What Men Really Want

psychotherapy, men in therapy, men's sexuality, relationships, horny men, men want sex

Men may think what they want is shockingly antisocial, but digging deeper reveals that what men truly want is actually quite ordinary and healthy.

Guys tell me exactly what they want. They often plop down on my couch, cock their heads purposefully and, without hesitation, tell me straight out, “I want casual sex.” “I want wild uninhibited sex.” “I’ve just found my soul mate.” One gentleman put it this way: “ I just like naked women,” as if to say, “Listen, lady, you’re way over-analyzing.”

In any case, it seemed that my steadfast interrogations of their simple comments often revealed complex truths.

Michael was a fun example.  A single guy originally from Oklahoma, pithy and plucky, he loved to laugh at my fancy analyses and challenge me with a simple logic that was hard to defeat, especially in his cute southern accent.

“I masturbate every day and I still need to have sex, is that a problem?” he asked, not that seriously, chuckling to himself and lightly provoking me for being so serious. Instead of analyzing his need to joke around, I decided to take him seriously.


ME: “How do you know that you NEED to have sex?”

MICHAEL: (smiling) “What do you mean? I just know?”

ME: “Well, What does it feel like?”

MICHAEL: “I’m agitated and having thoughts about every woman who passes by.”

ME: “Do you feel better when you masturbate?”

MICHAEL: “No. Maybe I need to do it more, maybe I’m just a high sex-drive kind of guy. How much is too much masturbating?”

ME: “I don’t have a number for you Michael, but if masturbating every day doesn’t satisfy you, I don’t think more is the answer.  Maybe there’s something else you want. I want to help you to be more conscious about your sexual motivations. What is it that you really want?”

MICHAEL: “I swear Doc, I don’t know. When women walk by all I’m thinking about is what they look like naked.”

ME: “OK, but you feel agitated. Let’s be aware of what that could be. I think that sexual energy by itself feels great. It’s an important source of vitality for people, our senses are heightened, we feel invigorated and alive. Yet, you aren’t enjoying that; you’re frustrated. Why?”

MICHAEL: “Because I haven’t gotten any in four months.”

ME: “But you get a physical release every day.”

MICAHEL: “With a real woman.”

ME: “What do you crave about a real woman?”

MICHAEL: “Touch, affection, someone to flirt with, talk to….”

ME: “OK, so you’re lonely?”

MICHAEL: “Yeah. That’s true. Just haven’t actually admitted that to myself, I guess.”

ME: “You’re lonely. How is that to admit to yourself?”


ME: “What’s sad about it?”

MICHAEL: “I feel like a loser.”

ME: Because you’re avoiding your own feelings, your desire to connect with a woman is manifesting itself as horniness and sexual fantasy. Do you see how you’re substituting one motivation for another?”


As with many of my patients, it turns out that Michael didn’t actually know what he wanted after all. Michael was clearly unaware of his basic loneliness, and instead, his body experienced the sensation of horniness—a physical sublimation. With Michael, as with other men I guided to be more aware of the actual nature of their desires, a whole host of emotional yearnings appeared to be weaved into what he thought he wanted.

I’ve seen this happen often in psychotherapy. There’s some period of emotional intensity: a break-up, a re-location, the loss of a loved one. The patient is overwhelmed by emotion. One minute, he’s filled with heart-breaking grief and then, suddenly, he feels very horny, and shortly thereafter, has some blazing sex or falls desperately in love. The problem in therapy is that I know this isn’t real, but they don’t.

The mind has many interesting ways of trying to control emotional pain. Numbing, dissociation, projection, etc.  This particular mechanism is one of the sexier examples. It’s sort of like taking the drug Ecstasy, and then, instead of feeling lost or scared, you feel like hugging everyone. They are not mollifying their feelings, they are actually morphing them. I try to teach them how to be more conscious of their core motivations and emotions. A major buzzkill, I know.

Michael had some issues as demonstrated by his urgency and agitation about getting sex. But he won’t find what he’s looking for if he continues to believe in the chimeras of his own unconscious. Michael, as you’ve seen, had no conscious idea that he was lonely. And as you will read, there is yet another emotion underneath the loneliness that he was also unaware of.

