Male Sexuality is Threatening Because We Don’t Understand It

toper lovers-forever

Andrew Smiler identifies 7 things we can do today to change ideas about male sexuality

American culture sees male sexuality as easily aroused, barely controlled, and able to overwhelm rational thought, believes the little head does the thinking for the big head, and has a hard time distinguishing normal male sexuality from the abuse of power known as rape or sexual assault. As a result, it’s easy to believe that any guy could be a rapist or child molester. Little wonder that Jamie Peck asked if Men Can Write About Sex Without Sounding Like Douchebags; this limiting and narrowly defined space leaves little that’s interesting to explore. Alyssa Royse responded by describing The Danger in Demonizing Male Sexuality.

Changing ideas about male sexuality will require action from all of us, at both the individual and structural levels.

Royce was on target when she asked “how can we all work together to change our collective impression of male sexuality as something that is dangerous and disgusting?” Although she acknowledges the need to understand and dismantle patriarchy and male privilege, her specific suggestions focus on helping men understand their potential partners (#1-3) and supporting/boosting men’s self-esteem (#4-5), presumably so they don’t take out their sexual frustrations on others.

These answers are a useful beginning, but don’t go far enough. They place responsibility strictly in men’s hands, yet the problem is societal and needs all of us working at a variety of levels. Large scale change requires more than a few—or even many—people changing on the individual level. Feminists taught us that the personal is political, so changing ideas about male sexuality will require action from all of us, at both the individual and structural levels.

Here are 7 things we can all do today to help combat and dismantle the stereotype.

1. Understand that rape and assault aren’t sex.

It’s pretty simple, really. If you want to do—or are doing—something sexual and your partner agrees to let you do it, then it’s sex. There’s a space in which you might suggest something to a partner and that person says no; that’s called saying no (or not yet). If force is threatened or used, that’s assault or rape. Sex frequently occurs between individuals who are attracted to or love each other and in most cases, both partners are “turned on.” Assault and rape often occur outside of a caring relationship and usually involve a desire to cause pain or prove something.

2. Learn the truth about male sexuality.

The stereotype is largely incorrect. If you really listen to most of the guys in your life, you’ll find that the majority aren’t screwing around or looking for a new partner every weekend. The vast majority only have one partner at a time, and they’re not particularly interested in one-night stands. We all need to understand that these guys are the rule, not the exception.

3. Challenge friends who espouse the stereotype.

The thing about stereotypes is that they describe everyone in the group; they say “all guys are like that.” Ask your friends if they really mean all, of if it’s really about most, some, or even just a few guys. Push the issue by going through the list of men you and your friend know personally, including family members, classmates, and co-workers.

4. Ask for clarification.

When your friends say things like “guys are only interested in sex” or “men are dogs,” ask for details. How do you know he’s only interested in sex? That’s pretty clear if it’s a one-night stand where no one got last names, phone numbers, or email addresses, but it’s more ambiguous if they’ve hung out a few times or had sex more than once. It’s also pretty clear if he’s paying directly for sex, but not when there’s some type of relationship and sharing of secrets occurring. If a guy just wanted sex, wouldn’t it be easier for him to find a sex worker and pay for a night’s pleasure than to spend all that time texting, emailing, going out to dinner, etc.? I admit that there are some pickup artists who are only interested in the seduction and sex it leads to, but again, that’s a very small percentage of guys.

5. Give men space to violate the stereotype

There are many reasons why men rarely show their emotions in public or acknowledge enjoying romantic movies. If we want men to act differently, we need to support them when they do so. Publicly calling a guy a wimp or berating him because he’s too emotional reminds all guys that these behaviors are not acceptable for men in our culture. If you have a problem with a guy in your life, take it up with him privately. And think twice before sharing it with your friends; it’s hard to know how they’ll understand it or where the story will go.

6. Demand better from big media.

Sex comedies such as American Pie and Porky’s promote the idea that guys are only interested in sex and that any kind of deceit, trickery, or stunt is more-or-less “fair game” when a guy wants to get laid. We also see the stereotype acted out by Charlie on Two and A Half Men, Barney on How I Met Your Mother, and any number of other popular TV characters. Vote with your wallet and your eyeballs: don’t watch. If you want to go farther, send email to network executives who oversee programming and even organize a protest. It worked for women in the 1970s who were tired of seeing women as competent mothers, ditzes (usually blond), and secretaries but nothing else; there’s no reason to believe it can’t work again.

7. Become media literate.

Instead of quietly accepting what the media shows, ask questions about how realistic it is. I know the screen won’t respond (yet; I’m sure someone’s working on that), but your partner, friends, co-workers, and children will. Sure, some might tell you to shut up because you’re ruining they’re pleasure, so you’ll need to be careful about who and when. Or perhaps you don’t want to be careful. Regardless, ask questions like “is that realistic” or “how likely is that?” Ask why Charlie got all the girls, breaks, and laughs on Two and A Half Men and Alan pretty much never got anything. Learn from Evan in Superbad; he spends most of the movie challenging Seth’s claims about what guys do and how sex and relationships work.


Changing our cultural assumptions about male sexuality will take work but that work will ultimately benefit all of us. It’ll give most guys the option to be more romantic and emotional. It’ll also mean they don’t have to spend time convincing a new partner that they’re a good guy and “not like most guys.” The folks men date, regardless of their gender, will get better partners and will be better able to focus on their own pleasure instead of worrying about controlling their guy’s sexual wants.

—photo by Toper


About Andrew Smiler

Andrew Smiler, PhD is a therapist, evaluator, author, and speaker residing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (USA). He is the author of “Challenging Casanova: Beyond the stereotype of promiscuous young male sexuality” and co-author, with Chris Kilmartin, of “The Masculine Self (5th edition)”. He is a past president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity and has taught at Wake Forest University and SUNY Oswego. Dr. Smiler's research focuses on definitions of masculinity. He also studies normative aspects of sexual development, such as age and perception of first kiss, first “serious” relationship, and first intercourse among 15-25 year olds. Follow him @AndrewSmiler.


  1. Stephen Pratt says:

    Men do not learn what is acceptable sexual behavior from media any more than kids learn that violence is ok from video games.
    Playing on stereotypes is what makes comedy comedy.
    It makes it funny for a myriad of reasons.
    Sometimes it is the shock that no man is actually like this or it is rare that people find it funny that someone is like this it is almost a joke.
    but in real life it would be seen as unacceptable behavior.
    Media is (especially fiction) is an escape from reality.

  2. I think you have it wrong.
    ALL sexuality is threatening, because we can’t control it. Just take a look at history… we want nothing more then to control sex.

  3. Screw you. I’m not a spammer

  4. I agree with all your points but several of them allude to there something being wrong with men who do want to play the field and enjoy more than one sexual partner at one time. I think society should get used to the idea that there isn’t anything wrong with that, as it is possible to do it ethically and honestly without hurting anyone. Then there’s the flip side that equal numbers of women also enjoy being promiscuous.

  5. You know I was going to tell you…oh hang on, seven seconds are up, I need to think about sex…
    I was going to say that in this modern world…ooh, I’ll put a ring on it baby yeah. Sorry! That stereotypes are there for a reason, after all…hang on, ooh yes, this cup of tea is hot, smoking hot! What I mean to say is that you can’t just blame the media….my goodness I never knew computer screens were so alluring–oh for goodness sake how am I supposed to get anything done around here!

    • Nah, it’s just the regular American men, always afraid, always having to prove how much of a beast he is. He has to say he only thinks about sex, he has to scream out loud he thinks women were created only for his manly desires (it’s really a lot more common for the straight guy to act/think/talk like that), he has a lot to “prove” – and his sexuality is the base of his character, personality and life.
      Very usual for them; I don’t see this behavior at all in the men of my Country or, at least, not more than in the women.

  6. Sarah,

    You have been extraordinarily respectful, honest and kind. Even when facing some pretty disgusting condescension. Thank you, brave heart.


  7. One of the worst things I did when I was trying to build confidence about my male identity was to read studies about the penis sizes of different ethnic groups. What I was trying to do was to make sure that my penis size was normal somewhere in the world. For me I needed to know that in some area I would be doing better or at least be the same as a large group of people. I was so involved with my own concept of self-image that I completely lost sight of the racism that I was producing in order to fight the image of a man who is not a virgin.

  8. Didn’t know where to post this, but it annoyed me, so I had to share.

    This is an article about everyday sexism, and centres around teenage boys (the article insists on calling them young men, but they’re 17! They’re hardly men) being obnoxious vulgar sexist jerks. I kind of think this says more about teenagers than men, but there we go. Nevertheless it’s unpleasant, I have no problem with that. However the journalist takes time out from this anecdote to declare that “misandryism isn’t a thing.” How does the existence of misogyny disprove the existence of misandry?

    Just wanted to share my anger, is all! 🙂 I have commented there, of course, I just thought it was relevant to this discussion to flag up.

    • How does the existence of misogyny disprove the existence of misandry?
      The common “proof” is that since the things that are seen as misandry are actually side effects of misogyny those thing really aren’t hateful towards men.

