Tag Archive for women

Feckless Fathers … the Reality

I’ve watched with concern over the past year as a new phrase has emerged in the cultural zeitgeist … the “feckless father”. As a term, of course, it’s surely one of abuse. What man would welcome being described as “feckless”? But I detect a cultural double standard in the way it is used.

Of course we should all be concerned about children raised without a father. Such children are more likely to fail at school, engage in criminality, be the victims of sexual abuse, and even join gangs. There is a time bomb of fatherless children that is not only devastating for them, but also on the future of our society. Kids need their fathers.

By using the term “feckless fathers”, there is a very clear line being drawn. Fatherless children are created by the moral irresponsibility of men. Deciding to have and raise a child, however, is a decision of the woman. Feminism has long argued, correctly, for the “right to choose”: a woman’s right to control her own fertility. If a woman “chooses” to have eight children with eight different men, and discourage contact between the children and the father, is it not the woman who is being “feckless”?

Women can’t have it both ways. If they exercise the “right to choose”, and bring a child into either no relationship, or unstable one, they can’t then blame the man for not being there. My point is simple: the debate about “feckless fathers” focuses on the moral culpability of absent fathers, and does not pay sufficient attention to the moral culpability of single mothers.

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The World Cup And Testosterone

Women are often baffled by men’s reactions to sport.  Indeed some men are baffled too.  As the World Cup will soon be upon us, and the nations euphoria will build on mass before, no doubt, we have to console ourselves at the loss of yet another penalty shoot out, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what’s going on … in our brains.
football fans
The key to understanding men’s reactions to the World Cup, or any sport for that matter, is testosterone.  From as early as being an unborn child, testosterone shapes and dominates men’s brains.  It literally kills off ‘female’ parts of the brain, and builds the male brain that will seek out beautiful girls … and sport.  So how is testosterone implicated in sport?

Researchers have found that leading up to a competition; men’s brains become flooded with testosterone.  This is the same whether we are competing or simply watching.  The testosterone gives us our sense of excited anticipation, but it also gives us a belief that our team cannot lose.  Given that our brains evolved over millions of years, it’s easy to see why such excitement and confidence could give us an advantage.  Going to hunt or war is going to be more successful if fuelled by excitement and self confidence.

Researchers have also found that if we, or our team, should win, our testosterone levels fly through the roof.  This is a natural high, not dissimilar to cocaine, and it’s addictive.  The natural high these elevated levels of testosterone give us makes us behave with a cockiness and self assuredness that can drive women bonkers.  Women have a testosterone rush with sport too, but with only about 10% of the testosterone of what a man gets, even the keenest women isn’t going to view the World Cup in the same way as a man.  As a result, this part of being a man is permanently off limits to women … they just don’t get it.

You can see this male typical behaviour down the pub.  The excitement and confidence make us wear silly hats and face paint and we bond with our fellow supporters.  The modern equivalent of hunting the wild boar.  If we win … happy days … our testosterone soars and we party on the high.  As our team progresses through the World Cup with (hopefully) win after win, you can see the effects of this group narcosis everywhere, in the proud display of flags and national colours.

But what if we lose?  Well I guess we’ve all experienced that flat feeling when the final score comes in.  The game is over.  All hope has gone.  We have lost.  Men silently finish their drinks and mooch off home feeling despondent, often for days at a time.  It is as if your emotional world has just collapsed.  Why is this?  Well researchers have found that if our team should loose, our testosterone levels also collapse.  As a result, the fuel for the natural high dries up, making is sullen and unresponsive.  We experience a mild depression and self doubt. We even lose interest in sex.  This is a hormonal crisis for men.  A sort of male PMT.

Because women don’t experience the high, they can’t relate to the low either.  Any attempts to explain your feeling of despondency is bound to fail.  Women are biologically not equipped to ‘get’ what we are going through.  The best thing to do is disappear off to the shed for a few days, and wait for our hormones to get back to normal.  Space and time will heal; just let her know that’s what you need.

