Acceptance

•April 30, 2008 • 6 Comments

Regular readers will know that I’ve been struggling with ideas of male sexuality for several weeks now (new readers may wish to read my thoughts here and here). Searching on the ‘Net, I was able to find only a very few pages discussing this topic. They were all Tantric in focus. I am not, myself, a fan of Tantra as a philosophy (as I have in encountered it among such authors as Margo Anand and David Deida). The reasons why would make a good future post, but I’ll just say briefly that the tantric understanding of masculine and feminine roles, while probably the best conception available within a patriarchal mindset, are still part of a patriarchal and essentialist construct. However, I do think this article on Tantra and the healing of male sexuality made some interesting points, one of which is germane to my trilemma.

A man’s fear of women’s control affects how willing he is to surrender to women’s sexual power. His unconscious fear of women’s inexhaustible sexual power confronts him with his vulnerability, especially if he fails to meet his own expectations as a sexual performer…unless a man learns to transmute his energy before he ejaculates, once he “cums” he is gone. His energy and his interest in his partner are gone.

She has hit on one of the major differences between male and female sexuality, I think (I hope my female readers will correct me if I err in my statements on female sexuality). I have never gotten the feeling from any of my female lovers that they experience the type of emotional drop that I do after ejaculation. In fact, I liken the experience to depression.

When I suffered from depressions, during the depression it was impossible for me to think of feeling any other way. Depression was the natural state for me at those times, and I could hardly conceive of wanting to do anything. Conversely, when I was not in a depression, it was impossible for me to even really remember those feelings of extreme apathy. So it is with the post-ejaculation mood swing. One moment, I’m full of energy and passion and desire, and then…nothing. The sexual glamour has receded from my partner, sex seems uninteresting to me, I feel not only physically, but emotionally exhausted. There is also a desire to be close to my partner, though, a small feeling of…bonding, for lack of a better word. I think this has to do with the sense of surrender that ejaculating inside a lover gives me, as if I am emptying myself into her, dying in her arms.

This sudden mood drop highlights, I think, female sexual power. It really does seem inexhaustible, as if I could give myself to a woman over and over until there was absolutely nothing left and I would never recover, and she could still be sexual. So yes, that’s a source of some of the fear and sense of inferiority; this tantrika is on the mark here.

I think one way men have tried to deal with this feeling of inadequacy was to use social controls to balance things out. Hence, complementarian ideas. One of the most pervasive – and, for men, one of the most destructive – expressions of this is the identity of men as providers. I remember, as I was growing up, many statements from my stepfather making it clear to me that my role, my destiny, was to work hard to provide for women who could not do so themselves. I also recall watching a sermon by a televangelist once that illustrates this attitude perfectly; he said something like, “And now I want to speak to the men here. If you are able to work, and you aren’t working, you are not worth the cost of the bullet you deserve.” Notice the conflation of male worth with work. Note also that these ideas come from some feminists, too.

Now, there is a certain nobility in this vision, its true; masculine noblesse oblige, with the strong, sacrificing men enduring for the delicate womenfolk. But in recent decades we have seen, I think, that women can take care of themselves, and so there’s this feeling among men, myself included, of being disposable, unnecessary, contributing nothing of value as men. I think both men and women need to let go this notion of men as providers, just as we need to let go the image of women as maternal. The entire connection of fatherhood and motherhood with raising children needs to be severed, I think. The first is a biological role; the second is a human activity which is not inherently dependent on being of one sex or the other. Men have obtained a measure of social power and importance from their role as workers, but it’s also a prison which prevents true relationships with their families, or a life outside toil. Giving that role up may be hard, but it is, I think, a step towards freedom.

And this brings us back to facing squarely female sexual power.

A conversation with a friend the other day led to an understanding of the necessity of acceptance. I am starting to believe that this question cannot be resolved in a way that is “safe”. Facing the question of the male biological role, I cannot rework nature to generate equality where it does not exist. I can only accept the situation for what it is, enduring my own feelings of inadequacy and insignificance, and slowly build up a conception of a masculine sexuality that does not evoke those feelings from that place of emotional smallness. I have been trying to come up with a new way of looking at heterosexuality that solved the issues I’ve had without really accepting those fears and frustrations, and it’s not working. The only way past this, it seems, is through it.