This example underscores the importance of sexual mindfulness. Sexual fantasy and even the physical experience of horniness often superimpose themselves on some other longing that represents something needed outside of sex. Why the sublimation? Why not just know what you want and go for it? Why the complex emotional labyrinth?

This next dialogue highlights why knowing what you want and just going for it, isn’t so easy.


MICHAEL: I just want to have sex. I’m not interested in a relationship with a woman right now. I think going to prostitutes is just more pragmatic. I just pay, get what I want, no strings attached. I only wish I didn’t have to pay and I could just have the sex. Why should I have to pay for it? Why does there have to be such a hang up about it with women? If I’m horny, I should be able to just say to a woman that I am horny and ask if we could have sex. Why does there always have to be a relationship involved? Why do there always have to be emotions involved? Don’t they get horny too? Don’t women just want to fuck?

ME: Have you tried asking one for that?

MICHAEL: No, I don’t want to bother with it. Finding women is hard, approaching them is hard. I have a hard time reading their signals. I would rather not bother with it all. It’s easier just to call a prostitute.

ME: OK, sounds like what you have going for you is working out well, then.

MICHAEL: Except it is hard to find prostitutes who have the style I like, who are willing to do what I want.

ME: What do you want?

MICHAEL: (pauses, seem uncomfortable, looks away, squirms around) Ha ha ha. You’re a little firecracker, aren’t ya?

ME: Is it a certain sex act or some kind of interaction that you want?

MICHAEL: Both. I want them to do things they don’t want to do, that they have rules against.

ME: Like what?

MICHAEL: (stalls) Like kissing. Foreplay. You know, acting like a ‘normal girl.’

ME: Like she wants to be there too, like she needs it too?

( I had heard this desire before, several times)

MICHAEL: Exactly. I want her to want it to. Like she needs sex, too.

ME: So, it’s not just about the orgasm.

MICHAEL: Exactly

ME: You need touch, human contact, some affection. You’re not just horny ….

MICHAEL: I’m lonely, but I’m not looking for love, Doc.

ME: A friend of yours suggested that you get a mail-order bride. I think this is a good idea for you.

MICHAEL: What? Why?

ME: It’s pragmatic. You can bypass dealing with trying to find a woman or approaching one, which you say is hard.

MICHAEL: What will people think of me? It will look like I had to buy someone.

ME: Well, another way of looking at it is that this is just your choice. It’s an expedient and efficient option to deal with your dilemma. And, she will always be available, you won’t have to deal with finding someone when you’re horny, and, possibly, she will do whatever you want.

MICHAEL: She better do whatever I want… That would be nice, to have a beautiful woman always available to me. Hmmm… But, no. Then she’ll always be there. What if I don’t want to hang out with her? What if we don’t have anything in common? She probably wouldn’t speak English.

ME: No English. That could work for you.

MICHAEL: You’re really pissing me off. I want to find a woman I can be happy with. I do want to have a relationship!! Why aren’t you telling me that I need to learn how to deal with my fear of women? Your advice is crazy. I’m about to walk out.

ME: Crazy? I ‘m using your logic here. What makes you angry about that?

MICHAEL: You’re saying I have to buy someone! You’re saying I can’t get a woman on my own. (looking away)

ME: No, I’m not. That’s what you’re saying.

MICHAEL: (pauses, smiles) Reverse psychology?

ME: Yes.

MICHAEL: I hate you.

ME: C’mon. You’re lovable. I know you can get a woman. Do you know that?


Michael’s wishes and fantasies revealed not only his anxiety about women, but a desire to bypass that anxiety. By carrying out the fantasy all the way, he can see that it’s untenable. He reveals that behind all the bluster, he really wants a relationship. The obstacle here is that Michael is actually socially awkward around women, afraid of them. He goes for the paid interaction so that his ego is never tested. And when he tried to justify it to himself, it sounded pretty reasonable. Yes, men may just want to fuck, as he says, but clearly this is not his only motivation.

