Okay, it's a series now. This is another casual post in the spirit of what I wish someone had told me when I was younger.
When I was growing up, the general message I got was that having sex was bad and would ruin my life.
There's a bunch of reasons for this:
- My sex education came just as we were starting to grapple with HIV/AIDS so the overwhelming message was "if you have sex you will get AIDS and die".
- America was way more Christian back then in ways that are hard to remember now, and Christianity is very against premarital sex.
- The emotions that come with sex can legit lead you to do things that limit your options in life. At 15 you want to fuck so bad you don't seriously consider what it would mean to raise a kid, pay child support, get a venereal disease, or just be in a terrible relationship because sex chemicals convince you it's a good idea.
- Also I'm a man and the message was very much that my sexual feelings are gross and dangerous and will probably hurt someone and result in me going to jail.
Teachers, parents, people on TV, etc. told me that having sex was bad. I mean, they were responsible grown ups who could have sex responsibly. But me? No sex for me. Sex was the path to doom.
So once I was finally an adult and living on my own in college, I wasn't really prepared for the possibility that I might have sex. Instead it seemed like a bad thing that I would eventually do because everyone did it but that I should feel bad about it and keep it at arms length.
A lot of the problem is that I was naive and took the advice to be careful about sex too seriously. I failed to understand that messages about sex are constructed to be overly alarmist because once most people hit puberty they are so horny it takes extreme measures to talk them out of fucking. The expectation was that I, like most people, would ignore some of the advice through strength of desire and come to some sane, reasonable balance.
But it seems I'm less horny than average. I have normal hormone levels but I definitely never wanted to fuck as bad as my peers (and still don't). So I lacked the drive to ignore enough of the advice to develop a good policy on my own. Instead I took things at face value, which basically meant I should basically never have sex with anyone other than a virgin who never used drugs, who was on birth control, while wearing a condom, and probably don't kiss too much just to be on the safe side.
This is not the way to enjoy sex or your life in general.
But I eventually figured out that sex is good. It took lucking into some good experiences with some good partners.
Does sex cary risks? Yes. Can they be reasonable managed? Of course, just like any other risk. Most of the trouble, at least in my case, was figuring out that the risks were worth the reward.
That might seem strange, but lots of people have lots of a bad sex they don't enjoy. A lot of that comes, I think, from having big expectations about what sex should be, both from ourselves and our partners.
We can be shitty to each other. I've been in relationships with people who definitely made me feel bad about things I liked in the bedroom, how I looked naked, and how I performed. Sadly, this seems to be the norm. I suspect most people have never had really great sex, just like I suspect most people haven't been in healthy, loving relationships. Lots of people think they have had great sex and been in healthy, loving relationships. But sometimes I hear these people tell me about their sex and their relationships and I'm like "oh no".
I suspect a lot of it comes down to self-esteem. Most of us have lower self-esteem than we realize, and we fail to realize how much it hurts us. We think we're doing okay, but that's because we've built up a complex edifice of coping mechanisms to get by. We think we like ourselves, but what we actually like is the version of ourselves we create by carefully controlling our environment. Soon as our supports get knocked out we find it was all a house of cards and we actually don't like ourselves; we were just good at tricking ourselves into thinking we do.
Self-esteem is critical to good sex, because my hypothesis is that you can't have good sex without loving yourself first. Most people use sex not just as an expression of love or primal desire or whatever, but as a coping mechanism to feel better about themselves. If they run into sex that doesn't meet their expectations of propping up their self-esteem, they'll turn on their partner as a defensive mechanism: it's not me, it's you!
But I said sex is good, actually, not bad, and I've just told you lots about how it's bad. So how is it good?
Sex is good when you are liberated from neurotic concerns about what the sex means. You get out of your head and you just have sex. It's an extremely natural, human activity. It feels grounding, like walking or porting or watching the fire or telling stories. Sex is our birthright. Every one of our ancestors fucked. It's a normal part of existence. But you have to get past all the bullshit we've heaped on top of sex to see that.
Some of that bullshit comes from a good place. You don't want to have unexpected kids you can't care for. You don't want to get an STD. You don't want to get trapped in a bad relationship because the dick/pussy is too good. But all that stuff can be reasonably managed. The first thing is to learn to come to sex from a place of freedom and open-heartedness.
How can you learn to have this kind of open-hearted sex? I'm not sure what will work for everyone. Here's some things that worked for me:
- Work on yourself. Deal with the fears and trauma that prevent you from loving yourself.
- Get a variety of sexual experiences (this includes positive sexual touch, not just having sex).
- Be open to being hurt. Build a resilient base from which you can recover from potential pain.
- Stay smart about managing risk so you can feel free to act within the framework of safety.
