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Masculinity and sex: Open yourself up to a better sexual relationship


Four feet are outstretched on a bed of white sheets

TOUGH IT OUT!


Masculinity has traditionally been defined in narrow and often restrictive terms, associated with traits such as strength, dominance, and stoicism. This hegemonic masculinity perpetuates harmful stereotypes that limit the full range of human experience and expression. In particular, the pressure to conform to traditional notions of masculinity has detrimental effects on men's mental health and well-being, leading to issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. But men don’t have problems talking about sex right? We love talking about our sexual prowess, experience, and conquests. So then why is it that I end up with men and their partners on my couch talking so much about sex? 


Perhaps there’s more to unpack about the impact of traditional masculinity on sexuality? 


I want to offer you 3 constructs that I think will open you and your partner up to greater connectivity in your sexual relationships: vulnerability, equity, and curiosity. 


Masculinity and Vulnerability


I know what you’re thinking…vulnerability is weakness! And perhaps there are some scenarios where I will agree with you on this. If you enter your next business deal or a conversation with a difficult person with complete vulnerability, you could be leaving yourself open to getting hurt. There are places where being appropriately guarded and closed off might be perfectly adaptive and healthy. 


Sex on the other hand, is all about vulnerability. Physiologically, blood flow is the name of the game. Erection, arousal, orgasm, and pleasure require openness, release, and safety. These are the opposite of tenseness, bracing, and feeling unsafe.


So how should men go about being more vulnerable in their sexual relationships? I would argue that this starts way outside of the bedroom (or wherever you kids are doing it these days). It continues to blow my mind that folks can rub their genitals against someone yet struggle to talk about how they feel in a real and authentic way to the same person.  


So what does this look like? You might start with some intentional time set aside for checking in with your partner emotionally. Set up 10 minutes before bed or take a quick walk around the block and just talk about what’s on your mind. Describe how you feel in that moment or how you felt about a difficult or exciting experience at work that day. Challenge yourself to talk about something that didn’t go well. 


This step may seem small, but the effects are powerful. The act of intentional time spent opening up and letting your guard down is one of the primary interventions of all the greats in couples therapy (e.g., John and Julie Gottman, Sue Johnson, Terry Real, Esther Perel). I’ll also add that this is the best time to talk about sex. When you are clothed, not emotionally charged, and feeling safe and connected to each other. 


Masculinity and Equity


My clients know this story: when my spouse and I had our first home, we never discussed who would cut the grass. It wasn’t until I was leaving for a solo trip in the summer that I asked her if she could cut the grass while I was away. Her response: “Sure, just show me how to start the lawn mower!”


It’s not a secret that I’m a pretty progressive thinker when it comes to gender norms. Yet here I was realizing that my spouse and I just assumed that ‘men love to cut grass’ and we rolled with it. 


I find that this phenomenon happens pretty regularly with sex. Folks just fall into line with what they think they are supposed to do based on the genital configuration they have. 


“All guys love __________” is a great way to start a sentence if you want to perpetuate some myth about men and sexuality. In fact, when asked what people find pleasureable sexually, it turns out most folks don’t exactly know. Often, they don’t even know what their options are!


In a world where those with vulvas are orgasming at a significantly lower rate than those with penises, the pleasure gap is a real issue. I would argue though, that sex could be better for everyone if we explore more about what it means to find pleasure in one’s own body from the ground up. 


A great starting point for this discussion is the book Sex Talks by Vanessa Marin and Xander Marin. In their book, couples and sex therapist Vanessa shares the very real conversations that helped her and Xander create more openness and equity in their relationship. What stands out to me as the most important of these conversations is talking about pleasure. Not what you think is supposed to feel good, but what actually does. 



Masculinity and Curiosity


Masculinity is an absolute endeavor. It’s about periods (not the menstruation kind though…men are supposed to be grossed out by that fact of life). It’s about knowing everything, even about things we know nothing about. 


Much like the conversation about equity, I think that good sexual conversation involves a far greater deal of question marks than it does periods. Exclamation points are beyond the scope of this post (Oh, yes!). 


“I wonder what it would feel like if you put your [hand, tongue, finger, etc.] [in, on, near, around, etc.] my (fill in the blank)? 


That felt great! That felt awful. I liked that, didn’t love it. Let’s try something else? 


Can you shift from knowing what is supposed to feel good to creating a space where ‘maybe’ is a pathway to exploring new things. Some of those things will be great. Some of those things will not be as great. 


One example I have seen of this is men who are frustrated with the frequency of sexual activity in their relationship. It is so easy for these men to get stuck in their heads that ‘not enough’ intercourse is happening. This usually creates pressure for their partner which shuts them down and further exacerbates the issue. 


In practice, it might mean getting curious about what roles pleasure, intimacy, and closeness are playing for your identity. Is it possible to get these needs met in other ways? Are these needs yours or ones that masculinity has imposed on you? 


Summing it all up


Masculinity is not inherently bad. It has certainly been the motivator for a good deal of harm individually and in our culture. I’m not asking you though to completely discard this piece of your identity. What I am offering are some places to evaluate where masculinity might be getting in the way of how you want your sexual relationship to function. 


Think about how you find yourself walling off your emotions. Find some ways to be more vulnerable. Consider if your emotional distance is driving a wedge between you and your partner because they don’t know what’s going on for you emotionally. 


Think about how equitable your sexual relationship is. Is everyone (actually) enjoying and finding pleasurable the activities you are doing? Consider how vulnerability and being open to being wrong might improve pleasure for everyone involved. 


Think about being curious. Ask more questions than you provide answers. Consider how getting curious about your pleasure, your partner’s pleasure, and your relationship might set you on a path towards a relationship that is better than you could have imagined. 


Enjoyed this article about masculinity and sex? If you want to talk about this further...we're here to help! B'well Counseling Services has licensed and qualified therapists who specialize in helping you move beyond barriers to health, wellbeing, and sound relationships. We are available in person in our Towson, MD office and virtually throughout the state of Maryland. So reach out today by traveling to our website (www.bwellcounselingservices.com) and submit a contact form, give us a call, or email a therapist who speaks to you! We look forward to hearing from you. And until then, be well.




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