The reason that many of my patients don’t know what they want is because they are not fully paying attention to what they’re actually hungry for. They often have some mass of undifferentiated yearning for something, a sudden craving for a certain feeling, and they just act without thought. My goal is to teach them to pause when they have a sexual impulse and reflect on this question: What do I really want?


This is an excerpt from The Men on My Couch: Trues Stories of Sex, Love and Psychotherapy.

Read more on Emotional Intelligence on The Good Life.

Image credit: THX0477/Flickr

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About Brandy Engler

Dr. Engler is a Clinical Psychologist specializing in relationships and sexuality and author of The Men on My Couch:Trues Stories of Sex, Love and Psychotherapy. She has a private practice in Los Angeles.


  1. Hi Brandy
    This was an eyeopener for me.
    If my ex husband had talked to you,that may have saved his marriage.

    The sad thing is that some men continue in marriage to want sex only( preferably many times each day) like Michael here and it is impossible to know what they feel.

    This why men SCARE ME!

    • “This why men SCARE ME!”
      What you may see as just sex, men often see it as expressing love too, affection, intimacy. Kisses don’t’ do as much as sex does for me, with sex I feel loved far more. Men and women are probably (generally speaking) talking/acting a different style of love but the failure of your husband was not to engage in your language enough. But it is possible to know what they feel but you may just not be listening in their language.

  2. I really, really wish that women would stop trying to give dating advice to men that doesn’t really help.

    “I know you can get a woman” sounds like an empty platitude coming from someone who more than likely has never known how lonely or miserable involuntary celibacy can be.

    It seems like you may have helped a guy realize that he wants a relationship more than sex, but you haven’t really solved his underlying problem, unless he actually does decide to go out and order a bride.

    • Bay Area Guy says:

      “I know you can get a woman” sounds like an empty platitude coming from someone who more than likely has never known how lonely or miserable involuntary celibacy can be.


    • I don’t think “I know you can get a woman” is meant to be advice so much as it is her honest opinion after talking to this man. I’m sure the actual advice came in the later parts of this conversation that we are not privy to.

      I will say, though that just based on this conversation, I’m not sure a relationship is what this man really wants either. I think sometimes people simply have conflicting desires and what we truly “want” isn’t so black and white. I think most people do want to feel like the person they are having sex with is actually into the act as it usually leads to a more pleasurable experience. Theres also a stigma attached to paying for sex and the feeling that the woman your with is only in it for the money only makes you feel even worse than you already do. But acknowledging this doesn’t necessarily mean you want a real, long term relationship either.

  3. Michael should get married. His sexual urges will dissipate shortly thereafter. Especially if he has kids!

    • Very nice article. I’m skeptical, but very interested. Maybe I will buy the buy,too. 😀

    • Michael wants what my old casual sex buddy wanted – intimacy, affection, attention, flirtation – but without the effort involved for a relationship. If he does get over his social awkwardness and does think ‘i’ll try a relationship’ …then nice one he’s moved on. what he wants is a ‘friends with benefits’ situation.
      But reading this again I think if a woman wanted him for a relationship and he believed her to be truthful, he’d probably go for it, because what his real issue is – he thinks he can’t get one, because its hard, because he’s socially awkward…..

  4. I’m a man and what I want is emotional intimacy with someone I love and love me. And I realized this only after I reached 21. Before I was convinced that men, “REAL MEN” should only want sex, that we hate cuddling, kissing, and talking about love. Because its what we are, ” biologically” . Its not weird after I have realized what I really want, I have no difficulties understanding women, because I realized we are not different at all.

  5. What I appreciate about this example is that it demonstrates how what many people consider to be “normal” male behavior (“Men are wired to need a lot of sex”) is not necessarily “just how men are.” Instead of accepting men’s sexual behaviors at face value, this example shows that there is a larger problem that often goes unacknowledged, let alone addressed. This problem runs deeper than just being disconnected from our feelings, needs, and wants – it is how male conditioning keeps us isolated and disconnected from other people, and how many men only experience intimacy through sex. As such, intimacy and meaningful connection becomes all-or-nothing, with little in-between (including non-sexual intimacy with other men).

