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Why does male sexuality seem so repulsive to me? Am I just too feminist?

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Anonymous asks:

This is more of a psychological issue, I think, than a physical one, and possibly unsolvable, but I'll ask your opinion anyway because this site seems pretty clued up and sensibly feminist and lovely.

I have recently become disgusted with the idea of male pleasure. It's like I'm... too feminist to function. I have had sexual partners in the past, but recently, the more I learn about male character (although that is a gross generalization, I know - there is no innate male or female "character"), the less reconciled I am to pleasing men. My rational mind knows that there are plenty of men who are not misogynist pigs, who don't objectify women, who aren't secretly rapists... yet when I fantasize about sex, and men getting pleasure from sex, I feel physically repulsed. Like, how dare they use my body, they're just like trying to get pleasure from me. I know that is MASSIVELY unjust because surely women are using men too, but I literally can't help it.

Heather Corinna replies:

(Anonymous' question continued) Especially, when I consider anal sex because, well, why would they want to do that, other than increase their own pleasure. The problem is, I actually enjoy anal, I just... these days, I hate the idea of letting anyone have it.

So, basically I'm being ridiculously immature about men. I'm being sexist myself, perhaps. But honestly, in your opinion, are men capable of having sexual feelings driven by love, can men be nice, can I trust men, why are so many men violent to women (is it just natural? I mean... should we just accept that behavior as a male trait?), how do I stop feeling sick about men being pleasured, will this go away when I find someone I actually love, etc etc etc.

Oh, and this all coincides with a strange crush on one of my best girl friends; it's like I'm forcing myself to be lesbian because I hate men. Is that even possible?

I know you've had to wait a bit on our answer to this one. I confess, I've let it sit for a while, and waited until I felt like I could give you a thoughtful answer. It's probably obvious that this is not exactly a simple question. I'm still not entirely certain how much I can offer you, but I can certainly share my thoughts, and hope they'll be of use to you.

Before I say anything else, I want to talk for a bit about feminism and patriarchy.

While definitions vary, and there are absolutely many types of feminism, the common thread through all feminisms has always been that it is about gender equity and equality: about assuring that despite being of differing genders, who sometimes will have different needs, we are all considered and treated as equals, without any one group having more rights, benefits or privileges than another based on gender.

The primary aim of feminism is certainly about getting and assuring equity and equality for women. However, that's because it's usually considered a given -- and it certainly is a logical given -- that we cannot have that if men do not have it also. If we flip the script, and treat men the way women have been treated, we cannot say there is equality. (Unless, I suppose, none of us are treated fairly, in which case we're all in the crapper together, but that sure has never been the aim of any kind of feminism I know of.)

When it comes to male sexual pleasure, unless we are talking about pleasure which is in conflict with women's equality -- and that is the case sometimes, such as with rape, gross objectification of women, or defining sexuality as only or solely about male sexual desires -- there's nothing counter to feminism about male sexuality in the most general way, because it is as diverse as male character, and is no more or less positive or negative in and of itself than any other sexuality is. I don't think that it's feminist to think the worst of men or any group of people, and that one thing we very much know has always stood in the way of the aims of feminism is gender stereotyping of both women and men.

I feel a little silly answering some of your questions, especially since it seems clear you do already know the answers, but I am going to do it just so we can clear the air. Yes, men are capable of, and do, have sexual feelings which are intertwined with or about feelings of love. Yes, men can be, and are, nice. Yes, men can be, and are, trustworthy. Men are not just our lovers if we choose that: they are also our brothers, in the same sense that women are our sisters.

Gloria Steinem once said, in a senate hearing in 1970 about the Equal Rights Amendment, that "Women are not more moral than men. We are only uncorrupted by power." What she was expressing when she said that was that any kind of gender essentialism about women and men is fallacy. We cannot possibly know how women as a whole might behave if we had the same kinds of or levels of unilateral power which men have been given, nor can we know how men might behave without living under patriarchy themselves.

I think she said a mouthful there, and I'd take what she said to heart.