So, I suppose it’s a bit of a step forward to stop my struggling and give in to the reality of the situation, although I’m left feeling very small, very vulnerable and fragile. The thought of being with a woman no longer feels me with shame and fear, but I’m also a little tender. I’ve had similar feelings before, as my studies of feminism have led me to give up things that I thought were integral to my identity. The feeling is very much like ripping off an old scab – a brief time of pain, even grief, and then a feeling of a load lightening, but also a sense of vulnerability, of not knowing what to do next. And then, weeks after, you realize that that feeling is mostly gone, that some sort of healing has taken place so gradually you weren’t really aware of it. I’m hopeful that, in time, this grief and vulnerability and sense of inferiority will heal into a new, strong, confident understanding of my sexual identity.

Addendum:  With regards to male identity as worker and provider, see these two excellent posts by my friend LindaBeth.

Advertisements

Non-sexual Eroticism

•April 28, 2008 • 2 Comments

Sometimes the most erotic experiences don’t involve being sexual all.

When I was in the Marines, I spent several years stationed in Okinawa. The various services each had bases on the island, and it was my unit’s practice to go on a long run between bases about once a month. On this occasion, I had been pushing myself particularly hard, and after about six miles or so, I was nearing the end of the run. The finish line was a couple hundred yards inside Kadena (an Air Force base). I was very tired by this point, though, and it took all of my concentration to put one foot in front of the other.

I had the light headed feeling that a long run can sometimes give, and I think this is why I didn’t notice the other runner until she took place next to me. I could smell her – sweat with an undercurrent of sweetness – and I listened to her breathing. I wanted to turn and see who it was, but I was too tired; it was more than I could do. So I continued to stretch my legs out, naturally falling into step with my mysterious companion.

After a moment, she increased her pace, and so, reluctantly, I increased mine. I was almost spent, but I didn’t want to fall behind her. I focused on her breathing, letting that sound fill my mind as I led her pace us. For a long time, or a brief moment, my whole world was the sound of two footsteps almost in unison, and the sound of inhalations and exhalations, not at all in unison by complementary somehow, as if her breathing was inside my own.

Suddenly I heard a soft purr in my ear whisper, “Thank you”, and heard her footsteps trail off to the side. Then I did look, but in vain, as she was nowhere in sight. I hesitated a moment, but only a moment, as the yells of my fellow Marines who had already finished the run urged me on. Refreshed, her scent still in my nostrils, I sprinted ahead to my destination.

Self Love

•April 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Lately I’ve really been struggling with my sexuality.  As I mentioned in this post, and delved into more detail here, I’ve come to feel ridiculously afraid of female sexuality.  My embarrassment over my fear, however, has done nothing to calm myself or to make images of giant vaginas swallowing me stop.  My therapist connects these fears and images with a fear and lack of acceptance of my own feminine side, and she may be right; however, that’s a (possible) subject for another post.  Today, as the title suggests, I’m going to talk about masturbation.

 

Since I’ve had no sexual partners since my separation almost a year ago, masturbation has become the whole of my sex life.  And the context of masturbation has always been, for me, a physical expression of my fantasies, which, with one exception (a single enjoyable memory of my time experimenting with homosexuality), center around women, sometimes also involving myself and sometimes not.

 

But lately, even thinking about a woman being sexual brings up such intense feelings of fear and inferiority that my attempts to pleasure myself have been in vain, ending with curling into a ball and whimpering softly.

 

However, last night, as I was almost asleep, I suddenly got inspired to retrieve some of the lubrication I used to use with my ex-wife.  Laying down and not really thinking of anything, I slowly caressed my chest and oiled my cock, bringing myself to an enjoyable orgasm over the course of an hour.  All without thinking of a woman at all – I was simply focused on my body, and really enjoying it for the first time that I can remember.  It was a very explorative experience, but it was also a little strange, feeling desire for myself.  It also reminded me of something that Elizavetta once said, responding to a comment of mine: “But being alone can be also be quite intimate and erotic as well. And I hope you can discover the depth of that for yourself in ways you didn’t know were possible.”

 

This experience opens possibilities for me to be sexual while I’m struggling with these issues about sexuality, but a part of me is resistant.  It’s as if a large part of me is invested in needing women, and fears letting go of that need.  I’m starting to believe, on an intellectual level, that I would both be happier and be able to relate to future lovers better if I didn’t need anyone else to feel satisfied and to have my needs met – to be able to appreciate being with a lover from a position of abundance.  But somehow, emotionally, that almost feels like blasphemy, like I’m disrespecting feminine sexuality, and indeed, sexual pleasure itself.

 

Nothing’s easy these days, it seems.

Real Beauty

•April 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’ve written previously about my struggles to change the way I look at women.  Part of my difficulty was the way that, as I changed the way I looked at women, and consequently, the way women appeared to me, I found them considerably less attractive than I had previously.

 

But that changed when I discovered this professional photo retouching site via one of LindaBeth’s posts.  After a day or two of going through the portfolio, I found that I began to appreciate the beauty of everyday women that I happened to meet or pass by without feeling like I had to revert to the old way of looking.  It’s been very therapeutic for me.

 

After giving the matter some thought, I think I understand what happened.  I had begun to stop seeing women as purely sexual objects, which caused their appearance to change in my eyes (why exactly, I’m still not sure).  However, my standards of feminine beauty hadn’t changed; I was still comparing women to an unrealistic and unachievable standard of what women should look like.  This photo retouching site, for whatever reason, has helped me in retraining that standard; to see women with “flaws” and see that not only are they still beautiful, but that they are at least sometimes beautiful because of those “flaws”.  LindaBeth’s observation that after awhile the retouched pictures look a bit like “aliens” isn’t too far off the mark.

 

So, I conclude that there are at least two parts to reconditioning the way men look at women – changing the act of looking itself, and also changing patriarchial standards of female beauty.

Feminine Sexual Entitlement

•April 23, 2008 • 34 Comments

I recently came across this essay by Naomi Wolf – apparently it’s a recycled essay that was originally written four years ago.  Nevertheless, this is the first time I’ve seen it.  I’m not actually going to engage her main point here, because there’s a paragraph that really caught my attention.  In the context of complaining about how “porn” has made it more difficult to keep a man’s sexual attention, she writes (emphasis mine):

When I came of age in the seventies, it was still pretty cool to be able to offer a young man the actual presence of a naked, willing young woman. There were more young men who wanted to be with naked women than there were naked women on the market. If there was nothing actively alarming about you, you could get a pretty enthusiastic response by just showing up.

I think it’s instructive the way that statement reeks of a sense of entitlement, and it dovetails with the attitudes of women I’ve known.  They think it’s perfectly normal to have one’s pick of several, if not many, potential lovers.  That simply wanting to be sexual should be sufficient to guarantee male attention (in this vein, it always amuses me when women who brag about the number of men in their lives complain about how difficult it is to find a female lover).

 

I remember mentioning to a female friend once that I was considering seeking out an escort.  Her reply was that she didn’t understand why I couldn’t just go out and get pussy for free.  This same friend was surprised to hear that my personals ad didn’t get any actual response, when hers gave her an avalanche of responses, with the only difficult task to find the ones worthy of her attention.  Women take their experience – an abundance of attention from the opposite sex – as normal, and fail to understand that the male experience is one of a fundamental lack of attention.  Hence, men who are intersted in casual sex must approach and actively engage women, reinforcing a situation where women are given attention simply for being female.  Granted, this does have a dark side; the constant attention by men, particularly when that attention is aggressive, is undoubtedly difficult.  But I’m focussing here soley on the question of access to sexual and romantic attention.  And when it comes to casual sex, women unquestionably have greater access to partners than men.

 

This article on the “myth” of women preferring Type A men (perfectly true in my experience) has some interesting points, as well:

If a woman sees that a man is a jerk but decides to go to bed with him anyway because he’s just so cute or she’s just that bored or whatever, this is a case of her deciding how she wants to spend her time, not of him tricking the delicate flower (who couldn’t possibly want casual sex, being female).

And later, the author says:

It assumes men are by nature sex seekers and women are by nature sex awarders, thereby stripping women of any power in the scenario… other than the power to award sex to the dull and/or obnoxious who are being framed as the “right” choice.

She apparently misses the fact that that assumption is proved by the way she frames the issue – it is the woman’s decision that matters, not the man’s.  Far from stripping women of power, the scenario strips power from the man.  Men can only present themselves as best they can to women and hope they are more appealing than their competition – and there will always be competition.  Men are not “by nature sex seekers”.  Instead, we are forced into that role by social expectations – the very expectations reinforced by women.  When it comes to casual sex, despite the prevailing cultural myth, women are in control.  By railing against the stereotype, the author doesn’t engage the deeper issue of how women benefit from the benevolent sexism of this construct. Instead, she snarkily reinforces women’s entitlement to have men fawn over them, and deciding who will be graced with their attention.  “Which toy will I play with tonight?”

 

But, like Male Privilege, women also have the privilege to not be aware that this situation places them at an advantage.  They assume, falsely, that men also have their pick of potential mates.  When, of course, the reality is that if one isn’t rich or naturally charming (and funny!  Can’t forget the all-important Sense of Humor!) one ends up settling for a woman who turns out to be an abuser.

 

I long for a world where the sexist (in both directions) paradigm of “men approach, women choose” is replaced by a world where naturally aggressive people of both sexes engage the people of their choice, while those of us who don’t fit that mold, both men and women, are not unduly punished for that fact.  But that would require women to examine their own attitudes towards dating and sex, and I’m not hopeful that will happen any time soon.

Accepting Fear

•April 22, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Nota Bene: This is an intensely personal post.

My first memory of being different from girls is a memory of my Third Grade teacher. She told my class that boys couldn’t concentrate well enough to be as smart as girls. I remember crying to my parents when she assigned a written punishment (I will not yell in class. I will not yell in class…) to just the boys. It wasn’t fair, I said. My mother told me to do it anyway.

I remember the first time I told my mother “No”. I was sixteen; she was telling me to bend over the couch so she could beat me with the two-by-four she held in both her hands like a baseball bat. My stepfather intervened, suggesting she could use a belt. This was the first time being whipped by a belt seemed like a kindness to me.

I remember falling in love for the first time. Of course, she had no feelings for me. I pined for her for a year before I taught myself to hate her as a way to bear the pain.

I remember the woman I shared my first kiss with. I remember going out dancing with her the next night. I remember watching her leave me to join four other men. I remember slicing neat, crimson rows along my forearm after her roommate told me what she did with them.

I remember six years of being told that I’m useless. I remember doing every chore in the house under my ex-wife’s supervision, and I remember day after day fearing the time when she came home, knowing she would find fault for something. Knowing I would have to stand in front of her with my head bowed while she told me how hard it was to live with me. I remember her locking up my laptop and demanding the password to all my email accounts.

I remember my mother telling me I should apologize to her for leaving.

I want new memories.

I want to be treated as an equal, not a momentary amusement to be cast aside or a slave to serve another’s whim.

Most of all, I want to not be afraid. But I am. Terribly.

(Deep breath.)

And that’s not women’s fault.

(Deep breath.)

The biology of childbirth isn’t their fault.

(Deep breath.)

It’s okay to be frightened.

The Problem of Male Sexuality

•April 20, 2008 • 4 Comments

As stated by Camille Paglia:

“Mythology’s identification of women with nature is correct. The male contribution to procreation is momentary and transient. Conception is a pinpoint of time, another of our phallic peaks of action, from which the male slide back uselessly. The pregnant woman is daemonically, devilishly complete. As an ontological entity, she needs nothing and no one.”

This places men in a trilemma. The first option is to accept their helplessness once their female lover is pregnant – as Amanda Marcotte puts it, “And unlike women, men lose control over the situation as soon as they get up out of bed.” The downside is that accepting this loss of control entails accepting inequality with women. It means accepting that, to at least a small degree, women are in control, and all relations between the sexes – but especially the sexual ones – are tinged with the possibility of this inequality becoming explicit.

The second option is to attempt to control women. That seems to be the choice men have historically chosen, with disasterous results. Breaking free of the damage caused to not only women, but men, is or should be one of the major impetuses to reimagining male sexuality.

The third option is to avoid the possibility of becoming a father, either through abstinence or a vasectomy. Abstinence, while not necessarily entailing complete sexual abstinence (just avoiding PIV intercourse), reinforces the inequality between men and women. Women can engage in PIV intercourse without losing control over their lives; men cannot. So ultimately, this provides no more equality than acceptance of inferiority. Vasectomies, while not always effective, provide a way to move past the problem by denying women the chance to become pregnant. However, even if they were completely effective, they would still amount to killing the part of you that makes you vulnerable. I think Feminism has made clear that the male habit to do this isn’t really a good one.

So, that’s the trilemma which must be resolved in order to have a healthy, egalitarian male sexuality.

I have no idea what to do about it.

Addendum: Yes, this is all really to say, “It’s not fair!” and I don’t want to accept it.

Or, to put it another way, I hate being male.

Addendum to the Addendum: Via the eNotes Dictionary of Psychoanalysis: “In Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind (1933/1938), Alfred Adler wrote: “When a girl imagines that she can change into a boy, it is because the feminine role has not been presented to her as the equal of the masculine role. She revolts against what she believes to be a permanent perspective of inferiority for her. The Freudians have interpreted this fact as what they call the ‘castration complex.’ ” Perhaps I’m expressing/suffering from a sort of Feminine Protest?