    • This is my first time posting on this site so please bear with me.

      David, I think you bring up an excellent point. I engage in debate a lot about these topics and I find myself frequently mentioning that “what many people consider to be “normal” male behavior (“Men are wired to need a lot of sex”) is not necessarily “just how men are.” ” Actually, a lot of things society believes is true of men or that men believe (need a lot of sex, need multiple partners, thinness is beauty, etc) are considered to be innate.

      I find it especially concerning that men very strongly cling to this idea of these things being innate when it is mostly learned. When I bring this up in discussion, by simply saying what I said above, so many of these things considered innate are actually learned, it brings out a lot of anger. Does that mean the discussion simply cant be had with those people? How do I engage people (men an/or women) to discuss this topic honestly? Do men feel threatened by being asked to think more deeply about why they think the way they do or…?!? I honestly dont get it, but I would like to.

      “This problem runs deeper than just being disconnected from our feelings, needs, and wants – it is how male conditioning keeps us isolated and disconnected from other people, and how many men only experience intimacy through sex. As such, intimacy and meaningful connection becomes all-or-nothing, with little in-between (including non-sexual intimacy with other men).”

      This saddens (and depresses) me because I actually hear men argue that to question this perceived “innateness” is to feminize or castrate men. How to engage men to further examine this conditioning? I would truly like to know.

      • Certainly, I can’t speak for all men. But, speaking for myself… when people bring up these points it annoys me. I do want a lot of sex. I would like to have multiple partners. I think thin/fit women are far more sexy than the other kind. I get more turned on by young women than by older women. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some men feel differently. That’s ok. It’s no less ok for me to feel the way I do.

        If someone were to try to “engage me” regarding this it would annoy me because it comes across as preachy and as, “let me tell you why you’re wrong.” I have no interest in christian proselytizers either.

        • So you want lots of sex, you would like to have multiple partners, you like fit women, young women. But those are not men unique traits.

          I think we men can learn a lot from women. Guess what, women also want lots of sex. They also sometimes fantasized have multiple partners, they also like good looking, fit men, young men. But while still love lots of sex, women interests are not focused on those, they don’t forget they also have other important needs, like emotional intimacy, relationship, family. I’m sure most men also need emotional intimacy like women, but why many of them deny it? Its the point of this article,the article and stacey comment are not telling men their need for sex is wrong, its to remind men that we have other needs too.

          Yes we love sex, lots of lots of sex with sexy women, but do we really only want that? Be honest with yourself

          • I certainly don’t deny those other needs. But in a hierarchy of needs the ones I mentioned are more important to me than the ones you bring up. When people are preachy about this stuff, I’m not very interested in hearing that the needs I prioritize should be secondary to the needs they prioritize. Or that I should be happy with a nice bit of emotional intimacy when my sexual needs are not being met.

            She asks why men cling to the idea of these needs being innate or why they don’t want to hear about their emotional needs. I’d guess it’s because men are often shamed for their sexual needs and want to some how justify them. Hiding behind the idea of them being an innate (this is just how I am) aspect of masculinity (and all other guys are too) is perhaps one way to do this. For myself, I want what I want and don’t care whether it’s learned or innate; or whether all other guys, or some or none feel the same way.

            Granted, there’s a lot more luck to be had, with some women, if you couch it in terms of emotion and intimacy. And certainly if you try to meet their needs too, emotional and sexual. But I’m not here to get lucky. And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t have much interest in emotional intimacy with a woman who’s not meeting my sexual needs.

  6. I LOVE Dr. Brandy’s book The Men On My Couch!

    After reading The Men On My Couch, I have a much deeper compassion for men and the challenges they have in love, intimacy and sexual pleasure. I highly recommend this book to all my gal pals.

    FYI: Dr. Brandy shares how men’s erections are directly connected with their hearts. #justsayin’

    Thank you for sharing your insights and wisdom Dr. Brandy – I’m a better wife/lover and mother of two teenage boys.



