Men Aren’t Sex-Addled Beasts, They’re Just Individuals

Men are no more rapists in their natural state than I am asexual in my natural state.

~ Hannah

As a young conservative evangelical, I was taught that I had to dress modestly to protect them from “stumbling” into sexual sin, and that it was natural for a guy to keep pushing for sexual favors, and it was my job to say no. I was taught that men were visual and easily aroused, and that men think about sex constantly. I was taught that men were to pursue and women were to be pursued, and that I must protect my virginity until marriage, because otherwise I would have lost one of the greatest tools I had to bring a guy to the alter.

And then I got married.

I quickly found that none of this advice actually matched my lived experience. For example, there were times when Sean preferred to think about economics, read a book, or play a computer game. Sometimes I would put on something revealing and affect a seductive manner and he would totally miss it. Now don’t get me wrong, Sean was plenty into sex, but because he wasn’t constantly governed and dictated to by his sexual urges and desires in the way I’d been taught to expect him to be, I thought there was something wrong. Not with him, though. With me.

I mean, the problem was clear. I wasn’t sexy enough. I was too chubby, or too tall, or too busty, or too something. Any time Sean wasn’t as obsessed with sex as I’d been raised to think he ought to be, my self confidence took a hit. Because of this, it was years before I really truly believed Sean when he insisted that he was perfectly satisfied with how I looked.

Beyond just that, because I had been taught that men were to pursue and women were to be pursued, I didn’t initiate sex, even when I was in the mood. Instead, I would try to hint at my interest. I suppose I thought he might feel emasculated if I was the one pursuing, or if I was interested and he wasn’t, and so I generally waited for him to initiate (dropping hints and hoping he would take them, of course). Furthermore, because I expected him to initiate I assumed that when he didn’t that meant he wasn’t interested, and that it was therefore pointless for me to initiate anyway.

Over time, I became aware of something that completely surprised me. Quite simply, Sean told me little by little that he had the same internal thoughts and feelings that I did—he too assumed that if I was interested I would initiate, and thus interpreted lack of initiation on my part as lack of interest, and he too assumed that when I didn’t initiate or wasn’t interested that meant he wasn’t sexy enough.

That’s right, readers, my very masculine husband was self conscious about whether or not he was sexually attractive. And more than that, my very masculine husband very much enjoyed being sexually pursued.

I was completely floored. I had been taught that God had designed men to pursue and women to be pursued, but what I learned was that Sean liked being pursued just as much as I did. He wanted to be wanted. It’s hard to emphasize just how huge this realization was. It turns out that Sean held the same insecurities about his looks, the same desire to be admired and told how attractive he was, and the same desire to be pursued that I’d been led to believe characterized women but not men.

Through all of this I also had to come to terms with my own sexual desire. I’d been taught that sex within marriage is a beautiful thing, but after being carefully conditioned to say “no no no,” it took time to become comfortable with my body saying “yes yes yes.” For a time, every time I was sexually forward I felt like there was something wrong with me, like I was reading the lines of the wrong script. After all, he was supposed to be pursuing and I was supposed to be demurely accepting.

The longer I’m married the more I think that men and women aren’t really all that different, really, when it comes to things like sex and body image. The longer I’m married the more I’m convinced that the idea that “men are from Mars” and “women are from Venus” when it comes to relationships and intimacy does significantly more harm than good. These sorts of reductive dichotomies erase the huge variation that exists within each gender when it comes to things like relationships and sex.

Beyond all of this, handing couples stereotypes rather than urging them to see each other as individuals sets them up for mis-communication and obstacles to full bonding and intimacy. Operating off of the stereotype I’d been taught men fit led me to misunderstand Sean’s needs and desires even as I thought I was doing everything necessary to meet them, and it also led me to fail to communicate my own. The reality is that operating off of stereotypes leads us to overlook who people are as individuals.

Men are not some confusing mystery to be unlocked. I don’t need scads of advice manuals on how to understand the male psyche or the way men think. All I need is to remember that Sean is, well, a person. An individual, you know, like me. It’s really not all that complicated.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Abby Copper

    I really love all your posts on gender differences (and lack thereof) and sexual misconceptions provided by the purity teachings. I think they are a valuable resource, especially for those, like me, who were never exposed to such ideas. The only quibble I have is about the language in this post regarding asexuality. For some people, not wanting sex is their natural state, and this is normal and healthy. I know you probably don’t mean to say that it’s not, but maybe you could reconsider the way you present it here? Everyone has different desires for sexual frequency, and I think people with lower sex drives should be shamed for that any more than people with higher ones should be. Obviously, repressing one’s own sexuality is terrible and unhealthy. It’s good that you speak out against that.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Fixed. Thanks!

