On Male Sexuality and the Ogle

Ah, the work for an aesthetician is never ever finished.

So the other night, I finished reading a great big chunk of a story a friend is working on. The story is kind of about this guy who, because of childhood experiences, develops a kind of obsession with retro pornography that was popular during his youth. The climactic scene (pun unintended) is when his girlfriend walks in on him masturbating with some of this retro-porn on playing on his computer screen right in front of him.

This might sound like bizarre, nasty fiction, but actually, I find it to be quite honest, and it’s extremely funny in parts. While it’s never happened to me (as far as I know), it has happened to people I know, this kind of situation. Men do this sort of thing a lot, and it’s no surprise they sometimes get walked in on doing it.

Well, I’m going to go neither here nor there about the complex mesh of feelings that are involved when a woman beholds her man’s lustful gaze directed at some porno chick on a computer screen; nor am I going to go into the indignation and frustration a man feels when a woman complains about his gazing at other women that way, because, of course, he can’t really understand why she can’t understand that this is something separate from real life, and doesn’t in the least (to his mind) infringe on his love for, or attraction to, her. All of that is complicated enough that not even a short story is potentially big enough to work through all the complex nuances and effects of mens’ and womens’ minds being so radically differently wired.

But I will go to a much milder scenario, to illustrate a point I think women don’t quite understand. That is, that a perfectly balanced, decent, devoted, and loving man is probably also somewhat of an ogler, though he is also likely to do it less, or at least more subtly, when his girl friend, or other female friends, are around.

People use nature as an excuse far far too often in this life. Far be it from me to fall into the same trap… I refuse to do that. However, I will tell you women—and the men who feel sheepish about this—one thing: we’re wired to ogle. We’re wired to be continually on the lookout for potential mates. Some men are sometimes more monogamous than others, and plenty of us are adult enough not to cheat on the woman we love; but few (or probably none) of us would ever commit to never looking at another woman. It’s something we just do, we find ourselves doing it, and it’s not a bad thing.

In fact, a balanced man who is somewhat in touch with his own mind is someone who can note that he is, instinctually, attracted to someone. It’s something that presents a complicated problem for aestheticists, I suppose: it’s a kind of beauty that men can appreciate in other women which women perhaps cannot appreciate in women. (Though they have their equivalent in relation to men, I am sure. I also suspect the parallel is not an exact translatable one, but I don’t know for sure… I do know, though, that it seems a lot of womens’ attraction can be couched in all kinds of other conditions and facts, while mens’ seems more ephemeral, more visceral, more directly related to the eye.)

A man who is in control of his life does not chase every skirt that appears in front of him; that much is certain. If he does that, he is doomed to a total mess of a life. He doesn’t even necessarily pursue every avenue open to him. But, he also is in a wonderful position to appreciate life, to appreciate beauty all around him, of the kind that he’s absolutely designed to enjoy. His gaze takes him through a veritable landscape of attractions, and the tug inside him toward so many beautiful women can remind him of that deeper tug towards life, towards happiness. That is how sexuality is a gift: like in the title track of the Belle&Sebastian album, Storytelling:

I’m in love with every girl I meet…

which so many people think is absentminded blabber; it’s not. It’s a way of being in love with the world.

Does this mean that every man must objectify and sexualize women? No, it means that on some level, men are wired to see women as sexual objects. They also see themselves as sexual objects in relation to women. If men never did this, women and men would probably never get together. And of course, a man who lets this tendency determine his relationships with all women is an idiot, a mess. But the in-between is something women often don’t understand, and don’t want to come to terms with: a man who looks at other women, enjoys that “beauty” that is more than just passive appreciation of something “pretty” like a painting or statue, is not really doing anything wrong. It’s much better than being the man whose attraction to other women is experienced as the nexus of guilt, or sadness, or even pain. The healthy man, who ogles without being a jerk or a letch, is likelier to have a joyful relation to the world, and to the one woman with whom he is “with” at the time. After all, the tendency to look about is simply there. It’s best we’re all adult about it, come to terms with it, and find the best way to make it work. And that’s good for everyone.

Of course, I could be wrong. What do you think?

*UPDATE*
Some thoughts crossed my mind after having written the above. One of the points occurred to me as I walked about the campus, being that too many women actually worry about their attractiveness to men. Of course, men and women should be a little concerned about this; it’s a nice feeling when people are visibly attracted to you, but it doesn’t make your life complete. The makeup and fashion industries cash in on this misperception, and women do all kinds of things to themselves because of it. Western women seem to go in for breast implants, but I know a Korean girl who listed off to me a shocking list of modifications she wanted a plastic surgeon to give to her, including double-eyelid surgery, breast reduction, and more. It was sad, because the girl is actually quite pretty. But it seems it’s never enough. The ridiculous standards that women impose on themselves are something men seem to accept and follow, but note what I said—I think it is often women imposing it on themselves, in the hope that men will find them more attractive. Our real-life standards aren’t anything like what you might think, ladies. No matter what we like on the screen, in pictures, in bars where we ogle incessantly, in real life, chances are you yourself fit whatever bill we’re thinking about when we look at you. You’re probably more than beautiful enough for us. So cool off and enjoy our company, and quit it with the makeup and fancy clothes and plastic surgery. Most of you really just don’t need it.

10 thoughts on “On Male Sexuality and the Ogle

  1. Gord,

    Just popped in for a quick read, something never quite possible with you. I didn’t expect myself to be caught by your words. I didn’t expect myself to say the following, that I am one of the women you mentioned. This is something I’ve been queasy about when involved, and largely from the fact that when I was younger my looks and desirability were a major motivating factor. Ah, if only the angst of insecurity could be channeled into something constructive!

    I’m not sure how I’d react to a guy I was seeing looking at other women. I’m one of those old fashioned girl next door types. You know, the kind who only want to marry once, raise a family together, and write books in the Pacific Northwest. My ex was having an affair, something I didn’t discover until we’d been split about a year. It made me look back in search of something wrong I’d done. It wasn’t so much about that. He just had a hard time remaining faithful to me, and one can only assume it’s something that carried over to his other realtionships.

    That little bit of my history wasn’t why I started this. I wanted to thank you for the experience of your thoughts. For all of it. Especially the update. It’s a shame so much land and water separate us. I think I’d enjoy having coffee with you.

    -Kassandra

  2. Kass,

    Hahaha, yes, a quick read is sometimes quite impossible with me. Ah, it’s one of my endearing qualities, right?

    Thanks for your on openness and your very salutary comments. I think your history probably makes it hard to imagine, but you know, as much as I look at other women, I have never once in my past done anything that could be construed as cheating on a partner. In fact, I am much like you in being an old-fashioned type… feeling strange (and, before I thought it through, perhaps a little badly) at this urge to look at other women, at enjoying seeing them illuminated in the light of my own unpremeditated feelings toward them, and so on.

    It’s funny, because in my own life, I’m—for whatever reason, maybe weight loss or a gain in confidence—somewhat more attractive to women than I was before, and I find myself getting a lot more attention than I am used to. But as I told one friend about doubt, it’s a gift, this long period of doubts, because it tempers you, makes you stronger and clearer.

    In any case, I thought I might mention that, briefly, during the summer, far less ocean and land might separate us than you might expect. There is a slight possibility I will be passing through Austin on the way back to Korea from my sister’s wedding in Ontario. I’m still waiting to see about tickets, but if you feel up to going to Austin (I’m not sure how far it is, pardon me if it’s a long way) coffee would certainly be possible, or beer, or dinner…

    I’ll let you know once my trip plan in confirmed… this guy in Seoul has grown a little too slow at booking my tickets… *grumble*

  3. By the way, I probably only called you Kass because I just returned from the beer-centered birthday party of my band’s bassist Seong Hwan, and a popular brand of beer in Korea is “Cass”. Apologies if they are wished-for…

  4. Gord,

    It’s funny the way life works out. So many of the people who touch my life do so from distant places. My sangha is spread far and wide. I’ve always known that at some point I would have to dive in and see where I ended up. I’ve been looking to the Pacific Northwest as far as Canada and have also entertained thoughts of Corea. Sometime ask me what I’d do if it were possible to turn back time. In this way being waiguoren is a very liberating thing.

    Named for a popular beer? Heh. At least you remembered the “K.” No apologies needed, Mr. Sellars. None whatsoever. :)

    Austin is about 80km to the north of the sleepy little town I presently call home. Summer, you say? We’ll see. Getting holiday from Takahashi is like bargaining with the devil.

