A sex therapist on why some men force women to watch them masturbate.

Why Men Force Women to Watch Them Masturbate

Why Men Force Women to Watch Them Masturbate

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 9 2017 4:17 PM

Why Men Force Women to Watch Them Masturbate

Comedian Louis CK at Madison Square Garden on March 18, 2017 in New York City.
Five women have come forward to accuse Louis C.K. of masturbation-related misconduct in a New York Times exposé.

Al Bello/Getty Images

This article originally appeared in the Cut on Oct. 20, 2017.

Some of the most disturbing recent allegations of sexual assault involve men forcing women to watch them masturbate. Journalist Lauren Sivan says that after she rejected Harvey Weinstein’s attempt to kiss her at a restaurant, he told her to “stand there and shut up,” before jerking off into a potted plant. On a yacht in Cannes, the model Angie Everhart alleges that she woke up from a nap to find Weinstein standing over her while masturbating, his body blocking the cabin door. At least four other actresses and models have told similar stories, which parallel industry rumors about Louis C.K. jerking off in front of female comics (he dismissed these accusations as “rumors” earlier this year). Of course this sexual perversion isn’t confined to showbiz, either; allegations of this kind appeared several times on the notorious “shitty men in media” list, and men expose themselves to women on subways and city streets every day.

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In an attempt to understand why men do this, we spoke with Alexandra Katehakis, a sex therapist and clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex in L.A.

Masturbating is a different form of violence, one that isn’t physical or verbal. Why does this particular act appeal to predators?
Exhibitionists purposefully look to shock their victims because they are angry. They are not looking to make friends or go on a date — these are acts of revenge against women. These men are imposing the body part that is most threatening to a female and in doing so, they are acting out what is called “sexualized hostility” or “eroticized rage” against their prey. That look of fear or humiliation on women is arousing to them. We see clinically that these men feel wildly inadequate.

What exactly is “sexualized hostility”?

Guys who engage in this type of behavior are incredibly rageful towards females. It often harkens back to childhood abuse. For example, maybe they had mothers who were emotionally abusive or who didn’t protect them from abusive fathers. As some men get older they act out that anger towards women in the language of sex. They sexualize their emotions because they don’t know any other way of comporting themselves.

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Why would a man choose to masturbate in front of a woman instead of physically assaulting her?

Well, a more violent act would make him a rapist. He might not want to think of himself that way, or be seen that way. If he just masturbates, he can tell himself that he’s not strong-arming anybody.

What are the psychological motivations behind it?
I don’t know what it’s like to hold a penis and do that. But from what I know about men, it does make them feel powerful. He’s got his prey in the corner, which provides a kind of a gratification. There’s also something inherently really primitive and childish about forcing a woman to watch you masturbate. It’s almost like “Look at me.” And there’s the possibility that he feels wanted, as disordered as that might sound. He might feel like she’s here and she’s seeing me and she wants me. But the fact that she’s also scared and humiliated makes him feel powerful and aroused. There is a sense of power, plus a hostile revenge. That combination is what creates the high for this particular act.

Why do predators find it arousing to terrorize women?
A man who does this kind of thing likes to see a woman feel terror and beg him to stop. There’s a sadism and a cruelty to it — the more she weakens the more sadistic he gets. If she were to stand up to him or come after him, he [would likely] back down very quickly. Actually, he would lose all of this power. These are predatory dynamics.

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Jerking off into a potted plant seems so desperate. Is this act driven in part by a predator’s self-hatred and low self-esteem?
There’s a concept in psychology called “projective identification,” where one person projects their unwanted emotions onto the other. So all of these men’s feelings of inadequacy get played out in the sexual act. This example involving the pot is very illustrative. Weinstein has essentially reduced this woman to dirt, which is a reflection of how he feels about himself. In a way he’s looking at her and saying: “You’re no better than a potted plant and you’re just a piece of shit.” His own insufficient feeling is the unconscious mechanism that’s driving this behavior.

Do perpetrators experience shame afterward?
Yeah. I mean a lot of men who are stuck in these cycles of addictive behavior will say “I was as addicted to the shame as I was to the sex.” It’s about this cycle of “I’m a piece of shit, I do things that make me feel like a piece of shit, and therefore I have corroboration and evidence that I am indeed a piece of shit.” Weinstein may have tried to stop masturbating in front of women and couldn’t, which he may have hated himself for. The behavior becomes this weird kind of tumbleweed where … somebody does stupid things and then it reaches monstrous proportions, which it seems to have done in Weinstein’s case.

Is a man who forces women to watch him masturbate likely to commit more serious sex crimes?
This behavior is part of a spectrum. I don’t know that every guy who does this would go on to be a rapist, though those allegations exist against Weinstein. This specific act is a good example of what we see in sex addiction where there’s tolerance, and over time people start to cross lines they would have never crossed before. They start violating their own values because they need more intensity and excitement.

Why would an offender choose to masturbate in front of a woman in one scenario and escalate that behavior to rape with another victim?
I think it has to do with opportunity. If you have a young female who is more verbal and more actualized, it’s less likely a predator will pick them as someone to sexually assault. He’s going to pick somebody who is shy, quiet, and who has some insecurities.

Are there other examples of sexual perversions that don’t involve contact?
Guys have told me they’ll take a shower and then stand in front of their living-room window with a towel on, watching women walk by. A man doing that knows they see him. Sometimes he drops the towel. That’s a similar kind of offense but it’s more removed because his victims are not literally in the house.

Men expose themselves or jerk off in front of women on subways and streets every day. But how does the dynamic between two people differ when the predator is an industry mogul?
These guys think they’re above the law and that people will cover up for them. They also think of their victims: “She’s not going to say anything because nobody is going to believe her. I can squash her and I can always pay her off.” I think Weinstein was really banking on his power. He probably thought the women wouldn’t say anything because if they did, “they would never work in this town again,” as the saying goes. These women were disposable like Dixie cups. There were a million in line waiting to meet with him.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Angelina Chapin is a contributors editor for the Huffington Post.