But what if we don’t lose, what if we actually win the World Cup?  Well we can expect a testosterone high that we will last for months.  The nations feel good factor will skyrocket.  It might even boost our economic output.  Eventually, of course, our bodies will return to normal.  But we will remember the testosterone fuelled euphoria for the rest of our lives.  I hope we win.

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Female Sexual Predators

This is the second of two posts looking at the dark underbelly of female psychology.  In the last post I looked at abusive women, particularly those with Axis II personality disorders.  In this post I look at female sexuality … and ask is it really benign?

Women are supposed to ‘give’ sex, and men are supposed to ‘get’ sex.  In the ‘getting’ men are morally represented as predatory, scheming, abusive and exploitative.  In the ‘giving’, women are represented as victims, innocent, passive and exploited by male sexuality.  The conclusion that women don’t like sex, and therefore men should be grateful for it, is a moral narrative that is so strong, it’s almost a tautology.  But is there a ‘dark underbelly’ of female sexuality?  I think there is.
female sexual predators
One place to start is to look at the differences between male and female sex drives.  Women have a relatively low sex drive in their teens.  As women get closer to the end of their optimum child bearing years (about 30), their sex drive starts to peak then decline again.  Women in need of children can become biologically driven to cut corners on morality in order to achieve them.

Within this lifespan overview of female sexuality is a subdivision concerning any particular sexual partner.  Women’s sex drive is higher at the onset of a new relationship, and this lasts for about six months, before dropping off considerably.  During this ‘nesting period’ women are genuinely interested in sex.  Once the relationship, (and in evolutionary terms, once their first baby) is secured, their interest in sex declines.

These facts of women’s sexual nature demonstrate that women’s sexuality is not in keeping with men’s.  From a bloke’s perspective, we peak around 17, then slowly decline over the life span.  Both are intricately connected with our capacity to reproduce.  Men and women expect different things from sex at different times in our lives and is the source of endless tensions.

Female sexual biology has more surprises in store.  Again from an evolutionary perspective, it is in the interest of a woman, and their children, to secure life long committed fathers who will resource and nurture her family.  Women tend to be attracted to men that are sensitive, stable, wealthy and slightly effeminate, at least most of the time.

This changes for women when they are at their most fertile, around ovulation.  Even though with a committed partner, women’s sexual strategy flips, to one of pursuing ‘alpha male’ types who are more dominant, physically stronger and aggressive.  The strategy ensures she has the strongest and fittest children, with a man behind the scenes to bring up the child.

One in ten men brings up a child they believe to be their own genetic offspring, but is in fact the biological heritage of another man.  In fact a survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 2008) revealed that 53% of women would lie about the paternity of their child.

What about the idea that men are promiscuous but women are not?  This is another cultural stereotype that does not meet the facts.

I have posted before about the histocompatability complex.  It is the part of our DNA vital to the immune system.  If our partners ‘smell’ right, our histocompatability complexes are different, and therefore more likely to produce offspring with a healthy immune system.

Research in the journal Animal Behaviour suggests that women with a more diverse histocompatability complex, and therefore more ‘compatible’ with a wider variety of men, are more likely to have more sexual partners.  Monogamy, or so it seems, is not ‘built in’ to women after all.  In fact for some women, promiscuity might be ‘hard wired’, and reproductively advantageous.

Moving on from socio-biology to morality, one of the most upsetting things I encounter in my work with men is helping them to come to the point that they want to finish with their current partner, only to discover that the women has ‘mysteriously’ become pregnant despite taking oral contraception.

Under the emotion of becoming a father, the man often ‘stands by’ his woman, and tries to make the relationship work.  In the 2004survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 8th), it was revealed that 32% of women would pretend to use contraception, like the pill, if they wanted to get pregnant, but their partners did not want a child.  The sooner the male contraceptive pill is marketed, the sooner we can protect ourselves from this kind of predatory behaviour.