    -Kassandra

  5. Gord,

    A question – ogling a woman is fine for men but how do men feel when they are sitting with their girl and shes ogling other men? I’ve done it with my man in tow…to make a point to myself and often the other man catches me and automatically gets this power grin on his face, I know he is thinking that my man must be less of a man in some way if he can’t keep his woman occupied. Maybe he is right. So, I ask, how do you think your girl feels when the “other” girl looks at her with the same sly power smile. It’s so disrespectful either way – out of respect for my man I stopped ogling. I think sayng a man is “wired” to ogle is a big cop-out. I think I am “wired to like masterbating, but you know I don’t do it at work, or on the bus, or at my kids school functions…I’m in charge of myself enough to go beyond the “wiring”. Men, as well as women, are not not wired to be anything…they chose to be who they are. I think we should all chose to respectful of our partners and others.

  6. Dear Jenna,

    I think you missed part of my point, which is kind of complex so I’m not surprised.

    You’re right that witnessing your partner ogling other people can be a little emotionally troubling. Now, this can be broken down into a couple of different levels of discomfort, from the understandable to the completely ridiculous.

    If I told my girlfriend I will not accompany her to the movie Troy because I know she would be looking at Brad Pitt’s butt during the movie and enjoying it, then it probably would be unreasonable. If I got annoyed because she was staring at other men all day and all night during a trip to Latin America, I’d probably be disturbed by it and tell her so, and I think it would be reasonable. If, on the other hand, I got mad about the fact that she might appreciatively look at another man when I am not around—with, mind you, no intention of pursuing or committing any kind of infidelity—then I am completely and utterly unreasonable.

    To assert that humans are wired for certain things is not a cop-out. It also does not mean we should not work at controlling those elements of ourselves which need to be reined in. Humans are wired to reproduce at an exponential rate, for example, and I think we need to control our population (by using things like contraceptives and education).

    Humans’ evolutionary environment is one that favored male polyandry. Unlike some species, human males were not evolved to be monogamous animals—and to a lesser extent this is also true of human females. Does this mean we cannot be monogamous? No, it means that being so is sometimes a struggle, because it’s not what is in our essential nature. (Even though we would like it to be. Rates measuring infidelities and divorces, at least, attest to that.)

    Surely we have choices. And we also don’t need to slip into the lowest common denominator of whatever behaviour we are driven to. What I’ve rather offhandedly labeled “ogling”, after all, doesn’t need to be the standard lewd “ogling”. It could instead simply be an appreciation of the stimulus one feels looking at other human females from within a male human brain, and a conscious understanding of this process.

    I think a bigger principle can be derived from this. If you know how your brain is working at the moment it’s working, you’re a lot less likely to fall into the trap of simply following random sudden emotions, or getting lost in the sea of your drives and urges. You are less likely to mix up lust and love, and animal attraction suddenly appears to be just that, nothing more powerful than that… and certainly nothing worth risking whatever deeper relationship you share with someone else.

    I think, in essence, my idea that something is “wired” is more to undo the whole “good and evil” connotation to this tendency, to point out that it is a basic human tendency. And yes, like mating or fighting it has a proper time and place which many people fail to understand.

    Ogling in the presence of your mate or partner is, to my mind, a failure of engaged living, a failure of self-cognizance, a failure of sensitivity, and, the last and lowest point, a failure of etiquette. But appreciating one’s own reaction to the way one’s sexuality impacts on one’s perceptions, in and of itself, as long as it does not appreciably impact anything external to oneself, is not a bad thing at all.

    I think I’ll have to rewrite this as it doesn’t feel too clear to me right now.

  7. Got a question..you say its ok for men to look.
    We are standing there, and they say they are not looking? You ever use that one.
    I read somewhere, i believe it was in askmen.com that when men look at women they are thinking of them naked and of having sex with them.
    Is this true for u, from what i read it was with every man. And if so , would u if u were a woman like this?
    How would u feel to be with ur woman after she was staring at a man and then wanted to have sex later.. u would not mind she was with u but her mind was on the other guy?
    Is that ok? Your good with this?
    Seriously I would like some answers on this, coz it hurts like hell when my man stares at other women or tries to make eye contact with them.
    We go home and he wants sex, what would u be thinking after watching this? He really loves me?
    I do not think so.
    Thanks for ur site I was glad i fell upon it.
    I will be back.

