As a psychologist, I specialize in working with what has come to be known as sex addiction. It is difficult to work with this population without stumbling into related issues of marital infidelity as well as sexual exploitation. I want to propose that although all of these areas of concern have things in common (like sexual behavior) they are distinct in their own ways. For example someone who has an affair might not be a sex addict and is not likely to be exploitive given the mutually consenting nature of an affair.
In the last year, men of celebrity and power have been exposed in the media for sexually exploiting women (and some males) who were in some way dependent on them, or admirers of their status and appeal. It started in the Autumn of 2016 with the now President of the United States, and has reached a fever-pitch one year later as women have emerged out of the shadows of shame and fear to tell their stories of exploitation. Not all stories are the same. Some might involve an inappropriate hug or gesture while others involve more serious violations, such as groping, exhibitionism or even child molestation and rape.
Based on my understanding of evolutionary psychology and almost 30 years in clinical practice working with (mostly) men who struggle with—or cause others to struggle with—aberrant sexual behaviors, I want to suggest that when you hear the term “sexual exploitation,” it’s important to realize these behaviors are more about exploitation and power than sex. It is more about a sort of self-appointed King-Ape sense of entitlement, rather than uncontrollable sexual impulses. It is more about narcissism than sex addiction. It’s more about being the “alpha” male than the horny male.
I don’t believe that Donald Trump or Harvey Weinstein necessarily have higher sex drives than Joe the electrician or Michael the accountant. Although, contrary to the popular claim, men probably do not think about sex every six seconds, most men do think about sex often (one study counted up to 388 times a day). At times throughout the day, any man might experience heightened interest if not “arousal.” The difference between “most men” and Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein is that most men don’t act on these feelings, and don’t attempt to convince themselves they could get away with it if they did. Some people in power not only believe that they can get away with inappropriate behaviors, but somewhere in their mind they think that they are entitled to get away with them. After all, they are the Alpha Male. The Big Man.
I think that to fix this problem we need to understand its real roots—and the problem is not sex. Rather, it can be traced to some of the worst ideas in patriarchy: that “might makes right,” and by extension the mistaken assumption that the potential for physical strength that often comes of being born male makes one naturally smarter, deserving of a higher paycheck, and inherently entitled to bend others to their will. Sadly, our society’s track record suggests that it is not the first inclination of the “alpha male” mentality to suppose that power should be used in the service and protection of others. This is a way of thinking that must be learned.
I would like to think that historians will look back some day on the late 20th Century and early 21st Century as pivotal time in human history. It is a time of a profound revolution, when we as a species are moving from a patriarchal-hierarchal gender structure to a more egalitarian gender structure, where males are no longer esteemed as the predominant, if not self-appointed, “superior” gender. For thousands of years—and certainly since we stopped being hunter-gatherers and settled into villages and then cities—males have been at the top of the authority chain. This is true especially of the stronger and more aggressive alpha males, with “inferior” males, females and children far below them in status. If we don’t understand this socio-cultural dynamic and acknowledge its shortcomings, we will be slow in making this cultural transition happen. But fast or slow, it will happen. The females (and insightful males) of our species will not accept anything less now. In my book on emotional intelligence, I talk about finding the balance of power, heart and mindfulness in human relationships. It’s the time in society for females to share the balance of power.
This last year of explosive exposés of exploitive males is a symptom of this profound transition in human society—from patriarchy to parity. And as a husband of an intelligent wife and a father of a young talented daughter, I welcome this transition with open arms.
*Dr. Alibrando is author of Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst and his newest, award-winning book, The 3 Dimensions of Emotion: Finding the Balance of Power, Heart and Mindfulness. He has a psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles and is an organizational psychologist who travels the world teaching teams and leaders how to upgrade their interpersonal dynamics and transform their workplace.