MAY 10, 2018
Understanding Harvey
and Bill.
and Kevin.
and Charlie.
and Larry.
and Louis.
and James.
and Brett.
and Anthony.
and Mark.
and Russell.
and Steve.
and Dustin.
and Richard.
and…
What makes certain men so insatiable?
By Emily Yoffee
Illustrations by Chad Wys
I.
OUT OF CONTROL

The doctor specialized offenders, and many of his patients seemed incorrigible. Arrest, shame, loss of family, job, reputation were not enough to curb their impulses. There was the 36 year-old head of a school, a married man and father, who said the sight of pretty female students caused him to masturbate behind his desk. There was the 37 year-old factory worker, who despite many arrests, repeatedly hid in the bushes in the park, then sprang out and displayed his genitals to passing women. Like a number of such men the doctor examined, he believed the women relished the sight. Some patients knew what they were doing was wrong, but felt in the grip of frenzy. A 35 year-old barber’s assistant who repeatedly exposed himself to girls told the doctor when the desire came over him he was “devoid of reason” and felt “like a bull trying to butt his head through a wall.” A large number of patients had sexual fetishes and acted out odd obsessions with masturbation as their primary release. One patient, aroused by a buttocks-enhancing fashion, would sneak up behind women and climax into their bustles.

The German-born doctor, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, created a comprehensive typology of deviant sexual behavior and in 1886 published his findings in a medical textbook, Psychopathia Sexualis. Of this task he wrote, “The scientific study of the psychopathology of sexual life necessarily deals with the miseries of man and the dark sides of his existence.” Even so, he deplored the widespread lack of knowledge of this subject and the myths that surrounded it. He believed society was safer if his profession understood what drove these men (they were mostly men) and if treatment could be offered. Psychopathia Sexualis was continually revised during Krafft-Ebing’s lifetime, and is still in print today. He wrote many of the case histories in Latin, making the information available to doctors trained in the language but preventing the public from reading it for their own prurient interest. It was said that the publication of Psychopathia Sexualis caused a boom in sales of Latin dictionaries.

Krafft-Ebing was both a man of this time and ahead of it. We would find many of his pronouncements sexist and racist. He embraced the widely held view that masturbation, particularly by males, was a personal and societal scourge that drained men’s vitality. But in a 1995 introduction to a reissue of the book, sex researcher Joseph LoPiccolo described much of Krafft-Ebing’s work as farsighted and strikingly modern. For example, Krafft-Ebing wrote that many male sexual offenders “have a fear of adult women and resulting inability to utilize normal sexual outlets.” He believed homosexuality was likely biologically based and neither an illness nor moral failing.

He also seems to have anticipated #MeToo by almost 160 years. We are in our own psychopathia sexualis moment, contending with the rolling revelations of grotesque violations by powerful men. Krafft-Ebing’s case histories can be eerily familiar to the accusations against famous men of today such as Bill Cosby, Larry Nassar, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein. Some of them are under criminal investigation and have been indicted or convicted, many have gone into hiding, all have been subject to public outrage. We are reeling and baffled by these serial predations. How were such public figures able to engage for decades in unchecked abuse? What drives such brazen desire to harm others, to collect victims like trophies? The numbers are staggering, and we will never know the full scope. Prosecutors have identified 265 victims of Nassar; USA Today lists 84 Weinstein accusers; CNN tallies 50 Cosby accusers with the first identified in in 1965 and the last in 2008.

What makes a man prefer to ejaculate into a potted plant in front of a horrified woman?

There is a Kabuki theater quality to what they do, as if they are the stars in some stylized drama. Time collapses on itself when reading the accounts today of some of the men recently exposed as predators. It doesn’t matter what decade it is, their modus operandi remains the same, the age of the people they target remains the same, only Bill, Larry, Charlie, Kevin, and Harvey get older. [1] What makes a man prefer to ejaculate into a potted plant in front of a horrified woman? The trials of pedophile priests prepared us for men like Nassar, with decades of child victims, but what about the others? The men who through their fame, money, and success could have had unlimited consensual sex, or paid for whatever variation interested them, but who apparently got turned on by violating norms, rules, and laws. Each man had his own methods, but they also shared some strange parallel behaviors. We have now read so many accounts of them excusing themselves to go to the restroom (Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Dustin Hoffman, architect Richard Meier) then returning in a bathrobe, that the unbelted robe has become the pervert’s uniform. And the masturbation! That was the specialty of Weinstein as well as Louis CK, and directors Brett Ratner and James Toback. Numerous young women described how now-disgraced journalist Mark Halperin would bring them into his office for career counseling then stand behind them and press his erection on their shoulder. One said he masturbated behind his desk as she went on talking, not knowing what else to do. (Halperin acknowledges wrongdoing but denies he masturbated at work.)

Just as there was a ritual nature to some of their behaviors, there was also a ritual response. The story was that these men were powerful, powerful people abuse those with less power, so their behavior was simply an exercise their domination that had nothing to do with sex. In a speech last year at George Mason University former vice president Joe Biden said, “Rape and sexual assault are not about sex. They’re about power.” University of Pennsylvania law professor Marci Hamilton wrote last November, “Each sex abuse, assault, and harassment case is about a man abusing his power.”

There is no doubt power was intrinsic to the stories of these men. As the New Yorker documented, Weinstein hired a cadre of lawyers and investigators – including ex-Mossad agents – to threaten and intimate the reporters on his trail and the women who might talk. But as I read the many accounts, I also believed something besides abuse of power was going on. For nearly a decade, ending in 2015, I was Dear Prudence, Slate’s advice columnist, and sex problems were always filling my inbox. Some were from people whose sexual desires seemed out of control – more often the complaint was from a partner. I got my first letter about a sexual fetish within days of starting the job. The letters about this were frequent and gave me a window into how widespread paraphilia (the clinical term) is. For example, a mother wrote on behalf of her 13 year-old son who had a long-standing rubber glove fetish (“When he was little, he would stop in front of the rubber glove display at the supermarket and just stare at the packages of dishwashing gloves”) that they were both worried was taking over his life. I learned from letter writers, and the experts I turned to for help. how complex, obsessive, and strange human sexuality can be.

When the stories started breaking about famous men behaving very badly it seemed to me that whatever role power played, there were also other forces at work. I wanted to know what was going on, to try to answer some of the bafflement. What makes a man prefer to ejaculate into a potted plant in front of a horrified woman (as per Weinstein) than to have sex with a willing one? Why do some of these men seem crazed, insatiable? I spent the past several months trying to find out.

II.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM?

We know a lot about the mechanics of sex, the functioning and maintenance of the physiological systems—after all, keeping penises erect is a multi-billion dollar industry. Then there’s the matter of the human sex drive being necessary for the perpetuation of the species. But beyond the hydraulics of aroused genitals, and the need for arousal in order to keep little humans coming, the whom (or even the what) of our individual sexual attraction, the specifics of what turns us on, and how we choose to express our desires remains largely mysterious to science and often even to ourselves. Dr. Richard Krueger, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University’s medical school and a researcher on sex offenders, appends to his emails a saying from Charles Darwin, written in 1862, that Krueger says is still apt today: “We do not even in the least know the final cause of sexuality. The whole subject is hidden in darkness.”

This mystery applies to what is called normal sex. As for the sexual behavior that puzzles and repels us, there isn’t even general agreement about what to call it, let alone how to explain it. As a society we disagree as to whether medicine is a useful lens through which to examine sexually deviant behavior. Many believe it is better considered through morality (a breakdown of values), the political (abuse of power), the legal (they’re criminals), or gender (“toxic masculinity”).

Krueger, and his wife and professional partner, Dr. Meg Kaplan, also an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia, write in their paper, “Diagnosis, Assessment, and Treatment of Hypersexuality” that societies always try to determine what kind of sex is allowable, decide how much is too much, and stigmatize practices that that violate these rules. Categorizing, diagnosing, and treating (or mistreating) atypical sexual expression is intimately tied up with the origins of psychiatry. It’s an often ugly history. Homosexuality was considered a principal aberration and gay men and women over the decades have been persecuted and given horrifying treatments to “cure” them. Today psychiatric and psychological training in general offers little about sexual deviance (itself an elastic term). It’s a costly ignorance because as we’ve seen too well, people who engage in criminal sexuality can work their way into positions (doctor, executive, celebrity, teacher, religious leader) that allows them unfettered access to victims and the power to silence them. We crave a single, preferably simple answer to what is wrong with people who sexually transgress. There isn’t one. How little we know is illustrated by the highly influential, and controversial, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association – critics say many of its diagnoses are reflections of cultural and political forces but lack rigorous scientific backing. For the most recent revision of the DSM in 2013, the APA considered including but ultimately rejected a diagnosis of “hypersexuality.” However, later this year the even more influential International Classification of Diseases published by the World Health Organization, is expected to include the diagnosis, “Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder.” Draft language echoes the long-ago writing of Krafft-Ebing, describing this disorder as “sexual impulses or urges that are experienced as irresistible or uncontrollable” with “sexual activities becoming a central focus of the person's life” and causing “marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” (The diagnosis of “sexual addiction” appears in neither the DSM nor the ICD – more on why later.)

The Kaplan and Krueger paper on hypersexuality gives a lengthy list of the maladies, mental and physical, which researchers have said may underlie this behavior. These include, bipolar disorder, brain injury, dementia, drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and impulse-control disorder. Kaplan and Krueger also note possible connections between hypersexuality and a variety of personality disorders, particularly antisocial personality disorder (these are people more commonly known as psychopaths or sociopaths and they can be aggressive, callous, and manipulative), histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorders. Maybe the seduction technique of former talk show host, Charlie Rose is a demonstration of narcissistic personality disorder at work. According to the Washington Post, the 70-something Rose insisted a new female subordinate in her thirties come to his Long Island home for the weekend ostensibly for a work project. Before he took her to his pool, took off his clothes, and described his sexual fantasies, he set the mood by having her sit next to him on his couch and watch a DVD of Charlie Rose.

In the DSM, atypical sexual arousal is found in a section on paraphilias. There are a range of these, from an obsession with a body part (for example, feet or armpits), or a type of behavior (exhibitionism, voyeurism), or a fetishistic focus on an object (shoes, rubber clothing). Sexual attraction to children, pedophilia, is a paraphilia. Sexual sadism (engaging in behaviors that evoke fear or pain in others) and masochism (behaviors that evoke fear or humiliation in oneself) are paraphilias.

Actress Emma de Caunes, in the New Yorker, described an encounter with Harvey Weinstein in which he skipped the bathrobe and just came out of the bathroom naked. “I was very petrified. But I didn’t want to show him that I was petrified, because I could feel that the more I was freaking out, the more he was excited,” she said. “The fear turns him on.”

It used to be that the psychiatric profession presumed anyone with a paraphilia was psychologically ill. But the most recent DSM concluded that having a paraphilia was a normal sexual variation. It only becomes a problem if it causes distress to the person with the paraphilia, or if the person with the paraphilia harms others or engages in nonconsensual sexual behavior. This change in the DSM was a triumph for the BDSM community, which lobbied to bring it about.

Almost everything we do know about people who exhibit sexual compulsion or who have troubling paraphilias comes from research on those who get caught in the criminal justice system and are required to get treatment, or those who seek help on their own – or at the insistence of a spouse or employer. But an unusual Swedish study published in 2004, provided a window into the lives of hypersexual men in the general population. Drawn from a large national survey of Swedish sexual practices and psychological health, the researchers identified a subset of men and women who had a lot more sex than other Swedes. It turned out these horny Swedes could be neatly divided. Those Swedish men and women who were going at it in the context of a stable relationship were very happy Swedes. Those men and women who had high rates of impersonal sex, or sex in which they were the only person present, were globally different from other Swedes, and not in a good way. (Almost twice as many men as women fit the criteria for hypersexuality, and the hypersexual men had three times the number of orgasms as hypersexual women).

This second group of hypersexual Swedish men started having sex earlier in life, had it more often, and with more variety than other Swedes. Their sexual menu included “same-sex sexual behavior, paying for sex, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and masochism/sadism.” The researchers found these hypersexual men tended to have romantic troubles and to seek treatment for STDs. Hypersexuality itself was linked to a general propensity toward bad choices (“smoking tobacco, heavy drinking, using illegal drugs, and gambling”), risky behavior, poor social adjustment, and unhappiness.

The researchers corroborate what recent accounts of the behavior of now-infamous men seems to illustrate: a correlation between hypersexuality and paraphilia. A man can have a paraphilia without being hypersexual, and a man can be hypersexual without having a paraphilia. But the two conditions seem to have a synergistic effect, supercharging sexual behavior. “The strong association between high rates of impersonal sex and paraphilic interests (exhibitionism, voyeurism, masochism/sadism) suggested that sexually preoccupied individuals are not only at risk for personal distress, but also pose a risk to others,” the researchers wrote.

Finally, the Swedes put statistics behind the conclusion many of us have drawn from media accounts about he propensities of Weinstein, comedian Louis CK, conductor James Levine, and directors James Toback and Brett Ratner: “Masturbation is the primary sexual outlet of hypersexual males.” As with many observations about aberrant sexual behavior, Krafft-Ebing got there first. He wrote that having a powerful attachment to a fetish “often leads to favoring psychical and physical onanism.”

No one study can be relied upon to describe a behavior as complex as sexual drive, and therapists and researchers say it’s important to remember that hypersexual behavior or a paraphilia do not necessarily explain why someone sexually transgresses. There are people who commit sexual violations who are not sexually compulsive, and people who are sexually compulsive who do not violate others. There are many people with harmless paraphilias, and people without paraphilias who cause sexual harm. There are also people whose key sexual fantasies are about behaviors harmful to themselves or others, but who do not act on those desires.

Michael Vigorito and Doug Braun-Harvey are sex therapists and co-authors of the textbook, Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction. In their book, Braun-Harvey and Vigorito explore numerous reasons why men who feel their sexual behavior is out of control often turn away from consensual sex with a partner. (Vigorito and Braun-Harvey note that feeling one’s sexual impulses are out of control is not necessarily synonymous with excessively engaging in such behavior.) Vigorito and Braun-Harvey describe the problem of “avoidant attachment” – a difficulty in forming healthy adult relationships. They write “avoidant individuals are more likely to experience various forms of discomfort during partnered sex.” Even if these people have a primary romantic relationship, they often seek sex elsewhere, including relying on “solo sex practices.” People with paraphilias or other atypical turn-ons may feel shame or embarrassment about themselves, so they avoid exploring their desires with a partner, preferring the reliability of masturbation.

The authors describe men with sexual behavior problems whose narcissism is not global, but triggered primarily in sexual situations. Vigorito said to me that when such people are sexually activated they can engage in sexual exploitation that they later justify to themselves. “We are very capable of rationalizing our behavior after the fact,” he said. “When sexual narcissism is activated there is a sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy.”

This brings to mind the saga of Louis CK, one of the prominent now-disappeared men. Even as he built a reputation as a nurturer of the careers of female comedians, rumors were rife that he also asked female comedians at social gatherings and female colleagues and at work to watch him masturbate. Last November the New York Times told the stories of five of these women, all dating from at least a decade prior – some of the women had rejected his request, some acceded to it. In response, Louis CK released a statement confirming the stories were true and expressing remorse. He explained, “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was O.K. because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true.” He wrote that back when he was doing such things he didn’t consider how such a request would make women feel, and that he “took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community.”

As much as we like to categorize troubling sexual behavior, a taxonomy doesn’t explain the origin of the weirdness of human sexual desire. For that, we must turn to Eros.

III.
EROS THRIVES ON THE FORBIDDEN

As far as sex is concerned, Americans are hooked on the lewd and excel at the punitive. But if we think of the erotic at all, it’s as something strange and vaguely European – perhaps the ancient Greeks would agree we were on to something. Eros, their god of sexual desire was a trickster. He carried a quiver of golden arrows, and a god or mortal hit by one would feel uncontrollable desire for the next being they saw. Eros enjoyed pricking the unsuspecting, making them do foolish things; lust was seen as a form of madness. An Eros arrow once hit Apollo, who promptly became besotted with the nymph Daphne and ruthlessly stalked her until she begged her father, a river god, to rescue her. He did by turning her into a laurel tree.

In the 1990s a gay San Francisco psychologist, Jack Morin, set out to explore and document the erotic, what he believed was a missing piece in society’s, and even many sex therapists’ understanding of sex. He created what he called a Sexual Excitement Survey, and got detailed answers from more than 350 people of different sexes, races, and sexual orientations, ages 18 to 60, about their “peak sexual experiences” – their most memorable and life-changing sexual encounters – and about their most powerful, and usually secret sexual fantasies. He collected more than 1,000 responses and published the results in a 1995 book, The Erotic Mind. He wrote, “Peak encounters and fantasies often deviate from the norms and ideals with which most of us are raised. The mind claims a wide zone of freedom from social convention.”

Morin, who died of cancer in 2013 at 67, wanted us to understand the nature of the erotic, not only to help people better access an essential part of themselves, but because without understanding it, he believed we become vulnerable to panicking when confronted with it. “Eroticism is the process through which our innate capacity for arousal is shaped, focused, suppressed and expressed,” he wrote. “We’re born sensuous and sexual, but we become erotic from overt and subtle messages from caretakers, experience of touch, and highly personal mental images and emotions that go with them.”

Through his exploration of what turns people on at the deepest level, Morin became the bard of the erotic, of lust’s wily, risky nature. He believed society needed to move away from viewing sex as “little more than a collection of urges and acts,” something performed with mechanical efficiency and free of emotional obstacles. The erotic wants something different. When the people in his survey group described how they reached their peak experiences, they were often stoked by longing and anticipation, or by knowing they were breaking social conventions. Morin documented that the possibility of getting in a little bit of trouble for one’s sexual activities is exciting for many people, a reflection of the irrepressible naughtiness of the erotic. (For most people the possibility of getting in a lot of trouble is a turn-off.) The same year Morin’s book came out, movie star Hugh Grant, then at the height of his fame, got arrested for having sex in a car with a sex worker, to the puzzlement of everyone. He was dating the beautiful actress Elizabeth Hurley! He could have had any woman he wanted! Appearing on the Tonight Show after the scandal, Jay Leno asked Grant, “What the hell were you thinking?” Morin’s book has plenty of answers.

