When most people think about male sexuality, they think it’s very one-dimensional and straightforward. The truth is that male sexuality has many different dimensions to it and can be quite profound. One of the difficulties that men in our society have is that there aren’t too many voices out there encouraging men to have more complex and involved sex. Men are not usually taught that they can have more depth of feeling than just the superficial physical sensations over their genitals. Most men are not taught how to have sex and/or make love with their entire body or being.
The idea of what is masculine is also suffering from a lack of good role models. Porn certainly doesn’t help men figure it out. Although it can be quite efficient as a means to sexual arousal, porn gives a false sense of the look of both male and female bodies, an exaggeration of sexual behavior and sexual response, and very little if no information about how to navigate the complexities of human interactions and relationships. There is a pervasive message in our society that “real men” are supposed to be forever tough, tougher than any emotion they might accidentally feel, and automatically knowledgeable and capable. At the extreme is the view that masculinity is defined by how many women a man can “get” or how little those women actually mean to him.
All of these extremes compromise a man’s ability to develop his sexuality to its full extent. Many men are left feeling that they must perform above all else and that there is no room for their emotions. Some men handle this by dissociating from the full experience of their feeling in sex. Some men experience this as tremendous anxiety to perform. Others deal with it by debasing women to feel more in control and powerful, unable to find healthy more connected ways of feeling powerful.
Because men’s genitals are mostly external, the penis is more easily accessible to a man than a woman’s genitals are to her. This can have both positive and negative consequences for him. On the positive side, men are usually more attune to when they are aroused and how to give themselves pleasure. It is also easier for them to discover what gives them pleasure in masturbation. But the ease of arousal and orgasm for men can actually be limiting because many of them are never challenged to go beyond that. As someone once pointed out to me, “Most men get shortchanged in their sexuality because it’s too easy for them to get aroused, so many of them never really go deeper.” Many men also identify strongly with their erections, which can set them up for anxiety or disappointment if their erection fails to “deliver.” Those men may also have a much more difficult time accepting changes in their erection or functioning that goes along with age. Too much focus on one area doesn’t let you fully appreciate the entire picture.
Although men’s sexuality can be affected by hormone levels, the level of testosterone is not exactly correlated with strong sexual desire or good sexual functioning. There have been many men over 80 years old with very low testosterone levels who have plenty of desire and ability to have sex, and there are those men in their 20’s with a healthy looking testosterone level who have no desire whatsoever. In evaluating difficulties in sexual functioning for men, there are many other factors to consider. First, cortisol and thyroid need to be well balanced first (please read these sections on the “Hormone” page for a more detailed explanation). Next, any personal factors, relationship factors, emotional factors, and lifestyle factors need to be investigated as well. Oftentimes, many of these factors are the real reason for the difficulty in sexual functioning. Actually, many of these factors can cause low testosterone – so low testosterone might be the symptom, not the cause!
I want to encourage men to think broadly about their sexuality. They don’t necessarily have to limit themselves or fit neatly in the box that society tries to keep them in. A person’s sexuality continues to evolve and grow throughout their life if they let it and are open to it. There are many men out there enjoying full-body orgasms, or multiple orgasms, or sexual pleasure that seems to transport them or make them feel like they are floating or seeing colors. Sexual pleasure can be independent from emotional burden and obligation, but not from disconnection with themselves.