Author and speaker Michael J. Russer shares how he is helping young men to eliminate the cycle of unfulfilling hook ups and achieve long-term extraordinary intimacy with their partner.
Fellow Good Men Project contributor Michael Russer would like you to know that impotence doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life, but can be the beginning of a profoundly more satisfying one. He wants to share what he’s learned with his fellow men, and this very much includes younger guys – who have found that the “hook up” scene winds up leaving them feeling empty and alone.
In September 2011, Michael ended a 26-year marriage, the last 11 years of which were sexless. “We were like roommates,” he says. “I was celibate all that time. We stayed together until our two children were old enough to be on their own.”
But within months after the split, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the treatments he underwent left him, in his own words, “fully impotent.” It was like a cruel cosmic joke; just when he would have been able to start having a normal sex life as a single guy, he physically could not get an erection.
But then, less than a year later, he met a woman he fell in love with, and she with him. And he discovered that what had seemed like a curse was actually a gift. “We are able to pleasure each other in ways that I never thought possible,” he said. “I wanted to share what I’ve learned with everyone.”
I recently talked with Michael for 45 minutes. What he had to say certainly wasn’t what you’d expect. And it left me feeling a little envious. He enjoys a wonderful love life, without one of the worries that haunts so many men: performance anxiety. “Will I be able to get it up?” so many guys ask themselves, in what becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s an issue he simply doesn’t have.
Mark Sherman: MS
Michael Russer: MR
MS: You recently wrote a piece on the Good Men Project that was titled “‘Wifely Duty’ and Why So Many Married Women Eventually Prefer No Sex.” Why do so many married women eventually prefer no sex, and what can a husband do about that situation?
MR: It’s really interesting because as a result of my situation – the prostate cancer and then the full impotence – I’ve really been given a gift of some pretty deep insight as to how men and women operate both in and out of the bedroom –particularly in the bedroom. What I’ve observed is that once women age beyond the child-bearing years – and I’m speaking in general terms here because there are exceptions always – generally speaking, their needs for physical and emotional intimacy start changing rather dramatically. Intercourse becomes less and less important to them.
In fact, in many cases, for many women that I have talked to, especially in their menopausal/post-menopausal years, intercourse is not something that they look forward to. It can actually be painful. So they’re looking for something else. They also need their man to really, really slow down and spend a lot more time with them because it takes longer to get them warmed up. Perhaps less so if they’re in their child-bearing years but to achieve maximal sexual expression and fulfillment, men and women are so different. That’s particularly the case as they mature together.
Women do change in terms of those needs: both emotional and physical. It requires much more warming up and much more attention to the emotional intimacy whereas we men tend to think that “Well, hell it worked before. What’s the problem? Let’s just keep doing it the way we always did it.” That’s where the divide starts happening and it gets to the point for many women where they’ve just had it. So they shut down or they leave the relationship and in some case they switch teams and end up finding the intimacy they’re looking for in a relationship with a woman.
MS: That’s a very interesting question about how flexible women are in terms of what you described as “switching teams,” but I want to ask you something in particular before we get into the real meat of your stuff here. Right from the first time I heard you on conference calls here on the Good Men Project, right from the start you have spoken about impotence. These days with so-called political correctness and the way we say things, I’m sure you know the term now is “erectile dysfunction,” but you use “impotence”; you don’t hesitate to use it.
I want to ask you a couple of questions. Obviously this is a big thing in your life. How hard was it for you to even begin to say that word, and why do you in this obvious way use that word?
MR: In the beginning it was very hard – no pun intended – because it was 12 years since I had been intimate with a woman before I finally had relations again, this includes the last 11 years of my marriage. After being faithful in a sexless marriage and then being freed from that, legally and morally speaking, to enjoy relations with another woman, I’m now struck impotent.
I thought that was a very cruel irony as I looked up to the heavens and said, “Are you kidding me?” Yet, it ended up being the biggest gift of my life which is obviously the whole reason for all my work now.
