I just finished listening to a webcast by Esther Perel, author of “Mating in Captivity”, and I’d like to share some of what I have learned. As a sex therapist, I have always believed sexuality to be a very important component of life, especially in relationships, but some of what I learned today from Ms. Perel really surprised me.
Men experience sexuality differently than women. For women, sexuality is more of an expression that is the result of emotional intimacy, that is, intimacy created by words. For men, sexuality is the language of intimacy, and results in emotional intimacy. This I already knew. But Ms. Perel puts it brilliantly when she states that couples are trying to achieve the same thing — intimacy — they are just using different languages to get there.
I’ve had some women in my office who don’t seem to understand or appreciate the importance of physicality for men. Rather, they seem to think that men are “just interested in sex”, when that really isn’t true. What is true is that sex is the main way that men feel connected in their relationships. Denying a man sex is for a man like denying a woman emotional expression. And we wouldn’t dream of doing that, correct?
Ms. Perel also talked about the negative effects sexual denial has on men. Rather than view men as “selfish,” she reframes it as “lonely.” Men want to be in relationship with women, and more specifically, they want their woman to desire them. When women refuse their sexual advances, or otherwise turn away from them, men’s emotional needs do not get met. This can result in irritable behavior, which makes women want to withdraw further, creating a negative cycle. Unfortunately, this sets up what Ms. Perel refers to as the “lonely” feeling in men — causes them to come at their women more aggressively to get their needs met. At this point, if the woman is amenable at all to sexual intimacy, she is doing it out of a sense of caretaking or obligation, not her own erotic need. For the man, this just isn’t sexy. In fact, according to Ms. Perel, one of the main reasons men watch porn is to see a woman who likes and desires sex, who owns her own sexuality.
Ms. Perel goes even deeper than this, explaining that how we make love reflects how we were loved as children. What we do in our most private moments reflects the unique needs we have as adults. Part of intimacy in a relationship is allowing your partner to see what those needs are. Ms. Perel explains that is what actually defines the relationship as being of two adults, rather than a relationship with a caretaker. If people don’t allow others to know what they desire erotically, they cannot be truly intimate with that person.
For more information on this topic, visit Ms. Perel’s website or consider purchasing her book, “Mating in Captivity.” I just did.
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,