      For example parenting. According to their line of thought the ways in which men are conditioned away from parenting on the premise that their place is to work outside the home aren’t the problem. No the problem is that women are conditioned into parenting on the premise that their place is to care for children. Therefore while men are conditioned away from parenting the only reason it happens is because its a side effect of conditioning women (as in “well if the women are caring for the kids then who is left to do all the other work?”).

      In short those things aren’t misandry because they aren’t meant to harm men, they are just collateral damage of trying to limit and harm women.

      Yes its total bull but that is the explanation.

  9. Sorry I posted my previous comment under the wrong article.

  10. You have some really good ideas!! I personally don’t like the words “real man”, to me it’s demeaning to men. Growing up I always heard people saying real men do this and real men don’t do that. After moving out on my own I would hear from the women in the dating scene that there are no real men anymore. This last really frustrated me at first cause I’d be thinking “I’m trying to have a conversation with you to see if I like you and your whining about men?? If there are no real men left than what I’m I? Chopped liver??”. Eventually I’d tell them I’m not a psychologist so take a hike! I really do think that media would help in this matter. For there are enough commercials making men out to be idiots.

  11. Fran Miller says:

    You lost me in the first paragraph by putting a rapist and a pedophile in the same sentence.

  12. Great response to the earlier article. And one additional thing occurs to me: why women and men think “all women are like this, all men are like that”.

    Until you’ve found the one person who gets you and you’re off the market, the people you’ll encounter are the ones you meet. For women, that’s mostly going to be douchebag players. Even though they make up a smaller portion of the population, if you’re idea of a good night is to go out to a loud club and be talked to by the guy you think is hot, then you’re going to end up with a lot of guys hitting on you who are the type who go to clubs with the goal of hitting on girls.

    Guys who aren’t really into that aren’t going to be there.

    On the other side, if you’re a guy and aren’t really into meeting strange women at a club, then if that’s where you go to meet women, you’re going to meet women whose strategies are dictated by the kinds of guys they usually meet. If you don’t do what those guys do, you’re going to get shut down, and if you do, those women are going to expect you to be like all of the other guys they typically meet, especially if you go after only the absolute hottest women.

    Seems to me that maybe a good strategy for breaking this part of the cycle is to bring back the idea of meeting people through friends, and add to that meeting people through hobbies. It isn’t perfect, but at least it give the opportunity to get to know someone and have something real in common and have a legitimate conversation.

  13. Mr Supertypo says:


  14. Mostly_123 says:

    ‘Fear’ is a very loaded word.
    Bias, disdain, resentment, and hate all connote an arbitrary measure of cruel selfishness; whereas ‘fear’ connotes self-awareness & self-preservation. Because of this, fear is often used to justify and legitimize prejudice- a justifiable fear (and really, what fears can’t be justified, in some way) can be used to justify, rationalize, or even enshrine a prejudice. But so many people seem to forget that understanding and/or rationalizing a prejudice is NOT, and should not be the END of the process, it’s only the middle.

    The end of the process should be overcoming the prejudice- one might need to understand a prejudice first, and even rationalize it existence to themselves; but that’s not the end, and I think too many people conveniently forget that, and are more than happy to quit there. Stopping there in the middle like that ensures a perpetual cycle of hate & fear. Indeed, it has reified it; it’s elevated the fear/hate to something normal, healthy, expected, and sustainable- not something to be deconstructed and overcome.

    People like to feel good; and though it feels bad to fear or to hate, it feels GOOD have the satisfaction, the piece of mind, that comes from knowing that that fear or hate IS somehow justified; and finding that satisfaction, they stop there. But it takes a lot more work, reflection and introspection to explore and overcome a prejudice; it’s an open-ended commitment with no guarantees, and moreover, unlike a prejudice, it puts the onus squarely on us, rather than the thing we’ve become comfortably prejudiced against. And a lot of the time, that DOESN’T feel good; it feels like work. It takes more effort to overcome something than it does to accommodate something.   

    It’s much easier to justify prejudices than it is to transcend them. So sometimes, it’s not enough to just validate someone else’s fear or prejudice – that just normalizes, enables, and perpetuates it. It’s not always possible (or wise) to validate someone who holds a rigid perspective to the degree that they want & expect to be validated; unless you’re looking at things through the same ideological prism.

  15. Hanibal says:

    But yeah, it is a very important point that a vast group of men probably just wants a girlfriend or wife. Many men don`t enjoy casual sex or are ok with it but don`t really desire it all that much.

    • Jack Pine says:

      What kind and how much sex a person wants changes over a lifetime. Most people, as I see it, want to explore when they’re young and find security when they’re old.

      • @Jack Pine…

        Since I had limited partners and sex when I was young, I now explore all the time at age 50. Love it!