In the beginning it was difficult, but I am the kind of person where I’ve always found that it’s better to address the elephant in the room right up front instead of avoid it. This issue is affecting millions of people. And the men being affected are younger and younger as time goes on because of the very stress of modern life. Then there is the disconnect that the prevalence of porn can put in men’s psyche so that young men even have trouble connecting with real women because porn’s their only sexual release.
In this age I find that it’s important to talk about it. I use the term impotence because it’s probably, as you said, not politically correct but it basically says, “You’re not potent in this area.” I see that and I use that term because I am anything but impotent in terms of my relationship. I use the term because it really gets people’s attention and there are very few men out there talking about it, and we need to talk about it.
MS: That’s great Michael.
“Wifely Duty” was about people who have been married for quite a long time but you did say to me that a major interest of yours now is millennial men. That, of course, is a much younger group. It’s a group many of who aren’t married. It’s a group we tend to think of as having a high sex drive with erections being something that occurs even when they don’t want them to.
So tell me about that.
MR: I have to say that this goes against conventional wisdom. Mark. You and I are essentially from the same generation. Conventional wisdom says that men that age couldn’t care less about intimacy and connection – they just want to get laid! Frankly, that’s kind of where I was at that age. I just went from skirt to skirt and I was just interested in one thing.
Where this focus on the millennials has come up is that first of all I’m very involved with men’s work. I’m very involved with the Mankind Project at the national level. I’m actually helping them create a video that talks about the work of the Mankind Project and part of my mission that has happened as a result of that work and as a result of my life experience with the cancer and the prostate and the impotence, and all that is helping men through various issues. So what better issue than this? This is a big issue for men. Let’s face it, the whole issue of intimacy in a relationship and connection and commitment is a big one for men of all ages.
I started thinking we’re never taught! No one ever teaches us what it really means to be with the opposite sex. I mean we know what sex is, hopefully, that’s usually a given; but men and women are so different. I started thinking about that and concurrently I had conversations – strictly anecdotally – where young men in this age range would ask me what I do. I’m thinking, “Oh god. They’re going to give me about 30 seconds and then go ‘Oh, cool. Now what’s going on with whatever else we were talking about…?’” But that was not at all the reaction I got. The reaction I received was that they wanted to hear more. I’m thinking, “Wow. I didn’t expect that”.
What I think is happening is we’re evolving. Societally speaking, culturally speaking, we are starting to evolve. This generation wants to connect but we live in one of the most disconnected times of the human species. The digital connection that we all burry our heads in does the opposite. It creates barriers to true, deep connection between human beings. It may connect our heads; it does nothing to connect our hearts.
One of my assumptions – and I think it’s a good one – is that as human beings, we crave true connection. Heart level connection, always. As we evolve, the expression of that connection sexually speaking, goes way beyond the need for procreation. Heck, we don’t even need to have sex to procreate anymore. I see where there’s this kind of collision between the way men and women are wired for procreation that make them so different because of that and the need – the evolving need, the higher level need if you will – of true connection. Not only emotionally but physically, but to express it in a way that doesn’t collide with the old wiring.
So I see where this generation is really running smack down into that conflict of higher level needs and lower level hard-wired urges. They’ve evolved enough to where they’re much more aware than what I was at that age of the need for connection. It’s probably because it’s so easy to hook up today and have casual disconnected sex that they become so acutely aware of how empty it is without that connection so they crave it even more. Most just don’t know how to get it. That’s the thing.
MS: When I was a young person, which goes back a ways, it was called making out or petting or necking, and what that consisted of, back when I was maybe 17, was kissing. It was really just kissing. It was really exciting, kissing. Very often some of us guys would try and see if we could get a hand on a breast, and get pushed away, and no meant no, but the kissing was wonderful. Somehow there was just a certain closeness that evolved so it made the concept of sex itself a very big deal.
