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December 2005
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Why can't a man ... be more like a man?

This excerpt from The Secrets of Happily Married Men by Scott Haltzman is long, but worth reading. It's courtesy of ABCNews.com. Haltzman says that pop culture, especially movies, has create a false ideal of men: Hollywood's romantic hero is the way women wish men would be: sensitive, attentive, sefless. In other words, more like a woman.

Haltzman doesn't say men don't have those qualities, just that their different neurochemistries make it pretty much impossible for them to be like women, and we should all just accept that men and women are different.

The Secrets of Happily Married Men

Although the lasting positive gains of this movement are undeniable in the workplace, in civil rights, in the courts, and in our homes, militant feminists were, and still are, working from a false platform. Women should certainly be considered equals to men, but women are not the same as men. There are biological differences in our mental and physical makeup that cannot be denied or ignored in our quest to understand each other.

To make your marriage great without giving up who you are, it's important to recognize that some of your so-called failings as a husband are very often not failings at all, but simply the result of the fact that you and your wife do not think and feel the same way.

As someone who still would say she's a feminist, boy is this hard for me to accept. But my own experience, along with what I've learned about oxytocin and its interaction with estrogen, testosterone and vasopressin, shows me its truth.

Still, is there some biochemical reason why men won't squeeze out the kitchen sponge when they're done with it?


Oxytocin Mania

On his E. Burton Sassafrass blog, LJ says people on one mailing list he's on are all over oxytocin. 

LJ doesn't like to think about "bonobic justifications" for his behavior, but he's not necessarily adverse to a little neurochemical bump.

I ... thought that it sounded like a great thing people could self-administer to help combat some aspects of social anxiety. I also thought that I like being a trusting person, and occasionally shoring that up might be a real plus to me.

In the comments, ailhbe brings up a really interesting thought: During labor, women may be unduly open to influence. She says,

No wonder so many women feel they were forced to agree to things in labour. Wow. Now I know why I agreed to totally different pain relief than I thought appropriate, and why I believed all the medical staff who told me what I was feeling my body do wasn't happening.

Meanwhile, I want to get on that maniac mailing list.


Oxytocin: Gov't secret weapon?

According th the Daily Utah Chronicle, Jonathan Moreno, bioethics adviser for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, told a lecture audience that oxytocin could be used by DARPA for "brain manipulation," a form of brainwashing that would be less harsh -- and more effective.

Link: Author shares insight on link between neuroscience, government

One of the leaders in neuroscience development is the corporation DARPA, which is currently in the process of developing a "head web," a helmet that conducts non-invasive brain monitoring that could be used to measure brain waves while soldiers are in combat.

Moreno said the government is also working on developing a "war fighter"-a human manipulated by drugs to be a more efficient soldier.

<snip>

Another one of these drugs is Oxytocin, which potentially could be used in interrogation situations and would make people less inhibited and trust whoever is interrogating them.

This is definitely a scary thought, and contributes to a growing meme about using oxytocin as a drug to manipulate others. It should be noted, though, that skilled interrogators -- and salespeople and con artists -- already maninpulate our neurochemistries, getting that oxytocin flowing and building trust with social engineering.


Candy and flowers, anyone?

Moreno's book, "Mind Wars: National Security and the Brain," is scheduled for publication this fall.


Late-Breaking News

This just in:  Sex makes you feel better. The Daily Mail reports.

Having sex appears to improve a person's ability to cope with stress for up to a week, say scientists from the University of Paisley.

Oxytocin plays a major role in the parasympathetic nervous system, counteracting the effects of cortisol and other fight-or-flight hormones.

(I always thought the soothing side of the nervous system should be called "sympathetic," rather than parasympathetic. Oh, well.)


Male Role Models Lack the Oxytocin Factor

Over on chicagoboyz, Shannon Love talks  about the crummy role models male children have these days. Pointing to a growing gender imbalance at the university level, with 60 percent of graduating students being women, Love thinks the reason could be absent fathers.

In divorced or never-married families, women become the primary caregivers, and boys may spend years without a man to be close to. They're out of luck if they turn to the mass media for models, Love says.

The absence of masculine role models also leaves boys more susceptible to the popular culture's portrayal of masculinity, which, frankly, is crap. In popular culture, men are impulsive, childish and violent. In popular culture men do not think, plan or create. No boy raised on a steady diet of MTV and associated media ever comes away with the idea that long-term planning, self-restraint and self-sacrifice are important facets of masculine behavior.

Love goes on to say that no part of a child's life is improved by divorce or single parenting, when other variables are constant.  I assume Love means variables such as an abusive parent, etc.

At any rate, another way to understand Love's analysis of the popular presentation of manliness (and I agree with it) is that it's a testosterone-centric view. The media male is all about aggression, competition, preening and impulse.

It's only -- or maybe I should say, most likely -- within a family unit that the mitigating effects of oxytocin come into play. As Peter Gray and his colleagues have  shown, married men tend to have lower levels of testosterone than single guys, while a man's blood levels drop when he holds a baby. Testosterone mutes the bonding and calming effects of oxytocin.

Doubtless, cuddling and intimacy within the family does the same thing for boy children, helping them learn, at the biochemical level, how to create the biological states that allow restraint, planning and cooperation.


Sex is for Marriage

Another column from Jennifer Roback Morse about the role of sex in love and attachment. She writes,

Sex is an organic reality, with two natural purposes written on the human body. The first is procreation. The second is not so obvious but equally important. Sex builds up and solidifies the relationship between the members of the couple. We know now that sexual activity physiologically creates a bond between the partners.

