The Single Most Important Skill of the 21st Century That Will Take Your Career to the Next Level

The world of work is changing rapidly.

Today we work in a knowledge-based world. And your collective knowledge about your yourself and your industry are the key to your future.

As time passes, it becomes even more apparent that knowledge begets knowledge, and new competencies drive careers forward.

You may not realize it, but your skills, knowledge, and competency (past, present) are either helping you advance your career or hindering your progress in life.

Learnability (the desire and capability to develop in-demand skills) makes you indispensable

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. — Alvin Toffler

When was the last time you read something from an unusual perspective in your industry?

When have you taken the time to wrap your head around a new industry?

Change is constant in today’s workplace.

To keep up, you need to keep learning. Learning drives adaptability.

Most people know this, but it’s often easier said than done.

Between deadlines, meetings, family life and everything else in between, there isn’t much time for a career-boosting class but you can change that.

As long as you are ready to take responsibility for your career.

No matter where you are on the career ladder, it’s important to continue learning and develop new skills.

It’s the only to survive in the 21st century.

Brian Tracy once said, “Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge that they can apply to their work and to their lives will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future.”

He is right! The ability to acquire better forms of knowledge and apply it when necessary will make you great at what you do.

Investing in learning new skills is essential to stay relevant in a changing landscape as the economy evolves and technology improves.

Embrace career learning

The more you learn, the more you earn. — Warren Buffett

Learning helps you become more open to change. Learning new skills should not be a source of fear and stress.

You can make time to improve yourself and get better at what you do.

When people embrace lifelong learning, it becomes another part of their career journey.

A learning mindset makes it less likely you’ll be thrown off when a project changes, your employer changes growth strategy, or when a job function undergoes transformation.

While others scramble to figure out where to go from here, lifelong learners maintain momentum and productivity even in the face of radical change at work.

Personal career development is fulfilling.

A continuous learning process will both stimulate and empower you as you acquire the relevant knowledge, values, skills, and understanding you will need throughout your lifetime.

A learning mindset means you can freely move between tasks, jobs, regions, and countries. It’s the one skill that can take all of your other skills to the next level.

And guess what, the ability to learn and adapt in any work environment will be there for you at every stage of your career, no matter what else changes in our unpredictable world.

Short-term and long-term learning goals

Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough. — Alain de Botton

Time is finite.

We only get the next hour once, and then it’s gone forever. So choices about how we spend or invest our time come with real opportunity costs.

Think about the skills and knowledge you need to stay current now and prepare for the future.

You don’t have to learn every skill at once but you owe it to yourself to be the best you can be.

To be an effective learner, any skill you choose to learn should fit into the bigger picture of your life and work — your career path.

Learning can help you meet immediate or future needs.

If you intend to improve your skills in the next three or six months, you can get feedback from your employer about your skills that may need upgrading.

Other clues like tasks you tend to avoid or struggle with because of knowledge or skills you don’t have can help you choose what to focus on now or in the future.

You can also focus on the big picture, define your career path and choose the skills you need to get to your ultimate career goal.

This can help you develop new skills that will be useful beyond your current position. If you want to pursue a specific management role, find resources to help you build the skills you need to prepare yourself for the future.

You can even find a mentor and talk about your learning goals and what to focus on to advance your career.

What’s your learning style?

Do you learn best on your own or in a group? Do you prefer audio, video or a combination of both?

Are you a hands-on learner?

Depending on your current circumstances, you can pick the opportunities that suit your learning style including hands-on workshops, or video-based course if your learning style is visual.

In the abundance-based economy of online learning, opportunities are endless. You can learn on your own, at work, from mentors or role models.

You can also learn online following blogs, downloading podcasts, taking a class, etc. Or through magazines, journals, seminars, videos, and broadcasts. And you can also learn by attending classes at an educational institution, in person or online.

All kinds of learning opportunities are just a “click” or a conversation away.

Create an action plan and pursue learning like your career depends on it. State your goals, timelines and resources you need to achieve every goal.

And then set up a series of steps to start you on your way to a successful learning experience.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re considering changing jobs, applying for a promotion or starting a new career, upgrading your skills changes everything.

Learning is an investment that usually pays for itself in increased earnings.

No matter what level of education you have, if you want to succeed, you need to keep on learning.

More than ever, learning is for life if you want to stay relevant, indispensable and thrive in the changing world of work.

Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today!

Adapted from my recent book: Working in the Gig Economy: How to Thrive and Succeed When You Choose to Work for Yourself. It’s a guide to successfully navigate the new flexible and changing world of work, and pitch yourself as an indispensable expert in your industry.

Originally published on Medium

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The post The Single Most Important Skill of the 21st Century That Will Take Your Career to the Next Level appeared first on The Good Men Project.

from The Good Men Project

What Are We Going To Do About the ‘Creepy Uncles”?

There have been many articles written about Joe Biden’s conduct in his work environment, and the usual debate has ensued: What is acceptable; who is responsible to do something about it; and does he get a pass or not. A recent episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” addressed this, and it went something like this:

Maher: When are women just going to stand up for themselves in the moment?
Gideon Rose: It is up to men to not put women in these situations.
Maher: Men are never going to act perfectly.

While I acknowledge Mr. Rose for pointing out that the responsibility of handling the “creepy uncles” in our world does not fall on women, there were several points missed in the conversation. First and foremost, women have not “spoken out in the moment it happens” because they have had a long history of being told to deal with it, of not being believed, of being victim-blamed, shamed, and dismissed, and have had situations made worse by their speaking out.

Too sensitiveChelsea Handler, who was also Maher’s guest that night, did say that while she is someone who has no problem telling someone off in the moment, not all women are like her. In addition to the history of women not having been believed, there is also the reality of how we, as individuals, deal with trauma.

In my article “More Than ‘No’: How Can We Re-Write the Rules for Consent?”, I describe an encounter a friend had with a man in which she froze in response to his advances. Fear responses like this take quite a bit of work to overcome; often, it takes years. When you factor in that the unwanted touching came from a man in power, in Biden’s case, many other considerations come into play as well in regards to job security, safety and the question of “will anyone listen and do something about it?”

In my book, Man School: Relating with Women in the #MeToo Era, I detail the accounts of women who did not advocate for themselves because their experiences have been that “no one will do anything,” “men can get belligerent,” and “it would probably make it worse if [they] do push back.” Even Terry Crews’ accounts have been questioned—being a large and muscular man, why didn’t he push back? He did not push back because there was much more at play besides his own physical space, such as his career.

Who, then, is responsible? And who is to blame?

