This post appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.
The fabulous Greta Christina wrote an article the other day, in which she speculated on the reasons why there aren’t more men writing about sex. It’s a great piece and I highly recommend it. Actually, I recommend pretty much anything Greta writes.
My observations pretty much match hers. There are a lot more women who write about sex than men. She hits on some of the factors that contribute to that, and I think that there are some others that are worth delving into. I’m going to talk about sex educators and sex writers together because I see many of the same influences in both of these arenas. Anyway, I consider thoughtful sex writing to be one facet of sex education so it’s a somewhat unnecessary distinction, at least for the purposes of this piece.
Greta writes that one of the reasons that there are fewer men who talk, write or teach about sex is that “[w]hen men write about sex, on the other hand, they’re assumed to be drooling horndogs.” That certainly fits my observations. Men who want to talk thoughtfully about sex have to prove to their audience that they’re not creepy or just looking to get laid.
I certainly acknowledge that there are a lot of creepy guys in the world. There are a lot of predatory guys. There are a lot of manipulative guys. Most of them are looking to get laid, and many of them feel free to voice their opinions about sex and women. I really understand why many male sex educators & writers need to prove that they’re not one of these guys. However, one of the effects of that is that many men who write or talk about sex often avoid talking about their personal sexual experiences. It’s one way to make it clear that we’re talking about sexuality in general, not our sexualities in particular. That creates a distance that serves to insulate us in order to minimize the chance that someone is going to misinterpret what we write. Being able to do that is a skill that takes a fair amount of practice and a lot of people simply don’t want to bother or don’t know how to start.
Another reason is that sex and relationship advice is generally seen as part of the female sphere of influence. Some of that stems from the ways in which girls and women usually have a lot more practice at talking about and processing their emotional relationships than men do. When men start talking about these topics, we usually have more of a learning curve, simply as a result of not having had as many opportunities to develop those skills. And without role models to learn from, it’s harder for boys and men to acquire those skills, which reinforces the cycle. This is slowly changing, but it’s still a strong element. (This is also evident in the field of psychotherapy, which is heavily skewed towards women practitioners.)
Still another factor is that we have an overly simple and reductionist view of male sexuality. We have this idea that male sexuality is simple: get it hard, get it in, get it off. And we have this idea that female sexuality is this vastly complex, confusing terrain that requires a lot to make it work. But my experience is that men’s sexual desires are just as complex, tricky, rewarding, and fraught as women’s.
Of course, there are some differences. For example, a lot of girls and women don’t know where the clitoris is and I have yet to hear of a cisgender boy or man who didn’t know where his penis is. My observation is that while some women know little or nothing about their sexual and/or reproductive physiology, there are others who know a lot. Meanwhile, almost every man knows something about how his body works, but far fewer know as much about it as a well-informed woman knows about hers. It’s as if we’ve decided “I know where this one button is. There’s nothing else to know.” And so male sexuality gets reduced to that single function, which then becomes another self-reinforcing loop.
That means that a man who’s willing to talk about something other than “get it hard, get it in, get it off” risks the backlash that any guy who steps outside the box of masculinity risks. This is one of the consequences of sexism, homophobia, and gender essentialism, and not a lot of men have the tools they need to be brave enough to break free. I don’t think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to compare the impact of sexism et al on men versus women, and I have no interest in coddling men who aren’t willing to take the chance to step out of their boxes. But when we’re asking why there aren’t more men writing about sex, the ways in which sexism affects men is certainly part of the puzzle. And given that (heterosexual) men generally benefit from sexism in some very real, material ways, there are barriers to stepping outside of the box that other folks don’t experience in the same ways.
Having said that, there are some clear general differences in the ways that men and women experience sex, some of which I’ve learned from transgender folks. Several of the transmen I’ve spoken with have told me that when they started taking hormones, their sexual desires became more visual and more focused on their genitals and on penetrating a partner. By contrast, some transwomen have told me that their sexual desires shifted towards a more general, full-body experience. These aren’t meant to be representative of transpeople’s experiences in general, but I’ve heard enough of these stories to suggest a pattern. To me, this suggests that some of the differences in how people experience sex is grounded in biology. I believe that as long as we’re mindful of the existence of sexual diversity and we remember that we’re talking about overlapping bell curves rather than a mars/venus dichotomy, we can explore that.
But when you put these different pieces together, it’s easy to see where some of the barriers to men entering the sex writer/educator field come from. To the degree that men want to explore/discuss/write about their desire to satisfy (as Greta phrased it) “an animal urge to put a dick in a wet hole,” there’s not a lot of room to do that without being attacked as a perpetrator or a predator. And to the degree that men want to talk about their other desires, fantasies, and interests, there’s a whole lot of folks ready to discount them for being unmanly.
Making this even harder, most men don’t have as much experience in talking about these things as many women do, so there are often a lot of stumbles and mistakes. My observation from reading blogs and articles is that there’s no shortage of people waiting to attack someone for a clumsily-phrased idea, especially when it comes to sex. This tends to keep folks from being willing to dive into the water and as a result, many of the men who are interested in exploring sexuality topics don’t want to do it in such a public venue.
So I think that there are a lot of different pieces to this puzzle, but what they all seem to come down to is that men don’t write about sex because they don’t see other men writing about sex. All I can say to that is “Come on in. The water’s fine.”