Many men are blocked from being better lovers because of fear of failure and the taboo we have on talking about those fears.
One of the benefits of getting older—as some compensation for aching joints, taking two days to recover from drinking a little too much wine, and needing a nap in the afternoons—has been a steady increase in the quality (if not the quantity) of my sex life.
With the passage of time, I’ve become willing and able to take a more realistic view of all aspects of my life, to think about whether I’m being the best that I can be as a man, and if not, motivated by an awareness of the rapidly decreasing amount of time that’s left to, to think about what, if anything, I can do about it. In the realm of bedroom activity, I confess that until quite recently I’ve carried on with eyes closed (metaphorically and literally) hoping for the best. Maybe because of wanting to avoid making a painful discovery that I wasn’t ‘doing’, and had probably never done, as well as I liked to think in that area; that in fact, I had been missing out on part of what could have been one of the most sustaining and rewarding parts of my life.
I think sexuality is still somewhat of a taboo area for many of us, and when it comes to getting down to that business we are often still quite defensive about, and in awe of, the power and intensity that a deep engagement with making love can generate. From personal reflection, and from what women friends have told me about their bedroom encounters with men, too many of which they describe as ‘disappointing’. I have to conclude that many of us, and I know this has been true of myself, are blocked from being better lovers because of fear—however well hidden it may be—of vulnerability, and of ‘failure’ in the bedroom.
When I’m caught up with worries about not being the ‘man’, I think I need to be more aware of not being able to satisfy my partner (which has often been more to do with my ego than her pleasure.) I pull back from allowing myself to feel too much because feelings are not really predictable and may take me to places where I’m not in control; where I’m vulnerable. That’s a place in which I’m not very comfortable, even though I’m learning that it’s exactly where love thrives and grows.
I’ve found it hard to admit these secret anxieties to my partner, or even to myself, and all to often how I’ve felt at some level when horizontal with my lover was a need to “get the (sex) job done” and keep any distracting emotions out of the way. I wanted to deliver the goods (as it were) and go to sleep reassured that I was, for another day at least, ‘a real man’. I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way, if the figures on the which may explain why the average duration for sex are anything to go by; apparently, it’s around seven minutes, with two to three minutes not being at all unusual.
In our culture, we don’t have any rites of passage that could reassure us about our manhood, so we’re often unsure whether we’ve made the grade, and I see men using ineffective ways to show that they measure up. For example: through achievements or possessions; sometimes, tragically, through acts of violence or abuse. And we can all feel hypersensitive about any suggestion that we may have fallen ‘short’ of whatever standard we’ve set ourselves, especially in bed.
Sometimes, my partner has tried to explain to me what’s been missing for her with me in bed, what kinds of things she’s needed and would have liked in order to feel satisfyingly loved, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve sometimes responded with anger and/or defensiveness; put a wall between us that prevented us moving ahead together, and in the process missed a precious opportunity for creating more closeness between us.
Even more challenging has been when, for whatever reason, my body has responded sexually in anything other than a predictable and enduring way (if you know what I mean) a totally natural and inevitable occurrence, of course. Sadly, I’ve been unable to talk over what the reasons behind that may have been, which would again have led to a deeper intimacy and probably ‘solved the problem’. Instead, I’ve felt a sense of shame and guilt, and shit down. My completely unnecessary embarrassment was more important to me than whatever feelings my partner was having or wanting to share with me, and this often resulted in me leaving her, either emotionally or physically.
Lost in this fog of insecurity, I’ve been so preoccupied with ‘having sex’ that think I’ve missed what is potentially the most important part, certainly to my partner if not to myself, connectedness with her and with my true self: present-ness, eroticism, sensuality, intimacy, ease, openness, deep sharing, and validation.
Women seem to understand the importance of these things much better than we do. So, can a woman help her man, her lover, her partner, or her husband, to break out of the ‘sex-box’? It‘s a difficult art, because as I know from experience, much as he may want to be open to it, even approaching that territory with a man who is not ready can backfire by making him feel threatened, and retreating to being even more ‘boxed in’.
Even so, in my lucky experience, if a woman is at ease with herself and her capacity for intimacy in love and sex, she can lead her man to a place where he begins to experience what intimacy really is—the kind of ‘naked’ emotional connection most women want with their men, in bed and out, and which is usually more important to them (from what I’ve been told) than how quickly his penis gets hard or how long it stays that way.
Once I felt brave enough to feel the delight of that deeper intimacy, I never wanted to go back in the ‘sex box’. I remember it was a real surprise for me when on one of the very rare occasions when I allowed myself to cry with my partner. I was feeling ashamed and expecting her to deride me, she told me that it actually increased her respect for me, and more important her attraction to me, as a man (as long as I didn’t do it too often.)
The more that women can say such reassuring things to men, the more we will be able, and willing, to risk being connected with our feelings, and with those of our partners. To risk being truly intimate. And the more I experience this, the more I know that it’s been more than worth the anxiety of breaking through my embarrassment and resistance. It’s a path to a deeper happiness that very many women would love to take with their partners if they were given the chance.
So I recommend, you step out of your sex box, take your lover by the hand, don’t look, and jump into this deep place together. It may be one of the most exciting things you’ve ever done.
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