Do men talk about sex with their friends?
When I discuss my sex life with the people (read: women) that I trust the most, it’s more than just orgasm (or lack thereof). We’ve spent hundreds of hours talking about what positions we like, what positions we hate, the things we love, sexual maneuvers to take with us in the future, and — most importantly — if we actually had a good time.
And it’s not just us talking about sex. There’s a host of Cosmopolitan staff writers that make a living from penning a broad range of sex tips. And even though reading about putting cold coins on my genitalia isn’t something that has proved all that useful to my own sex life, these conversations have played a large role in making sure that I prioritize my pleasure.
But do we give men the space to have those conversations? In Lisa Taddeo’s New York Times bestseller, Three Women, she begins her non-fiction telling of three women’s sex lives by informing the reader why she chose not to write about men:
“The men’s stories began to bleed together. In some cases, there was prolonged courting; sometimes the courting was closer to grooming; but mostly, the stories ended up in the stammering pulses of orgasm”
By minimizing men’s sexual experiences as nothing more than a lifecycle that starts with courting and ends with cumming, Taddeo is buying into a myth that men are simple, sexual creatures. Not only does that not give men enough credit, but it lets them off the hook.
I spoke to one of the most emotionally in touch men I’ve ever met and asked him if he talked about sex with his friends. What he told me confirmed what I thought. Men like him move through the world without a chip on their shoulder because they allow themselves to be vulnerable with the people they care about. They treat women not only as equal partners but full human beings.
Emotional intelligence isn’t just nice to have. It’s critical. Because when men fail to understand their own desire, it can be violent. In “Understanding Harvey” journalist Emily Yoffe spoke to several therapists about the need to have a more empathetic understanding of male sexuality, one that is much more complex than Taddeo’s simplistic view. According to these therapists:
“Men are taught from a young age that they must be sexually competent and sexually powerful with exaggerated and impossible ideals…Compared to women, men are far more insecure and anxious about their sexual performance…This pressure and insecurity can also breed resentment.”
The man I spoke to said the same thing. Sex can be stressful because of the overwhelming pressure to perform. The reason why it doesn’t come to a head (no pun intended) is because he allows himself to talk out these feelings with both men and women (!) that he trusts.
Comparing who is burdened more when it comes to societal sexual expectations is reductive as hell, but there is an incredibly important point that needs to be highlighted. Any desire that strays from the norm becomes tucked away and labeled as a taboo until it bubbles up and hurts others. Rather than having an open and honest conversation about consensual non-monogamy, for example, some men will cheat on every partner they have, chalking it up to “once a cheater, always a cheater”.
Far too often, men regard sexual encounters as conquests. Sex is something they do to someone, rather than something they do with someone. And, as Yoffe highlights in her article, this dynamic breeds a type of man that is much more comfortable using coercive means, physical or otherwise, to play out their sexual proclivities, rather than communicating them to a consenting partner.
Straight men and women of a certain age often have an adversarial relationship with each other. It’s a game of cat and mouse, where one side seems to be the gatekeeper for sexual interactions, while the other uses every tool in their arsenal to break down that gate. We have to change this relationship. Men are not from Mars, women are not from Venus. Active communication, not just with sexual partners, but with the people that we trust in our lives, is key to ensuring that we’re all having fun, safe, consensual sex. And who doesn’t want that?
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