Never ask a guy to braid your hair. A study just came out that suggests men feel angry when made to perform a “traditional feminine task” like, apparently, hair braiding. The researcher suggests this is because men are expected to gender perform in ways that women don’t have an equivalent; they must constantly “prove” their masculinity. While it’s not easy equating the ways that sexism effects men and women, rigid gender roles don’t help anyone.
But I am writing about this male phenomenon as a woman. And most of my sex positive blogging peers are also female. It almost seems there is some silent rule: men aren’t allowed to write about sexuality, as though a guy with a sex blog is the intellectual version of a flasher. It’s another way sexism harms men.
In these sex positive discussions, there is so much I want to hear from the male side, so much about masculinity that needs exploring. And this is how The Man Project was born. I asked men who are vocal about sex and asked them what was missing from the discussion about male sexuality. After talking with a handful of men from varying backgrounds—literature, art, porn, television—here’s a sampling of what I found. Feel free to weigh in and continue the discussion in the comments section below.
How do you feel about your masculinity? Is this important to you?
David J: I think there’s an interesting cultural struggle around masculinity going on. At least judging by the advertising that’s targeting my demographic, like the Old Spice commercials. There’s this sense that masculinity, as it’s traditionally articulated, is problematic. So, masculinity isn’t something we seriously address. Also, it’s not something that’s presented to us in a serious way, it’s presented to us comically.
So, my friends and I, when we act traditionally masculine, we are both performing and making fun of masculinity–but we aren’t examining it. And we end up expressing our gender that way. It’s not, “I’ve thought a lot of masculinity and other forms of gender expression.” Instead, it’s, “The way I relate to my masculinity is by making fun of masculinity. And other than that, I don’t really know how to deal with it.”
Michael: The one thing that absolutely bugs me in the gay world is the question of, “Are you a top or a bottom?” It’s really, “How masculine are you?” If you want to see how masculinity and femininity are played out in the straight world, you only have to see how it is played out in the gay world. Top and bottom is really nothing but masculine and feminine. In ancient Greece and in Rome, homosexuality was accepted—but only if you were the top. The proscription against homosexuality was not about men having sex with men. It was about men not acting like women.
Why is the sex writing, sex positive sphere dominated by women?
Michael: When I was selected to be the co-host of Sex Inspectors, they didn’t come out and say, “We want someone who is gay,” but they did more or less. I think the idea was if a [straight] guy talks about sex to a woman, there’s a sense that there is a hidden agenda. Which is a nice way of saying, “He is predator-like.”
Grant: We think there’s something gross about reading about a straight guy and his sexual experiences. Women are given great sexual latitude to do a number of different things—bondage, kinks, even lots of different vanilla sex. Men are really sort of reduced to just wanting to fuck something, and that’s it. Sexually, we are forced into a box and not allowed to express ourselves in many more ways than society allows.
David S: I think the critique and developing analysis of women’s sexuality came out of the feminist movement to a large extent. So, that would explain the critique of traditional thinking about women’s sexuality in general. It’s too bad because I think traditional gender roles in sexuality are just as limiting and damaging for men.
There is this idea that male sexuality is different, simpler than female sexuality. It’s just a button to push. Thoughts?
David S: I used to run a workshop on male sexuality for women. One of the most common things that women would ask is, “So I’m with this guy, we have amazing sex and then in the morning, he is like gone.” I think guys think they are just gonna have a fun time. Because sex is as powerful as it is, sometimes a big door opens up inside you. Suddenly, your emotional guts are all over the table. Sex, touch, it is powerful in that way. Suddenly, you are dealing with the fact that you never got touched as a child, suddenly you are dealing with the time something happened and you were embarrassed. Suddenly, all sorts of larger issues, even existential ones leap up, and there you are in the middle of them.
I think women are more prepared for this, less frightened. For some guys, in this deeply intimate exposed place with a person they hardly know, they wake up in the morning and start putting a wall up, really fast. One of the sad things about sex, particularly for men, is that the culture shoves a version of sex down your throat that is just a poor, pale version of what is really possible.
Buck: I think and act and interact totally different from how I did when I was female and had little testosterone in my body. Even though I was a very masculine female. But I was much more sensitive, I cried easier. I looked at things differently, my sexuality. My sex drive was intense for a woman. But I would say it is much more intense now.
What about male stereotypes like guys being “less in touch with their emotions”?
Eon: In a breakup, for example, I think women have a lot more coping mechanisms that society supports. Men are expected to not care and move on. I don’t know what’s going on at the Moose Lodge and I’m sure that some of those brothers are helping each other out. But in general, it’s hard to help another man emotionally. It’s a pride thing and a societal pressure not to.
Danny: There has been so much discussion over how women are treated, or how women feel when they perform in pornographic scenes. But heterosexual men seem to have been left out of this discussion. Maybe even gay men too. “How do male performers feel about performing in sex scenes?” It’s not a question often asked. I think it’s just assumed we want to fuck anything that’s put in front of us. I assure you that’s not the case.
What about the one, guys are just “thinking with their dicks”?
Zak: So, guys can be extraordinarily smart in order to get their dick to have what they want. Like, right now we’re talking on a telephone. You’ve got Skype. My guess is that both of those things were invented by guys who thought that if they could invent something cool, it would make them rich and famous and get them laid. So Alexander Graham Bell wasn’t maybe thinking with his dick but thinking really helped his dick out.
Women are a complicated target. You have to really do all kinds of crazy shit in order to impress them or to get them to know you. And so, you know, men invent computers and airplanes and socks and healthcare because, like, you can’t have sex with women when they’re dead! We’ve really got to keep them all alive.
Eon: In my youth, the idea was that no girl would want to look at a dick—the dick is just lucky to be here. But I think both men and women want to be ambitious and explore the world in a similar way. [What’s missing for men is] the inability to make the one partner both of these things, wife and sexual adventurer.
What is missing from the discussion around male sexuality?
Grant: I want to suck a dick. I don’t want to conform to a lifestyle or necessarily move to Chelsea. I just want to suck a big one. If women [want to experiment], it’s cool, but for guys it’s, “Oh, so you’re gay?”
Also, here is what I want to see changed: the way men use language. They talk about banging girls, finger-banging or fucking. It’s something mechanical that sort of gets done. I hope for them it’s actually a little more complex than that, a little more considered. But anything other than some sort of Anglo-Saxon term for what you do to a woman as a man is viewed as somehow weird, or creepy, or it makes you a sensualist.
David J: The message we are getting today is that our sexuality is problematic and destructive. I think that culturally there aren’t enough symbols of non-destructive sexuality for men to really adopt.
More from Sex Week at the Good Men Project:
Benoit Denizet-Lewis: The Dan Savage Interview
Hugo Schwyzer: Male Self-Pleasure Myths
Amanda Marcotte: What Women Don’t Tell You
Ed Fell: 10 Secrets to Satisfying Sex
Andrew Ladd: A Billion Wicked Assumptions
Charles Allen: Why I Hate My Giant Dong
Emily Heist Moss: Does Size Matter?
John DeVore: Multiple Inches of Love
Joshua Matacotta: Do Gay Men Fear Intimacy?
Hugo Schwyzer: Mythbusting Bisexual Men
Bhatia & MacKinnon: The Psychology of Erectile Dysfunction
Wilson & Robinson: Can’t She See I Need It?
Robert Levithan: Sex at 60
—Photo Just call me Jason (:/Flickr