There's plenty of sex stuff I've not addressed here. I can only speak from my experience as a man who got the message that sex and his desire for sex was bad and later came to realize that sex and my desire for it can be good. Assuming you don't want to engage in unethical behavior around sex, sex can probably be good for you, too.
Previously in life, I've used a kind of slave-moral inversion by telling myself that I'm such a good ally by not making women afraid. This was a great cop-out to avoid facing my deeply-held insecurity. It's also not true, women get way more enthusiastic when I express interest in them.
I've written a bit about this on my blog, here's a post on consent, and a (slightly nsfw) post on my own sexual development
52f here. 95% of the time I’ve found the trouble, work and angst of sex far outweighed the pleasure. I’ve had casual sex, relationship sex, married sex. Sex with both men and women in all of those categories. It’s all the same, maybe slightly less fraught with women due to the guaranteed no pregnancy factor.
Is it really? I mean, yes, it is, but even the “sex is good” section only goes so far as to say “don’t do the things that make it bad”. That feels rather lukewarm compared with the usual view of sex as Best Thing Evar.
In contrast, “Exercise is good, actually” had something to say about the positive joy of movement. Not as much as it might, but some of the comments filled that out.
Look, I would love to write something that just says "fucking is good" but if I do that someone will say "what about rape?, what about pedophilia?". Unlike, say, exercise, sex is at the center of the culture war, so I have to be more cautious to talk about sex than exercise.
Someone probably could have read that exercise is good and gone out and hurt themselves or someone else doing it. I didn't worry because people are reasonable and won't come after me about it. If I say that sex is good and don't acknowledge the complications and someone uses this post as an excuse to do something reprehensible, someone will come at me.
So this post can't have the same punch because the topic is different, and I'm a coward.
I appreciate that you wrote down your perspective. But I think very few heterosexual men (who are probably the vast majority on LW) around here think that sex is bad. The way sex may indeed be a problem for many of them is likely very different. The other "X is good, actually" posts seem more in line with addressing common misconceptions. So I'm not too happy with the title you used for this post: It suggests that something is a common misconception while it actually is (I think) a very uncommon one.
I find this surprising. Lots of men I know have very mixed feelings about sex. They want it, but have fears and anxieties around it. The biggest source is usually that their desire is dangerous and will hurt women.
It's often justified because sometimes male desire is dangerous. Some men really do lose their sense and pressure women into sex they don't want to have our worse. But most of the time sexual desire can be welcome with the right partner and if it's honest rather than coercive.
Further, this is a big topic and I've definitely not covered all of it, just one tiny corner. This post had to be a lot more personal because the alternative was writing 10k words. Sorry if it didn't connect for you. Maybe the next one will.
(I'm aware I'm probably coming off as unproductive.)
Of course the expression "lots of" is vague. I guess "a few" can be "a lot", or at least: too many. In any case, I don't think the problem of deeming their desire as overly dangerous is anywhere close to the most common problem heterosexual men have with sex. I'm not sure you would even disagree with that. To be a tiny bit more direct, I think the most common problem has to do with the fact that between men and women, there is a very, very large difference in average interest in sex. It is hard to talk about this publicly, so I won't go into details. Again, nothing about the content of your post; I personally didn't like the implicature of the title, but that's just N=1.
I agree that this is difficult to talk about publicly. If we assume that sexually attractive people are more sexually attractive (which sounds like a tautology), then a man complaining about his lack of sexual opportunities can be dismissed as an unattractive loser. Plus it is politically incorrect, so people are invited to express outrage. On the other hand, a man who says "guys, I have absolutely no idea what are you talking about, from my perspective it always seemed that women are just as interested at sex as men, probably even more" is expressing a politically correct opinion, and at the same time (not so) subtly advertising his attractiveness. The incentives for reporting the two kinds of experience are horribly imbalanced.
(This does not work symmetrically for both genders. If women are not sexually interested in a man, it is clearly his fault. But if men are not sexually interested in a woman, it is probably their fault, too. "The men-children these days spend more time thinking about computer games than about women." "Most guys cannot handle a real woman." "Men have such fragile egos; they are intimidated by smart women." "If he is not interested in you, he is probably gay or impotent.")
But it is also difficult to talk about for statistical reasons, as there are at least three possible effects that are difficult to distinguish:
Notice that each of these three hypotheses alone would predict that the average man feels sexually frustrated. My personal opinion is that each of them explains a part of reality, but it is difficult to estimate their relative strength.
The second and third would predict that many women feel sexually frustrated, too. But that wouldn't actually disprove the first; it would only mean that the first effect cannot be the only thing that happens.
Also, this doesn't make the advice in the article useless. If a man's sexual opportunities are... fewer than he would prefer to have, but more than zero... it is still important that he doesn't screw up the few opportunities he has.