Guys, can we talk?
It’s hard out there for us Y chromosome carriers, isn’t it? Sex abuse scandals are once again forcing conversations about sex to the front and center. Being forced to talk about problems surrounding sex isn’t high on the list of things we enjoy. I mean, we like sex. But we have a really, really conflicted relationship with sex which means that despite our love of sex, talking about sex makes us uncomfortable. To be more specific, conversations that involve actual women and feelings and get beyond the physical deed make us nervous sweat. We prefer blogs and articles “encouraging” women to be sensitive to our kryptonite: bikinis and yoga pants. That approach is way easier than having an actual conversation about our posture towards sex because to have a meaningful conversation about the impact of our approach to sex on women, we would need to have an actual woman present. We can’t do that because it would be too tempting. The mere presence of a woman sets off a near nuclear hormonal chain-reaction making it harder to to stop our eyes from roaming than stopping a Great Dane from chasing a car. The best we can hope for in that situation is to hold on to the leash until the dog stops or the car stops so we’re spared the pain of becoming a new hood ornament for a Jaguar. Something about the wiring in our brains leaves us incapacitated to make logical and rational decisions when a member of the opposite sex walks in the room. In my house we have this doo-hicky attached to our washing machine that helps clean the clothes with oxygen (I don’t know…it was there when we bought the house) and last week it sprung a leak. Water drips out of one of the thing-a-ma-bobs on the inside and falls onto this little metal sensor attached to the bottom of the unit. The water, being able to carry an electrical current, causes this really annoying alarm to go off. Apparently, that’s what our hormones do in our amygdala whenever a woman enters the room. A primal procreation alarm notifies us again and again, “Woman present! Woman present! Woman present!” thus rendering our mental capacities to one lustful thought: sex.
At least that’s what we’re told.
Truth is, men do have an unhealthy relationship with sex. But it isn’t that we think about sex too much. It’s that we don’t think about it rightly. It isn’t just that we think about sex as some mere physical act and neglect the emotional, relational, and spiritual dynamics of sex. There are enough Christian books and sermons series and videos and blog posts to remind us about ahava, dod, and raya. We understand that sex is a whole person experience. The problem isn’t what we are being taught about sex. The problem isn’t even with our biology – which may cause us to think about sex more than women and be quicker to warm up to the occasion than women. No, the problem is what we’re taught about being men.
We are taught that, as men, we aren’t as emotional as women. In fact, one of the most pervasive images of a “man’s man” is that of a stoic man who is unencumbered by his emotions. Truth is, men are just as emotional as women. In fact, some studies show men to be more emotional than women. But we aren’t taught how to be emotional, or even how to identify our emotions. Instead, we are taught to avoid our emotions. Emotions, we are told, are for women. And the last thing we want is for our men to appear feminine. In fact, we shame and cajole anything remotely resembling the female form in a man. It’s why we are so concerned about the supposed feminization of men. Our concern about this cultural conspiracy seeping out of our most liberal of institutions – schools and churches apparently- reinforces the idea that men aren’t women. Not only are they not women, but they shouldn’t do anything that would confuse someone about their gender. Like crying.
Okay. I concede. We as men are allowed to feel some emotion. Over time, and with enough reinforcement, we’ve garnered the ability to express a couple of emotions and still be men. Anger is a manly emotion. Jealousy for your girl is manly. But that’s the full range of emotions bearing the cultural stamp of approval for men. The result is that most of us have learned how to express our emotions in a gender appropriate way when our cup runneth over with emotion. Make it manly. So, if you’re sad, change it to anger. Afraid? Nope, angry. Hurt? Try again. We’re angry. See how this works?
(I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with porn. Well, we’ll get there so stay with me.)
This culturally developed fear of one person being more complicated than a stereotype and embodying both masculine and feminine qualities makes sex really awkward. Because sex isn’t just a physical act. It’s emotional. But you’re not supposed to be angry when you’re having sex, and turning whatever emotion you’re feeling into anger or jealousy during the moment…well, that’s awkward. It’s safer to keep a safe emotional distance and treat it like going to the gym.
Sex is also intimate. In a unique and powerful way sex forces the masculine to be intimate with the feminine. The two literally become one. But that intimacy feels dangerous when you have been told that you shouldn’t be too close to the feminine. To be intimate, to be close requires vulnerability means that your weaknesses might be seen and men aren’t supposed to be weak. More than we know, sex comes with a lot of baggage surrounding what we are taught about being men.
Porn, then, becomes a safe haven. The attraction of porn isn’t just as a stimulus, although that is definitely part of it. Porn allows you to “have sex,” and think about sex, and interact with women without having to deal with emotions. Interacting with the feminine has never been easier. No one is asking to be intimate. No one is questioning your manhood. In fact, it keeps your manhood safe. A real woman could reject you, thus damaging your image as a man. But porn won’t reject you, which keeps you from feeling all the feelings when you are rejected.
So guys, let’s stop talking about our biology. Talking about our biology and how hard it is to resist temptation because the Lord filled our veins with testosterone is to assume the role of the victim. Men are not the victims when they consume porn. So let’s stop saying dumbass things like “guys are wired to think about sex,” and “it’s biology,” and “men can’t be alone with women without groping them.” That last one might be hyperbole, but we do basically say that.
What men are, though, is victims of dehumanizing view of masculinity that shames men when they don’t measure up to some impossible standard.
Instead, let’s have a real and meaningful conversation about what it means to be a man. Better yet, let’s have real conversations about what it means to be human. Maybe then we might be able to have real conversations about sex with real women.
(In case you’re interested, I have a book, Man Enough, coming out this fall about this whole idea. This idea is in the book, along with a whole host of other questions about what we’ve been told it means to be a man. While the book is written about masculinity to men, my hope is that women would read it as well so that we can, as the church and a society, have new and transformative conversations about both masculinity and femininity. If you’re interested, I’d love for you to go and pre-order it now. Or, sign up for email updates and there will be more info coming out closer to the release date.)