You ask if certain male sexual behavior is "natural," but we have no way of knowing if ANY of our human sexual behavior is "natural," save that we can safely say that a desire for sex and other kinds of physical affection and contact do appear to be and have always been instinctual for most human beings. But none of us have been reared in a vacuum, and none of us have been without at least some -- and more frequently many -- social cues about sex and sexuality, so we know that a whole lot of our sexuality is also learned. We can't possibly separate nature and nurture into two distinct piles.

Any of the awful things men can do or have done? Could be or have been the case with women, too. And when it all comes down to it, unless you intend to sleep with every man alive, what all men may or may not be like, may or many not do isn't relevant to you: what's relevant is what any given man you may choose to become sexually involved with will or will not do (and what you will or will not choose to do with him), and what his sexuality is like. We know enough about human sexuality to know that gender alone doesn't even come close to determining that: for people of any given gender, sexuality is wildly diverse.

Why would men want to engage in anal sex? For the same kinds of reasons people have any kind of sex. Because it feels good for one or both partners or they suspect it will. Because they have experienced receptive anal play or sex of their own that has felt good for them. Because it feels adventurous and exciting to them or to their partners. Because a partner has asked to try it. Because the anus is concave and seems -- as other concave places seem to for people -- like somewhere it seems sensible to have something convex inside of. Because they think it's safer than vaginal intercourse. Can someone have other motivations? Sure. Some men (or women) do use anal sex as a way of making partners who don't like it or want to do it "prove" they'll submit to them (and I've also heard from women who try and use it as leverage, pretending they don't like it when they do), or as a means of abuse in other ways. But then, any person could use any kind of sexual activity that way: there's nothing about anal sex in particular that has shown us it is used abusively any more often than any other kinds of sex.

It sounds to me like a lot of the issue you're having isn't so much "how men are," or what men do, but how you're framing partnered sex and what you're projecting unto men and sexuality. You talk about people "using" each other, which I suppose is one way to see it, but I'd posit that mutually wanted, shared sexuality isn't about usury, but about sharing something; exploring and creating something together which is an expression both individual and joint. It sounds like you're not considering that chances are pretty good that if you choose to be sexual with someone else of your own free will, it's pretty darn likely they aren't going to be the only ones experiencing pleasure or being pleased. Again, are there people who don't come to sex that way? Sure, but in all honesty, it sounds like you're being one of them at the moment yourself. And while we narcissists and sociopaths absolutely live among us, to suggest they are most of the population or only male is way off base.

I'm one of those folks who think that we most certainly can help the way we think, about sexuality or anything else: you get to choose the way you fantasize, the way you think about men and male pleasure as well as how you think of and enact sexuality. And when we're thinking about something in a way we know isn't realistic or sound, and also know is toxic or divisive to us or others, we can change our minds, just like we can change our minds about anything. If you find you really just cannot, then that's a time it's sound to seek out some help from a counselor or therapist for obsessive or compulsive thought or behavior.

I want to mention that having been privy to so many people's sexual histories and feelings about their sexuality, my impression is that at this point in time, especially given the continued rigidity of gender roles in our world, we know as little about authentic male sexuality as we do about authentic female sexuality. In other words, I think that trying to figure out, in any broad way, what male sexuality is "really" like is somewhat fruitless. That's something we tend to discover very intimately, from partner to partner, over time, and when the sex life we have with someone else (no matter their gender) allows for a level of trust and intimacy to develop where we and our partners can dare to really explore our sexuality.

So, yes, to a great degree, I do think this will all be a whole lot less scary when you become involved with someone you love -- or even just like a whole lot -- who also loves you, and where the two of you can get close over time, emotionally and intellectually as well as sexually. Remember: you get to decide if and when to be sexual with someone else, and how a person behaves and thinks sexually doesn't tend to live in a vacuum. In other words, if you've spent a lot of time with someone and gotten close enough to have a good sense of who they are, what they're like sexually does tend to be in a good deal of alignment with the rest of their personality and behavior.