  8. Well, Liddy, that’s an interesting question. I’m traveling now, so my answer will be more concise than you’d get if I were in the comfort of my own home. But anyway, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

    My basic point in this essay was to point out that when men look at women, there’s a slight tinge of sexual consciousness that affects their perception, and it’s one that’s uniquely male (women may have a corresponding uniquely female tinge of sexual perception when perceiving males). I think it’s interesting to consider that beauty perceived by males and females is in this way different, and to encourage people to more consciously, intelligently, self-perceive themselves when this part of them is at work.

    To answer your questions:

    1. The human male’s evolution predisposes the human male to polyandry. Higher reproductive success (ie. leaving more descendants behind, who in the long run are our ancestors) would have been achieved by males with a higer tendency to successful polyandry. (Reproducing with multiple females.) Which is not a justification of anything, it’s just suggesting the male tendency to look at other women is not a choice as much as it is the result of millions of years of evolution.

    2. Ogling other women when a man’s mate is present is profoundly rude. And vice-versa.

    3. In my opinion, “ogling” itself is a very poor, weak sort of way of experiencing that inborn tendency to regard women around oneself. I’m not saying it’s bad for the reasons feminists might say — sexualization is a basic part of what men are evolved to do to unfamiliar women when first gazing on them. But to just “check women out” is not very self-reflexive or self-critical. Men are capable of asking themselves what the basis of that attraction to look might be, and what qualities draw their minds to perceive beauty. That beauty can be tinged by their sexual programming, but it doesn’t quite feel the same as “looking at chicks”.

    4. I tend, when in a relationship, not to be so very interested even in looking at other women. I suspect my girlfriend might be similar to me in this way, as she is in so many others. However, I can say that when I have looked at attractive women in the past, I usually have not visualized them naked or visualized myself having sex with them. I may be unusual in this respect, of course: through conversation I’ve found that I tend to have a much poorer visual imagination than anyone I know. I can only speak for myself. I have felt sexual urges when looking upon attractive women, of course, but since I’m generally incapable of visualizing much of anything except a few striking images from emotionally powerful experiences in my life, I haven’t done what you say “all men do”. It’s useful to remember that most generalizations don’t reflect reality very well.

    5. I’ve not knowingly had the experience of a girlfriend having sex with me while thinking of someone else. So I have no idea how it feels; I imagine it would be hurtful. I would not do that with someone myself, or at least have never done so in my life.

    I don’t know if your boyfriend loves you or not, and it could be that he does, even if he does make eye contact with other women. It’s hard for me to say, as every human being is a mysterious, complex, and unique being. Maybe he loves you with all his heart, but is insecure about his own attractiveness and needs it confirmed by as many women as possible. Maybe he is naturally highly polyandrous and being faithful to you is a more immense struggle than you or I can imagine. Maybe he’s never thought about these things before, or thinks you don’t notice? Maybe he’s not even fully aware he’s doing it? Or maybe he’s just kind of sleazy, or maybe he is confused, scared of commitment and love… I really can’t say. Humans are frail, all of us, weak and prone to do things we don’t ourselves understand. Regret comes easily to us, and wisdom does not.

    The best advice I can do is to suggest you talk about these questions of yours with him. Only he can answer them for you.

    Good luck. I hope everything goes well for you.

  9. Thanks,
    I have noticed in him that he is very fussy about what he wears to know where special, one time he stood in the closet for 10 min worrying about what to wear to a big hunting store.
    Things like this have been going on, i sorta had to laugh about it coz guys just dont care what they wear to hunting stores, but again it made me wonder what the big deal was, and what was he looking for at the hunting store..this happens often.
    I do think he has a self-esteem prob but he says not.
    So he says its just me and i am making it up.
    Anyway since I am making all this up, could u please maybe give me some insight as to how I can cope with him “NOT” doing this.
    I mean is there a way women can protect there own self-esteem .
    I am sure there are women out there who would love to know how to react to mens staring.
    How do we not hurt when they do it?
    I know this sounds like a question for a woman, but ur as close as I got to any answers.
    I want to go away and not get upset when he does this. He says I am a jealous weirdo. So I do try not to say anything.
    Why am I with him u r thinking by now:)..well I donnnnno..except I love him and think he really dont mean to hurt me as much as he does.
    So back to how can react when their mens eyes wonder?
    Thanks again

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *