I’ve seen a lot of conversations and arguments lately about and questioning the validity of toxic masculinity. I’ve seen articles stating “toxic masculinity isn’t real,” expressing defensiveness and feelings of being attacked. Regardless of if you believe in the existence of the term or challenge what it’s called, I think it’s still an incredibly useful and relevant topic. And more importantly, incredibly useful as a therapist.
At G&STC we work with many men who come to us with relationship and sexuality-based issues such as shame about desire, shame about levels of desire, compulsive sexual behaviors, emotional isolation, and erectile functioning issues. Many clients arriving to our office with an erectile dysfunction diagnosis have tried a variety of medications. Many clients also have shame-based desires, and have gone to great lengths to hide those desires. This level of secrecy has often fed shame or deprived them of emotional intimacy. But most of all, the men coming to our office seem to have one thing in common: the consequences of toxic masculinity are painfully visible in their lives.
Toxic Masculinity (TM) is an exaggerated, narrow and binary gender construct, and describes certain masculine norms and behaviors that often cause harm to society, to men, to masculine genders, and to the people around them. Toxic masculinity is not synonymous with masculinity, nor with men. Some examples of norms and behaviors that fit in a description of TM include: non-consensual dominance; suppression of emotions; extreme self-reliance and autonomy; a belief that fearlessness is the ideal; hyper-masculinity; devaluation of women and misogyny; violence against transgender people; and promoting violence such as sexual assault and domestic violence.
Understandably so, conversations about toxic masculinity often focus on society and the targets, victims, and survivors of those who embody toxic masculinity. What is often not discussed is how toxic masculinity harms men and masculine people. TM contributes to depression, increased stress, shame, self-hate, body image issues, harmful substance use, and emotional and romantic isolation. What’s also missing from our collective understanding about toxic masculinity is its roots as psychological term.
When working with clients where symptoms of toxic masculinity are present, we focus on:
Defining it, then finding where toxic masculinity exists in their lives
Calling out the toxic narratives they’ve internalized
Identifying how those narratives live and thrive in their lives, self image, gender expression, sexuality and relationships
Challenging those narratives and creating new beliefs to live by
Changing behaviors and navigating what may come up with those changes
For our clients, naming and treating toxic masculinity has resulted in greater sexual satisfaction, more fulfilling emotional relationships, happier and more meaningful romantic relationships, and reduced problematic sexual behaviors or sexual functioning issues.