She says that sex and the attachment it creates [through the release of oxytocin at orgasm] gives an incentive to the parents to cooperate in rasing children.

The fact that sex is fun is along for the ride. The fun is nature’s way of getting us to keep the species going.

I think evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists would agree with this position, so I:m not going to argue.

Roback is the author of "Smart Sex: Finding Lifelong Love in a Hookup World." In this interview with Zenit, a Catholic news agency, she says,

The marriage crisis is really a sex crisis. The modern world completely misunderstands the meaning of human sexuality. In spite of all our sex education and overtly sexual entertainment, we don't really understand what sex is all about.

We have the idea that sex is a private recreational activity, with no moral or social significance. If that's true, our sex partner becomes a commodity that may or may not please us. And in a consumer society, when we are no longer satisfied with a product, we get rid of it.

As a child of the 70s who also had an unhappy home life with parents who didn't seem to even like each other, I spent my 20s and 30s engaging in what are now called hook-ups. I am so lucky and happy to be mated to a wonderful man, and now that I've experienced the intense bonding power of sex with love, I have to agree with Morse.

At the same time, as an agnostic, a feminist and a believer in individual freedom, this position makes me very nervous, because it's a slippery slope to fundamentalist teachings.

Morse talks about the religious underpinnings of her views with Zenit.

"... many egalitarians are offended by gender, because men and women can never be made completely equal," she says. "Some interpret equality to mean that each spouse do exactly half of every household chore. Other couples are completely baffled when their spouses do not react the same way as they would.

Social science research has shown that couples who are strongly committed to gender equality have a lot of stress when their first child is born. People find themselves sliding into traditional gender roles spontaneously, almost against their will.

The radical egalitarian cannot understand what is happening to them, and they become angry at each other and at themselves.

I believe they would be happier if they could embrace the fact that babies usually prefer their mother, and that mothers often enjoy caring for the baby more than the fathers do."

"By contrast, the late Holy Father viewed gender as a gift from God. The subtitle of "The Theology of the Body" gives a hint of this: "Human Love in the Divine Plan."

"John Paul II asks us to consider: What was God trying to say to us by creating us male and female?"

That in itself doesn't sound so bad, but it makes me nervous because, in my view, the Catholic church doesn't see women as equal to men, and it denies a woman's right to choose when and how many children she bears by using birth control. Nor does it teach that gay and lesbian people should have the right to create families.

Sometimes I find it comforting to learn about how my body's neurochemistry influences my behavior and feelings. Sometimes I find it alarming to see how my choices really are so much determined by biology.


Jail for Child Killer

Jeannette Killpack, the woman who killed her four-year-old adopted daughter by forcing water down her throat, was sentenced to one to 15 years in jail.

The Killpacks claimed that this was a treatment recommended by a therapist treating Cassandra for reactive attachment disorder (RAD). At other times, Jeannette bit Cassandra and choked her. When asked whether such actions could have made it difficult for Cassandra to bond with Jeannette, Richard Killpack said that hadn't occurred to him.

U.S. courts tend to treat children as property, returning abused kids to their parents at the slightest sign or remorse or rehabilitation. But Judge Claudia Laycock refused to sentence Killpack to home confinement so she could take care of her four other children. The Deseret News quotes Utah County Deputy Attorney Sherry RaganUtah County Deputy Attorney Sherry Ragan:

"I do not believe she is a good mother," she said. "I believe her children are better off without her at this point. . . . She's a very dangerous person who is a threat to children."


Oxytocin and Social Anxiety

The use of oxytocin for treating disorders including autism and social anxiety is becoming hot news. This Boston Globe article puts together some of the recent studies, then discusses growing medical interest in oxytocin-based drugs.

"It could be like social Viagra," said Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, an investigator at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Meanwhile, our friend at Alcibiades' Dream has been carrying around an asthma inhaler filled with oxytocin for several months. He says,

Throughout the day I will often give myself a few spritzes (often 6 or more — maybe a ml worth?? not sure), such as before I call up a girl I am pursuing, or before I walk into a doctor’s office, etc. ... I am definitely more outgoing, more chatty, more willing to look into peoples’ eyes, more other-oriented (not focused internally on my inadequacies and what not).


Despots with RAD

Jennifer Roback Morse posits that Saddam Hussein suffers from reactive attachment disorder. She writes:

According to Karl Zinsmeister’s Boots on the Ground, Saddam’s father abandoned him before he was born. His mother went to her brother’s house near Tikrit to give birth, and then abandoned the baby, leaving him to be raised by his uncle’s family.

Morse points out that "normal" people don't aspire to be dictators -- nor, I'd add, president of the United States. Saddam's sadism, manipulation and self-absorption are classic RAD.

Morse is a part-time Hoover fellow who writes about love, marriage, sex and the family. She also adopted a Romanian boy.

Examining the childhoods of despots and serial killers can help us understand how a human could become so twisted. The Austrian psychologist Alice Miller has made exposing the cruelty of child-rearing her life's work. In "For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence" she showed how the pain Hitler experienced as a child could have led to the almost unimaginable cruelty he displayed.

Miller doesn't excuse Hitler, by the way, even though she seeks to understand his behavior in terms of his early experiences. I once wrote to her, asking how we could hold people responsible for their actions if they had been abused as children. She responded that we all are ultimately responsible for our own actions, no matter what our experiences, and that many other people have undergone equally horrendous experiences without becoming monsters themselves.