Then what about ‘love’?  Women, after all, are more ‘tuned in to their feelings’ than men (or so the gender myth goes).  You can put biology and the morality of child bearing to one side, surely a woman marries primarily for love?  Wrong.  Again the survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 8th) revealed that 23% of women would marry just for money alone.

In reading this post, of course, you could argue against the ‘just so’ nature of the science, or the reliability of the statistics.  My point is not that this is simply ‘the truth’, clearly more research needs to be done, but to highlight that female sexuality is far from morally neutral.  Women are sometimes not only the victims of male sexuality, but men sometimes, can also be victims of female sexuality.  Women may become sexual predators for different reasons to men, but they do so none the less.

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Men And Menstruation

Menstruation is a difficult topic for blokes.  I remember travelling in India and meeting a young couple on a gap year after ‘A’ levels.  They had been travelling through some of the more isolated and impoverished parts of the sub continent.  Both were traumatised by the experience and took several days to settle down and start talking to people.  When I chatted to the bloke on his own, it was clear that he was not just traumatised by the poverty, but travelling in intimate proximity with a women menstruating in hot insanitary conditions.  It wasn’t just the hygiene he found difficult, but the pain she went through, and the emotional vulnerability she felt, which was exacerbated by being in an alien and unforgiving environment.

Like most blokes, this guy had been spared the harsh realities of menstruation until he was an adult.  Women, of course, don’t have this luxury.  They are catapulted into the reality of menstruation in their early teens, and for many, find it deeply traumatic.  The founder of The Samaritans, Chad Varah, had the idea for the telephone helpline because, as a priest, he had to conduct a funeral service of a young girl who had committed suicide at the onset of her first period.

The 28 day cycle, and women’s emotional reactions to it, then informs their psychology for the rest of their lives.  To truly know and connect with the women in our lives we need to make their menstrual cycle our business.

Given the ‘trauma’ of menstruation, it is little surprise that cultural and religious taboos have emerged to ‘manage’ the trauma, and shield it from public gaze.  It’s a little like ‘war trauma’ for men, something that is ‘managed’ and ‘contained’ … but not expressed.

Just because menstruation is a difficult topic for men, doesn’t mean to say it’s OK to ignore it.  The women in our lives need our understanding and compassion so they feel supported, validated and accepted.  Here are a few tips.

First, make it your business to get informed.  There are plenty of great web sites offering advice about menstruation and the problems women experience during their cycle.  Try NHS Direct or netdoctor.co.uk.  Possibly as many as a third of women could relieve some of their menstrual distress and pain with appropriate treatment.  You will only know if your loved one is suffering unnecessarily if you take the trouble to show an interest and offer her support.

If you want to understand, from a man’s perspective, what menstruation might feel like, try this great post.  It just might make you think twice about dismissing her moods and her cramps next time!

Second, get engaged.  Starting the conversation about her period is a difficult one for many guys.  A great way to start is to show an interest in the brand of tampons she uses.  Why does she use that brand? Why does she find it the most comfortable?  If you don’t live together, why not try buying her some, and just having them in the bathroom cabinet ‘just in case’.  It will show you care and are thinking about her.

Women, of course, are intimately connected to their monthly cycles.  It’s easy for men to forget this.  There is a great resource aimed at both men and women at PMSbuddy.com.  Here you can enter details of your partners, daughter or mother cycles, and it automatically sends you emails reminding you of when she is due, and offers tips about how to cope as well.  If you’re a women reading this and can’t wait for your fella to take the initiative, you can register too, and send the emails to up to five guys in your life.

Third, know what she needs.  Every woman is different and menstrual problems change throughout the life span.  Take time to know what she needs from you emotionally and physically.  Women often feel vulnerable, in pain, and unattractive during her period.  She needs you to support her through this.  Give her lots of love and understanding.