That’s deceptive for geezers like me because wow, women coming onto men. Boy, that wasn’t happening when I was young. This has some real disadvantages is what you’re saying, yes?
MR: Yes, huge disadvantages because this kind of hooking up, very casual, is basically mutual masturbation. There really is no connection there within that context. I’m not saying that every time young people have sex, there’s no connection. What I hear most often from men is that they’re tired of just hooking up. They’re tired of having women throw themselves at them but with no sense of connection.
I think this is equally difficult for women because our society from a media standpoint is so hyper-sexed that they’re getting this subtext message that says if you want a guy, you’ve just got to throw your body at him. I think they’re as confused and frustrated as the men. However the good news – and this is the basis for the work – is that I think they’re much more aware of what’s missing.
In our generation, I agree, the kissing was, oh my god, and if you could cop a feel, man, that was something else that night. At the same time, that was a very limited perspective because it was so new and it was so special. Now it’s not special anymore. Sometimes these men and women have sex like they would shake hands. “Sure, you blow me, I’ll blow you. It was real. See you later”.
MS: One of the things that psychologists have looked at for many years is what is it that makes us happy.
What people seem to need – it comes up over and over again – is social connection. So when people are strictly having a sexual relationship, barely a word needs to be spoken and that’s not connection. People are not going to be happy with that.
MR: The attempt at connection through sex gives them a glimpse during that few seconds during climax – for the guy and assuming there might be one for the woman – there’s that releasing, that releasing of the barriers between two human beings and they get a glimpse of it for a second. That’s what they think sex is all about and it’s not. So it becomes very confusing. Men and women try to fill this hole – no pun intended – that cannot be filled this way because it first must start with a deep foundation of emotional intimacy.
I use the term intimacy and connection interchangeably. I consider true intimacy as connection at the emotional, physical and even spiritual level. Until you have a deep foundation of the emotional connection first, however, none of the others are going to last very long or even happen. The underlying foundation for all of that is something I had to go through and that is the willingness to be vulnerable, to be heart open.
MS: That term “heart open”: Do you want to say a little bit more about what that means?
MR: For most of my adult life, I was a very successful speaker and author and a fairly high-energy guy. But I was shut down in the sense that I didn’t allow myself to be vulnerable. Wounds from childhood, we all have them and I just got really good at hiding it.
After many years of therapy and coaches it finally dawned on me: I didn’t allow my heart to be open. Once I realized this I drew a line in the sand saying that from this point on I will forever live heart-open and do whatever it takes to remain that way. That means the willingness to feel everything whether it feels good or not. Much of our society today however is about not feeling anything “bad.” People don’t want to feel anything that doesn’t feel good so they either medicate their numbness or perhaps, just as bad, distract themselves from feeling anything.
Distraction, from my point of view, is today’s drug of choice. It’s the 21st century version of Soma from “Brave New World.”
MS: “Brave New World.” I’ve read it more than once.
MR: It was designed to placate the masses so they don’t have to feel or be fully aware. Yet at the same time our souls cry out for deep, meaningful connection. The only way you can have that connection is the willingness to be vulnerable which means the willingness to feel everything.
MS: You’re absolutely right. I want to say something about sexuality and connection. Thirty-five years ago a colleague of mine and I wrote a book together. It was published by a fairly major publisher and the book was called – it’s not in print anymore but you can find it on the Internet – it’s called Afterplay: A Key to Intimacy. What we looked at was the time after sex where the man has had an orgasm and maybe the woman had as well. It turns out that – we were kind of clueless – but women told us eventually, “You know, that is very important to us.” That’s a time of vulnerability and loving and cuddling and everything is so important. Sometimes the guy would get up and, you know, “wham bam thank you ma’am,” and he’s out the door. Men didn’t realize how important it was because women typically didn’t treat them that way but it turns out it was important for them also. This is a time where you’re done and you’re in a very vulnerable period. It was very interesting and we learned a lot.
