Women, Men & Sexuality – An Interesting Discussion


I recently had a very interesting exchange with a client about the idea that men access emotions via sex and women access sex via emotions. With my client’s permission, I’m sharing that exchange. I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions.

Here is some background and contextual information.

1) We are aware that this exchange was very hetero-normative and framed in a way that views gender as binary, not fluid.

2) We understood that we were talking about broad generalizations. We in no way believe the ideas expressed apply to everyone.

3) This conversation is just the tip of the ice berg on this topic!

With that I’ll share our exchange.

Client: Hi, Jay. Here’s the book I’ve mentioned to you before: “What Do Women Want?”, by Daniel Bergner. Spouse and I had an interesting discussion today about your statement that “Men need sex to feel emotions, and women need emotions to feel like having sex.” You have said (basically) that it doesn’t matter whether or not that’s due to socialization, because we have to deal with our socialization. However, Spouse said it well this morning when he said that by saying women need emotions to feel like having sex, without explicitly stating the nuance that this is due to socialization, it implies that it’s a physiological fact. That is very consistent with society’s message that women are less sexual than men. Daniel Bergner’s book presents evidence showing that’s not true. But people will hear that it’s physiological even if you don’t mean it, because that’s what they are primed to hear. Just wanted to throw that out there because we’ve talked about this a couple of times. I always enjoy our discussions, so this is good fodder for our next one.

Jay: Thanks for the book info. I have to say that I almost completely disagree with the premise of your conclusions. There are a variety of things I take issue with but I’ll just give you an overview. I think the assumption that the way women (and I believe “need” is an overstatement. I apologize if I used that word) access sexual desire somehow makes them less sexual is incredibly judgmental. It implies there is a right way and wrong way to access your desire for sex. I think this view is reflective of a more male judgement that if you don’t want to be having sex at will then there is something wrong with your sexuality.

The inverse argument would be this. If sex is a path to access emotions for men, then men are inherently less emotional. I don’t agree at all. I believe that men are entirely as emotional as women. I believe that for a variety of reasons they are less able or willing to express those emotions and are often not even allowed to develop the ability to recognize those emotion. I don’t think men are less emotional. I think, with great generalization, that men in the US are less able or willing to identify and express their emotions and that sex is one route that sometimes allows them to do this.

Or, use this is example. I make the assumption that arousal is the indicator for desire to be sexual. Tom gets aroused by intelligent women. Larry gets aroused by intelligent women AND balloons popping. Fred only gets aroused by balloons popping. Popping balloons does nothing for Tom. Is one of them less sexual? I don’t think so.

I think the framework you are using reinforces the idea that women that don’t simply want to have sex on demand are doing it wrong, not just differently.

Client: One more important point I forgot: When women hear that they need emotions to have sex and understand that to mean it’s a physiological fact, and then they feel lust with no emotions, they conclude they are abnormal. Why wouldn’t they, when society is constantly telling them sex is always linked to emotions?

Jay: Again, the word “need”, which I may have used, but think is an overstatement. I think it is a big leap to assume it is physiological.
I think society teaches women that sex and emotions are tied and that they shouldn’t access their sexuality without emotions. I happen to disagree with this, but I think it is the prevailing societal message. What I like to see individuals do is to first understand the way they currently access sexuality. The second is to untangle the parts that can be untangled if they so desire.  I think people have a choice. They can say a) this is the way I tap into my sexuality currently, and b) I’d like to try to develop and/or explore other ways to do that. Or they can say, my current way works just fine.

It isn’t about doing it right. It is about doing what works for the individual. Men don’t have to express emotions. But often they need to learn to do it to get the types of relationships they really want.  Others choose to never learn how to do it.

Client: This is all fascinating! I will think about it all for a bit. You are right that I have some assumptions that I haven’t challenged. Also, the concept of “accessing desire” hasn’t been part of my understanding of the world. I know the author of the book I just returned to you discussed it at length, yet it’s still not how I think about sexuality. I think of it as “on” or “off”. And, I was taught that if you do certain things considered to be immoral, like viewing porn, you are switching it “on” when it otherwise wouldn’t have been, and that is somehow bad. (Long ago I concluded porn was not bad, so at least consciously that’s one issue I don’t struggle with.) The concept of “accessing” it is a much more interesting way of thinking about it. That one will definitely require some contemplation.

The analogy of men being less emotional was very easy to understand as parallel to assuming women are less sexual.

It’s also possible you never used the word “need”, and I heard it due to my own biases. That is interesting to contemplate as well.

Maybe the key issue for me is determining whether something society has shaped is helpful or hurtful. I need to think more about that before I can expound further. I think I’ll compare gender roles in sexuality to my thoughts about gender roles in parenting and in the workplace, two areas where I have thought deeply about these roles and experienced them throughout many years as both society and I have changed (and hopefully evolved!). They also involve the nature vs. nuture discussion, so it should be a useful thought process.


photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc


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