Be Shameless, Be Free!

“In learning how to become better partners and better lovers, we also learn more about what we need from others in return. So, maybe this post is also about how to release shame in ourselves. Because it’s not fun for anyone - male or female.”

This article originally appeared on Arden Leigh.

Men aren’t given many positive sexual role models, and the ones they do have often carry an unrealistic standard of masculinity to which they can’t hold themselves - James Bond, for instance. But seriously, what prototypes does pop culture present for a man looking to model himself after a figure who is sexy, sex-positive, self-actualized, skilled in relationships, and not a brooding self-destructive douche?

More often, the examples of male sexuality we see in the media are examples of male sexuality gone bad- rape cases, movie stars or politicians illegally partaking in sexual activity, various sports figures accused of sexual assault.

With expressions like, “If you only knew the things that go through guys’ heads,” the idea perpetuates that male sexuality in its pure form is wrong, shameful, and bad; and furthermore that the only thing that makes men acceptable to society is for them to recognize their inherent wrongness and hinder its expression in an attempt to blend in with normalcy.

A recent article in Philosopher Mail talked about the speculation over the (then-possible, now-confirmed) lesbian relationship between Cara Delevingne and Michelle Rodriguez, and why it seemed to hold so many men in thrall:

One kind of answer begins with the residual guilt many men feel around sex. A good number of them spend the bulk of their formative adolescent years feeling that sex is something they want far more of, and far more urgently, than women. They would love to go further, try certain things, but the girls they know too often look straight through them and never call back. The scenarios in porn and in their imaginations seem incapable of being enacted with anyone available in the real world. The result is shame: it may end up seeming as though sex is an embarrassingly peculiar thing they made up themselves and can’t persuade anyone else to partake in. Even outside of religious belief systems, even in this liberated age, it is only too easy for straight men to feel lonely, even dirty, about having a sex drive. Hence the relief of lesbianism for men. Here, at last, is incontrovertible proof of a point that should always have been, but isn’t necessarily, obvious: that women want sex just as much as, and sometimes far more than, men; that women can be as uncompromising, imaginative and committed in its pursuit as any male.

Men are attracted to lesbianism because it proves to them that sex isn’t only their idea. But here, then, is the tragic irony, of course. The more misogyny that occurs, where women are judged negatively for their sexual desires and actions, the more afraid women will be to admit to claiming sex as their idea too, and the more men will feel alone and isolated in their needs for sex. Shaming hurts everyone.

If women face shame for expressing that maybe sex is their idea too, then they’re going to be less likely to cop to it, and men are going to feel shame for thinking that they’re alone in their wants. And that’s just one end of the spectrum. Perhaps even worse by society’s standards than letting your masculinity run rampant is not having your masculinity hold up to a socially imposed standard. It is similarly threatening for a man to admit he doesn’t have an interest in sex with just any willing and physically attractive woman, or doesn’t want sex as much as society feels he should. Some men I know have been sexually assaulted by women and felt they couldn’t speak up about it. Men are also subjected to double-standards, and they’re less talked about. To get masculine sexuality “right” is a fine line to tread, too desirous, or not desirous enough, and one is deemed wrong.

A friend of mineexperienced a great deal of shaming in his former relationship. When he admitted this to me, I could see the self-doubt that it had caused in him, even in the way he emphatically pronounced his realization that he is actually an okay person, as though he were still defending himself against some last haunting apprehensions still echoing in his mind - “your desires are wrong and therefore there is something wrong with you for having them.”

I think it is important for people in relationships to create a safe space for their partners to be truthful and authentic in talking about their desires, and to do so without fear of being shamed or judged. And I want to specifically address how women can be sympathetic to the unique kind of shame men face around sex.

Toask for what you want and to be able to hear what your partner wants, without placing judgment, it is importantto understand that just because your partner has a desire doesn’t obligate you to fulfill it. But also, just because you don’t want to fulfill it doesn’t mean you need to judge it as being wrong. It’s possible to say, “That’s totally cool that you want that, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with doing it.” (Or, “Okay, maybe once a year on your birthday.”) But at least that allows you to be truthful in your relationship and to lay the groundwork for accepting who you both are or accepting the fact that your needs and wants are so different that you might both be happier with other people who are more compatible.

Or, more optimistically, conversations about sex can also result in shared “yes,” and set both partners on the path to mutually fulfilling one another’s desires and the greater shared intimacy that comes with that.Sharing your sexual fantasies is an act of generosity, courage, and nobility because of the trust and safe dialogue that it fosters, and, in the best cases, the amazing sex it creates. I think in doing this work, in learning how to become better partners and better lovers, we also learn more about what we need from others in return. So, maybe this post is also about how to release shame in ourselves. Because it’s not fun for anyone - male or female.

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