There are some things, though, best avoided.  One is asking ‘are you on’ or something even less sensitive.  Women often experience this as an accusation and become defensive.  It’s not hard to see why.  You are reducing their unique experiences in the moment to a ‘thing’ which is hardly respectful.  The second is avoiding humour as the only strategy to help you navigate her needs.  Humour is great from time to time, but if it’s your only strategy, you’ll be sending the message that what she is going through is not important to you.

I do understand this is a difficult topic for blokes to get to grips with.  But doing so will reap rewards in your relationship.  She will feel closer and more loved by you.  Do be sensitive to her needs for privacy and her own embarrassment talking about the subject.  This isn’t an easy conversation for both men and women, but if you love her, it’s a conversation worth engaging in.  Over time you will both become comfortable with it.

For me, the biggest benefit of blokes getting to grips with this is the help you can then extend to your daughters.  If you can engage with your partner, you will be more able to ‘be there’ for your daughter when the time comes.  Daughters need their fathers to be comfortable about menstruation, to normalise it for her, make her feel accepted, and to give her a good role model of how to manage this aspect of her life with other men.


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Women’s Equality Day

Since 1971, the 26th August has been designated women’s equality day. It’s a day when women, and some men, reflect on the sexism that is still faced by women around the world.

Perhaps in the West we have made progress towards female equality, some would say not enough. But for great swathes of humanity women continue to be oppressed by men in the most horrific ways. Women are denied an education. The right to vote. To manage their own affairs. To get justice. Even their right to life is brutally repressed in some cultures that ‘honour’ female murder. In countries that prize boys over girls, birth rates show that many female foetuses are electively aborted.

Why am I writing about women’s equality on a men’s well-being blog? Well I suppose the main reason is to set the record straight about a few things.

The first thing is I’m not a ‘male supremacist’. I am interested in men’s experience, but it doesn’t follow that I think men’s experience is somehow ‘better’ or more ‘valid’ than women’s experience. It is not my intention to be sexist when I talk about men and the issues they face.

Second, although I work with men, I always receive supervision from women. All therapists turn to a fellow professional to discuss and receive support for the work they do with clients. Supervision acts as a kind of quality control. It is really important to me that I get a women’s input into my work with men. This helps to counteract any sense of collusion in a ‘boys club’. It also brings a women’s perspective into the room when I work with a man. This is invaluable and many men have benefited from their input.

Third, although I think that men and women are equal, I think this is a political equality. What then becomes difficult to talk about is the real differences that exist in men and women’s psychology. For too long science has been scared off by the feminist critique into reporting gender differences in brains and behaviour. Political equality does not mean that men and women are the same. We are only at the beginning of understanding how and why this is the case.

Finally, I am motivated by the failure of feminism itself. Feminism lets women down by failing to offer a credible model of gender relations. Feminism all too often becomes simply an interest group. What we really need is a political ideology of gender relations that transcends the interest of any one group. My point is that we can’t do that until we really understand men in their own terms. It is this which forms my motivation to working with men.

So on this day which celebrates the ideal of women’s equality, I want to extend my support, and encourage other men to do the same.  Why?  Because it is in supporting the oppressed that we dignify our own humanity.

Women Go for Smart and Generous Guys

Ever wondered what women go for in a man? Well research by Mark Prokosch and his team and reported in the Journal Evolution and Behaviour suggests that women tend to go for guys with more intelligence.

The researchers filmed guys performing a range of routine tasks then played the films back to women. Not only were the women rating the guys with higher IQ’s as more desirable, they were also pretty smart themselves at rating a guys intelligence.

Maybe men should be better advised to hit the library rather than the gym, at least if they want to maximise their pulling power! But if you are not smart, there is a way round it. Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller (Miller, 2009) argues that women also go for generous guys. It shows, so he argues, that they have plenty of resources and so are free to share. This makes them an ideal mate, making it more likely that women will shower the man with food and sex by way of encouraging a commitment.

So I guess the best advice is look smart, act generously.

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