    • The way to a man's heart... says:

      Some say it’s the stomach. Others claim it’s via the vagina… but it’s got to be a regular passage and made with enthusiasm. So, yes, I’d certainly agree there might be a connection between hearts and erections.

  7. Hi dr.Brandy
    I will buy your book. It is obviously important!

    On Good Men Project many men tells us how important it is for them to have the right to use porn and prostitutes.

    But they have few comments here. This surprises me and makes me pessimistic.
    Do men feel empowered when they sit mastrubating in front of their computer or pay for sex?

    • “Do men feel empowered when they sit mastrubating in front of their computer or pay for sex?”
      For some it’s all they can get. Of course most want a partner but finding love or even lust can be very difficult.

      • Bay Area Guy says:

        For some it’s all they can get. Of course most want a partner but finding love or even lust can be very difficult.

        Exactly. Iben makes it seem as if men are willfully choosing porn because they’d rather masturbate to porn than actually have a real girlfriend.

        Unfortunately, like the many female commenters on this site, she has little clue about the struggles regular single guys face in the dating market.

        • Hi Bay Area Guy
          I tried to post this on another thread,and try again here.

          Hi Archy

          I hope men respond with respect when woman or young girl ask them out!
          But here is something else. I wonder if the culture in America puts more pressure on women to have as few sexual partners as  possible than other countries in the West

          In another thread a man wrote( I think it was Danny) that many women do not understand how difficult it can be for men to get sex.

          My guess is that Danny lives in The US. And since I live in Scandinavia things look a bit different 

          Naturally we have unwanted celibacy as well both men and women. 
          But maybe American culture makes it more hard for women to sexually active unless they are married. Maybe some of the reason why many men on this web site Good Men Project express a frustration over difficulties with finding a sex partner has to do with how free or unfree American women are sexually.

          If we take a look at statistic from different western countries and ask:” how many sexual partners do women have, on average or better the median?”
          I have not found a research report about this.
          Our sexologist can help us! But I browsed though a few websites. 

          This is NOT a comparison,not research and I can not give references. 
          Some use the “average” other use “median”

          American women:median 4,median men: 9
          The Daily Beast:
          “Does your sex number matter”
          By Debby Herbenrick phD
          Norwegian Heath authorities new data
          Men median :7
          Women median:6
          Danish  website
          Danish women median :5
          30% have more than 10
          Another Danish online:
          Female students average 11 sexpartners

          15% of the women had at least 20 sexpartners…
          And here is from Finland
          E.Haavio-Hannila & J.P.Ross
           More scientifically collected data is available from surveys conducted in 1989-2000 in some European countries and United States (Leridon, van Zessen & Hubert 1998; Haavio-Mannila & Kontula 2003; Laumann et al. 1994; Wellings et al. 1994). Among men aged 18-49 years, the highest mean numbers of partners were from The Netherlands (20) and Finland (15) (Table 1). Then came France, Norway, Great Britain and Switzerland (12), and the lowest number was found in Spain (10). Women in The Netherlands, Finland and Norway were reporting 10 partners, Spanish and Swiss women 5 partners, and the lowest numbers, 4, stemmed from France and Great Britain.”

          I do not say we shall all have lots and  lots of sex partners. But if women are stigmatized when they are an active sex life,it also will also be a lot harder for men to find a women for sex and romance.

          • Any idea of the average? I always figured women had more sexual partners on average than men, cept for the top “alpha” men? I seriously doubt the average man has more sexual partners than the average woman for instance where I live, women have far more opportunities for casual sex let alone relationships.

    • “Do men feel empowered when they sit mastrubating in front of their computer or pay for sex?”

      It’s not a lot of power, but it does make me less dependent on women for orgasms. And without those to dangle over us…. I very much prefer a good fuck with an attractive woman. But I won’t kowtow for it.

    • Empowerment doesn’t come into it. Sometimes people just want to get off consensually with as little compromise and inconvenience as possible.

    • wellokaythen says:

      “Do men feel empowered when they sit mastrubating in front of their computer or pay for sex?”

