I recently ran across an advice column on Cosmopolitan.com. A woman (an assumption I’m making since the column doesn’t actually say) wrote in ask for advice about her relationship with her boyfriend. In short she says that after two years she just found out her boyfriend has a porn addiction and watches porn daily. He doesn’t have sex with her as frequently as she’d like. When she asked him about it he told her that sex with her was boring.
(Read the full version here).
The columnist, a male for the record, responded with this –
“Frankly, whether a guy watches porn zero times a day or many times a day, what really matters is how he treats you. And this guy is treating you with disrespect. He’s shutting you out and telling you that sex with you is boring? What an obnoxious jerk! You do not have to take that kind of insult. I bet his insulting, belittling attitude is what “takes away from the intimacy,” not the porn.”
Let’s be clear about what we do and don’t know. First, we don’t know if the boyfriend believes he has a porn addiction or if the girlfriend simply made that assumption based on his porn use. We also don’t know if the boyfriend actually said “sex with you is boring” or if that is the summary of how it felt to the girlfriend. I will grant that the discussion may have been handled terribly. We just don’t know.
So this isn’t really about “porn addiction” (an imaginary diagnosis that had yet another major organization declare it to not be real). It also isn’t about the way the issue was discussed. We don’t know enough about either of those situations for the columnist, or anyone, to comment on those issues.
We only know one thing for certain – the boyfriend doesn’t enjoy sex with the girlfriend. The columnist could have chosen to discuss the importance of having conversations about and respecting each other’s sexual desires and trying to find ways to meet each other’s sexual needs.
Instead, because the boyfriend doesn’t find sex with the girlfriend enjoyable, the columnist determined that the boyfriend is disrespectful, an obnoxious jerk, insulting, and belittling.
Really? The guy doesn’t want to have sex he doesn’t enjoy and that’s what he is? That’s a wildly shaming response to a guy who dares voice that he doesn’t enjoy sex with his girlfriend.
Think I’m overreacting? Let me ask you this. What if the roles had been reversed? What if a guy had written in and said my girlfriend doesn’t have sex with me as often as I like. When I asked her about it she told me that sex with me is boring.
I feel confident that the response to him wouldn’t have been that his girlfriend is disrespectful, an obnoxious jerk, insulting, and belittling. No, it would have been hey boyfriend, you need to learn how to please your woman. If you want her to have sex with you then you’d better learn how to make her want to have sex. And he would have been just another guy wanting sex all of the time. He might even be labeled as a sex addict.
I am convinced of that because we’ve heard that advice time and time again. Guys shouldn’t expect sex if they don’t do the work to please the woman. I challenge anyone to make a credible argument that this message isn’t part of our culture of sexual expectations.
Why? Because he is a man and if he wants sex he needs to earn it, to deserve it. He is lucky she is even willing to consider having sex with him. But flip it around like in the original article and he is disrespectful and an obnoxious jerk for telling her he isn’t happy with the way she engages in sex. He’s a jerk because his desires don’t matter and he is lucky she is even willing to consider having sex with her.
We shame men for wanting sex. We shame them for wanting sex in specific ways. If guys want something sexually that a female partner doesn’t want it just proves that men are unreasonable animals that are controlled by their sex drive. On top of that, we blame it on porn. We claim it is addictive and causes men to want more and more “extreme” sex.
I have news for you. People, not just men, wanting exciting, creative, adventurous sex existed long before internet porn. Even long before pornographic magazines or videos or films. It is a natural part of the range of sexual desires that human have.
In 1980 (for you youngsters that was well before the world wide web and our current “porn epidemic” craziness) psychologist Daniel Mosher developed a model of three sexual styles. In short they are –
Sexual Trance: This is a focus on physical sensation. Typically eyes are closed and there is little or no talking. It is a about pleasure of the self. You are each being very attentive of your own pleasure. It can be highly sensual and you may enter a trance like state but isn’t focused on emotional connections.
Role Playing (I prefer to call this Creative): This may or may not involve actual roleplaying, including dressing up but it does involve lots of creativity and new experiences. It may involve toys, books, lingerie, and other accessories. There is likely lots of talking and the talking is often “dirty” talk or descriptions of the scene being enacted.
Partner Engagement: This is about emotional connection. There is often talking and it is usually gentle and loving, or feedback about the sexual activities. Eyes are usually open with direct eye contact. It is typically playful and sensual. The lights on are on and there is a focus on mutual pleasure.
None of these styles is better than another. None of them are deemed bad or pathological. In fact, they are very natural. People may have a primary style but they can often utilize different styles at different times. Sometimes people even move through 2 or 3 in one session of sex.
Conflict can often arise when people have different styles. Imagine someone whose primary style is Role Playing having sex with someone who enjoys Sexual Trance. One wants lots of talking and creativity and interaction. The other wants quiet and darkness. That’s a recipe for a bad sexual experience.
If this letter had been directed to me I know what my answer would have been.
I have bad news. Sex with you may be boring – for him. Different people have different sexual styles and desires. They aren’t right or wrong. It sounds like yours don’t match. What really needs to happen is a discussion about what each of you is looking for and compromise. That’s right, change by BOTH of you to work to meet each other’s sexual needs. If that common ground can’t be found it may be you aren’t a good match. But without doing the real work, you won’t know.
Men aren’t bad, or disgusting, or obnoxious, or addicted to porn just because they want a different style of sex. It’s time to stop shaming men for wanting to have and enjoy sex. Instead of perpetuating harmful, moralistic tropes we should be teaching everyone real information about sex. Let’s start trying to help everyone have a happy, fulfilling sex life.
By Anthony Easton/flickr: PinkMoose (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkmoose/2611293086/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons