I’ve been thinking about Danny’s comment lately, and LindaBeth’s, too, and trying to come to an understanding of male sexual vulnerability. I’ve talked a bit about the difference in sexual power between males and females, and a fair amount about the male role in childbirth, and the way in which these differences make sexual equality difficult for me to believe at times. But there’s another aspect to these sorts of sexual vulnerabilities, and that’s the way emotional needs propel at least some men to expose our vulnerability to women. As psychotherapist James Hollis says in Under Saturn’s Shadow:
Most men consider the conditions of their working life a daily battering. No perks, no car, no key to the executive washroom and especially no raise will assuage his daily loss of soul. A man understands, deep down, that he is selling his soul, and no paycheck is large enough to compensate. Thus, upon the fragile, tactile connection with a woman…he places his soul’s burden. “Take care of it, reassure it, bring it home, if only for awhile.” Then, post coitum triste, he is disconnected again, adrift, at the mercy of the world and its battering.
In order to break out of this emotional dependency, to learn to bear the burden of their souls themselves, men must face their anima.
The anima is a key part of C. G. Jung’s psychoanalytical theory. Jung believed that men had a feminine side he called the anima (the feminine form of the Latin word for soul or spirit). This anima appears as female figures in dreams, and in most men, who strongly repress their anima, the anima gets projected onto women. That is, men seek to become whole through the agency of women onto whom their feminine side is projected. Barbara McManus describes this projection in this way:
The unindividuated man identifies with those personal qualities that are symbolically masculine; he develops these potentialities and to some extent integrates their unconcious [sic] influences into his conscious personality. However, he does not recognize qualities that are symbolically feminine as part of his own personality but rather projects them onto women. He will project his anima—those particular characteristics and potentialities that are significant components of his personal unconscious and therefore carry a special emotional charge—onto a few women for whom he will then feel a strong and compelling emotion (usually positive but occasionally negative). Infatuation (an instant, powerful attraction for a woman about whom he knows little) is one of the signs of anima projection, as is a compulsive possessiveness.
And Hollis again:
To the extent men are unaware that the anima is within, they search for Her in other women, flee Her, oppress Her, ask Her to be Beatrice in their underworld, anaesthetize Her pain through work or drugs. They overlook the presence of Her in their dreams, in their soul’s flight, in the company of other men, in camaderie with women, in art and music and sport, and in their fantasies and transient madness.
Regular readers will recognize this sort of projection – and the results of its ending – as a bit of a theme in my posts.
Jung considered the integration of the anima – the process of moving the man’s feminine qualities from the unconscious into the conscious personality – “the masterpiece” of a man’s psychological development. He identified four principal stages of this development which he identified with archetypal female figures – Eve, Helen (of Troy), Mary and Sophia (an excellent summary of these stages can be found in this post at The Third Eve for interested readers). According to Jung, it is only at the third stage, which he associated with Mary, that anima projection ends, and consequently, that is the first stage where a man can have a true relationship with a woman.
Eve notes, speaking of the first stage, that “[t]he man with an anima of this type cannot function well without a vital connection to a woman and is easy prey to being controlled by her.” This parallels my own experience with neediness and envy and jealousy, with feeling as though being alone was a failure and the way the pain and anger came to the surface every time I saw a couple in public. It’s an ugly trait, but one that I’ve finally moved past by accepting that what I was seeking is within me. A hard won peace, to be sure, but a peace that lets me tend to my own needs.
And that peace allows me to turn to the question of sexual vulnerability from a new perspective, one in which my emotional foundation is not shaken by fears that my emotional needs will fail to be met. In fact, taking responsibility for my own pleasure and sexual desires brings a light to transforming my fears. One of the things self-pleasuring teaches is that our bodies belong to us. I don’t need to surrender in a woman’s arms to receive pleasure or satisfy my desires; I can do that myself.
The power to choose, to withhold or offer as one sees fit, transforms vulnerability into a gift to be offered. If I don’t need to offer that vulnerability to feel whole, then and only then do I have a true choice. And that choice allows me to set conditions, to insist that I can trust being held in love and respect before I consent to intercourse.
Does that mean that men should only have sex in committed relationships? I don’t think that’s generally necessary, but we do need to have a broader view of sex than what our culture provides us. There are a thousand and one ways to be sexual with a woman that have no possibility of conception – and tomorrow, doubtless, there will be a thousand and two, as someone somewhere brings forth from their creativity a new way to express their sexual nature. Understanding our vulnerability, and treating it as something to be offered only in the context of a loving relationship need not bar men from being sexual in other types of situations and relationships, but it does demand that both men and women let go of intercourse as “the main event”. I’m coming to be believe that intercourse should not be taken for granted, but seen as something special, a sign, inter alia, of love and trust.
I find it ironic that we live in a culture that views women as the sexual gatekeepers – that men seek sex and woman consent to it – and yet the direction of my thoughts lead me to the opposite conclusion. When it comes to conception, men are the gatekeepers. Childbirth is something that is almost purely the province of women. They produce the eggs, and they have the ability to transform those eggs into a human child. But those two processes are not quite connected. There is a gulf between them, a gulf that women cannot bridge. That is the function of men, that is what we can offer. And so I think it is by accepting that creating a child is something women do that men can reclaim their power as enablers of that process. In a sense, we are the midwives of the women who struggle to bring their eggs into the process of development.
Every man must decide for himself when he is willing to perform that role in the life of a woman. But it needs to be a real choice, and that means abandoning cultural ideas of needing sex with another, and needing to have intercourse to fulfill that need. No man should ever feel he must ejaculate inside a woman to be happy, and accepting that, learning that men don’t need women, is the first step towards achieving a true equality with them.