        • says:

          Pretty much how it’s gone for me, too. Until age 35 I had extremely few (read: one) sex partner. Now I’m 37 and in the last two years I’ve somehow ‘figured it out’. Largely the antidepressant. But other things too. Glad I’m not married. So much to learn about people. Far too much to have learned by, say, age 25.

      • FlyingKal says:

        @Jack Pine:
        What kind and how much sex a person wants changes over a lifetime. Most people, as I see it, want to explore when they’re young and find security when they’re old.

        I think most people, or at least far more people than we think, would be happy to do most of the exploration with a single partner who gets them and be happy to share the explorations with them.
        Diversity in partners doesn’t necessarily (or when you’re young, not even probably) mean diversity in experience, if those partners are equally minded and (un)experienced.

  16. Hanibal says:

    No doubt there are many, many men that have far less promiscuous inclinations than men in general are perceived to have. However, there is a way of reasoning I have seen in arguments made by others claiming most men are not all that interested in many sex partners that is faulty. They either look at the preferences given by men in surveys or how many partners they have. How many partners men actually have tells us little because most men don`t have the oportunity to have many. How many partners men say they want in surveys don`t necessarily tell us all that much either because people change their preferences based on what is available to them. If one looks at men that actually have the possiblity to have many sex partners without commitment, one finds a lot more cassanovas than one finds men saying they would like to have been cassanovas if they could. I have seen a couple of men with few options that eventually become highly sought after by women and suddenly just having a girlfriend was not enough but they wanted to play the field in stead.

  17. Mostly_123 says:

    Good article throughout, but it was the first point that got me thinking:

    “1. Understand that rape and assault aren’t sex.”
    I would also think emphasizing the reverse is important in this dynamic as well: That sex ISN’T rape or assault.
    Seems like even when it’s done right, sex gets a bad name; like it has to be apologized for, qualified, licensed & contained- though it may not live in the same house as ‘rape’ or ‘assault’ – but they both live on the same block, in the same seedy neighborhood, that sort of thing. I could be wrong on this, but I believe there are a lot of different social elements out there (for religious or ideological reasons) that inherently view men’s sexuality (even what would be defined as ‘normal’ and/or ‘socially acceptable’ sexuality) by default as licentious, lecherous, conceited, entitled, deceitful, and otherwise maladjusted, predatory & contemptible. The belief that men, collectively as a gender are such, justifies & nourishes entrenched feelings of resentment, fear, envy, intolerance, conflict and hate. Conflating assault & rape with sex has given those who would seek it an avenue for conflict, and for condemnation of masculinity and male sexuality in a much more wholesale manner. Consensual sex and rape are not two different ends of a spectrum of male (or female) sexuality; they’re not the ‘shallow and the deep end of the pool’ and if we just train all boys & men to stay in the shallow end, then everybody swimming will be safe. No- different pools, different swimmers.

    In any event, it’s been said that we often come to hate that which we fear. Again, I could be wrong- but I don’t think we hate that which we genuinely feel we don’t understand. We might fear it, but we don’t hate it: We feel hate for the things we feel we DO understand (or misunderstand), like the things that our fears are rooted IN. When we try to understand our fears, and let our understanding be distorted by our own anxieties and prejudices, then it’s inevitable that that understanding will be flawed. The problem isn’t that male sexuality is threatening (if it were, then it is right and proper that all men should be perceived as potential rapists and victimizers, and so then there’s no problem) – But the problem, as I understand it here, is that male sexuality itself is perceived as threatening when it is not. So, to quote Mark Twain: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

  18. I think all the emphasis on men’s feelings and emotions is also a disservice to us. At least us married guys. My wife’s already convinced that her emotional needs are more important than my sexual needs. The truth, as you pointed out in the article, may be that most guys are not screwing around or looking for someone new every weekend. But the link backing that up is based on a survey of how many partners did they have, not how many did they want.
    The truth about my own male life is that marriage has been a huge sexual sacrifice. And while I love my wife and kids, and derive some emotional benefits from marriage, it’s like putting wiper fluid in the gas tank and wondering why the car doesn’t run. The two are not interchangeable. At least for me, though I doubt I’m alone in this.
    I apologize if this is off base, but I think the answer to, “Men are dogs” isn’t, “Hey we have feelings too!” I would like it to be more along the lines of, “Men are men,” and some unapologetic acknowledgement that, in general, perhaps our needs are different from women’s.

    • Shmuel Yonah says:

      I disagree completely that we shouldn’t emphasize mens’ feelings. I’m going to slightly alter the phrasing of your last paragraph: The answer to “Men are dogs” should be “Men have feelings, too – they just have feelings that work differently than women’s feelings.” It does some disservice by bowing to a gender binary, but it also allows men to feel their feelings without guilt.

      As for your personal sex life, point 2 should be your focus in this article. Not only for you, but for your wife, as well (so point 3, too). If you feel your wife is convinced that her emotional needs are greater than your sexual needs – and if you agree with that – then you both need to learn that (your) male sexuality is not the enemy, but rather something that you can both work with. For starters, women’s emotions are in no way equatable to men’s sex drives. Once you can overcome that fact, you can start to work together to better two separate (but connected) aspects of your marriage: your wife’s emotional needs, and your sexual needs. Connected to these two distinct elements would be another distinct element you mentioned: your emotional needs. You missed that the link between your emotional needs *is* strongly connected to with sexual needs – which is exactly what point 2 is trying to make: male sexuality is emotionally connected, that men aren’t always about one-night stands, but rather about the emotional connection to your sexual partner. Either way, the way to get over the disconnect between you and your wife on this issue is to, well, connect with her on it by talking about it.

      Best of luck.

    • OirishM says:

      “Men are men” is absolutely tautologous, and the label “man” is meaningless. As is the label “woman”, for that matter.

      • Yes, and it runs into the danger of being interpreted as “boys will be boys”; it’s almost like surrendering to the idea that the attribute of gender is the defining feature of a person, rather than merely an attribute amongst many others.

        Hold on, how did dogs get such a bad press in the first place? Aren’t they considered to be the faithful of animals? Intelligent? Good parents? Sensitive? Not really that offensive a comparison in that light.

    • If you’re not getting sex from your wife you aren’t creating foreplay with her brain … that’s where it starts. We can’t just turn it on and off by demand like men can, it’s a slow burn.

  19. Shmuel Yonah says:

    As I reposted this on my Facebook: It would also help if there was ANY medical, psychological, or sociological research going into it. But that would require actually studying teh menz, praise be to the extremely few that do.

  20. Thank you for an overall strong approach to an ever-timely topic, but sex as something your partner “agrees to let” you do has no place in a transformative view of male sexuality. Men deserve to think and hear about sex as something partners WANT to do with them– the bottom bar needs to be mutual desire, with no room for nonconsensual compliance.

    Seattle, WA

  21. The number of men who commit crimes period is a very very tiny percentage of the entire adult male population. It’s the same with those who spread STDs, STI…..usually they are oversexualized innoculators.

    Consider this fact: 50% of adult black women have genital herpes (ok 48%). See if you do not believe me. But, do 50% of black men have genital herpes? NO! Why? Because, the black women are having sex with these high risk oversexualized men.

    The same goes for rape stats………a few men are the culprits.

  22. I would also add challenging people who depend on the stereotypes to push ideological notions. We know that even though most sex crimes are committed by men most men are not sex criminals. Yet and still we see very dangerous ideas such as holding the actions of those few men up as representation of the whole AND THEN turning around and putting the onus on men to dispell such images.

    (In short we need to challenge the idea of, “We know that most men are sex criminals but it should still be on men to do something about the negative imagary that’s cast on the whole lot.”)

  23. JoAnne Dietrich says:

    That is an excellent article. I agree that all men are not rapists. I love #6. American Pie and Porky’s just make men look bad. We should not watch those type of movies. They hurt both men and women.

    • OirishM says:

      American Pie and Porky’s just make men look bad.

      Why would a film about some men make men look bad (as a whole)?

    • Jack Pine says:

      lol @ “I agree that all men are not rapists”

  24. Sounds good to me.

    For #4, the one about calling people on their generalizations, I would go one step further and maybe ask it in a more pointed way. If a woman says all men are dogs, ask her if she includes her father in that, or her son(s) if she has any.

    It’s not very flattering to the woman herself if she says something like that — her mother had sex with a dog and that produced her? Very sad way to see oneself. One time a woman told me that men are dogs, to which I responded, “if the male of a species is called a dog, then the female is called a….?”

  25. Publish the data on the rate at which women force others to penetrate them alongside the rate at which men forcibly penetrate others.

    Stop calling it not rape women do it and rape when men do it.

    And there you have the very simple formula for dispelling the myth that rape is generally male perpetrated.

  26. OirishM says:

    1. Understand that rape and assault aren’t sex.
    2. Learn the truth about male sexuality.

    It’s worth clarifying that this works both ways – just because a minority of men engage in the behaviours in 1, that doesn’t mean it is representative of male sexuality as a whole – not least because males are not the only perpetrators of it. 1 is good advice to people considering male sexuality from the outside as well as those operating within it.


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