My recent article, “The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex” has garnered more than 400,000 readers on the Good Men Project and my own site, MenAlive.com. Given the responses I received, it is a topic that resonates deeply with men and women. Since I only write about things that I’m interested in, I’ll say truthfully that I’ve been obsessed with sex since I was a very young boy. I still remember our sex play with the little girl next door when I was 7 or 8 years old. It is innocent and exciting until we got caught and her parents wouldn’t let us play together.
So, sex always had a double edge of allure and danger. I suspect this duel aspect of desire and danger goes back to our ancient heritage where getting caught with your pants down could lead to getting eaten by the tiger that was stalking you. For women, getting pregnant could mean death for themselves, since many women died in childbirth.
But there are modern dangers as well. I still remember my first orgasm. I had found my mother’s vibrator (she called it her electric massager) when I was 10 or 11 years old and found that vibrating it around my genitals was not only stimulating, but highly arousing. My little penis was hard as a rock and my heart raced with excitement, when suddenly I had a massive release of energy and liquid flooded my hand and the vibrator.
My penis went from rock hard and large to wet, soft, and shrunken. I was terrified. I knew what had happened. I had been warned about the boy whose radio fell into the bathtub and he was electrocuted (it never occurred to me to wonder why anyone would have a radio plugged in above their bathtub). I was sure that’s what had happened to me. I had electrocuted my penis and had killed it.
I didn’t believe in God, but I prayed that if the almighty restored my penis to life, I would never vibrate it again. Well, God was good and my penis came back to life. But it took me years to overcome my fear of vibrators, despite my wife’s assurances that she would assume any risks if I joined her with her sex play.
In my previous article, I said that men need to feel they have a “safe harbor” when they connect with their partner. In a world of competition and conflict, where we feel we must always compete to be chosen, we long for the comfort and acceptance of a partner who can take us in and nurture us. We want to feel we can let down our guard, open our hearts, and be engulfed with love. But I often felt anxious and depressed. I’ve wondered why I’ve resisted the safe harbor I’ve longed to rest within.
There’s a secret about sex that I’ve kept hidden for most of my adult life. It started with a fantasy I had when I was having intercourse. As I would begin to fully relax and give myself over to the pleasure of love-making, I felt I wanted to follow my penis into the vagina and return to the womb.
The thought terrified me. I felt if I ever were allowed entrance to that safe harbor it would feel so good I never would never want to leave. I would cease being a man. I might even cease to exist. Even as I pursued women, and having found the woman of my dreams enjoyed sex with her, I also felt afraid. Being taken in was my greatest desire and my greatest fear.
I began to get an understanding of my desire and my terror when I first read Sam Keen’s book, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man. “It was slow in dawning on me that WOMAN had an overwhelming influence on my life and on the lives of all the men I knew,” said Keen. “I am not talking about women, the actual flesh-and-blood creatures, but about WOMEN, those larger-than-life shadowy female figures who inhabit our imaginations, inform our emotions, and indirectly give shape to many of our actions.”
I began to understand that having sex meant entering the realm of WOMAN (at least for heterosexual men) and my longing for a safe harbor competed with my desire to be free and independent—“to become my own man.” This recognition helped me understand why I would pull away after having intercourse. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to cuddle or enjoy the afterglow of sex, but because an inner terror, outside my conscious mind, was telling me, “Don’t let yourself get too close, or stay too long. You’ll become trapped and never want to leave.”
Looking back, I realize I would often project this subconscious fear on the woman. After being close and feeling safe, I would get irritated with her. The next morning or the next day, we would have a fight. It never occurred to me that the irritability and anger I often felt towards the woman in my life had roots in my own fear of letting myself go and truly returning to the safe harbor that I longed to enter.
It is said that “the truth shall set you free.” It’s been a long journey to accept the truth that my desire for a safe harbor is a primal element in my desire for sex. It’s taken me even longer to recognize my fear of losing myself in the safe harbor of WOMAN. Being married to Carlin for more than 37 years now, I’m finally learning to relax in her embrace, knowing that I need not fear my own desire to stay. Like the tides that come in and go out, I’ll always want to leave to do my work in the world. And I’ll always want to return to the safe harbor of her love.
I very much appreciate your comments. I hope there is some truth here that will be helpful to you. Please share your comments below or and email me.
Originally published on Men Alive.
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