It'd be highly unusual for you to discover, for example, that someone who over months has been otherwise kind, respectful of you and other women and generally well-adjusted would be a secret rapist. By all means, we do know that sometimes, who a rapist is has come as a complete surprise to wives, sisters, daughters, girlfriends, friends or family. I wouldn't dream of denying that. However, there often is or has been some measure of denial involved in those situations. For example, people ignoring frequent middle-of-the-night disappearances of a partner or family member, people denying that someone who seems to or certainly has disrespect or disdain for women in other arenas likely does in the sexual realm as well, or histories or culture of abuse or misogyny in the circles of those people have been so pervasive that everyone around has a tough time discerning the difference between healthy and unhealthy behavior and thinking.

But again, this isn't something exclusive to men. Women, just like men, can also be wolves in sheeps clothing, and have the ability to be deceptive and abusive.

Lastly, our sexual orientation -- to whom we are physically and emotionally attracted -- is about exactly that: about to whom we ARE attracted, not about to whom we are NOT attracted. I don't like carrot juice because I am repulsed by tomato juice. I like carrot juice because I like carrot juice. We also generally cannot make ourselves have sexual or romantic feelings for someone by force or will. If we could do that, there are an awful lot of gay and lesbian people in the world who are have been so profoundly unsupported or terrorized because of sexual orientation, and who have tried so hard to do so to (understandably) try and put an end to how they have been made to suffer who would have actually been successful in that endeavor, however sad the motivation to do so is. If you are attracted to your friend, I am fairly certain it is -- and I certainly hope it is -- because of who she is, not because of who she is not.

I'm going to posit a few suggestions which I hope will help you out.

For starters, stop fantasizing about negative things. Again, the idea that we can't help how we think is fallacy. Were that the case, there's be no point in education, amongst many other things, including...well, living life itself. If we couldn't evolve the way we think throughout life, we'd all be a bunch of two-year-olds in fifty-year-old bodies, and we're just not that unless we choose to stick to ignorance willingly. I'm of the mind that absolutely everyone is both smarter than that and that everyone also is -- and I'd even say essentially, naturally -- more inquisitive and creative than that. It's very clear that the place you're letting your head get stuck in doesn't make you happy and isn't of a benefit to anyone. It doesn't protect you in any way, either. I'll be very blunt: you can think whatever you like of men, but this kind of thinking not going to keep you from being assaulted or victimized. It's more likely to just keep you from having positive experiences with men, even when they want to have them with you.

So, change your mind. Seriously. Just like you change your clothes. These are your fantasies, and you are no more automatically compelled to think poorly of men than you are to think positively. Write a new script one where, if you are creating a sexual fantasy for yourself, your partner -- whatever gender they may be -- cares for you, is mutually invested in your pleasure, and doesn't see sex as usury or malice. I'd suggest that you put yourself in the same place in these fictions: where you don't think of it that way either.

(Of course, if the idea of male sexuality or being sexual with men isn't appealing to you for any reason at all, there's just no reason to bring men into your fantasy life or actual sexual life, either. Again, you're writing this page: you're in control of its content. You certainly don't have to have any kind of sex with men if you don't want to, either in your mind or with your body.)

You say you have had sexual partners in the past, and it seems you are referring to male partners. How have those experiences been for you? Were they enjoyable, mutually pleasurable, equitable, non-violent? If so, it makes a lot more sense to me to base your ideas in reality than on projection or fantasy. If they were not, know that again, men, like women, vary. Because we've had one or two lousy partners or bad sexual experiences doesn't mean we always will or that those limited experiences are sound to make sweeping generalizations with. Too, we need to remember that when we're not talking about sexual abuse or assault, it does take two (or more) to tango when it comes to sex. If our sexual experiences have all been lousy and we have had a lot of them, I don't think we can exempt ourselves from the equation, whether our responsibility lies in the partners we are choosing, how we are or are not communicating about sex with others, what we're going along with, the works. So, if your experiences are part of what is fueling the way you think, I'd suggest trying to look for some common denominators to see how you might do or approach things or partners differently in the future.

I'm going to close this by letting you know that I've had a really profound education from people over the years that I've worked in sexuality. In my personal life, I have had more sexual partners, of all genders, than your average person, but that pales in comparison to how many people I have read or spoken with about their sexuality and sex lives: sometimes I hear from as many as fifty different people in my mailbox alone in a day.

