Why are our stereotypes of what men want so shallow… and so wrong?
With the focus of publications like the Good Men Project, along with a slew of websites on topics like fatherhood, and with entire organizations working to support men, the broader conversation on manhood has grown dramatically. Going quickly are the days when guys feel sheepish about discussing deeper emotional issues. In many circles you needn’t be embarrassed anymore about wanting to stay home with your kids full time. And if you have the audacity to express your interest in Woody Allen movies, you might actually receive a nod of agreement, as opposed to a kidney-punch by the buddy in closest proximity to you. Even if you don’t agree with all of the advancements, it would be impossible to deny the broadening platform.
This is of course until you broach the subject of intimacy as it relates to women, whether sexual or emotional. Think for a moment about the last discussion you had on this topic…in which a woman was involved. I’d be willing to bet that the context of your conversation didn’t center on the complexity of male intimacy. Nor did it center on the simplicity of the female counterpart. In fact, it’s likely that you heard the word pervert in place of anything indicating depth. At the very least, you were re-acclimated to the view than men were SO easy to figure out. Sex, food, success…repeat..
Let’s face it, there is valid evidence to suggest that women are more complicated emotionally (driven by radically different hormone levels), and we certainly know that sexual intimacy for women is more of a marathon than it is a sprint. In a recent WebMD article, Edward O. Laumann, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, reminds us that “sexual desire in women is extremely sensitive to environment and context.” It is more about the build and less about the moment. Conversely, men are more visually stimulated and our emotional intimacy is closely connected to sexual intimacy. Add to that the physiological reality that a man’s seminal tanks are refilled every 72 hours after intercourse, and you begin to get a picture of why men, dare I say, “need” it more.
Although it may go without saying, this doesn’t mean that men somehow have a license to think with their crotch. But it does cast light on the force behind some of our motivations.
Unfortunately, that’s where most conversations stop. Even the Internet has a skewed perspective on the topic. Just Google the term “motivations for men” and you’ll see that six of the ten links on the first page are related to sexual topics. Throw in weight loss and inspirational quotes and you’ll round out the top ten. Now that’s a life to shoot for, right?
Conveniently there’s little conversation about how many of us stay up at night reeling over how effectively we are (or aren’t) teaching our children. Or that one of the deepest desires that a man has, even above sex, is to feel needed, appreciated and respected. We want to learn how to cherish the women in our lives so that they feel special and loved. We often pursue career success because of our want to protect and provide stability for our families. The reality is that most men are driven by far more than just a carnal desire to reproduce.
Still not convinced?
Consider for a moment the motivation behind your sex life. As I’ve counseled with men over the years, there have been very few whose primary goal with sex is to gratify themselves. It’s far more common for a man to be concerned about his wife’s enjoyment over his own. Most guys will admit that if their encounter is one-sided it leaves them feeling dissatisfied and the entire experience is less enjoyable. For one such man, he likened that kind of mentality to visiting a prostitute; “I might as well be leaving money on the dresser if that’s how I’m going to approach my sex life with my wife!”
I’ve uncovered the same underlying intent when speaking with men about why they want successful careers and what that success actually looks like. Over and over men give very little credence to the traditional capitalistic notion of success. They aren’t concerned about acquiring power or fame and they have very little interest in being leveraged to the hilt with more material possessions. Instead they’re thinking about sick spouses, future college tuition, orthodontist bills and not wanting to be destitute when they retire. Of course it feels good to experience success, but success itself is not often the primary motivator.
Even in areas where men have traditionally been labeled as stunted, such as in communication and emotional intelligence, I find a level of depth that astounds most women. Machismo aside, and in the right environment with some male encouragement, even the most hardened Cave-Men can talk deeply and relate emotionally.
In my twelve years of marriage, and having three daughters, I have discovered one basic truth. As much as women are an enigma to men, they are often equally unaware of what makes us tick.
Yes, things like sex have importance. And yes, it’s much easier for men to be captivated by some of these things when we don’t exercise discipline. Most of us are painfully aware of how much growth we have yet to go through. All of us could stand to communicate more about the important things. But when a good woman attempts to understand and appreciate us more, there is little that we won’t do to reciprocate. Having a wife that wants to know me, warts and all, has been life changing. And I would like to think that I’ve had that same impact on her.
Sex, food, success…repeat? In the words of my eldest daughter, “that’s so 20 minutes ago.”