      Why not? If masturbation with vibrators or other sex toys by oneself is a way for women to feel sexually empowered, then why not masturbation with a laptop as a way for men to feel empowered?

  8. Hi Archy

    The American men had twice as many sex partners as American women. Not so in Scandinavia.

    They can find the numbers two ways
    “Average ” and “median”.
    Median gives most sense to use,because some women are celibate ( health reasons like in instituions) other have a lot of partners because they are prostitutes.)

    Median means “what most women have”.
    American women seems to be more chase,more careful than women in the rest of the western world.
    I looked up Wikipedia. We can never trust Wikipedia but it is aways interesting to read what it says.. There we find comparisons from all over the world under the word “promucius “.
    It think that is a wrong choice of words. But look up Wikipedia and see how women in New Zeelands “lead” with a median of 20.

    I am beginning to understand the American men’s frustration! You all have my sympathy!!!!!

    • Ah, I thought median was the upper portions, the top 50% which may have a far higher success rate than the lower half.

  9. wellokaythen says:

    I think you’ve touched on something very important here, that sexual desire sometimes comes from emotional places, or that periods of unusual horniness may be expressions of loneliness or some other emotional issue.

    That being said, you lost me a little with this throwaway sentence:
    “The problem in therapy is that I know this isn’t real, but they don’t.”

    Maybe this sentence was just an unfortunate way to put it, but their experiences are actually real. They may be coming to some odd conclusions about what they’re feeling, but the falling in love is actually a real feeling. The unusual lust for sex is real. Taking the position as a therapist that you know what they’re really thinking better than they do is really, really tempting, but it’s a bit of a leap, don’t you think? I can see a perfectly valid point that this moment in his life is going to look very different when he looks back on it in a few years, but that’s not the same thing as saying that it’s not real.

    It calls into question what part of their lives you consider “real” and what part is…whatever you call the other part – unreal, imagined, false, etc. It almost sounds like the assumption here is that humans normally want sex primarily as part of a committed, emotionally fulfilling relationship, and to want it for its own sake because it feels good, or because of physical drives, is an illusion. Did you allow for the possibility that a client might actually just want sex just for sex?

    I recognize here that I’m probably putting words into your mouth and doing my own overanalysis.

  10. Hi Wellokthen

    I can not speak for other women,but I myself do NOT feel empowered by use of porn or sex toysl
    A good sexual experice or relationship with a man is empowering for me.

    It maybe that it means something different to a man to feel aroused as often as possible because of the more visible signs and men’s vulnerabilities sexually.

    I doubt that women feel empowered by ordinarty hard core porn or sex toys.I have never seen any feminist porn. Maybe it it is totally different.

    To watch men ejaculate into a women’s face, gag her ,or penetrate her but without no body contact is not pleasant to watch.

    And if a man made love to me the way many men in hard core porn “make love”I would have kicked him out of my bed.
    That is why I wonder why so many men seem to love watching it. I just don’t get it. They watch men that can not satisfy a woman.

    And I can guaranty you that a man that never watch porn comes to a women( makes love ) differently from those who use a lot of porn.

    And who needs that to have orgasms?

    • Iben
      “To watch men ejaculate into a women’s face, gag her ,or penetrate her but without no body contact is not pleasant to watch.”
      I watch quite a bit of porn, I don’t like gagging, ejac onto face is useless, most of hte porn I watch is either solo ladies playing or real couples doing their thing. Some of us just enjoy seeing good, health portrayals of sex. I absolutely LOVE the female body and the personality of the actress is also quite a turn on and seeing what I am missing out in a relationship (I’m single) is what I look for the most, not the degrading gangbangs, etc. There are some parts of porn that can be different, some of the styles are done more for the camera angle since you have to rely solely on visuals n sound whereas a real partner you can feel their warmth, their touch, and visuals aren’t as important.

  11. Hi Archy

    I understand that.
    And I hope you soon find a women ( or she finds you).
    You sound like a real gem.

    • Thank-you. I just want the women to know that porn varies greatly, to be honest I’m surprised at half of what is out there but I guess fantasy differs for people.

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