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Una Mullally: Male sexual dysfunction can no longer be ignored

Teaching women how to avoid predatory behaviour fails to address the core issue

It can be exhausting and depressing navigating the maelstrom of disgusting behaviour by men that makes up a large part of the news cycle at the moment. Take last week. In the United States, Larry Nassar, team doctor for the US gymnastics national team, heard from 156 women delivering victim-impact statements during his hearing.

“I was a good doctor,” Nassar wrote in a letter read and tossed aside by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, “because my treatments worked and those patients that are now speaking out were the same ones that praised and came back over and over. The media convinced them that it was wrong and bad . . . Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

It’s shocking to see the arrogance and delusion of abusers such as Nassar, who was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. Here was a familiar – if extreme – example of male power, male entitlement and male sexual dysfunction manifesting itself as criminal abuse of girls and young women who trusted him and who were under his care and authority.

Presidents Club dinner

Then there was the report in the Financial Times by Madison Marriage about the Presidents Club charity dinner, an annual men-only gathering in London, where female hostesses were hired and many were "groped, sexually harassed and propositioned," according to the report. The reporting was necessary and gruesome, exposing another bastion of sleaze hiding in plain sight.


One depressing thing about it was in the discussion that followed, where so many women said they weren’t surprised by such behaviour. What a low bar – well placed through experience, in fairness – we set for male behaviour. There will be more and more of these scandals that manifest as scandals only when they’re called out, and until then many of the other men in these settings seem to be unwilling to take a stand against this behaviour.

On the Late Late Show on Friday there was a segment about internet safety and whether children should be banned from having smartphones. The discussion focused on the messaging app Kik, in the aftermath of the app's use by Matthew Horan, who pleaded guilty in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 11 counts of child exploitation and distributing child pornography.

The Late Late Show panel featured child psychologist David Coleman, CyberSafeIreland’s Cliona Curley and the editor of the Irish Daily Mail, Sebastian Hamilton. None of the guests, nor presenter Ryan Tubridy, properly addressed the male behaviour that this entire issue is about.

Fifteen minutes into a 25-minute item on the topic, Tubridy spoke to three teenage girls in the audience. Aoife (16) told Tubridy that banning phones is unrealistic: “It’s not really getting rid of the problem. I think we should focus on getting the creepy people asking for the pictures off the internet instead of getting the kids off.”

Tubridy didn’t engage with her answer, but she was the only contributor who had the insight to tell it like it is. I wonder too would we have gained more insight by asking boys to contribute to the conversation?

Girls are forced to develop a sixth sense that alerts them to danger and sleaze. This is a consequence of male behaviour

Technology has exacerbated and amplified criminal sexual behaviour, but it is not the cause, which is male sexual dysfunction. It’s not the iPhones doing the groping. The thing is, when it comes to such an “issue”, we don’t put boys and men in the frame, we don’t acknowledge this behaviour as the root of the problem, and we don’t involve boys and men in finding solutions. Instead, we warn girls about engaging, and recommend safety measures parents can take, which is basically about avoidance.

I speak with young LGBTI+ people a lot about homophobic and transphobic bullying. While we can talk about reporting systems for young LGBTI+ people, and teaching them resilience, it is completely acknowledged that the way to stop LGBTI+ people from being victimised is to effect social and behavioural change that stops other young people from targeting LGBTI+ people, or people they perceive to be gay. This is a longer and more complex solution than teaching avoidance, but it’s not kids being gay that causes them to be bullied, it’s other kids learning homophobia.

I hear from female friends on dating apps about being sent unsolicited photographs of strangers’ penises. I never hear men talking about sending them. When it comes to this sort of behaviour – which is just downright weird in many cases – we are having a completely one-sided conversation from which men are largely missing.

Me Too

Women have been talking about their negative, sometimes life-destroying experiences at the hands of men for years. Men need to talk to other men about this behaviour. I’ve had so many conversations with my male friends, for example, about the Me Too movement, but I wonder how many of them have had equally honest conversations with their male peers about it? If you’re a woman whose male friends are talking to you about this issue, ask them to instead talk to their male friends and colleagues.

When it comes to sexual abuse, we teach girls about safety and avoidance. We are also teaching parents to be fearful for their children, but are we teaching them to be proactive in discussing acceptable sexual behaviour with their sons? When parents sit down to have those awkward conversations about sex with their sons, do they move on from reproductive biology to consent, to boundaries, to peer pressure? Are we really addressing the socialisation of boys that leads to such behaviour?

Leaving boys and men at sea, and expecting that they’ll grow up and magically act perfectly when this behaviour is so frequent and obvious to us is delusional. Girls are forced to develop a sixth sense that alerts them to danger and sleaze. This is a consequence of male behaviour. If we’re not helping boys and men, all we’re practising is avoidance.