This certainly fits in with what you’re talking about — with sexuality not being a simple physical experience. It’s much, much more than that.
So here you are, you’ve had this situation with impotence and tell us a little bit – I know this is something that you’ve written about – you talk about conventional wisdom and that’s counter- intuitive. The thought for a lot of guys would be “Well that’s it. I’m lucky if another woman just looks at me again.” Yet you say that this has given you something that you couldn’t have imagined to the relationship you have with your partner. Do you want to say something about that?
MR: Prior to the impotence, I had no problems getting hard. And you know, as soon as we get hard, we’re ready, right? In my research I found that there’s a British university study which determined that 87% of women vocalize or moan just to speed the guy up and make him feel better. So many women are reticent to really tell the men what they really want, what they really crave because they’re afraid that he’s going to get upset, get hurt and leave them. There’s these abandonment issues that come up.
So what happened was my impotence basically short circuited that urge that comes over me when I used to get hard. That overwhelming, almost visceral, urge to use it right now. That is a distinction from having a libido. I have a very high libido. You can have a high libido without having that urge to have intercourse.
What it allowed me to do is to slow way down with everything I did. I also became very coachable because, let’s face it, when you can’t get it up to save your life, it’s helpful to listen to the woman as to, “Ok, here are some thoughts.” Fortunately, my partner is not one of these women that is reticent about saying what she likes. She shared with me and I thought, “Wow, I never knew that!” Fortunately we both enjoy incredible oral sex but we won’t even begin to do that until we’ve spent a good hour and a half warming each other up. Mainly, it’s me warming her up because I’m always ready. She’s post-menopausal and she told me she doesn’t even like intercourse anymore, and she’s a very sexual person. But her thoughts about that are very similar to many other women I’ve talked to in her age range.
I will just say that women in their childbearing years, many of them long towards intercourse because it’s part of that wiring. They can hear the ticking of the biological clock and part of that is, “Yeah get it inside me. That feels good.” I believe most women of any age have unlimited sensual and sexual potential. We have yet to find my partner’s limits. I used to share how many climaxes she experiences every time we make love (at her request I no longer do) but it’s so far off the chart that people typically say: “No, that’s impossible”.
MS: I’m 71. I’ve been married for a long time and I have a wonderful, wonderful partner but obviously at this point in my life, as is true for many men, my sexuality doesn’t have the intensity that it had 30 or 40 years ago. For me and probably for most men even when they’re younger, there can be this performance anxiety – suppose I can’t get it up. And once you start thinking that way, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And what you’re talking about is that that’s not an issue for you and it frees you to not even go that way, to just think about your partner’s pleasure and your own pleasure. But without that, “Uh oh, suppose it doesn’t work this time”.
MR: That’s a great point. In fact I wrote another article for the Good Man project called, “Performance versus Presence in the Pursuit of Extraordinary Sex” and so on. What I tell people is, take the word performance, print it out if you want and put it through a shredder. It should never, ever, ever darken the doorway of your bedroom, ever. It’s not about that; it’s about being fully present for your partner and vice versa both in the giving and the receiving. We live in a very distracted, fast-paced, high stressed society and so one of the principles is to be fully present. Hence the longer warm up period because it helps you become present.
From a conventional standard, I can’t perform to save my life. From the standard of impact that I have on my partner, I have nothing to be ashamed of. The moment you include the idea of performance, it becomes goal-oriented which is very future-thinking. You can’t be in the present moment that way. So I talk about the idea of goal-less lovemaking.
The irony of this is that when you make love this way, when you make love with the idea of being fully present and forget about performance with no goals in mind, ironically, what most people would go after in terms of goal, gets blown right off the map. The expression and what’s possible suddenly opens up in a way that could never have opened up any other way.
It’s interesting because my partner has a lot of stresses, she’s has a lot of stuff on her mind, and because women tend to be multitaskers more than men, they can have a lot going on in their head even while being intimate. There are times I’ve noticed when my partner is close to climaxing but falls back and she says, “I don’t know what’s going on, I’m just having trouble going over the edge.”