The dirty little secret about sex is that our erotic self often seeks the forbidden, wants to overcome barriers.

The dirty little secret about sex is that our erotic self often seeks the forbidden, wants to overcome barriers, craves a challenge and a quest. This Morin boiled down to what he called The Erotic Equation: attraction + obstacles = excitement. “Sex can be simple. Eroticism is complex. Eros is energized by the entire human drama – unruly impulses and painful lessons,” Morin wrote. In collecting his stories, he found that perversely the erotic can be charged by negative emotional states, what he called “unexpected aphrodisiacs.”

As if in anticipation of a spate of mystifying #MeToo stories, he documented the dark aspects of lust, how anxiety, guilt, and anger were sexual fuel for many, and that “low self-esteem sometimes links with high arousal to produce overwhelming and destructive turn-ons.” The erotic, he wrote “at its most intense has an animalistic quality that can be exhilarating, frightening, or both.” He believed it was important to acknowledge and be conscious of what turns us on, even if that knowledge is embarrassing and troubling. “Lust is most likely to turn destructive when split off from the rest of life, banished where it festers and grows hostile,” he wrote.

We have seen a great deal of festering, hostile lust of late. Take the cases of Larry Nassar and Kevin Spacey, who were able to intensify their sexual thrill by hiding in plain sight, openly committing predations, and daring people to catch them. Nassar often invited girls’ parents to sit in the room while he inserted his ungloved fingers in the vaginas and anuses of their daughters. He would casually block the view of what he was doing with his own body, or would loosely drape a towel over the girls’ genitals. As prosecutor Angela Povilaitis said with psychological acuity at Nassar’s sentencing, “To unnecessarily and without warning penetrate an unsuspecting minor for your own selfish sexual gains while her parent sat just feet away, unknowing, had to be part of the rush or the thrill for this defendant. The thrill that he might just get caught.”

Spacey openly grabbed and groped young men and exposed himself to them. He was so notorious that the sitcom Difficult People had a string of Kevin Spacey predator jokes. Crew members on his show House of Cards told CNN that he often greeted young men on the set by putting his hand down their pants. A Buzzfeed story described an event when he was directing a play in London starring Richard Dreyfuss. Spacey had Dreyfuss over to his apartment to read through the script, and Dreyfuss brought along his visiting 18 year-old son, Harry, an aspiring actor. Spacey sat close to Harry on a couch and put his hand on Harry’s thigh; he had the elder Dreyfus sit in a chair opposite them. While Richard Dreyfuss was studying the script, Spacey squeezed the young man’s genitals. Harry didn’t say anything at the time because he didn’t want to jeopardize his father’s job, but when he started telling the story years later in the New York theater world, almost everyone he told said they know someone else with a similar Spacey story. (In response to Harry Dreyfuss’ story, a lawyer for Spacey told Buzzfeed that Spacey, “absolutely denies the allegations.”)

Morin described how for some people, once a personal erotic script gets written, it can exert an obsessive grip on the imagination. He wrote that sexual fantasies tended to be “highly specific and focused,” and that “there is a high degree of repetition when it comes to our most compelling ones.” That can be a problem for certain people because “erotic scripts can wreak havoc by drawing you into unworkable repetitions.” Men particularly, he found, can split lust and love. “Pursuing lust with complete detachment from affection, erotic attention narrows to a laser like focus on maximum genital arousal,” he wrote. “This often results in a level of excitation that is qualitatively different than any other kind – hotter, more insistent, a unique psychophysiological high.”

In this light, it’s possible to imagine Bill Cosby’s script in the now finally ended series that could be called, “The Comedian and the Passed Out Woman.” In it the comedian, a man with a well-earned reputation as a philanthropist, a man beloved as a paterfamilias, gets a young woman into his hotel room, sometimes even his home (when the family is away!) for the ostensible purpose of offering career advice. He notes with concern that she seems tense, so to take the edge off he offers her a glass of wine (or sometimes a cup of coffee, or sometimes a “decongestant” pill). Even if she doesn’t want it he tells her to drink up – there is something disconcertingly insistent about this – so she swallows. Then she finds her tongue is heavy, her speech slurred. Her hand starts wavering and the comedian whisks the wine glass away before her fingers loosen and the glass breaks. Her eyes flutter and he watches intently as she loses the battle to keep them open because this must be what he’s been waiting for. This moment when the drugged woman’s eyes close so that he can move her inert body where he wants it, and do with it what he wants because now he is experiencing that “level of excitation that is qualitatively different than any other kind.” So we know the power – and potential havoc – of these scripts. But how do they get written in the first place?

IV.
WRITING THE SEXUAL SCRIPT

Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the most important figures of the Enlightenment, believed that a nurturing childhood would encourage the flowering of innate goodness. He also recognized that humans did not always behave ideally; he shipped his own five children off to the orphanage. In his Confessions published in 1782, he confessed to a lifelong spanking fetish, and explained its origin in his childhood. Rousseau’s mother died shortly after his birth and a nanny, Miss Lambercier, came to live with the family. Rousseau wrote of the spankings she inflicted on him, “Who would believe this childish discipline, received at eight years old, from the hands of a woman of thirty, should influence my propensities, my desires, my passions, for the rest of my life.” Rousseau didn’t just want to be spanked, his arousal required the scornful superiority of Miss Lambercier from the woman doing it. “To fall at the feet of an imperious mistress, obey her mandates, or implore pardon, were for me the most exquisite enjoyments,” he wrote. In search of this, he would hang his bare buttocks out of windows hoping for disapproval and a smack from passing women.

Jack Morin called paraphilias “a pinpoint focus for arousal,” one that often seems not to be attached to something sexual at all. In The Erotic Mind he described a patient with a fetish for yellow plastic raincoats and whose most intense orgasms occurred when he masturbated while wearing one. The patient told Morin the precise origin of this obsession. When he was a boy he got a fire truck large enough for him to ride on that came with gear including a yellow raincoat. As he drove around, Morin recounted, the boy enjoyed the “tingling” sensations riding on the fire truck gave him, along with the sense of himself as strong and brave. In adulthood, this man found his fetish deeply dismaying, calling it a “sickness” he couldn’t shake.

While we know little about why someone develops an abnormal focus for sexual feelings, there is general agreement that it begins early, something Krafft-Ebing recognized. “Before puberty people experience mysterious sensations, foretastes and impulses that fill the heart,” he wrote. “The advance of puberty develops the impulses of youth into conscious realization of sexual power.” The vast majority of children experience the tingles that are precursors to conscious sexual arousal, but experts simply can’t explain why only some of them get fixated on a moment in childhood and are forever unable to move past the yellow raincoat

Michael Vigorito said to me, “We have to be humble about what we don’t know about erotic development,” but he explained there is a working theory about how paraphilias come about. We tend to think of puberty as a hormonal levee break: tweens suddenly get flooded with chemicals that remake their bodies and minds. But actually it’s more like an on-going engineering process, with valves steadily discharging increasing amounts of hormones over time. There is a little known phase of development called adrenarche in which androgens, the male sex hormones, start being released from the adrenal glands of both boys and girls – a precursor to the sexual maturation that occurs during puberty. Adrenarche starts for most children at around ages 6 to 8, and Vigorito said it appears that within this window paraphilias get fixed for many people, even if they don’t know it’s happening. Puberty then brings the “mysterious sensations” and pleasurable “tingling” to consciousness. “By the time someone reaches puberty what turns them on is there, and is for them to discover,” Vigorito said.

When people discover what’s there, a sexual script that’s linked to a specific fantasy, or object, or behavior can get written, with its hold on the imagination endlessly reinforced through masturbation. Russell Stambaugh, a psychologist and sex therapist in private practice in Michigan said, “Some people fantasize about this auto-erotically for a long time, then they spring it on somebody. They don’t have the social script for intercourse.”

What makes a man prefer to ejaculate into a potted plant in front of a horrified woman?

When he was in Los Angeles, Harvey Weinstein liked to take meetings in his suite at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. There he shed many bathrobes and exposed himself to many young actresses. For decades he was good at getting away with it. Thomas Jamison, too, spent many years in Los Angeles exposing himself to women. His venue of choice – of necessity, really —was the county bus. He would sit next to an attractive woman and unzip himself. For decades he was good at getting caught. Jamison, who is 57, and I spoke by phone from his home in Texas. Like many people with a paraphilia, Jamison can trace the origins of his behavior back to childhood. But he didn’t experience a single, galvanizing moment that forever defined his sexual turn-on. As he describes it, it’s almost as if exhibitionism was handed down to him, a pernicious legacy of a miserable start to life. He grew up in small-town Ohio as an outsider and an outcast, the only mixed race child in his school. He says he’s a combination of Native American, white, and African-American, but his classmates saw him only as the n-word, an epithet he says he heard daily. (The federal sex offender registry classifies Jamison as black.) His home life was no refuge. His didn’t see his father, his older brother regularly beat him, and when his brother did this his mother watched and sometimes laughed.

Jamison spent as much time away from home as possible, and from ages 10 to 12 that meant hanging out at the home of one of his few friends, let’s call him David, who lived with his stepmother and a stepsister who was in her mid-teens. Jamison said the stepmother walked around the house in a bra and panties and the stepsister liked to pull up her top and show Jamison her breasts. He said, “I remember feeling excited – if that’s what it was. Or scared – a little bit of both, I guess.” As Jack Morin explained, mixing lust with negative emotions can create a powerful fusion. Or as Jamison says, “I think it screwed me up.”

By high school many of Jamison’s classmates were pairing off romantically, an opportunity he felt was unavailable to him because of his race. “I didn’t experience the boyfriend girlfriend experience other kids were going through. That hurt.” He had a female neighbor his age and she and a friend would often walk by his house. He wanted to talk to them but was too shy. He thought about how excited he got by David’s stepmother and stepsister, and he thought that if she stood in the window and exposed himself to the girls they might get excited, too, although he never did it.

The day he turned 17 years old he joined the Army. Then a few years later, honorably discharged, he came back home and lived with his grandmother. His bedroom overlooked the street and he would leave the blinds open while he changed clothes, and young women his age would walk by and sometimes look, he says. So he started masturbating at the window, and when he did some of them watched. Eventually, his shame was greater than his excitement, and he also came to feel it was time to leave Ohio for good. After some interim travels, he and an acquaintance got on a bus for Los Angeles. During the several day trip, a beautiful young woman got on and sat across from Jamison. “I exposed myself. She kept looking. I masturbated. She watched. Then I sat next to her. And we had sex on the bus while everyone was asleep.” Afterward they held hands until the bus stopped in Arkansas and she got off.

Dr. James Cantor is a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto faculty of Medicine whose expertise is in atypical sexual expression. Like all the scientists I spoke to, he emphasized there is no single path someone takes to becoming a sexual offender. When we spoke – before I had talked to Jamison – Cantor floated a hypothesis about exhibitionism that sounded almost fanciful. He raised the idea that people who do this may have some kind of biological glitch that gives them an impulse to expose themselves that’s similar to some animal courtship display rituals. “It’s like it’s an ancient behavior normally suppressed in the human brain,” Cantor said.

Whatever the validity of Cantor’s hypothesis, Jamison was living a version of it. Jamison said to me, “I was looking for somebody to like me and want to be with me. Like me, like the erect penis.” He said he didn’t want to upset or horrify women, and when that happened he was filled with guilt, shame, and self-loathing. There were plenty of those experiences. “Some women were livid,” he told me. “One of them – she pulled out a knife and said put it away or I will cut it off.”

But I was shocked when Jamison told me there were enough positive responses to keep him going. (After we talked I asked him to send me a photo – even now he is strikingly attractive and muscular.) “I was looking for a woman who liked it. Who would look directly at my penis, smile, and continue watching while I masturbated. The more she looked the more excited I would get,” he said. “I got a lot of those. I’m a little surprised you’re shocked.”

No one knows the incidence of paraphilias. It’s improbable we will ever get an accurate count of these sexual obsessions, since many people keep theirs secret for a lifetime. The consensus of the mental health community is that paraphilias occur primarily in men (although the world of BDSM seems to be an exception). And the general consensus is that when it comes to committing sexual misbehaviors, whatever the cause or motivation, the majority of the people who transgress are men. Let’s look at why.

V.
WHY MEN?

Like many single women, writer Kerry Quinn was looking for a romantic partner on dating apps. And like many single women, she had been the unwilling recipient of an extraordinary number of dick pics from the men on those apps. As she wrote in an article on Thrillist, she was sick of “unexpected visual boners intruding on my day.” So she decided to do a little experiment, turning the tables on the men, and showing them what it was like to get an unsolicited photo of female genitals. She picked a random picture of a “cute” vagina from the internet, then set her dating parameters wide – men ages 22 to 60. In the first round of her test after she matched with a man and exchanged some flirty texts, she hit him with the photo. Just as she had hoped, the men were grossed out and pissed off. Okay, I made up that part. To her surprise, every man responded with delight – some were moved to respond with a very personal photo of their own, several wrote lengthy descriptions of how they planned to pleasure her.

For the next round, to up the shock value, after an initial exchange of “hellos,” she sent the picture. More delight ensued, and her collection of photos of male genitals was considerably enlarged. For a final round, she dropped the hello. In response to a man’s swipe, she sent the picture. Cutting to the chase worked for the men – they offered to get together immediately, and enticed her with explicit descriptions of how they would improve her life. Her experiment to let men know how offensive it is to get unsolicited photos of female genitals was an abject failure because men love getting unsolicited photos of female genitals. As she wrote, “Given that men like to send dick pics, I suppose their enthusiasm for v-pics makes sense.” But this was not Quinn’s only surprise. She also found out something unexpected about herself, “Men were clamoring to meet me, which is a great feeling even if it's not for the right reasons. I’ll be honest: even though it wasn’t mine, I stood a little bit taller for a few days all thanks to the fact that, uh, guys love v-pics.”

There is no doubt many dick pics are sent specifically with the intent to shock and humiliate and that the sender is aroused by that prospect. But it’s also possible that some men are acting out of more fundamental delusion and dunderheadedness (see the story of Thomas Jamison, above). As Kerry Quinn found out, many men would happily skip the “getting to know you” stage and move right to the getting your v-pic stage. So opening the conversation with a dick pic seems efficient, though experience must surely teach that this opening gambit is likely a closing one as well. Apparently it’s a common male trait to overestimate the female desire to see their genitals. Krafft-Ebing’s patient who kept jumping out of the bushes with his penis exposed, explained to the doctor that since he found the examination of his own genitals to be so satisfying he had “the lustful thought that this sight must be very pleasant to women.”

David Ley, a psychologist in New Mexico and the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction, in an article for Psychology Today, examining the impulse behind the dick pic, noted that among gay men, sending such a photo on a dating app would not be meant to offend, but to entice. In a sexual world without women, men happily speak dick pic semiotics. Ley also wrote that in courtship men are expected to be daring – they can be punished for it, but also rewarded. He explained, “Men who are bold and brash sometimes garner female attention they wouldn't otherwise receive if they were nice and polite.”

Compared to female sexuality, male sexuality itself can be seen as a kind of hypersexualIty. There’s just so much moreness to it, so greater opportunity for it to go off track. We live in a time when it’s popular to assert that differences between the sexes are a cultural construct, the result of a culture that needs to be deconstructed. But the people I spoke to who deal with sexually troubled patients every day think we need to accept there are fundamental biological sexual differences, and understanding sexual misbehavior requires acknowledging these. (Let’s duly note that cultural forces also greatly shape behavior and that generalizations are always subject to dispute, especially when describing billions of people.)

For Jack Morin, it starts with the penis, insistent as a puppy, relentlessly demanding attention and stroking by its owner. As he wrote: “The penis is an instantaneous and unavoidable arousal feedback system” reinforced by masturbation to favorite fantasy images. Female sexuality is more hidden and inaccessible, often even to its possessor. There are experiments to measure arousal in which women and men privately watched erotic films in a lab while hooked up to devices that measure genital response. The scientists found that objectively most subjects experienced arousal, a point confirmed by the men but disputed by the women. The latter often said, in contradiction of their evident physiological response, they were not turned on at all.

On the way to a satisfying sex life, most men have to learn to restrain their orgasm while many women must learn to access theirs. By all rights women should be winning the orgasm sweepstakes; they have a shorter refractory period between orgasms and are more easily capable of multiple ones during a single session. But this means being aroused and confidently orgasmic, prerequisites that require a learning curve for many women – it’s often called “the orgasm gap.” The gap exists even in the absence of partners – a national study out of Indiana University published in 2010 showed that men start masturbating earlier in life than women, they do it far more often, and many women never or rarely do it.

Several of the therapists I spoke to talked about the need to open a space for some understanding and sympathy for men. By that they do not mean sympathy for the devil, but sympathy for the sexual burdens and expectations men carry, and the easy demonization of #AllMen, In our mating rituals men are supposed to initiate, read signals, be forceful (to a precise degree), empathetic, clever. So courtship is full of feints, double-entendres, and mixed signals. Dr. Marty Klein, a California psychologist in private practice, has written books on the cultural war on sex and the rise of internet pornography. He said to me, “Ambiguity is baked into sexuality,” especially when potential partners are exploring whether they want to be partners. “Men are supposed to demonstrate expertise by being indirect. Men and women both want plausible deniability.” He also said, “healthy, positive sexuality is about permeating each others boundaries, literally and psychologically.” So even under the best of circumstances we have a system built to easily go off the rails. David Ley is an advocate for understanding male sexuality, in all its simplicity and intricacy. We talked about the ritualized nature of so many of the accounts of the men who have been called to account. “Male sexuality appears to be more rigid is the joke I make,” he told me. “Men especially get into a routine that is fixed – we know what works for us, we know what turns us on and helps us have a deeper orgasm, and we go to that over and over.”

