Tom Matlack wonders what would happen if men were allowed to be open about their lust.
A guy I know, a wonderful husband, recently confided in me that he loves female breasts. His wife is quite beautiful, but mothering has “ruined her tits,” he told me. He made clear to me that he intended to continue his interest in the female form in what he considered the least damaging way he could figure out—porn and strip clubs—so as to prevent a melt-down in his marriage. “My wife would freak out if she knew,” he said, “but I don’t want to end up doing something stupid like having an affair with some teenager.”
I was recently at a charity event for a children’s hospital. It’s one of the largest and most elaborate parties of the year, raising millions of dollars for sick kids. After the live auction and the philanthropic portion of the evening was over, the lights dimmed and out came a troupe of women dressed in black lingerie. It was some sort of performance of All That Jazz gone very wrong. The intent was to thank the male patrons for their generosity, but the women on boxes, in spotlights, grinding away, made the little old ladies in the crowd lose their dentures—and made everyone else incredibly uncomfortable.
I know more than one beautiful, happily married woman who has confided in me that she is obsessed with wanting to go into a strip club to see what really goes on. They women say they want to “de-mystify” the power of naked women in a room full of guys. Of those who have gone, most come home even more confused than when they left, noting that they just need to get a boob job and shave their entire bodies to be attractive to the opposite sex.
Meanwhile, porn and the sex trade are exploding in size and usage, driven by the apparently insatiable male appetite, while priests and politicians keep providing fodder for the latest sex scandal. Let’s not even get started with professional athletes.
But what is the connection between male goodness and male lust? It seems, to be good you have to control your lust into a very narrowly defined box. It’s a test that most men fail miserably, often with catastrophic results.
It’s one of those truths about life that artists have used as their core device to draw us in for centuries: that which we deny about ourselves grows stronger in the shadows than it ever would in the light. In modern society, that is nowhere more true than sexuality.
We are animals, after all. Anyone who has witnessed the birth of their own child has to acknowledge the existence of forces that are far beyond anything that can be rationally explained. The miracle of reproduction is breathtaking in its complexity and magnificence. So, too, is the immediate instinct to cuddle and love that tiny little pink bundle of life. There’s nothing rational about it. The feeling is purely animal.
As a young adult, I used to joke with my friends, perhaps in twisted despair, about how we felt the need to hide our feelings of lust, while we were actually most similar to baboons whose sexual patterns are far from monogamous. But on a recent trip to Africa, I was fascinated to discover the wide variety of mating patterns among different species of animals in the Masai Mara. Sure, the dominant male lion has his way with whichever female he wants, but the female Hyena does the same with the males. Female elephants control the social order, with men left to wander on their own. The jackals pair off for life.
In each case, sexuality is not up for debate. Instinct has established a well-worn path for the survival of the species.
What the hell happened to humans on this score? Is the male lust instinct some legacy of animal nature that threatens to bring down civilization? Or is it just something we, collectively, are too afraid to look at directly and, thereby, we give it way more power than it deserves?
I was at a 50th wedding anniversary party a few years ago and the toast given by one of the sons was a humorous recounting of “the power of the penis” and how the marriage had endured despite that power.
One of the good things about hitting middle age is that the testosterone level wanes just a little bit and, hopefully, takes the edge off the “power of the penis.” Yet, there are all these guys within spitting distance of old-man diapers who marry teenaged women out of some twisted mixture of a desire for youth and beauty. I’m not going to try to dissect why the women in these pairings agree to the trade, but the pattern is profoundly odd when you think about it for too long.
I sometimes wonder what the world would look like if men were totally open about their lust? Would the sex trade still prosper? Would marriage change? Would our collective discomfort with gay marriage and lack of judgment of sexual exploitation in many forms shift?
Perhaps, the most vexing is the question: what would male lust itself, completely out in the open, really look like? Do we, as men, have a common animal ancestry that would come to the fore? Are we more like lions or jackals in our natural state? Are we all on the spectrum of bisexuality? Or is male lust a rainbow of colors, stifled by our discomfort with the male need for sexual encounter?
I have no answers. But I do think getting honest about male lust might go a long way toward righting some of the most persistent wrongs in our world.
Honest sex is a beautiful thing, perhaps the most treasured human experience possible. But too often, it gets twisted, tortured, and comes out in ways that destroy the object and the owner of that lust.
image by kylelane66 / flickr