Why Do Men Spit? (and women don’t)

Why do men spit? (And women don’t.) I mean, is it physiological? Do males produce a larger amount of saliva?

Even so, why the need to spit it out? Why not just swallow it? Would that remind them of swallowing semen? Which is female, effeminate, gay? (I’ll ignore for the moment the assumption that all, or even most, women swallow semen.)

But no, that can’t be right: it seems too…reasoned. Spitting seems to be more of a reflex, a habit, a that’s-the-way-I-was-raised sort of thing, a cultural thing, a subcultural thing: to spit is to be manly. Little boys spit to appear grown up. Grown up men. So what’s the connection between spitting and masculinity?

Consider the way men spit. It’s not a chin-dribbling drooling kind of getting rid of saliva. It’s a forceful ejac – ah – is that it? Is spitting a little pseudo sex act? Every time a man spits, does he experience a sort of orgasmic release? Both do involve a forceful expulsion of bodily fluids.

Hm – the pissing contest now comes to mind. What is it about expelling one’s bodily fluids with some degree of force that proves one’s manhood?

Is it just the forcefulness? Whether it’s throwing a ball or – this may explain the unnecessarily loud, kleenex-devastating way men blow their noses. Bodily fluids there too. But then why don’t men wail when they cry?

There must be something more to spitting. There seems to be a certain contempt in the gesture. Certainly to spit on someone, like pissing on them, (and ejaculating on them?), is to defile, is to degrade, them.

But what about the man just walking down the street who hacks up a glob and spits every few seconds? Is that, then, just a continuous display of contempt – for everything? I am male: I am better than everything. That rings true. (As does the corollary: I am so insecure I have to display my superiority every few seconds.)

Perhaps men see saliva, like mucous, as germ-filled and rightly expelled from the body. But then why don’t they spit into a handkerchief or a kleenex? Spitting, according to this interpretation, increases the contemptuousness, the utter disregard for the other, the one who shares the sidewalk.

Men used to spit into spittoons, back when tobacco chewing was all the rage. So perhaps modern day spitting is like any tradition: a practice whose rationale has long since disappeared, but whose emotional value lingers, on a barely conscious level – maybe there’s some Marlboro-man feel about it…

Or it could just be that men are slobs. But, again, what’s the connection? Why do men associate lack of hygiene with masculinity? I recall a woman auto mechanic explaining that the perpetually greasy hands thing was totally unnecessary, it was just a macho thing. Why are clean hands unmanly? Surely few women would want to be touched, inside or out, by greasy black fingers. (And isn’t touching women proof of one’s manhood?) Maybe it’s just that it’s so opposite to women: women are clean, so if I am a man, I am dirty.

For surely there’s something about the liquidity of saliva. Liquids are soft; soft is feminine. So they must dissociate themselves from it, get rid of it. After all, you don’t see men hacking off their tough, hard, fingernails and hurling them away so contemptuously. Actually, maybe you do – long fingernails are a female thing.

Hm. Do men think hard stools are more masculine than soft stools – do real men brag about hard it is to shit? Is that what that pile of magazines in their washrooms is all about?

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21 Responses to “Why Do Men Spit? (and women don’t)”

  1. Colin Says:

    Why do you expect that it has anything to do with women or sexuality? Couldn’t it be as simple as too much saliva has built up and it’s uncomfortable? Perhaps men are more irritated by discomfort, or less inhibited about dealing with it publicly, and spitting is more comfortable than swallowing it?

    I don’t know if you’re trying to be provocative or if you’re as sexist as the people you criticize. Either is fine, but say that it “rings true” that men would always walk around thinking they’re better than everything because they’re men, or wonder if spitting is orgasmic, I don’t immediately know how to respond. I suppose I can just say: no we don’t, and no, no it’s not.

    You’ve no doubt met some jerks, but if you seriously expect that any of your speculations here are generally the case, then I may suggest that the jerks in your life may have overshadowed a less repugnant majority of men?

  2. peg Says:

    well if most men do x and most women don’t do x, isn’t it reasonable to assume it DOES have to do with sex/gender?

    i considered the excess saliva hypothesis, but there is no reason to believe that male bodies produce more saliva than female bodies – is there? which leads to the hyothesis that there’s something in the gender-differentiated conditioning…

    yes, of course, not all men spit. but i’d say 99% of the people who spit are men.

    and yes, perhaps the jerks i’ve met have overshadowed the others, but sexism is not by any means ‘just’ personal. it’s institutionalized in many ways…

    nevertheless, i thank you for once again commenting, Colin. (And Gary and Ben.) We need men like you to keep being vocal and visible!! maybe then eventually i won’t be so overshadowed…

  3. Colin Says:

    Yes, the difference of why men do it and women don’t would be relevant to gender, but the thoughts a man has when he does it may not be gender related.

    For example, men are, on average, taller than women. This, however, has more to do with genetics than it does with intentions. Men do not grow taller because they want to be less like women.

    My point was that while men may do something that women don’t, this does not mean that men are thinking about women when they do it, thinking about sex or how the act is sexual, or trying to be less female which you seem to have assumed.

    Perhaps it’s gender conditioning, but I suspect it would be more along the lines that women are expected to be “ladylike” and men are less inhibited about being disgusting. That’s not right, but again the intentions of the men doing it are not against women as much as they may be inconsiderate of people in general.

  4. laka Says:

    It’s what the weak and powerless people to do to the dominant class of people. Too weak to anything other than show vulgarity and crudeness to make it “unpleasant.” If they do it to you, than that means that the sitter feels inferior to you. I won’t worry about it.

  5. osmara Says:

    im 12 years old and living with a dad whom is DISGUSTING. sometimes when he drives me to school he cant help but roll down the window, do the hacking, then spits it out.
    it gets me frustrated and hard to understand WHY he does it. it gets SO anooying and embarrasing when my friends come over.
    nobody ever talks to him bout it.we just stay quiet and awkward when he does it.
    btw hes doingnit RIGHT NOW.
    im super stressed and idk what to do. :/

  6. Peg Says:

    Hi Osmara –

    Wow. I can understand that you’d be upset and find it disgusting. I mean, you even went online to try and understand why he does it! First of all, that’s great!!! That you’d do that! That you’re trying to UNDERSTAND something you find disgusting. You are WAY AHEAD of people three times your age!!

    Second, you say nobody ever talks to him about it, you just stay quiet and awkward when he does it. Maybe you should try to talk to him about it? Do you think that might help? Maybe he doesn’t realize other people, especially you, don’t like it and it embarrasses you? Maybe you could print out your comment and leave it somewhere where he could find it? Or even my piece? Can you talk about it with your mom? Any brothers or sisters? You’re probably not the only one who doesn’t like it…?

  7. Bill Feeney Says:

    I agree with Peg. If you don’t say something then you will only continue to be frustrated and embarrassed. Could you ask him why he does it rather than attack him for doing it? If your family is one that doesn’t encourage talking or if you’re afraid what your dad will say, then you have to find someone who will speak to him… older brother or sister, mom.

  8. kit Says:

    It comes under the heading of “male display” and I am sure it goes way back to prehistory.

  9. kit Says:

    But as my mother would say, “If you expect to rate with the ladies, don’t expectorate on the sidewalk!”

  10. peg Says:

    Kit, display of what though?

  11. kit Says:

    “Male display” is the blanket term used to describe all manner of chest thumping and puffing up that is observed in birds or monkeys or fish when males encounter one and other and are in the early stages of competing for territory or position in the pecking order or deciding who gets to mate and who has to skulk off into the brush or watch while the dominant male has a party. I think spitting in humans, in certain settings, is just one of a number of behaviors that come under that heading and might also include knuckle cracking. On the other hand, I can imagine there are times when people male or female have the urge or the need to spit and do so discreetly or in private and that would not be what I would consider male display or in any way related to status seeking or dominance issues. And then there are tobacco chewers and thats a whole nuther conversation.

  12. peg Says:

    Okay, I get the puffing up, b/c that makes the animal seem larger than it really is, and in that world, the bigger the better. Any idea what chest thumping is supposed to indicate? The deeper the sound, the larger the chest, and so, again, it’s an indicator of largeness?

    And I know many animals display colors, the peacock, the vibrancy of which indicates health, and, so, a good mate for breeding. I think condition of the feathers is also a sign of health.

    But what, if we use male display theory to explain it, is spitting supposed to indicate – presumably to females, to indicate their quality as a breeder?

    I don’t see it being any relic of size indication, nor even dominance (dominance is also indicator of good breeding stock, presumably b/c it suggests, again, good physical condition, the dominant one is the one who wins physical fights).

  13. kim Says:

    I agree that it’s most likely a form of “male display” – but for other males, not to attract females. They use it to assert dominance or mask insecurities, stemming historically from spitting as a form of humiliation when targeted at another person.

    I’d love to see some actual surveys and data though, including some historical context.

    In China, for instance, they don’t use tissues or handkerchiefs, and that is their method of elimination (and yes, just as disgusting!). But I believe American men do it primarily due to some kind of underlying machismo element.

    Regardless, it’s a trait/habit that needs to be eliminated from the gene pool. Time to teach children that spitting isn’t socially acceptable.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    so just spitting, onto the sidewalk or wherever, is evolved from actually spitting on another person, which is humiliating because – of the hygenic thing? but didn’t it start before humans understood the hygiene of it? i’m still curious about the rationale…why that particular action?

  15. Julianne Says:

    I was born male(unfortunately) and I have had an insiders view of male society. From my experience, men spitting is more of a subconscious impulse. Such behavior is found all over society, such as the infamous contagious yawn. Men tend to have rituals with their circles of friends, much like their handshakes, that help them to identify with each other within the group. So it’s more of a sheep mentality. Now, for men who spit when they’re alone, it’s an act of making their presence known. Hyper-“masculine” men have the belief that they must be the biggest, loudest, crudest person in the area or else they will lose their territory. To sum it all up, masculine men, in general, are simply disgusting.

  16. Clive Dave Devlin Says:

    First, men spit more than women here and now. BUT Ladies of the court used to (wait for it) spit down the cleavage of their fancy dresses.
    Also, boys do this/girls don’t or vice versa is hardly subversive or challenging. Thanks for doing this, though. All the bodily fluid stuff makes for interesting chat. Oh, and spit used to be an important medicinal ingredient, right along with babies’ urine and dead guy’s dryed and honeyed flesh. Furreal.

  17. ptittle Says:

    Colin, if you think figuring out why “boys do this/girls don’t or vice versa” isn’t “challenging” let alone “subversive”, you’re missing the whole point of gender studies and feminism…

  18. Di Says:

    The way I think of it is as a yin yang thing. The energy of the masculine polarity in one moves outward, forward, as must the ejaculation, which is an inherent function of that polarity. The feminine polarity in one, on the other hand, is receptive and its energy is inward, is womb-ish. From this way of looking at things, every individual has both polarities, but one polarity often dominates over the other. This is the basic tendency. And then how the energy is expressed becomes further shaped by one’s individual consciousness and cultural and learned behavior. This consciousness derives from the Duality or things being experienced in terms of opposites: good bad, light dark, rich poor, hot cold, sickness health, night day, the tides go in the tides go out, winter summer, male female, etc.

  19. Lee Says:

    I like where Di goes with the whole polarity thing, I’ve often thought that the extremes of male or female behaviours are dependent on one another. We need each other, and of course need isn’t the same as want – we’ve all heard those scorned men, drunk in a bar, bitching about the entire female sex, and vice versa. Sexism and racism (I believe) are natural human urges, and these urges exist within us all (nobody is innocent ha) but not all natural urges are to be trusted. In fact people are so inconsistent that hardly anything we say can truly be trusted.
    Think of all those poor people who see shrinks, in order to beat their demons, but only ever tell their own edited versions of events. I know a woman who is very difficult company, (I won’t go into it but trust me here) and she has established a pattern of behaviours that suggest she is cursed with a total inability to accept the truth about the way she makes people feel around her. In case you’re wondering, its not good, what they’re feeling. Nobody can tell her for fear of damaging her. So when she goes to her shrink, and when many others like her do the same, (and inhibit recovery with their flagrantly childish egos) they exist in a vortex of blame.

    Wait where am I going with this

  20. Dave Says:

    I just saw a guy spit, outside my office window, and that got me wondering about this question, which is how I found this thread. I have not found any good answers to the question. I’m a guy, and I don’t spit. I can’t think of any guy I know well enough to ask, who spits. I’m middle class, I guess, and I think spitting is more common among the working class. So I think it’s not just a guy thing, it’s a sociocultural thing. Any I suspect there may be a correlation with smoking. But the ultimate answer still eludes me.

  21. Test Says:

    It absolotuely has to do with smoking a lot of the time.
    Also, allergies are a huge factor, as are nasal-sinus issues in general. But as to the action itself? If you think it has inherent value as a “male” thing, then you’re an idiot. Imagine thinking about a clam as you wake up and suck something quite like it down from your nose; you then have the option of EATING it, or putting it I a tissue. I choose tissue every time.
    As to spitting I public? Comes down to how much bravado I can muster compared to how grow the loogie is. If it’s a gnarly one, it’s goin out. Less gross means I just choke it down. Anyone wondering about this has to understand; some people have breathing difficulties whether they think of it as such or not, and this causes tons of flem, all over the facial bits. After a point, anyone with this issue learns to make the distinction as to when it’s NOT rude to spit, and when it absolutely is.
    Personally, I try to never spit on concrete or asphalt, as it dries on there and looks gross.


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