Men who are sexually promiscuous “playboys”, behave aggressively, and are self-reliant are more likely to suffer from mental health problems like depression, body image issues, substance abuse, and loneliness. A study published last fall in the Journal of Counseling Psychology drew this conclusion after analyzing 78 mental health studies involving more than 19,000 men over 11 years.
These results are of particular interest right now because of the growing list of sexual harassment charges against powerful men in Hollywood and Washington, D.C over the last few weeks. Now that the correlation has been made, researchers and psychologists have been fumbling about, trying to make sense of it.
Lead author of the study, Y. Joel Wong of Indiana University Bloomington, has suggested that the increased rates of depression may occur because hyper-masculine behaviour has become outdated. Men who exhibited these traits in the past may have been praised, but because many of these behaviours are no longer considered socially acceptable, men who display them would tend to receive a lot of negative push-back. This negative push-back could account for their increased feelings of depression, loneliness, and anger.
Psychologist Arie Kruglanski has suggested that men who are sexually promiscuous and who desire to exert physical power over others already have mental health problems. To compensate for feelings of anger, insecurity and self-loathing, these men may feel a need to deliberately disrespect, or physically violate people weaker than themselves. By acting out in this way, it helps them to reassert control over an environment that is no longer fulfilling their needs or expectations. In this case, it’s not that sexually abusive behaviour causes mental health problems, but that mental health problems cause men to abuse power through sex.
Until further studies are done, it is impossible to know exactly why hyper-masculine men are at increased risk of mental health problems. But it could be that our culture does these men a disservice. Through movies, commercials, and other media, boys are taught from a young age that they need to be strong, emotionally stoic, and independent. This would also tend to make them emotionally distant and unable to express their feelings. Without the tools necessary to build open and mature relationships with women, or with other men, it’s understandable that their mental health might suffer.
Humans are social animals. Like apes, we’ve always lived together in groups, and relied on one another for protection, aid, and emotional support. No one, no matter how strong, can thrive in this world without the help of others. To be healthy and whole, we all need to express our emotions to people we trust, and rely on their help in times of stress or misfortune. If the men in these studies were able to release their feelings in a healthy way, rather than through abusive displays of power, maybe workplaces would become safer for everyone.
But valuing playboy behavior and power over women — aside from being explicitly sexist — was strongly correlated with psychological problems.
Criminologist Candice Batton suggested that men are more likely than women to “develop negative attributions of blame that are external,” which translate into anger and hostility toward others. Women, though, are more likely to blame some failing of their own, “directing anger inwardly into guilt and depression.”
Today’s context is that on top of all that, there are men who are full of insecurity and expected to express themselves only in certain, limited ways.