I look up at her and I say, “Are you enjoying this?”
She says, “Oh my god, yes.”
I say, “Well, I’m not getting tired and I love doing this. So just lay back and enjoy it. Don’t even think about anything or trying. I’m not getting tired.”
As soon as I say that, within ten seconds, boom. Once she goes over that edge, the rest follow without any problem at all.
That’s the other thing I learned. Our male brains are wired into thinking harder and faster, harder and faster as soon as you get close to coming, right? That’s not how it works for most women. For most women, it’s slow and steady and gentle. As I sense her getting close to climaxing, my male brain literally is screaming at me, “She’s getting close, go harder and faster!” But then I remember what she told me – and this is part of being present – slow and steady, slow and steady.
The first time we made love, the first time she climaxed I thought, “You know what? I’m not going to stop.” In the past I would have thought, “All right my job here is done.” But I thought, I’m enjoying this and I’m just not going to stop. Well, my god she just kept going and going and going and I thought, “Holy cow!”
Here’s the other thing, Mark. When my partner and I first started making love, it took me four months to rewire my brain to learn how to climax without an erection or an ejaculation.
MS: I was thinking about that because I know it is possible to do that. So you’ve answered my question. It is possible.
MR: Not only is it possible, it has never been so powerful and more long-lasting which is kind of ironic. I suspect that I climax very similar to a woman now because of what I feel physiologically.
However prior to learning how to climax again I was thinking, “Oh my god I’m going to climb the walls.” But I didn’t. I received so much fulfillment and satisfaction out of giving her this experience that she’s never had before, that I’d never seen before. This flood of insights that I had from this was incredible. I received so much satisfaction from just giving to her that I’d never felt wanting. Eventually however, my brain re-wired and I learned how to climax again with her help.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. My partner and I talk all the time and I said, “Sweetie, what if we had to give up one or the other. Either the giving or the receiving.” I said, “What would you give up?”
She said without hesitation, “I’d give up the receiving just so I could give to you.”
You know, I feel exactly the same way. My climaxes have never been as powerful as they are now, yet, if I had to make a choice between giving or receiving, I’d give up the receiving. This is so different from what you would normally see in a purely sexual encounter.
This is what happens when you’re so fully present because now you get more out of the giving. I personally think that all men are wired this way. Let’s face it, this is the reason that women fake it. This is the reason 87% of them moan. Because everybody knows that if the man feels that he is providing for his mate a level of experience that hopefully no other man can do for them, that does something for the man that nothing else will.
Part of my work is to really help men plug into that deeper level of connection and sense of satisfaction in the giving rather than looking to get off, if that makes sense.
MS: So you have a project going now?
MR: Yes, so I’m creating another book, in addition to another one I have that a publisher should be picking up in about a week. I’m creating a book called Extraordinary Intimacy for Men – A Practical Guide to Help Men Become What Women Love via a Kickstarter campaign. It takes everything that I’ve learned about how to achieve these truly extraordinary levels of emotional, physical and even spiritual intimacy with the opposite sex and puts it into a book form primarily for millennial men. Again, no one’s ever taught them. No one’s ever taught us. So here’s a very powerful possibility for these men. They can check this out by going to KickstarterLaunch.com to see just what’s possible and to hopefully tap into this for themselves.
MS: It sounds great, Michael. It really does. Thank you so much. I’ve learned a lot and I think anybody who reads about your work and checks it out on Kickstarter will have the possibility of learning a lot as well.
MR: Thank you Mark.
Michael Russer is putting the valuable lessons he’s learned about sex and intimacy in a book to be titled “Extraordinary Intimacy for Men – A Practical Guide to Help Men Become What Women Love” For more information, go to KickstarterLaunch.com. He has a very special perspective that challenges conventional wisdom, and opens men up to the kind of loving intimacy with women they might never have imagined.
image: Heart Open LLC