Ley ticks off in his book the many ways that men and women are fundamentally different sexually, and he says we should honor and understand both sexes. Men are intrinsically more sexually aggressive – which he notes can be welcome or frightening depending on the circumstances. Men think about sex more than women, want to have sex more than women, and men would be more likely than women to have sex with a stranger, or with a group. Men exhibit far more paraphilias than women. Men are more likely to get a boost of self-esteem from a casual sexual encounter than women. Men are more likely to watch porn, and they are unlikely to read romance novels. It is damaging to men and to society, Ley writes, to have male sexuality portrayed as “a ravening beast that is trying to assume control of their body, mind, and actions.” Instead of pathologizing male sexuality, he wants men to talk to each other about sexual responsibility, to build on a positive sense of masculinity as strong and competent, which means that men are responsible and can control their behavior.

The flip side, one that gets little attention, is male sexual vulnerability and fear. Ley writes, “Men are taught they must be sexually competent and powerful. Penises must get hard when they want it to and stay hard as long as they need it to. This is a tremendous, frightening, and pervasive burden.” Heterosexual women learn early on that if they show up for sex, a male orgasm will likely be guaranteed. But there is often an assumption that heterosexual men are responsible for inducing the more elusive female orgasm – its absence a source of frustration for both sexes. As Ley said to me, “Most men derive a deep sense of accomplishment, pleasure, and masculinity from being able to give a female partner sexual pleasure in an orgasm.”

In The Erotic Mind, Morin found some essential differences in the peak erotic encounters of men and women – the differences made especially clear when comparing gay men and lesbians to heterosexuals. He wrote that men were twice as likely as women to describe anonymous sex as a peak encounter. Almost 50 percent of the gay men in his survey described an encounter with a stranger or bare acquaintance as peak, compared to one percent of lesbians. Women were far more likely than men to have feelings of romance, even love for someone preceding the peak encounter, with lesbians more likely to speak of love than heterosexual women.

In a reflection in Politico on two presidents notorious for their womanizing, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, political commentator Jeff Greenfield wondered if in this #MeToo world, whether womanizer is “a word that may need to be retired.” If “womanizer” gets retired, surely another one will take its place, because the concept of the man who is both celebrated and condemned for his avid pursuit of women is eternal. In the 17th century there was Don Juan, in the 18th Casanova, in the 19th century Krafft-Ebing called them “apron hunters,” in the 20th they were “skirt-chasers.”

In his piece Greenfield assesses a growing historical consensus that for both Kennedy and Clinton, the way they conducted their sex lives was a major character flaw that endangered both presidencies. Kennedy, Greenfield writes, was “a man of compulsive, reckless, dangerous [sexual] impulses” Yet he notes, “For all of his recklessness in matters of sex, Kennedy was a cautious, prudent man when it counted most—in his role as commander in chief.” (Perhaps JFK was the kind of “sexual narcissist” that Braun-Harvey and Vigorito describe.) Greenfield also writes that in light of #MeToo, the behavior of Bill Clinton needs to be seen not just in the context of a horndog who couldn’t help himself, but raises the question of “whether a sexual predator occupied the White House for eight years.”

Greenfield’s piece raises the need to contend with men who use a reputation as a great seducer of willing women to hide something uglier. Harvey Weinstein embraced the label of womanizer because it provided the perfect cover. In the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear quotes a female former Weinstein employee who asserted that there were people at the company didn’t know what Weinstein was actually doing in all those hotel suites The ex-employee said, “Clearly there was also a strategy on his part. He could be flamboyant in his ‘People can know I’m a womanizer.’ But the idea that he took it to sexual assault or even rape was really well hidden.”

So let’s look at how men used their positions and reputations to get away with countless violations.

VI.
THERAPY AND SOLUTIONS

Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the most important figures of the Enlightenment, believed that a nurturing childhood would encourage the flowering of innate goodness. He also recognized that humans did not always behave ideally; he shipped his own five children off to the orphanage. In his Confessions published in 1782, he confessed to a lifelong spanking fetish, and explained its origin in his childhood. Rousseau’s mother died shortly after his birth and a nanny, Miss Lambercier, came to live with the family. Rousseau wrote of the spankings she inflicted on him, “Who would believe this childish discipline, received at eight years old, from the hands of a woman of thirty, should influence my propensities, my desires, my passions, for the rest of my life.” Rousseau didn’t just want to be spanked, his arousal required the scornful superiority of Miss Lambercier from the woman doing it. “To fall at the feet of an imperious mistress, obey her mandates, or implore pardon, were for me the most exquisite enjoyments,” he wrote. In search of this, he would hang his bare buttocks out of windows hoping for disapproval and a smack from passing women.

Jack Morin called paraphilias “a pinpoint focus for arousal,” one that often seems not to be attached to something sexual at all. In The Erotic Mind he described a patient with a fetish for yellow plastic raincoats and whose most intense orgasms occurred when he masturbated while wearing one. The patient told Morin the precise origin of this obsession. When he was a boy he got a fire truck large enough for him to ride on that came with gear including a yellow raincoat. As he drove around, Morin recounted, the boy enjoyed the “tingling” sensations riding on the fire truck gave him, along with the sense of himself as strong and brave. In adulthood, this man found his fetish deeply dismaying, calling it a “sickness” he couldn’t shake.

