First, check out the introduction post here before you get started. Also, if you haven’t read the summary for Chapter 2 on Respect, Chapter 3 on Insecurity, Chapter 4 on Thought Processes, Chapter 5 on Providing, Chapter 6 on Sex you may want to do that as well. This post will assume you’ve read them.
Disclaimer: this is a summary of Chapter 7 in the book For Women Only not my own thoughts, feelings or research.
Let’s get started.
Tl;dr: It’s impossible for him to not look and hard to forget what he’s seen.
When we say that men are visual, this means that men are instinctively pulled towards live and recollected images of women. As a woman it might be hard to understand this. Regardless of whether or not they want it, the wiring of the male brain creates a instinctive pull to visually consume the image of an attractive woman. These images can be live or recollections and are just as alluring either way.
This comes up for men in two ways. The first is when a woman who is dressed to show off a great body. This woman is an eye magnet and it is difficult for a man to avoid noticing her. Even when he he doesn’t look, he is acutely aware of her presence. The second is through mental image files that every man keeps. Even when an eye magnet woman is not present every man has a mental file of images that can intrude without warning or be called up at will.
What every woman should know about the visual wiring of men.
Both looking and remembering are related to a type of brain wiring that is almost universal among men (some women may have it too, but not most).
A man’s brain structure and chemical mix wire him to be visually oriented. This makes him more likely to perceive attractive images as sexual. It triggers an initial reaction that is instinctive and automatic. From there he can chose to apply willpower on how he will behave.
The response comes from the part of the brain that controls unconscious processes such as digestion and breathing. It is the part that lights up when you are hungry and see a buffet. In this scenario, you will notice and be drawn towards the food on a gut level then your conscious thoughts and will power kick in from a different part of the brain. Clinical studies show these same processes at work when a man sees a woman dressed in an attractive manner. He will be automatically drawn to her before having the conscious thought to pull away.
This is hard to understand because women do not activate the same part of the brain at the sight of an attractive man. When we see an attractive man, our thinking centers light up. And we think “he’s an attractive man”. From the onset, ours is a thinking response. This makes it difficult for women to understand the automatic and reflexive nature of a man’s response to sexy stimuli.
Compulsion One: A man can’t not notice
From the surveys: Imagine you are sitting alone in a train station and a woman with a great body walks in and stands in line. What is your reaction?
98% of men respond that they cannot not notice. While only 4% say that they will openly stare and drool, 76% are drawn to sneak a peak and 18% are acutely aware that the woman is there and struggle not to look. Only 2% of men have no reaction.
These results are the same across demographics. Nearly all men describe having difficult not looking when they are exposed to a sexy woman.
Compulsion Two: A man has a mental photo file of sensual images
We know from chapter 6 that men think about sex a lot. What we might not realize is that they aren’t thinking about this in words (“I’d like to have sex tonight”) rather they have a sensual picture in their head.
These pictures can be of us, their loving wives and girlfriends but not always. Sometimes, these can be images that are burned into their brains from what they’ve seen out in the world.
At times these mental pictures can be memories of you. Other times they are memories of a woman he saw walking down the street three weeks ago. Still other times it can be a Playboy magazine he read three months back. One man claimed to have an unending supply of pictures in his head stretching back to his teens.
From the surveys: Many men have a set of sensual images that rise up or can be conjured up in their minds, does this apply to you?”
Only 25% of men say that they do not have a set of mental images. The remainder claim that they do have those pictures in their head and they can either be recent or from years gone by. A full 87% of men say that these images regularly pop up in their minds.
This is so different from how women experience the world that the author’s husband didn’t believe her when she told him this doesn’t happen to her. He thought she was embarrassed to admit the truth, and couldn’t believe her until a group of women shared her denial. We truly are wired differently!
Why these pictures pop up
There is a shortcut for certain types of memories that bypasses the thinking centers of the brain. It is traced to the amygdala which is the part that acts as a repository for the memories that are tied to gut level responses. The instinctive reaction to a provocatively dressed woman is exactly the sort of gut level memory that is stored away in the amygdala. These visceral images are able to bypass thinking and simply pop back up in his mind.
We, women, might experience something similar with emotions which is what our brains are wired to process. If you’ve had emotional memories pop up unexpectedly (or unwantedly) then you understand what these picture-memories are for men
Now, imagine what the sex saturated culture must be like. The act of living today can be a minefield for a man who doesn’t want these images in his brain or a smorgasbord for a man who does. Husband listened to this chapter with me and jumped in at this point:
Yes! It’s all over. I mean, YOGA PANTS! And at the gym, some women don’t even wear underwear!!
Men told the author that these sexual thoughts or images barge into their brain all the time. Of course, we want to know what "all the time" means and one man describes it like this:
If you are talking about a teenage boy all the time means all. the. time. It can be every few hours and last for a half hour before the thought passes. For a 20 something man it is still pretty frequent. Once men reach their 30s an onward it is less frequent and more often triggered by something. Once those thoughts are triggered, the man has to make a great effort to tear them down if he wants to. The longer he entertains the image, the harder it is to get rid of.
