The popular idea of the ever-ready penis, always searching for relief, driven by testosterone, only takes us so far in explaining the relationship between men and sex. Of course, we are horny because we are made that way by nature, but underneath our biological urges to mate, to reproduce, how much of our male nature is driven by other pressures? How much of the way we behave comes from having a penis or not? How much behaviour is innate and how much is socialized? In the book Male Lust, Steve Bearman has something to say about this. He emphasizes how boys and girls are treated differently from birth onwards. Boys, he says, are given the message that it is not manly to be close, to reach out and touch, to express their need for intimate cuddles and hugs. They are encouraged to develop relationships with other boys that are primarily competitive: sports, teams, clubs, and fraternities all demand that a boy or a man knows his place in the hierarchy. (Even penis size can become the subject of competition in the locker rooms at schools!)
Even though boys - like all humans - will search out support and help from others when they are scared, hurt or in pain, often they are given a message such as "Be strong" or "Big boys don't cry" or "Be a man": none of which helps them to heal, but simply makes them repress their wounded feelings and suffer internally.
The reaction of adults or peers when they express fear or scare is another thing that teaches boys that the honest expression of their feelings threatens their perceived maleness. Yet how many adolescents are given adequate support in the challenges they face, the immeasurably difficult tasks of growing up? From masturbation, through sexual issues to health issues, from changes in their bodies to learning about girls, boys have to face many challenges without much support other than that of their peers, who of course are just as ignorant as they are.
Over time, Bearman says, boys learn to numb their emotions, to dull their awareness of their own emotions, and in the course of doing so, they decrease their ability to feel any feelings, joyful, painful or otherwise. And in doing so, boys - and men - lose touch with their bodies, they harden themselves (literally or metaphorically) not to feel anything, thereby losing their sensuality, their sense of aliveness, their tenderness and gentleness. This is seen at its most extreme in the process whereby recruits are hardened so they can abuse others in the name of military service, but there is only a difference of degree between this and the abuse of one man towards another in the workplace, say.
Adolescent boys, says Bearman, are exposed to a social imperative to get laid in order to prove their maleness, long before they have grown up enough emotionally to know what “getting laid” means in terms of human relationships.
They are bombarded with sexual images on TV, in advertising, and in pornography: and these are compelling images which emphasize the domination of the penis, and which convey the idea that life can be experienced through sex, through penetration and through domination.
Directly or indirectly, boys and young men are handed sex as the one permissible vehicle through which it is still possible to express aspects of their manliness, masculinity and humanness which have been conditioned out of them in other ways. Sex, in short, is the one place where sensuality is permissible, where we can feel passion, desire, vitality and excitement; and of course it is the one area where true intimacy can still find its expression in an acceptable way.
It's certainly been my experience that sex - and in particular ejaculation - is sometimes almost like an emotional catharsis, particularly when I cry out at the moment of orgasm. From time to time, especially when my life has been stressful, it has felt as if my emotional life is pouring up out of my penis and into the world through my ejaculation: not an especially pleasant thought, for this is like a catharsis which deposits my unresolved emotions into the partner with whom I happen to be in bed.
Sex, then, may be the "answer" to many men's feeling of being dead inside. But the problem with this is that no matter how much sex one encounters (or its substitutes of masturbation, pornography addiction or lustful thoughts) it will never be enough to make a man feel whole; it will never be enough to express his enormous need to be close; and it will not truly allow him to feel his delight and vitality in being alive.
In short, if sex makes you feel more alive or less alone than anything else, it is an indication that vitality and closeness are missing from every other part of your life.
So sex can become addictive to a man who has a great emotional deficit. Even if he is not engaging in casual anonymous sex, looking at pornography every evening on the PC, masturbating or trying ever more extreme fetishes or forms of group sex, he may still be showing his addiction to sex (or, rather, the impulse to feel which lies behind it) when he senses an urgent need to have intercourse, or experiences a desire to get off at all costs, or fantasizes sexually about the people around him.
And note that repression of these impulses is not the answer - for it suppresses the one outlet still available to him which tells him he is alive, which lets him feel his life energy! It is passion, not repression, that is the best ally we have in our attempts to be liberated from the bondage of emotional blankness.
Healing these hurts and learning to be passionate and vital again requires that we get in close and stay close with every man and woman who we choose as our allies in the process of healing; it requires that we look after our bodies and we find our way back to every feeling that we somehow lost; and it requires that we reclaim our connection with other people, our feelings, our bodies and our masculinity.
Here are some extracts from the instruction manual for this process! I’ve taken all of these suggestions from Steve Bearman's work.
Bearman begins by suggesting that we can choose to redirect some or all the loving attention we give to people we're attracted to sexually towards all the other people in our lives, even those who we never imagined might be close to us. He urges us to communicate more, to share our fears and emotions, and to trust that others can be close to us: and indeed, to accept that being close to others is a natural state for the human species. No single partner can fulfil all our needs - we need human connection.
The next step is to find our feelings and to experience them fully! In effect, he’s suggesting that we live with passionate intensity and feel everything that goes on in our emotional lives. Cry wet tears, he says, and laugh with your whole voice! Tremble with fear and giggle with embarrassment! Let your commitment burn brightly in daily life as you live with the excitement and passion that you currently reserve for sex! And ask for help in this - it's not natural to do it alone.
Reclaim your body
There are many forms of sensual pleasure -which, by the way, is something due to you as your birthright. I remember walking out of my house onto my land one day, naked, in the early morning, feeling the damp earth under my skin, the rain on my body, and simply relishing my connection to nature as I pissed freely onto the earth.
I've had similar experiences – not the pissing, but the connection - in deserts and on mountains, in forests and underwater. Obviously, sensuous pleasure comes in many forms: walking in the rain barefoot, dancing freely, breathing deeply, feeling the silken sheets on your body at night, the caress of another person, the splash of water on your face, the delicious feel of cool fresh water gliding down your throat on a hot day - indeed, sensuousness is about experiencing your senses wherever and whenever you want. But to fully appreciate this experience, you have to slow down and appreciate what your body and the Earth have to offer you.
If sex is our main connection with the experience of life's excitement and passion, its emotion and feeling, then of course we will become obsessed with sex and seek it out in any form available to us. But our innate desire to be close to others can motivate us to seek closeness - and get it. And when we fill our lives with those things that sex has substituted for, we are richer - and so is our experience of sex.
And Bearman makes the final point that sex transforms as our senses open up, because the desperation, the rush to get it, the urgency, and the fear and loneliness which corrupt our sexual experience are replaced with joy, passion, relaxation and vigour. In this case, sex becomes a celebration of love and intimacy, a place for healing, and a reconnection with our childhood intimacy and ability to express love.
Reproduced with permission.