For the most part, I have never seen that most men are the way you fear them to be. I have encountered men like that, personally and professionally, and we certainly know they exist, but I feel exceptionally confident saying they are not representative of most men. They are the exception, not the rule.

I hear from men who struggle with having sex be equitable for them, too, not just their partners (and far more than once I have had to explain to women how sexual coercing men is just as not-okay as it is when done to women). Many men have a hard time declining sex they don't want because so many men as well as women consider it unmasculine to say no to sex. Men often have to try and figure out how on earth to be both sensitive and responsive, as women are asking for, while also dominant or forceful, which plenty of women have the expectation they can miraculously be at the same time. A good deal of men (not as many as women, to be sure and far more frequently by other men, but still) are survivors of sexual and other abuses. Many men very much want to be pleasers, rather than just pleased, and aren't so thrilled when female partners frame sex as all about pleasing them, leaving them little or no room to be reciprocal even when they want to. (It's worth recognizing that to some degree, making sex about women pleasing men or performing for them is actually a way to force them into a passive role.) Many men desire a sexuality which is very much the opposite of what your fears of male sexuality are, but are denied the opportunity to express something different by male and female partners alike. Many men want sex to be about more than a mere five inches total of their bodies, but either haven't ever been taught how to express that or aren't given the latitude to have a more holistic sexuality by their partners. And lord knows I hear from men and boys who have loved, had their hearts broken and are as sad and upset about it as any woman in the same spot is. Really, men and women (and transgender, intersex or genderqueer people) are just not all this Mars or Venus bullshit that sells pop-psych books to people looking for ways to keep from having to grow. At our core, we're all just pretty much the same.

What I hear most men, of all ages, voicing when it comes to sex is that same kinds of things I hear most women voicing: an investment in both their partner's pleasure and the well-being of their sexual partners. A strong desire to love and be loved, and to have the sex they have be about pleasure and some measure of adventure, for sure, but no more or less so than to have it also be about love, care and respect. A desire to have their sexuality be reflective of all the good stuff about them, and to be a place which is safe for them and anyone else who enters into it.

I think it's so critically important that those realities are made visible, because I think the fact that they is so frequently rendered or kept invisible is one of the many ways in which we enable exactly the things you are so afraid of. If you want to find out a little bit more about the kinds of things I'm talking about, I'd suggest getting your hands on a couple of good books about these issues. Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood by William Pollack and Mary Pipher and The Gender Of Desire: Essays On Male Sexuality by Michael S. Kimmel are two I would recommend.

If all boys and men see and hear when it comes to their sexuality is the message that it is some kind of diabolical monster who hates women inside of them that, at best, they can keep at bay it is lunacy for any of us to expect anything to the contrary: and sadly, boys and men hear that a lot, and not just from other men. Back to you asking about what is and isn't natural, we know that so very much of our sexuality, how we see it, how we enact it, is learned, so as people who have an investment in sexuality being a positive for everyone, I think we have to be very mindful about what it is we are teaching. If you're someone who wants a male partner who comes to sexuality in a healthy way, the best thing you can do to encourage and nurture that is to be earnestly open to that possibility, rather than locking yourself -- and any potential male partner, or even just male friends you yourself aren't sexual with -- into a very narrow and negative view of what male sexuality is and can be.

I'd say that it's quite a feat for so many men to still find a road to a positive, healthy sexuality through all of the socio-sexual garbage strewn over their street. It seems to me that tells us a whole lot about the integrity and goodness of men that so many still can and do have sexual partnerships of equity, care and mutual pleasure quite in spite of so many of the crappy social mandates they're given to work with, don't you think?

I know that was a lot to digest. I said a lot because I do understand why you'd ask what you are asking, and how it can be totally understandable to fall into feeling and thinking like this. However, I think that it's nearly as easy to start thinking differently, and doing so is a lot more likely to manifest the good stuff we want, for ourselves and everyone else.

On top of my very best wishes and hopes, I'm going to leave you with a few additional links:

written 01 Nov 2008 . updated 22 Jan 2014

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