These thoughts are both normal and have no bearing on a man’s devotion to his relationship.
How it works
Step 1: For every man sensual images & thoughts arise involuntarily. Men have the thoughts whether they want them or not. If the stimulus is there so is the response. It might not even register to the man that he had the thought until a second or two after it occurs.
Try this thought experiment to understand how it works.
Imagine walking into a classroom and seeing these words on the board: Don’t Read This
I tell you, “no really, don’t read it, just look at the letters”. Did you not read it?
That is what it’s like for a guy. His brain reads “Nice Body” just like you read “don’t read this”.
Step 2: Every man’s involuntary physical impulse is to enjoy the feelings associated with the thoughts and images. Because men are hardwired to be sexual hunters, every thought & image associated with that pursuit comes with powerful feelings.
When a sensual image enters a man’s mind, it brings a rush of temporary pleasure. This initial physical sensation is involuntary.
The author relays a story. When her son was 4 years old, he stopped in front of the Victoria Secret store and he stared in awe. When his parents asked him what he was doing, he pointed and said “I like those ladies, their bare tummies make my tummy feel good”. At four, he was obviously too young to understand sex, but he still had a male brain and thus the same reaction as all men.
A married man describes the physical sensation to the author:
When an image plays on a man’s brian or he gazes at an attractive woman, it’s not just pure lust. There is a thrill there. A man can go back to that adrenaline rush by entertaining those images.
The feeling is both enticing and difficult to resist.
Step 3: Every man can make a choice to dwell on the images and thoughts or dismiss them. Many men make the decisions to strike down these unwanted mental pictures. The biggest factor in whether a man made this choice was whether or not he regularly attended religious services. Because religion’s demand mental purity, those men disciplined themselves to stop looking.
Reassurances for the wives and girlfriends
ONE He probably wishes he could reserve his visual nature just for you. Most men said they enjoy being visual but would reserve it entirely for their partners if they could. They don’t love the distraction that today’s images regularly throw at him.
TWO He can see a beautiful woman without sexual temptation. The temptation to look often isn’t sexual. A lot of it is about admiring beauty.
THREE Every man is different and discipline makes a difference. Each man experiences a different level of temptation. For some it’s a small nuisance and for some it’s a stumbling block. Have you ever struggled to not eat a piece of cake? Some women will have an easier time turning away while others will have an internal struggle.
FOUR It’s not because of you. Some of us may wonder, What is wrong with me? Am I not attractive enough? This truly is something that every man experiences and has little to do with you. Love your husband as a man. This is a part of what makes him a man. Even if you were a model, your husband would still experience these images.
FIVE. This doesn't impact his feelings for you. The biological temptation has no impact on a man’s feelings for his SO. There is no competition between his wife and the woman who catches his eye. It is truly just an observation of the other woman.
What’s a woman to do?
In short, nothing. Do not be alarmed and try to change your man. Do not hound or punish your man for his wiring. Just as we expect our men to not dwell on these thoughts, he should be able to expect us to not dwell on our insecurities. If you feel worry rising up remember that this is one of element of male-ness. You will not find a man who isn’t wired this way.
A churchgoing man speaks: “I wish my wife would accept the struggle I have with lust and encourage me rather than freak out and conclude the worst about me. The more I can reveal my weakness without being judged or accused or without a major crisis in our relationship resulting from my transparency the more I know I am loved for who I am and not for who she wants me to be”.
Do we love the men in our lives for who they are or for who we want them to be? Do we want to support our men or change them?
The only person you can change is yourself. If you find your man noticing other women, handle it with maturity and grace even if it makes you uncomfortable. It is destructive to become hurt and suspicious when it’s not warranted. Be a support and a soft place to land. If you aren’t safe to talk to, he won’t talk to you.
Notice and appreciate his efforts to not look. If you pay attention, you’ll see how often he is exposed to attractive women and sexy images. Love him for the effort he makes not to look. Sometimes, commenting on the woman (”Hey, she was pretty”) will relieve his stress at the effort not to notice.
The author, coming from a Christian background, recommends that now that you understand how men view the world, you consider respecting men by dressing in a modest manner. Men find it hard to believe that women don’t realize what they are doing when they dress in a provocative manner. Because our brains are not wired in the same way, many women do not realize. The imagines in men’s heads come from somewhere and we can help not provide those images to men who do not want them. We may think we look cute but he’s instinctively picturing us naked. Religious men in particular struggle to keep their thoughts pure and you in a short skirt isn’t helping.
While I don’t personally ascribe to her beliefs, I do believe that if you are going to dress in a sexy and attention grabbing manner (and ladies this includes anything from downright trashy to the pencil skirt that hugs your butt at work), then you cannot get upset with your man for taking a peak at another girl on the street.
Love and understand your man rather than letting your own insecurities punish him for something he cannot control