We are all responsible, and “blame” is one of those polarizing concepts that does not serve this conversation. If we want this type of thing to end, we all need to be involved. In recent years, as a parent, it has been wonderful to see my children being taught in school to advocate for themselves and to assert their boundaries for themselves and their bodies. This was missing when I was a child, and I believe it makes a difference for them to know that they have a say in who they touch and who touches them. What is missing now, is teaching them to support each other, and collectively work-together in keeping each other safe.

Bill Maher’s dismissal of where men can be responsible, by saying that “men will never act perfectly,” is, well, just that: a dismissal. We, men, do not have to be perfect or act perfectly; in fact, there is no perfect. What we get to do, though, is to get interested in each other and widen our scope of what is appropriate and what is not. We get to hold each other and ourselves accountable, and recognize that if someone is offended, feels harassed, or violated, we can listen to them and discover what actions there may be to take.

There was a creepy man who was married to my grandmother. He was old, blind and “not quite there.” Forty years ago, when he was alive, he would consistently try to cop a feel with the girls and women in my family. At that time, everyone would awkwardly joke about him while the girls and women still gave him the obligatory hug “hello” or “goodbye” as fast as they could to avoid his grasp.

If this occurred today, with everyone being responsible for each other’s safety, it could play out like this: The men and women in the family would make sure that no one would ever have to go near him if they did not want to, and he would be told to knock it off.

Often times, the people affected by sexualized assault have a need to feel heard and understood. They don’t want to have someone argue with them over their experiences. From there, we can find ways to prevent inappropriate behaviors and to correct those that have already happened.

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from The Good Men Project

Tough; Not Tough

I know some tough people. They come from different backgrounds and different circumstances. One thing they have in common is a lack of interest in anyone’s awareness of their toughness. They know that toughness is earned through physical and/or emotional endeavors and, therefore, a personal matter.

They are humbled by the process. They are the ones who often do things that most of us could not / would not, like stare down insurmountable odds or stand up for someone in need of assistance. They understand that physical pain is an emotion and that emotional pain is far more excruciating.

Tough people don’t act tough or talk tough. It can’t be bought and it can’t be faked. Though some people try, through shallow rhetoric rooted in insult and shame and threat; but tough people know these people are pretenders – those who never curled a fist or taken a punch or had to handle personal devastation, chronic injustice, or overwhelming obstacles.

They are the first ones to run when the shit goes down and the first ones to complain when things don’t go their way. They are liars and cheaters and indifferent to the lives of others. They point fingers when their plans go wrong and take credit that is not deserved. To them, toughness is about projection not practice. In public life, we see so much more of the wannabes than the genuine article.

It’s amazing how mankind, again and again, falls for the act of the tough talker. That privileged poser who makes false promises while preaching to the choir, who can’t take criticism and lashes out wildly in defense of their own thin skin. Whose mechanism isn’t engagement but destruction of all threats. And it’s a disgrace how often they prevail.

Societies have forever fallen for the image instead of the actuality. So many are so impressed by the fake tough that we overlook the qualities that the genuinely tough exhibit in the examples of their lives and the courage of their convictions.

We need to demand more walk than talk from those who seek our support. We need more show and less tell.

ID: 794832013

The post Tough; Not Tough appeared first on The Good Men Project.

from The Good Men Project

How to Grow from Your Ex’s Feedback

Dear Chelsea,

My boyfriend broke up with me last week after about 10 months of dating. We got along well and shared similar values. There were certainly things about him that didn’t fall into the bucket of what I imagined as my perfect partner, but for me, I was able to overlook all those flaws because he was the nicest guy I had ever dated. I was the first true “girlfriend” he had had, at age 27.

The problem was that he wasn’t willing to open up to me. When we broke up, he said it was because he wasn’t falling in love with me. I became defensive and countered that he didn’t allow room for any type of love to grow because he never opened up to me. He was almost a textbook case of “emotionally unavailable” in my eyes, but his perspective it was simply an issue of finding the right person who would shake that out of him and allow him to open up (which clearly was not me).

I asked him for feedback post-mortem since he never gave me any along the way, and he said that one thing that drove him nuts about me was my critical nature (I took extra care to not criticize him, but he said he would get upset when I would criticize others) and my anxiety-driven perfectionism. This led him, he said, to be an emotional support pillar in times when he thought there was no need for emotional support at all. These are two things I’m very self-aware about and have taken strides to improve over the years, but ultimately I do think that to some degree, they make me who I am.

So my question is this—I want to improve myself and my next relationship, but how much of what my ex said is just a lack of compatibility, and how much of it is something I should work on changing about myself? I’d like to think I could find someone out there who would find my perfectionism “cute” or something, but maybe that’s just being unrealistic. With this character trait, and others that pose a threat to relationships—how much am I supposed to bend, and how do I know what I should stand up for and not compromise on?

Ready to Grow, Maybe

Dear Ready to Grow, Maybe,

You remind me of myself many, many moons ago. Back when I was the first true girlfriend, like you, to a man who was also 27.

That was seven years ago and still I can barely write a story without mentioning him. Geoff Dyer says he likes to write stuff that’s only an inch from life. It’s a form of self-compensation, a way of making up for things, as opposed to making things up. Part of me has always suspected that I write to make up for everything that was never said, to acknowledge just how unacceptable my own love has been.

I was in that relationship for three and a half years and I can’t tell you if I was ever genuinely happy. All I remember is exerting so much effort all the time, trying to pry open a man who wanted me to love him but leave him alone. His emotional unavailability tortured me. And maybe what tortured me most was the reality that he was a nice guy and I was becoming meaner toward him and myself every day. 

But he never wavered.

Not everyone is made for you and that is relief.

He was nice and simple. He spent his free time in the library reading Tagore or walking for hours, observing ordinary moments and stopping for tea or a pastry. He lived with a rabbit and without the internet. He taught literature to high school students and lost his voice shouting for solidarity in the streets. He wanted to leave his “things” behind and float through India with nothing but a mosquito net. He wanted to fall asleep early and wake up with the life of Kerouac. I was so judgmental.

A few weeks ago I was sifting through my closet when I came across a batch of letters he had written me. As I read them my heart ached, and that surprised me. It surprised me that for the last years I had been writing my way out of the chaos that was our romance, out of pain and denial and into revelation, only to find that during our relationship all he had ever written me with was softness and steadiness and dedication.

His letters were simple, just like him, and it would have been obvious to anyone reading them that the man writing me was nice. Still, as plain and clear as that was, nothing could hush the restlessness that rushed in on me all over again as I read his words. The same restlessness I had always felt around him. The restlessness that overcame me when he’d talk about the weather and the people puttering around, when he’d reference the temperature and a passage from a book.

I wanted the juicy details! Not these.

I didn’t need to hear for the 10,000 time that he loved me. I wanted to hear what he thought about when he couldn’t sleep. I wanted to understand why he couldn’t touch me with the same passion. I wanted to know why he was the way he was. The truth is, I needed to know if he was interested in changing.

You see, I wanted to be in his life, but I didn’t want his life.

Which, I guess, means I wanted him in my life, in my world. I wanted him to give up on who he wanted to be and follow me into my days. Because even though I didn’t have much of a life outside of him, I believed I could lead a better life. And, you know what, that isn’t fair.

I’m telling you this not because I’m proud but because criticism, even if we keep it hush hush and only in our mind, only in our expectations, is cruel.  

Can’t you hear that, how unnecessarily critical I was about a man who was harmless and only doing his best?

I’m telling you this because more than a boyfriend who is nice, women like you and me need men who are honest. Unapologetically honest. Believe me, I wish my ex would have broken up with me after ten months as yours did with you. I wish he would have shaken me awake with feedback about myself. Who knows, maybe then I wouldn’t need to write my way into my own answers like I do. But, more than anything, I wish he would have told me that my criticism was killing him and my perfectionism was killing me. 

Instead he kept his mouth shut, and if I had to blame anyone, I don’t know if I’d blame him or me for that.

You know, no one seems to talk about that very much. How the critic eventually wears its subject down and into silence. How the woman with nerve and expectations can keep a man from becoming who he is meant to be. How good intentions don’t always feel good for the person receiving them.

We use criticism to push others away when we don’t have it in us to turn away on our own.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think for a second you’re a bad person but I do think you can do better. I do think you can be a better person.

The do part is my feeling that you can and should (a terrible word, I know) overcome your critical nature. And not because you want to be more compatible with someone like your ex but because you want to be compatible with people in general. You want to be compatible with the world. But criticism keeps you on the outs. Criticism cries out that you are different from people, that you are above them looking down when you aren’t, when all you are doing is standing back and looking through them.

Criticism, you see, gnaws away at the soul in everything. It separates you from that openness you respect and are seeking out in others. And you know why? Because a critical person is terrifying. There’s always this feeling around them, this dread, this foreboding, that it’s only a matter of time before they come up with something to hound and humiliate and hold against us. 

So, even if you did take extra care not to criticize your ex, and even if you succeeded, the fact that he heard you being tough on others was always going to be enough to give him the impression that he was never really off limits or safe around you.

Who could blame him either?

We all want to protect ourselves from judgment because judgment can create this doubt in us, and doubt can convince us to hold ourselves back from the world, and the reality is we all want to be clueless and careless and wild and free. But the critical-minded bring us back down to earth and their venom is a buzz kill. Why? Well, not just because criticism can be harsh and unnecessary. In fact, sometimes criticism is not just spiteful nonsense at all. Sometimes it really does ring true. And is it any surprise that so many of us never feel prepared to confront the truth of ourselves?

I think your ex didn’t open up to you because he wasn’t prepared for you. He wasn’t prepared for you to see him. He wasn’t prepared for you to see anything that you could then use against him. My feeling is, if you had ever seemed less critical and more understanding, your ex might have taken that chance on you. And wouldn’t you have wanted that, wouldn’t you have wanted him to take a chance? I think you would have because that chance feels a lot like someone opening themselves to love. And isn’t that what you mostly wanted from him, for him to try?

I think the lack of effort I witnessed and received during my own relationship is what triggered so much criticism toward my ex and so much restlessness in me. I never felt like he was risking himself enough, like he was opening up as an almost 30-year-old man should. Part of this was because my criticism shut him down over time, but the other part of it was that, like your boyfriend, he was 27 when we began dating, and he had never had a girlfriend prior to that. That part, you see, had nothing to do with me.

Still I acted as if I had almost wanted it to because at least then I could feel validated for trying so hard to change that part of him. But that was never possible. He was romantically less experienced than me. That was his history. That was his path. That was fact. And, if I was going to be with him, I should have respected that.

What I’ve come to learn is that because of that inexperience, because we were simply at two different places on our love line, we did not love the same way and that is why we were incompatible. That is why we clashed. Because no one can rush anyone into being ready for what they aren’t ready for. Because no one can comfortably yank anyone back to wherever they have already put in their time.

And that is really where my criticism came from, from wanting my ex to be where I was, from wanting to see myself with the love I was after. That is how my restlessness really came about, from feeling like this relationship wasn’t meant to last, from knowing this and insisting that we still try.

You see, I believe we use criticism to push others away from us when we don’t have it in us to turn away on our own, when we don’t have it in us to make the change ourselves. I believe we speak critically in front of people we’d actually like to impress for the very reason that such behavior is unlikable and the truth is we feel trapped in a place where we can’t find what we like so, by acting out unfavorably, we try and trap others in that same place too. 

No wonder we are exhausted.

We use criticism to separate us, to keep us at a distance from our own reality. And often that reality is, we have brought something into our world that frustrates us and it frustrates us not because it is inherently wrong or flawed or useless but because it is wrong for us. Because it reminds us that this is not where we want to be. It reminds us that we do not yet have what we prefer, what we are after, what our gut tells us we need. And this makes us feel like we are the ones who are useless to whatever or whomever we are surrounded by.

We use criticism to separate us, to keep us at a distance from our own reality.

Listen, I don’t know what “all those flaws” that you mention overlooking in your ex were, but I do know that no one wants to be overlooked, even if all you’re overlooking is the stain in their teeth or how quiet they become around your friends. As women, especially, I think we underestimate how much our disappointment shows and how much that hurts the men we are in a partnership with.

Moving forward, my feeling is, you need to be privy to this, to the possibility that men pick up on more than we’d ever assume.

My feeling is, you have to be sensitive to this too, to how your expectations make others feel like they are not where they need to be, when the reality is your criticism is a sign that it’s you who is restless with where you are. 

From one recovering critic to another, the more you can see that in your criticism of others you are really carrying an expectation you have for yourself, the more you will be able to focus on bringing to life the very experiences that satisfy you.

Start here. Instead of reading someone and making a statement about them, if and when you read someone realize that what bubbles up is a statement about you. Trust me, if you listen right, you will lead yourself into directions that benefit you rather than create a resistance within you.

For instance, my ex loved to nap, and I used to roll my eyes and judge him ruthlessly for coming home after work and curling up like a cat. I thought he was lazy, lackluster, and would ultimately fail to be the businessman I knew my father to be. It wasn’t until after our relationship that I came clean about what my judgment was really about.

The truth was, I was tired. I was tired of myself. I was tired of my excuses. And I was tired of the way I was spending my days. I wanted to take a nap, but I grew up with a father who told me at a very early age that people who nap are depressed.

You see, my father worked hard and never napped. He had more energy and responsibility than anyone I knew, and every morning he woke up happy. He was a perfectionist, and I wanted to be perfect like him too. I wanted to repay him by living like he did. But the reality was that for most of my twenties, I was depressed, very depressed, and I was too afraid to close my eyes or be honest about how badly I was aching to.

This, of course, was the anxiety of perfectionism. And it wasn’t cute. Not at all. It caused me to sink deeper into my depression. It caused me to isolate myself and criticize those I was closest to. And because I was often too tired to think, my perfectionism never let me get much of anything accomplished. The irony, right? Napping would have been more productive than whatever I was up to.

But I had a lot of shame in those days, and naps especially represented that shame. It represented everything that I wanted to do, but wouldn’t let myself do. It was an activity where criticism and expectation collided.

So, why was I so hard on my boyfriend for doing the very thing I wish I could have been doing? Obviously it was because I wished I could be doing it. I wished that I would let myself. And even further, the reason I made my boyfriend suffer under my own criticism was because, unlike me, he wasn’t suffering from his choices at all. He wasn’t ashamed that he was tired, only I was. He wasn’t trying to lead the life of a businessman, he was a teacher. He wasn’t trying to live up to the image of my father. He just wanted to get better at being himself. In hindsight, I don’t blame him. Today I even think it’s admirable.

Love people in a way that frees them to be more of who they are.

My advice is, the moment you see someone for who they are, you either need to encourage that or let them go find the person who will. The moment you begin trying to shape someone into your vision and stuff them inside your perfect partner bucket, you need to zip tie your hands and go busy yourself with yourself.

My advice is, love people in a way that frees them to be more of who they are.

And if you don’t like who they are, my advice is don’t ask them to stick around, don’t let them waste their time trying to fit into a life that is not meant for them because, you know what, not everyone is made for you and that is a relief.

My advice is, take this seriously. If you hold on to one thing, let it be that criticism speaks the least truth about those being spoken of and the most about the speaker. Please don’t let yourself be as shortsighted as I was that you miss gaining the insight that will relieve you of your own judgment.

I can tell you now that I refused to see my criticism and perfectionism for what it really was because, at the root of it, I didn’t trust that I could handle the feelings I had about myself. I guess I expected myself to crack under the pressure of my own reality which is why for so long I made everything about everyone else.

It wasn’t until my boyfriend and I broke up, and I had no one, that I was overcome with the truth about how I felt about me. Feeling those feelings, though, as painful and unprepared as I was, was what I had to do to recover myself, to realize myself, to soften enough to love again, and ultimately stand in acceptance of not only me but others.

If anything can inspire you to use your relationship and your ex’s parting words to peel back the veil on yourself, maybe my story can. I mean, look what I’m doing today. A woman who once overlooked her ex and judged him for being too simple is now a columnist receiving heartbreaking stories in the hopes that she can see struggles for what they really are and simplify them enough to make them bearable. People come to me because they don’t feel like I will judge them. And today, they are right. There is no part of me that needs to have an opinion of others, or even wants to, because I know how much the opinion I had of myself crippled me and how the opinions I made of others were just diversions from what I knew to be unbearable about myself.

My advice is, don’t bend. Stretch. Let every relationship, be it romantic or platonic, stretch you. Don’t just bend to the needs of others. Let their needs stretch you and see how that feels. If you feel strained, let go. If you feel you might snap, give them up. But if you feel like there’s some muscle in you that’s being tested, stick it out, breathe into it, feel your way through, and find out what part of you is trying to get stronger.

Believe me, your ex’s feedback isn’t gospel. It’s merely a call to look into yourself. If you can’t get over his feedback, explore it.

To walk away from a relationship without learning more about who you are would just be wasteful.

My advice is waste nothing and use everything to enlighten yourself.



PS: Cuteness and niceness are qualities far too modest for a woman who has the grit to ask her ex for honesty. So my parting advice is, be more honest and less cute. I have a feeling that will work wonders for you.

Originally published on

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from The Good Men Project

What Is This Thing Called 21st Century Masculinity, Anyway?

1) 21st century men cry.

“I have always worn my emotions on my sleeve. Some are more acceptable to the traditional norms of masculinity than others. Anger…ok, happy…that works too, frustrated……of course, sadness…….um, wait a minute, that’s weakness, don’t be bringing that weak shit around here…I used to wonder whether crying made me weak and I guess I would be lying if I said there was probably a time I would have gone somewhere private to cry. But the conclusion I have come to is this. My ability to express my emotion without apology is perhaps one of the bravest things about me.”

Read “I’m a Man and I Cry” by Paul Gillbride


2) They know that locker room talk will kill them.

“To begin with, of course locker room talk doesn’t mean that every man who indulges in it is a predator, but it most certainly perpetuates a culture in which predators can hide. The term “locker room talk” is literally designed to insulate men who speak this way, as if they exist in some kind of mythical man-only space. There is no such space….The term “locker room talk” is a morally bankrupt excuse for what men choose to say and where we choose to say it, as if the context in which we say something somehow excuses the harm it represents.

But here’s something else that men also need to understand. Men need to understand how much damage locker room talk does TO MEN.”

Read Locker Room Talk Will Kill You” by Mark Greene


3) Modern men believe there are dozens of different ways to define the phrase “man up”. And none of them need to be used to demean men or make them feel as if they are falling short of some masculine ideal.

“When I was growing up, “man up” was used to enforce my behavior, especially when I expressed emotion, appeared weak or needed help. As an adult, I continue to watch men around me use the phrase to promote senseless violence, homophobia, sexual conquest, and the most destructive of male behaviors—excessive drinking, drug use, and high stakes risk-taking.

I am on a mission to reclaim and redefine what the phrase “man up” means, so that boys and young men coming of age now can be spared from its wrath.  There is a critical mass of men already helping to challenge the outdated model of masculinity (many of which are regular readers and contributors of The Good Men Project), but it’s time for all of us to finally come together and embrace this urgent movement to redefine what it means to be a man. By doing so, we are not only advocating for our own well-being, but also promoting a better, healthier, safer, happier world for all.

For example, Man Up = Forgive: Whether it’s the jerk on the L train or your father, make peace and let go.”

Read 25 Ways to Redefine the Phrase ‘Man Up’ by Carlos Andrés Gómez


4) An enlightened 21st century man will realize that marriage is not the death of all things masculine.

“At any given instant, I could spew a furious and multiplying list of reasons on why the institution of marriage was irrevocably fucked up:

    • I don’t want to doom our relationship by following impossible expectations
    • Marriage always turns into friendship with diminishing bennies. Why complicate something so simple as love?
    • Marriage is slow-motion castration. Why sublimate my sexuality for a daydream?
    • Marriage kills the romance and the sexual chemistry of a good relationship. Why ruin a good thing for an impossible ideal?
    • Marriage is a baby boomer obsession. Gen X and Gen Y don’t have the same hang-ups. We can get down or disengage whenever we want

In some cases, these arguments are still valid. But something changed inside me three years ago. I was driving through K-town with a friend when I had this epiphany: I don’t have to get married for all the fucked-up reasons I abhor marriage, I can get married for all the things that make marriage beautiful.”

Read “Marriage Is Not the Death of All Things Masculine” by Jackson Bliss


5) Men today can and do escape the Man Box. All the time.

Men are bullied and policed for not saying inside the “Man Box”. And when names are called, they almost always fit into one of three groups: gay, female, loser. That says pretty interesting things about homophobia and sexism. Those are the bricks that make up the Man Box and shame is the mortar that holds it together. The Man Box is one of main reasons why men harass women on the street and why catcalling and violence tends to escalate when men are in groups.

Read more about the Man Box and how to rid yourself of it in Escape the ‘Act Like a Man’ Box by Charlie Glickman


6) Men of today are totally fine with a woman saying “no” to them. No matter what the reason.

SOME MEN simply just don’t want a woman to say “no” to them. For any reason.

They simply can’t imagine a women saying the following words to them. It would be a personal affront, a sign of failure, just something they cannot handle as reasonable adults.

“No, I don’t want you to kiss me.”
“No, I can’t give you that promotion.”
“No, that report isn’t good enough.”
“No, I don’t want to flirt.”
“No, I can’t give raises across the board.”
“No, your idea isn’t going to work.”
“No, I’m too tired to have sex with you tonight.”
“No, I’d prefer you didn’t touch me there.”
“No, we cannot pass this bill as written.”

I have seen this firsthand. I have been told this overtly in workplace settings; I have been told this overtly in sexual settings. The gist of what I am told is: “I’m not going to have some woman tell me “no”.”

And what happens is—-if a guy is one of those guys who won’t take “no” from a woman—they will do everything they can to undermine her if she does say “no”.

A woman saying “no” is not a clear path to bad behavior not happening. For abusers, saying “no” has it has the opposite effect.

Saying “no” to an abuser leads to more abuse.

From “How the Word ‘No’ is the Bridge Between Sexual Assault and Sexism in the Workplace by Lisa Hickey


7) Masculinity is being constantly redefined. But traditional stereotypes are still omnipresent. Here’s how one man sees it: “How To Be a Man”

“When I volunteer at my oldest daughter’s elementary school—or just observe as I walk across the campus where I teach—I don’t see some entrenched “p.c.” culture war being waged, successfully or not, to turn boys into, well, me. I still see those traditional roles and ideas normalized, reinforced, lionized, on the playground, on the sidewalk, in the classroom, by their peers and adults alike. And for boys whose definitions of young manhood are different, who don’t play ball on the field or blacktop or act in “boy” ways and do “boy” things, well—I don’t see them. I’m not saying they’re not there, but just like me at that age, in that situation, maybe they’re off somewhere else, doing their own thing, not calling attention to themselves, because everything they’ve imbibed about what it means to be a man tells them to avoid that attention or suffer the consequences.

Read more at “How to Be a Man” by Jason Sperber


8) Men often use humor to hide the pain of sadness, despair, and even mental illness. But there will come a time when they can just be themselves.

From a young age, men learn to endure pain and unhappiness and become master manipulators of their own mask—donning smiles and humorous quips—because admitting to feeling mentally exhausted is considered a sign of weakness. They continue despite the fact that they’re bleeding profusely and hurting. It’s not far-fetched to consider that the role of fixer or problem solver begins in childhood and grounds men throughout their lives. Society’s gender norms still tell us that boys and men don’t cry and there is no room for insecurities.

‘Fear, sadness, and vulnerability are not masculine and if a man expresses any form of uncertainty, he is unreliable and unstable,’ says society.

— Read “How Men Use Humor to Hide the Relentless Pain of Sadness, Despair and Mental Illness” by Irma Bryant


9) Imagine being so comfortable in your masculinity that you could wear a white dress and barrettes.

“Growing up, haircuts came from a tight-lipped, barrel-chested bald guy named Joe the Barber. On his feet six days a week in a hobbit hole of a shop that reeked of antiseptic and aftershave, Joe wasn’t the cheeriest of coiffeurs. He kept the blinds shut and the conversation limited to the weather, sports, and local tragedies. Joe held curt, grim opinions about all three topics.

Joe specialized in buzz cuts and simple trims. Young customers got lollipops, but those of age could browse a stack of Playboys by the register. Those early experiences in grooming set the tone for my thoughts on masculinity in general. Men held a utilitarian relationship to hair, met the world with a grimace, and enjoyed porn.

…When I went off to Oberlin for college, I decided to let my hair go, as the guys at Salon Francesco would say, au natural. When I complained about it flopping in my eyes, a girl down the hall lent me a barrette. A simple, boring metal clip. I fell in love.

Finally my hair could just be itself! Better still, the barrettes brought out more of my curl. I’ve always fetishized women’s hair, and I took to spending long moments in front of the mirror, poring over my own. Soon I had a collection of plastic bows and lacquered barrettes sitting in a box on my dorm dresser.

By the time my dorm’s traditional Halloween all-campus party came around, expectations were high. What would I wear? Too busy with studies to think of an elaborate costume, I decided to throw on my most boring clothes—a turtleneck, a sweater, slacks—and go as Eddie Bauer. Someone I might have seen at my suburban mall, or walking the halls of my Catholic School on dress-down day. Someone safe and traditional. At this point, that kind of style felt like a costume to me.

A sophomore girl down the hall convinced me otherwise. Tall and attractive, she suggested I wear something of hers—and I couldn’t resist. Though her smirk made me think she found the idea funny, I glowed under her attention. I liked the idea of throwing on one of her dresses, of aping this more lovely, adventurous feminine spirit. I picked a short white dress that advantaged my legs and emphasized my narrow waist.

I don’t have a picture of myself in that dress, which is a shame. Because later that night, sitting in a stairwell smoking a clove cigarette, I met my future wife while wearing it.”

From Ballad of the Barrette Boy by Brian Gresko


10) We’ve heard that when fathers raise children with disabilities, stereotypes of manliness disappear.

“Behold! Fatherhood. Manliness optimized. This is your golden moment as the dominating species and you have everything—a wonderful wife, a great job, a beautiful home, and now, children. You are right on track for a cup runneth over with fulfillment. Soon to come are baby’s first steps, the first day of kindergarten, sporting achievements, first dates, graduations, college, weddings, grandchildren, and more. You are The Man and you are providing for your family. Life could not get better.


Like the 1960’s Batman cartoon, a blow to the head has you reeling and you don’t know what hit you. You’ve just returned from an appointment with a developmental specialist and your baby girl has been diagnosed as severely intellectually disabled. Wait! What? This isn’t right. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Your baby girl is handicapped? Disabled? What? You’re dazed and confused. This isn’t manly. What should you do? This isn’t what fatherhood is all about.

Or is it?

News to you. This is what your fatherhood is all about.”

— From “When You Are the Father of a Child With a Disability, Stereotypes of Manliness Disappear” by Mel Beck


11) Men of today understand that strength comes from helping to dismantle racism, sexism and homophobia.

“There needs to be discussion among people who think of themselves as white. They need to unpack that language, that history, that social position and see what it really offers them, and what it takes away from them…White people don’t want to hear about race because the don’t want to be called “racists” or they cannot see how they are responsible for something they didn’t do.”

— From “Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race” by Steven Locke

“The more I talked to women about permission and consent, the more I saw how rare it was, even for “good” men or “conscious” men to show this kind of concern over a woman’s experience. Often I would talk to women for hours before we had sex, because I refused to move forward if there was even the slightest doubt about it being a true “yes”. The more I stressed the importance of communication with women I was with, the better my experiences became. The more I slowed down our interaction and brought awareness to speaking our desires, the hotter we would get for each other.

I started having experiences that were incredibly fulfilling both sexually and emotionally. Women would tell their friends about me. One even joked about starting a yelp page and writing me a 5-star review.

And yet, when I would explain this to men and enroll them in the idea of allowing a woman’s desires to lead the interaction versus their agenda for sex, I would occasionally get the comment “but that sounds so lame”.”

— From “I Promise It’s Not Lame to Ask a Woman for Permission” by David Booda

“My son couldn’t contain his excitement showing off the dress to the only two kids playing…your daughter and her friend. He skipped and twirled and chased them for ten minutes shouting, “Do you like my dress? I’m wearing a dress! Can I play with you? Will you play with me?”

Remembering those ten minutes fills me with emotion…because his unencumbered joy thrilled me. He radiated happiness. He beamed like a sun, like a firework, like every clichéd metaphor for joy. Except it wasn’t a metaphor. It was glorious. How I wish he could hold on to that pure excitement. How I wish I could watch him be that thrilled every day of his life.

I’m sad because society somehow tamps down such delight. It’s embarrassing to the rest of us. Except behind closed doors, when do adults (or even teenagers) jump around with excitement? And some day even my little boy will probably be self-conscious about such excitement.

And of course, wearing a dress in public might not always bring him such unabashed joy.”

— From “To The Other Dad on the Playground the Day My Son Wore a Pink Dress” by Gavin Lodge


12) The dangerous link between the man box, emotional suppression and male violence.

“The Man Box is a set of rigid expectations that define what a “real man” is. A real man is strong and stoic. He doesn’t show emotions other than anger and excitement. He is a breadwinner. He is heterosexual. He is able-bodied. He plays or watches sports. He is the dominant participant in every exchange. He is a firefighter, a lawyer, a CEO. He is a man’s man. And whether or not we’d actually want to spend any time with him, we all know who he is.

This “real man,” as defined by the Man Box, represents what is supposedly normative and acceptable within the tightly controlled performance of American male masculinity. He dominates our movies and television. He defines what we expect from our political leaders. He is the archetypal sports star. He is our symbol for what is admirable and honorable in American men. And if he happens to get aggressive, belligerent and violent sometimes, well, that’s just the price of real masculinity.”

The Man Box: The Link Between Emotional Suppression and Male Violence by Mark Greene


13) Yes, you can choose your own masculinity!

“Men who date women often talk about times that a certain way they expressed themselves led to being shamed by others—even their partner. One guy spoke about how he was expressing some excitement to his girlfriend and he impulsively twirled. She got quiet and expressed a deep dislike for him doing this: it wasn’t the kind of reaction she was comfortable coming from her boyfriend. The relationship didn’t last.    …

How we learn to express our gender isn’t fully our choice. When were were infants, someone decided how to dress us. Someone told us what a “stud” we were or how “Strong and handsome” we looked—even though we were only 10-months-old!

The general public does allow for boyish exuberance, but as we get closer and closer to puberty the consequences for straying from the “norms” get more and more dire. Now we’re adults and the choices are ours except that there are years—maybe decades—of shame that has reinforced those norms. It won’t be easy, but you get to decide now what you want to undo.”

From Justin Lioi, Choose Your Own Masculinity


14) Sometimes strong men give up. And that’s OK.

“Men are expected to stay the course in order to remain good and stable husbands, fathers, and providers.

So men often “give up and stay,” as the song goes. This is not because they lack dreams or ambition, but the cultural norm is to steer a steady ship, especially if he has committed to financially care for others.

But what if he hates his job? What effect does this have on his primary relationship and/or his children if they see him dragging himself to a day (or night) of perceived drudgery, returning home sucked dry of energy and joy?

What if he is in an unhealthy relationship?

In our society, fulfilling the traditional gender role becomes more important than living a happy and fulfilling life, and the pressure to do so remains enormous, even in this relatively evolved day and age. But the courage to break from that and declare “This isn’t working for me” is truly super-heroic.”

— From “When Strong Men Give Up and the Power It Takes to Do So” by Kara Post-Kennedy


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The post What Is This Thing Called 21st Century Masculinity, Anyway? appeared first on The Good Men Project.

from The Good Men Project

Perception vs Reality: Can You Recognize the Difference?

The truth is that no matter how self-aware and honest you think you’re being with yourself and everyone else, there are times where what you say is not what you actually mean. Times when your perception and reality are not aligned. We see this in all areas of our lives. But being able to recognize it for what it is and acknowledge it means that we can take the necessary actions to fix the problem.

In our fitness, we may think our body is good (telling us one thing), yet we bend over to pick something up and it pops or aches (telling us another). This is your body telling you that, in reality, you’re not doing or paying attention to what you should. We do the same with our nutrition. Did you know that studies have shown that people truly believe they are eating better, or eating less than they actually are? This is a good example of a time when perception and reality are different.

In our spirituality or faith, we think we are living one way but realize, after closer evaluation, that we are living something entirely different. It is not difficult to become stagnant in our spiritual practices. Even if you’re going to church every week or meditating daily. If you are running on autopilot instead of being present and working to grow your understanding and personal awareness in your faith practice, you are not doing what you’ve said you are doing.

The trick, and something that so many of us struggle with, including me, is to become self-aware enough to recognize when you are telling yourself stories. When you are lying to yourself, or others, about what you are doing and who you are working to become. This is one of those places in your life that you can’t “fake it til you make it,” because reality trumps perception every single time. But if you can self-evaluate and acknowledge where in your life the perception and the reality are out of alignment, you can take the necessary steps to course correct.

Aligning your perception with reality is vital to living a Legacy Lifestyle. Living your Legacy only happens once you stop lying to yourself and everyone else and begin to stand solidly in reality and truth every single day. When you are swinging singles and staying ruthlessly committed to bringing your dreams to life. And you can’t do that if you’re lying to yourself about who you are and what you’re doing.

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from The Good Men Project

The Truth About Psych Units: Part 1

The Truth About Psych Units: Part 1

Whenever I hear someone use the term “psycho ward”, it’s often part of a *joke*.

Well, trust me, there’s nothing funny about it.

The image I assume people get in their heads is from the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, or the subsequent movie, starring Jack Nicholson and a number of recognizable-but-not-yet-famous actors (including Scatman Crothers, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Lloyd).

(Damn that Nurse Ratched! She is EVIL! She’s so good, actress Louise Fletcher won an Oscar for her portrayal of the cold, heartless tyrant.)

Hollywood aside, there are probably some things you don’t know about psych units (aka “psych wards”) if you’ve never been in one. And I mean as a patient, not a visitor.

The Last Resort

For those of us who’ve been admitted (or committed) to psych units, we know it mostly as a last resort. And no, I don’t mean the kind of resort where you get to lie back with your feet up, read a good book, have people wait on you, and get a tan. (Although those might exist in places like Beverly Hills.)

I have a lot of experience with this, for better or for worse. I’ve been hospitalized fifteen times in seven different hospitals in three states. Fourteen of these admissions have been since 2003.

Not that I’m counting.

But I know of what I speak.

A psych unit is not someplace you go to relax, to take a break from your stressful life and responsibilities and go back home refreshed. In fact, release from a unit does not mean everything is hunky-dory now. Substance abuse disorders, medication noncompliance (maybe because the person feels better and thinks “Well, I don’t need these anymore”…), and suicide are not uncommon after discharge. (Read more here.)

No, a psych unit is where you go either when your mental illness is out of control (or getting there) or when you don’t feel safe – ie., suicidal or homicidal.

Unfortunately, you can’t just walk into an emergency room, tell them how terribly depressed you are, and expect to receive treatment (unless you’re psychotic or violent).

If you’re not a danger to yourself or others or having a psychotic break, they will do the triage thing. The on-call psychiatrist could make a small adjustment to one of your psych meds, but more than likely, they’ll tell you to go home and call your shrink (or go find one). Psychiatric units at hospitals are for stabilization purposes only, not for intensive treatment.

If you are suicidal (or homicidal), you will be admitted eventually, but you’ll have to wait for them to find a bed for you. You may get lucky and only have to wait a couple hours in the “holding tank”, as I call it (the psych ER, aka “rubber room”). More likely, you’ll have to wait an unknown amount of time, alone, in a room with virtually nothing in it (so you can’t hurt yourself) with no meds (possibly), no one to talk to, and no updates.

In my experience, when you’re in the holding tank, it feels like no one gives a shit. They just make sure you don’t hurt yourself. (Thus the lack of privacy, the cameras in the room, and the complete and utter lack of sharp objects/edges, phone cords, etc. Trust me – I’ve inspected many of them!)

And if you have to pee, you need to be escorted to the bathroom by a security guard. (No, they don’t go in with you). Of course, the door to the holding tank area is locked to protect the unsuspecting “normies” in the regular ER from us “crazies”, and at some hospitals, the nurses and other staff sit behind plexiglass for their “protection”. (*She said with a sneer and more than a little sarcasm.*)

I once had to wait thirty hours in a psych ER room until a bed at a nearby facility opened up. That’s almost a day and a half, while I was having a meltdown! I was in a really bad place in my head, and in all honesty, I was more agitated and more suicidal after being left alone in that room for so long than I had been when I got there! And I’ve heard from other patients that they’ve had to wait up to 48 hours for a bed!

Another time, I was in the psych holding tank in a Minneapolis hospital, waited several hours for a bed to open up, and was then transported (by ambulance, of course) to the hospital in Cambridge, MN – 55 miles away! Why so far? Because that was the nearest open bed. So much for family and friends visiting, eh?

And this is just one little part of the system. The state of mental health care in America is a travesty, believe me.

But that’s another post for another time.

*shivers at the thought*

One Size Fits All?

As I was saying, psych units are for episodes of acute distress. I’ve been in enough of them to know that they are all basically the same. Well, okay, I’ve never been in a private one, but at a plain old hospital, this is generally what they’re like:

  • They are understaffed, sometimes severely.
  • The well-meaning staff is overworked and underpaid. Some have become quite jaded.
  • Not only are the units locked, but most of them have a sally port so it’s harder (impossible?) to slip out unnoticed.
  • There is little, if any, décor. Most of them look and feel like the institutions they are, which only serves to remind us that we’re in a locked hospital ward – so we must be pretty sick (maybe even dangerous!) I have been in one that was remodeled to look much less institutional, though, and let me tell you – a little human touch makes a big difference. It helped me feel like I was “less sick,” if that makes any sense.
  • Patients get very little (if any) individual attention. In my experience, it is simply not available in the vast majority of psych units, due to the large amount of work the small staff has to do.
  • You probably will not see the psychiatrist every day.
  • All of them have groups available, such as informational and educational groups, occupational therapy (or “OT”, where you can color, do crossword puzzles, or make something crafty), possibly an exercise or movement group, and daily community (“check-in”) groups.
  • Groups are normally totally optional, although they do give you something to do for a while, and staff does notice whether or not you participate.
  • Most of the patients are normal, everyday folks, just like you and me, although there always seems to be one or two who may stir things up a bit (bothering people, being loud and disrespectful, not following policies, taking someone else’s lunch tray from the cart, experiencing a psychotic break, etc.). Staff is always able and prepared to handle such patients.
  • My experience has been that there are approximately 12-16 patients on a unit at any given time, both men and women.
  • The median stay on a psych unit is 15 days. Please note that this is not the average length of stay; half stay longer, half stay a shorter number of days. There is also some question about the category/severity of the illness, according to this source – but I’m having difficulty finding a solid answer. I would have guessed maybe 5-7 days, based on my experience with dozens and dozens of patients.
  • The goal of a psych unit is to keep you alive and safe, not give you specialized treatment for your illness. For a variety of reasons (mostly political and financial), the amount of time a patient stays in a psych unit has decreased drastically since about the 1980’s, giving them little time to do anything much with you.

I don’t consider spending 3-7 days in a psych unit (my average) as being “in treatment” for my mental illnesses. Therapy, DBT, seeing my psychiatrist, and taking my meds are treatment.

I consider it the place to go when my depression is so deep that I’m afraid I might actually try to kill myself. Psych units – generally speaking – are very safe places. Once my suicidal ideation goes away, which usually happens within a couple days, I convince the staff that I’ll be safe and I get discharged.

And life goes on, as it always does.


During a typical stay in a psych unit, and despite their lack of support staff and resources, they do try to help you as much as possible.

For instance, every unit has a social worker (or two or three) that helps you find resources in the community, like a chemical dependency treatment program (the relationship between mental illness and drug abuse/addiction is ridiculously high), or a halfway house so you have somewhere to live, or a pdoc, or a list of AA or NA meetings, or help with a legal issue. They try to set up appointments for you before you leave their care.

I must say, though, that’s one thing I’ve noticed that sometimes doesn’t actually happen. I know the social workers have big, very important jobs (a matter of life and death in many cases), but they may just be the most understaffed category there is.

Or they run into someone like me, who says, “I have a therapist. I’ll call and make an appointment when I get out tomorrow.” (Yeah, right! My fear and anxiety surrounding phone calls borders on phobic!) So there’s another appointment that doesn’t get made.

But taking care of yourself after you leave the safety and security of a psych unit is incredibly important. Otherwise, you’ll just end up there again within a month or six.

There is no cure for mental illness (not that I can think of, anyway), so you have to learn how to live with it (not fight it), manage your symptoms, and maintain whatever stability you can work out.

When I’m really into self-care and feel like I’m capable of finding some balance, here are some of the things I do (or *should* do) to avoid another crisis and help me stay out of the hospital:

  • Play tennis (weather permitting)
  • Write
  • Look at my DBT book and practice my skills
  • Share my thoughts and feelings with my wife on an ongoing basis
  • Go to therapy, pdoc, and other appointments
  • Take my meds (finances permitting)
  • Photography
  • Listen to music
  • Bake
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga

There are actually lots of other things you could do to help find your balance. These include:

  • Coloring
  • Doing a puzzle
  • Playing an instrument
  • Playing a sport/going to the gym/doing something physically challenging
  • Writing a song or a poem or a screenplay or a personal manifesto or a love letter or a homemade card…
  • Cooking
  • Taking a walk
  • Praying or some other kind of spiritual practice

Whatever blows your skirt up – there are so many possibilities!! The keys are to not spread yourself too thin and to make sure you spend some time with yourself as often as possible, doing something you genuinely enjoy.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that the more I do these things, the less often I end up in the hospital – and my stays are shorter, too.

So hang in there. Take care of you. Do what you can with what you’ve got.

Originally appeared on Depression Warrior.

Photo by Pixabay.

The post The Truth About Psych Units: Part 1 appeared first on The Good Men Project.

from The Good Men Project

7 Sex Education Suggestions for Children with Autism

Are most “special” schools tackling sex education so kids on the spectrum can understand the physical and emotional transitions that accompany puberty? I’m guessing the answer is a resounding “no.” Sex education is a difficult subject for neurotypical pre-teens and their teachers—fraught with giggles and embarrassment—but some foundation is usually provided.

My son came home from school in the sixth grade with a book explaining “the birds and bees,” complete with diagrams of penises in different sizes and shapes. (!!) He and his friends were instructed to go to the drugstore and purchase condoms as homework. My son told me that his female classmates received the girls’ version of the book and (I hope) the same homework. All students were provided with formal vocabulary as well as street name equivalents to describe sex acts and anatomy.

Not so for my daughter Samantha in her special ed schools. She didn’t come home with any books or ask any questions, the way my son did. NOTHING about menstruation, pregnancy, STDs or contraception was EVER mentioned— not in junior high OR in high school. (!?) Fast forward 15 years, maybe some schools are stepping up to the plate and providing students on the spectrum with some form of sex education.  Or maybe schools are still too busy struggling to teach reading, writing and math to teenagers with autism to worry about sex education.

If your child is not receiving sex education at school, here’s what I’d recommend to parents

  • Start talking to your child early; don’t wait until the hormones are raging. Go to the library or buy a developmentally appropriate book on sex education, preferably with lots of pictures and diagrams. If your child doesn’t read or has difficulty with comprehension, read the book together. When appropriate, same-sex parents might consider show and tell.
  • Go to your gynecologist or urologist to see if you can show your child a three dimensional model of their internal sex organs. Hopefully, your doctor or nurse will be sufficiently compassionate and matter-of-fact to be able provide a basic introduction. (If not, consider finding a doctor who is more knowledgeable and autism-friendly).
  • With all of the TV and film attention focused on autism these days, perhaps it will soon be possible to acquire a sex education film for students on the spectrum. Such a film, or series of films, would have to be carefully organized and broken down by subject into what my daughter calls “small manageable bites.” Menstruation, contraception, STDs and pregnancy would have to be dealt with one at a time.  Equally important would be teaching appropriate behavior and self-control.  Both genders need a clear understanding of consent, “no means no,” and rape.
  • Try to help your son or daughter understand that their body changes are a natural part of maturation. Even though most ASD kids HATE change, ALL kids LOVE the idea of being a grown-up, just like Mom and Dad. For girls, be sure your daughter understands that her first period is a sign of her womanhood, not “a curse,” but something to celebrate. (Samantha and I went for a special “girl’s lunch”).  For moms who aren’t squeamish, I recommend demonstrating tampon insertion and then observing your daughter practice, because ASD kids learn best from hands-on experience.  You don’t want your daughter to hurt herself or forget to thoroughly wash her hands.   Be prepared for accidents, and have your daughter carry extra underwear. Even with all my careful demonstrations and instructions, Samantha mysteriously soiled her underwear until I discovered that she was failing to remove the cardboard tampon holder!
  • For the boys, changes such as growing body hair, a deeper voice, and an enlarging penis, should be discussed with Dad. At this time, it’s also essential for boys with autism to understand how to behave appropriately with girls and that includes “no means no.”
  • Most young teenagers experiencing puberty are insecure about their appearance and popularity, but nearly all ASD kids are even more confused and lonely. While ASD kids may not be able to articulate their worries and questions, parents and even older siblings should reassure their sister or brother that all body and mood changes— pimples, hair, body odor—are normal.
  • Parents should introduce deodorant and acne medication, teaching adult hygiene as part of sex education AND life skills. Kids with ASDS often aren’t as acutely aware as their neurotypical peers that pimples, body odor and unwanted hair may cause them further rejection (and possibly bullying) by their classmates.  Young teens with autism deserve to look, feel and behave their best.  Dismissing the need for sex education because academics and social skills are already challenging for ASD kids denies them their legally mandated right to an “appropriate” education. What could be more appropriate AND ESSENTIAL than providing sex education to this ever-expanding subgroup of our next generation?

Previously Published on The Never-Empty Nest

 ID: 1276078372


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from The Good Men Project