While we know little about why someone develops an abnormal focus for sexual feelings, there is general agreement that it begins early, something Krafft-Ebing recognized. “Before puberty people experience mysterious sensations, foretastes and impulses that fill the heart,” he wrote. “The advance of puberty develops the impulses of youth into conscious realization of sexual power.” The vast majority of children experience the tingles that are precursors to conscious sexual arousal, but experts simply can’t explain why only some of them get fixated on a moment in childhood and are forever unable to move past the yellow raincoat

Michael Vigorito said to me, “We have to be humble about what we don’t know about erotic development,” but he explained there is a working theory about how paraphilias come about. We tend to think of puberty as a hormonal levee break: tweens suddenly get flooded with chemicals that remake their bodies and minds. But actually it’s more like an on-going engineering process, with valves steadily discharging increasing amounts of hormones over time. There is a little known phase of development called adrenarche in which androgens, the male sex hormones, start being released from the adrenal glands of both boys and girls – a precursor to the sexual maturation that occurs during puberty. Adrenarche starts for most children at around ages 6 to 8, and Vigorito said it appears that within this window paraphilias get fixed for many people, even if they don’t know it’s happening. Puberty then brings the “mysterious sensations” and pleasurable “tingling” to consciousness. “By the time someone reaches puberty what turns them on is there, and is for them to discover,” Vigorito said.

When people discover what’s there, a sexual script that’s linked to a specific fantasy, or object, or behavior can get written, with its hold on the imagination endlessly reinforced through masturbation. Russell Stambaugh, a psychologist and sex therapist in private practice in Michigan said, “Some people fantasize about this auto-erotically for a long time, then they spring it on somebody. They don’t have the social script for intercourse.”

When he was in Los Angeles, Harvey Weinstein liked to take meetings in his suite at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. There he shed many bathrobes and exposed himself to many young actresses. For decades he was good at getting away with it. Thomas Jamison, too, spent many years in Los Angeles exposing himself to women. His venue of choice – of necessity, really —was the county bus. He would sit next to an attractive woman and unzip himself. For decades he was good at getting caught. Jamison, who is 57, and I spoke by phone from his home in Texas. Like many people with a paraphilia, Jamison can trace the origins of his behavior back to childhood. But he didn’t experience a single, galvanizing moment that forever defined his sexual turn-on. As he describes it, it’s almost as if exhibitionism was handed down to him, a pernicious legacy of a miserable start to life. He grew up in small-town Ohio as an outsider and an outcast, the only mixed race child in his school. He says he’s a combination of Native American, white, and African-American, but his classmates saw him only as the n-word, an epithet he says he heard daily. (The federal sex offender registry classifies Jamison as black.) His home life was no refuge. His didn’t see his father, his older brother regularly beat him, and when his brother did this his mother watched and sometimes laughed.

Jamison spent as much time away from home as possible, and from ages 10 to 12 that meant hanging out at the home of one of his few friends, let’s call him David, who lived with his stepmother and a stepsister who was in her mid-teens. Jamison said the stepmother walked around the house in a bra and panties and the stepsister liked to pull up her top and show Jamison her breasts. He said, “I remember feeling excited – if that’s what it was. Or scared – a little bit of both, I guess.” As Jack Morin explained, mixing lust with negative emotions can create a powerful fusion. Or as Jamison says, “I think it screwed me up.”

By high school many of Jamison’s classmates were pairing off romantically, an opportunity he felt was unavailable to him because of his race. “I didn’t experience the boyfriend girlfriend experience other kids were going through. That hurt.” He had a female neighbor his age and she and a friend would often walk by his house. He wanted to talk to them but was too shy. He thought about how excited he got by David’s stepmother and stepsister, and he thought that if she stood in the window and exposed himself to the girls they might get excited, too, although he never did it.

The day he turned 17 years old he joined the Army. Then a few years later, honorably discharged, he came back home and lived with his grandmother. His bedroom overlooked the street and he would leave the blinds open while he changed clothes, and young women his age would walk by and sometimes look, he says. So he started masturbating at the window, and when he did some of them watched. Eventually, his shame was greater than his excitement, and he also came to feel it was time to leave Ohio for good. After some interim travels, he and an acquaintance got on a bus for Los Angeles. During the several day trip, a beautiful young woman got on and sat across from Jamison. “I exposed myself. She kept looking. I masturbated. She watched. Then I sat next to her. And we had sex on the bus while everyone was asleep.” Afterward they held hands until the bus stopped in Arkansas and she got off.

Dr. James Cantor is a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto faculty of Medicine whose expertise is in atypical sexual expression. Like all the scientists I spoke to, he emphasized there is no single path someone takes to becoming a sexual offender. When we spoke – before I had talked to Jamison – Cantor floated a hypothesis about exhibitionism that sounded almost fanciful. He raised the idea that people who do this may have some kind of biological glitch that gives them an impulse to expose themselves that’s similar to some animal courtship display rituals. “It’s like it’s an ancient behavior normally suppressed in the human brain,” Cantor said.

Whatever the validity of Cantor’s hypothesis, Jamison was living a version of it. Jamison said to me, “I was looking for somebody to like me and want to be with me. Like me, like the erect penis.” He said he didn’t want to upset or horrify women, and when that happened he was filled with guilt, shame, and self-loathing. There were plenty of those experiences. “Some women were livid,” he told me. “One of them – she pulled out a knife and said put it away or I will cut it off.”

But I was shocked when Jamison told me there were enough positive responses to keep him going. (After we talked I asked him to send me a photo – even now he is strikingly attractive and muscular.) “I was looking for a woman who liked it. Who would look directly at my penis, smile, and continue watching while I masturbated. The more she looked the more excited I would get,” he said. “I got a lot of those. I’m a little surprised you’re shocked.”

No one knows the incidence of paraphilias. It’s improbable we will ever get an accurate count of these sexual obsessions, since many people keep theirs secret for a lifetime. The consensus of the mental health community is that paraphilias occur primarily in men (although the world of BDSM seems to be an exception). And the general consensus is that when it comes to committing sexual misbehaviors, whatever the cause or motivation, the majority of the people who transgress are men. Let’s look at why.

Credits

Creative Direction & Design - Sandra Garcia
Sandra is the creative director of Highline.
Development & Design - Gladeye
Gladeye is a digital innovations agency in New Zealand and New York.
More Stories
One Famous Band. One Huge Secret. Many Lives Destroyed
Stop the Madness: A Miraculous New Treatment for Schizophrenia
Love in the Age of Big Data
Dying To Be Free: Our Broken Heroin Treatment System