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.
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?
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.
Image credit: THX0477/Flickr