As mentioned in the introduction to this series of blog posts, I will be posting excerpts of chapters from Boys, Sex & Media with PDF links to the complete chapters. Use the blog tag “Boys-Sex-Media” to find all of the posts in this series. The excerpt of Chapter Six, on body image, is below. Click this PDF link to read the entire chapter.
“…American men are nearly as dissatisfied about their bodies as women and experience depression and self-esteem problems that are partly due to gendered cultural standards, some of which are produced by media.” ~ Kari Lerum and Shari L. Dworkin
For boys growing up in Western society, there is no escaping the message that size matters. From sports broadcasters chirping about the height and weight of professional athletes—especially in North American football—to David Beckham and various Calvin Klein models showcasing their physical endowments in risqué underwear ads, boys and men are, as Lerum and Dworkin note above, feeling the pressure of culturally generated body image ideals.
It is not just about muscles either. In a culture dominated by the heterosexual script, the responsibility for “good” sex is assigned to males. Feeling the need to be experts yet lacking adequate sexual education, many young men turn to X-rated films for guidance and are greeted with scenes of impossibly huge male sex organs that never fall limp, despite hours of action. It is quite a standard to live up to. Indeed, as social psychologist Petra Boynton has found in working with her male clients, many men feel threatened and inadequate in a culture that “defines modern masculinity by successful sexual performance, stamina, and stiffies.” Few studies have been done on adolescent male sexual anxiety, but, as we will see, the fears men express in their adult years often have their roots in teenage experiences with erotic imagery and films.
Download this PDF to read the entire chapter.
Image from Dreamstime.