Here is a confession: I am a dude, and sometimes I don’t want to have sex. For good reasons, or no reasons at all. It just depends.
I know that’s not actually shocking, but bear with me here, because that is somehow still a radical thing to admit. It’s still the default assumption about men, still casually reinforced basically every day. And women explicitly get told that it’s true, by men, even when they’re asked directly. Here’s just one recent example, from Cosmopolitan‘s “Ask Him Anything” column, in response to a question about why a woman’s husband wants to do it the moment they check into a hotel room anywhere: “Guys pretty much want sex no matter where they go – work, the mall, funerals, etc,” the “Him” who writes the column says, before explaining that a hotel room is just a part of that endless chain.
Now, there are a whole bunch of reasons why her husband may want to have sex right away when they check into a room, but here’s the thing: None of those reasons have anything to do with my dick, or anybody else’s. So why do we constantly get dragged into it when someone is talking about the male sex drive like it’s a universal constant? And who gets screwed over by this really shallow understanding of male sexuality?
The second question is easy to answer: If you had “Men, and everybody who has sex with men” in the pool, then go collect your prize. (It’s the possibility of a less fucked-up sex life.)
The answer to the first question, though, is complicated. Virility is prized in most cultures, through most time periods. People also learn about sex, and the male sex drive, during their teen years, and it’s likely that a fella is going to be hornier in his teen years than he is as he matures — so people who have sex with men, and the men themselves, tend to base their idea of what men’s attitudes about sex are based on what they exhibit during those years. In other words, this isn’t strictly a product of marketing that benefits from treating every social interaction as an understood agreement that a woman’s value on her ability to give men boners, or a culture that portrays the ideal of version as a perpetual adolescence. But once you factor those things into it, hoo boy.
What you end up with when you add all of those things up is a world in which just about everybody is confused about sex and feels like they’re doing it wrong. So much of the sex dynamics between men and women expects women to be chaste, and men to win sex as a prize. And what kind of man doesn’t want to get a prize all the time?
That’s the sort of question that makes this stereotype so destructive to men (and, by extension to women) — when it’s agreed upon as a society-wide given that part of being a man is wanting sex constantly, then there’s a lot of pressure to meet that, in order to prove — to others, to yourself — that you are, in fact, a real man.
Maybe that means writing in advice column that all men want to do it all the time, even at a funeral. Maybe that means pressuring your wife to have sex with you every time you check into your hotel room. Whatever it is, it’s a real pressure. Like, even while I’m writing this, I’m anticipating comments suggesting that my problem is just that I can’t get it up and there’s something wrong with me. The editors may well have to remove a parenthetical “but I totally get awesome boners, for real” that I feel compelled to sneak in here to clarify.
And when that pressure is put on men, that pressure ends up on anybody who has sex with men, too. It’s on the woman whose husband wants her to go for it the second they walk into a hotel room, but it’s also on the woman who is with a guy who’s not getting hard when they’re getting intimate. If a man is supposed to want it all the time, and he doesn’t want it when he’s with her, then there’s something wrong with at least one of them. Either he’s failing as a man, or she’s letting him down. A lot of the time, they probably both end up feeling like shit.
Which is the point of continuing to talk about this stereotype, even though most people, if they stop to think about it for a minute can probably recognize is inherently stupid: “All men” don’t want anything. “All men” won’t agree on anything at all, especially not something as personal, complicated, or idiosyncratic as sex, and the notion that we might is absurd. Some guys want to have sex more often than others. Sometimes even guys who want to have sex a lot of the time aren’t into it for whatever reason. There’s nothing wrong with any of that.
It should be obvious, but somehow it isn’t. As long as men keep pretending like they can speak for everyone — when they may well not even be speaking for themselves — then men and women are going to stay confused. So let’s be real, dudes. I’ll start.
Read more Dan Solomon at DanSolomon.com.