With the recent spate of revelations about powerful men behaving inappropriately toward non-consenting people without power—including women, girls, boys and men—I have some concern that, as a culture, we are quick to jump to the easiest conclusion: that all men are libidinous beasts, unable to control their impulses, and prone to harmful, pathological behavior. There is a name for where this leads: Misandry, meaning hatred of men. It corresponds to misogyny, hatred of women.
For instance, a recent Sunday New York Times (Nov. 26) op-ed was titled, “The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Ego.” Despite the headline’s apparent damning of men in general, the author does make an important point: Men are woefully prepared to talk about or examine their own sexuality or intimate feelings.
Not All Men Behave Badly Sexually
It is crucial that we not generalize men as sexual predators waiting to pounce on any unsuspecting person just to get our sexual needs met. Those in the news are powerful and privileged men engaging in nonconsensual sexual advances.
It is easy to assume that men, in general, behave badly sexually. There are a naiveté and lack of education around men’s sexuality that can be quite scary to women, as well as shaming for men. As a therapist, I feel it is important to understand the background. From boyhood, males are taught, overtly or subtly, that we should not touch one another, that we not show our emotions, that we “man up,” show no vulnerability, and solve our own problems. It’s a recipe for disaster and many of the troubles that plague the men and the couples.
Recently I wrote an article that addressed the mostly unconscious bias against men in a psychotherapy setting. Because therapy typically takes a mostly feminine approach to intimacy—that is, a relational approach requiring vulnerability and expression of feelings—it often fails to recognize how differently men, subject to their very different upbringing, try to approach intimacy.
Sexual Differences between Men and Women
Not having access to important ranges of emotion and intimacy is crippling. As an example, one client told me in therapy, “When I fight with my wife I feel like she has a machete and I have a Swiss pocket knife.”
How Do We Begin to Address This Problem?
First, we must be clear that not all men want to harm women or engage in nonconsensual contact. Next, we need to understand men’s and women’s differences between our “attachment language,” that is, the words we use to express our desire, love, and our hope for deep intimacy with a sexual partner. While we need to recognize that some men truly are bad actors in the sexual arena, I fear that our immediate reaction as a culture is to pathologize all men’s behavior, failing to recognize that many men may truly desire intimacy, but express it in wholly different ways.
A few years ago, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam wrote a book titled, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire. The authors analyzed a billion Web searches, a million websites, a million erotic videos, a million erotic stories, millions of personal ads, and tens of thousands of digitized romance novels to better understand the sexual differences between men and women. Among their fascinating finds was that a hundred million men in the U.S. and Canada accessed porn in 2008, while 7.48 million people, more than 90 percent of whom were women, read a romance novel.
The authors conclude that the ultimate destination sought by men is “porntopia,” that is, a place of “sheer lust and physical gratification, devoid of courtship, commitment, durable relationships, or mating effort.” On the other hand, they call women’s desired destination “romantopia,” a place of love stories where winning hearts, overcoming obstacles and getting married reign supreme.
It is not difficult to see how such information, coupled with the seemingly daily exposure of some men’s unwanted sexual aggression, can lead to the pathologizing of all men as shallow beasts with no control over their impulses. As a sex therapist, however, I have seen the depth of men’s suffering around trying to bridge the gap between their attachment language and their partner’s.
Men Really Want Her To Want It
While men are in the spotlight right now for sexual aggression against non-consenting partners, the vast majority of men I deal with in therapy say, “If she doesn’t want it, it totally turns me off.” Instead, they are hoping that their partner can understand when they use language or actions in the bedroom that may objectify the partner, they are seeking erotic intimacy.
Of course, men also need to understand women’s need for romantic and relational language, and it is the therapist’s job to help each partner understand the other’s needs—in a sense serving as a translator between them. The least helpful thing one can do is succumb wholly to one’s bias toward a feminine approach to the relationship, forcing the man into greater feelings of self-loathing, shame, and suppression of his desires. There needs to be an inclusion of a male’s approach to the relationship too. Without balancing both of men and women’s sexual and relational needs, there is a risk of creating even more distance between them.
Those of us who have studied and trained in the concept of healthy sexuality—not just sexual pathology—realize the vast ranges of erotic expression in humans. We have barely begun to open to the idea that what has been acceptable culturally—heteronormative, monoganormative, and vanilla sex—does not begin to address who we really are.
To think of all men as having pathological attitudes about sex is a sure way to shut down the emerging awareness of the myriad ways in which we can healthfully engage in this most basic expression of love and attachment, and differentiate it from the unhealthy ways we are seeing it played out in the media.
Kort, Joe, “Is All Fair in Love and Sex? How Couples Can Embrace their Sexual Differences.” Psychotherapy Networker Magazine July/August 2017: 47-50.
Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam (2012). A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire. New York, NY: Plume Press
This article originally appeared on Psychology Today and is republished here with permission from the author.
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