      • http://allweathercyclist.blogspot.ca/ JethroElfman

        You do corrections? So I can e-mail you the next time you use alter intending altar, or exalt intending exult, and you will fix it? I had to look up immanent , since it must have passed the spell-check. You meant imminent.

  • Abby Copper

    I meant to say people should not be shamed. That’s what I get for typing on a phone.

  • CLDG

    Abby, I’ve gone back and read a couple times and I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Referring to Sean as “normal hetersexual male”? Typical may be a better word there. It seems the whole point Libby is making is that people are not stereotypes of men-are-like-this women-are-like-that, but each person is an individual being and each couple has to learn the individual sexuality of their own partner, free of preset scripts, which would include asexuals, right?

  • Abby Copper

    You’re right, the “normal and healthy” bit was what I was thinking of. I’m probably just a bit touchy about how asexuality is spoken of because of how often I was told that I was unnatural or damaged because I didn’t want sex. It got to the point where people were speculating to my face whether I had been sexually abused to make me afraid of men, of all the insensitive things. “Typical” would indeed fit, or maybe just saying something like “While Sean did enjoy sex, he didn’t think about it all the time” rather than framing it as a dichotomy of normal=wanting sex and abnormal=not wanting sex. It’s not that big a deal, really. You’re right that the point of the article is very applicable to asexuals in relationships, and every couple expressing their sexualities in the way that best fits them. That’s part of why I love this blog! (The other part is the atheist parenting insights).

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    “and that it was natural for a guy to keep pushing for sexual favors, and it was my job to say no.” Ohhh dear. This is what I thought too. Then when I was dating my first boyfriend, I was completely confused by the fact that he was a GENTLEMAN and TOTALLY RESPECTED me. Seriously, I thought there was something wrong with him. I had been warned that guys will ALWAYS be trying to pressure their girlfriends into having sex. Turns out, he was actually really insulted when I told him that.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Ha! This too! Sean totally respected my boundaries and didn’t push. And this was especially confusing because he wasn’t raised the way I was, and had expected a certain level of physical involvement to be normal for a dating couple, and I put the breaks on way before we got anywhere near that level. But the fact that he thought it normal for a boyfriend and girlfriend to be sexually involved didn’t mean he was going to push when I said I didn’t want to do those things!

  • Hilary

    Thanks for this one. Yes, men are human beings, complete with feelings, thoughts, and personal quirks. Same as women being human beings, complete with feelings, thoughts, and personal quirks. I work with a lot of guys in my job, and I like men as friends. I love my father very much, and sometimes he and I get a kick out of the fact we both have wives and can talk about that. I think there are times for women to be together and times for men to be together, but most of the time we should just get on with life together. It’s really not that hard.

    Hilary

  • LeftWingFox

    Men are not some confusing mystery to be unlocked. I don’t need scads of advice manuals on how to understand the male psyche or the way men think. All I need is to remember that Sean is, well, a person. An individual, you know, like me. It’s really not all that complicated.

    Regendered, that’s a message I wish I could have drilled into my skull as a teenager. It probably would have made my life much less lonely.

  • Marcion

    This is something that has always confused me about traditional gender roles: Men supposed to be depraved, violent sex beasts who are incapable of self control… And they should also be in charge of everything.

    What.

    • AnotherOne

      I know, right? I love how gender stereotypes are self-contradicting. Men are supposed to be stronger, more rational, natural leaders. But at the same time, their all-important egos are so incredibly fragile that we have to tiptoe around them so they feel respected, all while wearing the fashion equivalent of a trash bag because they just can’t control themselves if they get the slightest glimpse of the sexy. Gah. Have I mentioned I’m happy to have left CP far behind?

  • Mieke

    Thanks, great post!

  • KM

    This was a real hurdle for me to overcome in my relationship with my husband as well. I felt dirty for wanting sex and hurt whenever he didn’t want sex. This entire way of thinking does nothing more than shame women, pre-load an excuse for men who rape, and harm couples who don’t fit the traditional male with higher sex drive than female model.

  • jose

    You mean men shouldn’t be

  • Tyro

    Speaking as an insecure man, THANK YOU!

  • Jasen

    As a guy, I was also taught “that men were visual and easily aroused, and that men think about sex constantly.” Get told that enough and you believe it and think of yourself that way. I was also taught that looking at a woman lustfully (which in practice meant having any attraction at all to a woman you saw) meant you had already committed adultery in your heart – and that was a ticket straight to hell. You might imagine that was not a very pleasant combination of things to believe.

    The church I went to at the time did also teach that women should dress modestly to make it easier on guys, but I didn’t get into blaming women for how they dressed because I knew that I still found modestly dressed women attractive.

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