There’s been a lot of news these past few months about entitled men getting long-overdue censure for career-long predatory behavior…. But you know what I see a lot more of, with my clients?
I see a lot of men who do not feel entitled to their desires.
I see men whose sexual urges were cordoned off as a part of themselves that wasn’t entirely compatible with marriage, family, and being a good guy. If you’re like these men, you’re not in any danger of being accused of sexual assault or harassment. But maybe it feels like that, sometimes, with your own partner.
If you’re like some of my clients, your yearning for touch, your desire for closeness, your longing for the release and the freedom and the play and the raw pleasure of sex is not something you broadcast willy-nilly to everyone on the street or in your office… You bring it home, dedicating it all to that one special person. But - as so often happens for nice guys - your fidelity is not rewarded but punished.
Your beloved feels not admired and wanted, but pressured and pawed-at. Or maybe you simply hear, “I’m not up for it.” Either way, the message is the same: these needs, desires, urges, and longings? They’re not wanted here. Maybe not allowed. Even if the answer isn’t always “no,” it becomes a bit humiliating to even keep asking.
You stop reaching out, because it feels like you can't afford another kick in the teeth.
To me, it’s a crying shame that so many men, operating in monogamous relationships where they dedicate their attention and sexual energy to just one person, get gunshy about initiating sex. And they seem, too often, to get shameful about their own desire. If it can’t be satisfied or echoed, they begin to wonder, was there something wrong with it in the first place?
I say no. From my vantage, intimacy in long-term relationships is intense, it’s complicated, it’s freighted with all these layers of meaning and sensitivity. So it’s no surprise that we run toward, run away from, and get really confused about it. Regardless of whether we are male or female or don’t identify with either… And regardless who our partner is, if we’re monogamous, the sexual connection can easily become a challenge.
We try to get our sexual connection to meet 1,001 different needs… And then we try to avoid the vulnerability it brings up. We try to sneak in and get our partner to meet our hungers without all the discomfort of really talking about them, and then when that stealth approach doesn’t leave us feeling met, we fold up our tent and decamp to a more remote location. You might wish your partner would initiate more, or that they would receive your gentle decline with less upset. When you turn toward your partner sexually, maybe they respond in a way that overwhelms what you asked for, or maybe you wind up underwhelmed by how you feel during or after you have sex.
Here’s the bottom line: we have to start from a place of endorsing our desire.
Until we legitimize our sexual need and yearning, our sense of ourselves as sexual beings is tainted with the push-pull of ambivalence and judgment. Given recent events, I’m talking a lot with men about their thoughts and feelings about their desires. That’s not at all to say that women don’t also need to fully endorse our own sex drives, generally, as well as our desire or turn-on in any given moment. This goes for everyone.
Our culture is not sex-positive. We simultaneously revere sex, placing “sexiness” and desirability on a pedestal, and at the same time defile it, by hiding it, denying its existence, and labeling erotic desire, hunger, and need as depraved and immoral. With all this contradiction and distortion, is it any wonder that some of the most powerful people in the culture misbehave when it comes to sex?
The answer is not to push down our own drive to try to ensure we don’t become like those offenders. The solution we each must claim for ourselves is to become fans of, champions of sexuality within our own lives and identities. We must embrace these hungers as being as natural and healthy as the draw toward sleep, water, and food. The things that nourish us are coded into our bodies as yearnings, so that we’ll go after them. Our bodies won’t leave us alone until we have what they need. But if we’re really good at ignoring those signals, they’ll go underground and start messing with us until they get our attention. Let’s not let it come to that.
Let’s listen well to our own yearnings.
Acknowledging and validating our desire doesn’t mean we have to act on it in any particular way. It doesn’t mean we’ll die or lose our minds if the hunger isn’t fed. It just means we’ve taken a crucial step in creating a healthy relationship with our body and our reality.
What are your desires?