I hear how they talk. I don’t get offended by it, but I usually will say like, “Hey, why are we saying that word?” or “Why are we making this instance a sexual thing with the language that we’re joking?” And it’s not that I don’t think I changed them and they don’t do that outside of my presence. I know that they still use those terms outside of my presence, but in my presence, I want them to think about it. Like, we’re not talking about anything sexual, and yet you just said something. Like for example, I’ll give you one. Like one of my daughter’s friends was talking about playing the guitar and how it was an orgasmic experience, and I was like, “Umm, do you know what that word means? Are you and I on the same page?” And she’s like, “Just like a great use.” And the way that we joke, and yes, are kids gonna do that outside of an adult’s presence? Yes. But what do we teach when we are there and we are overhearing that?
Rachel Allen: Right. And I think again, like let’s do some social appropriateness too in that like it’s very different especially if you’re like a mentor or a parent or a youth leader to make like “That’s what she said” jokes or to make sexual comments or sexual innuendos. Kids need to see that you can be appropriate with sex. It’s fine to joke about sex, like I think that sex is extremely complicated and it can be super helpful to be funny and joke about it and all of that.
Jackie Pack: Kind of lighten it up.
Rachel Allen: Yeah, but if that’s all we’re doing, if that’s the only context in which we talk about sexuality…
Jackie Pack: Or as an adult leader if you’re silent when they’re doing that.
Rachel Allen: Yes, that can be really destructive without even meaning for it to be, right? Kind of going to that question that we had earlier, like what are some of the things that like maybe we’re well-meaning, but we’re making some destructive patterns or thing like that. That is one of those things, like I have no problem with joking about sex in the right context and content. I also spend most of my day talking about healthy sexuality and unhealthy sexuality, and I know that I can talk about that. And most of the people in my life know that they can come and talk to me about that, right? Like I get questions all the time, which I think is completely appropriate and…
Jackie Pack: You’re glad they’re asking you.
Rachel Allen: I’m glad they’re asking, glad we’re moving forward with that. So again, if we’re just joking about sexuality, we can’t have these deep, honest conversations, that’s very one-sided and that’s gonna do some damage. If we’re having these deep, heavy conversations and we’re not able to make light about the fact that this is part of human existence, that creates a lot of shame, too. That goes back to the purity culture if we’re always talking about it being dark and dirty and evil and super serious and you know, you can get pregnant and ruin your life or you can whatever, get someone pregnant and ruin your life, however that goes. One, I don’t know that we should talk about pregnancy as a life-ruiner. That’s another topic for another day, but in and of itself, too, like when we’re talking about responsible, healthy sexuality, we also have to recognize that there is some creativity and there is some fun with it, but we also have to recognize what that creativity and fun is. Is it demeaning? Is it shameful? Is it, you know, making jabs at people sexually? Because that’s also not appropriate.
Jackie Pack: Okay, at the end of this episode, I want to remind you that you story matters. Remember there’s something meaningful in every chapter. Don’t wait to share your story until it’s finished. Until next time, Jackie.