I want to talk about male sexual desire. It’s something so raw, so overpowering, that it’s considered rude, in some circles, even to discuss it. So I want to tell you about what that feels like in my body, in most men’s bodies, so that women understand some of what motivates us, and so that my fellow men don’t have to be afraid of their desire, apologize for it, or try to fix or domesticate it.
But first, imagine being in your car, stuck in traffic. You really need to use the bathroom, and there is nowhere to go. You have no choice but to hold it, even though every cell in your being is screaming to let your bladder empty. It feels like a sickness, a madness. You’re obsessed with one thing. You can’t even listen to the sound of running water without worrying about soiling yourself, can’t even think about it. You jiggle your leg, bounce up and down on your seat, try thinking about other things. But the urge comes back, always. And, when you finally reach a toilet, nothing else matters.
That comes close to the feeling men have when they want sex. It’s a much stronger impulse, for most of us, than the desire to make money, or to buy that flashy new car, or to get that promotion. Hunger gets us a little closer —the urge to eat. But I think the bathroom analogy is better. Sexual desire is quite literally the strongest feeling a man will ever have. When a man allows himself to feel it, without trying to get rid of it through masturbation or compulsive sex, or their behavioral substitutes, it makes him feel truly alive, maybe for the first time.
We live in a society of laws, where courtship is based on consent and mutual attraction. From the social circles that governed the world of dating for the past hundred years or so, to the telephone, and now social circles expanded through social media, the Internet, online dating sites, and mobile dating smartphone apps, the two things that all these methods have in common are consent and mutual attraction.
Yet, through it all is this urge, coming from a part of the brain that’s older than any of our social conventions, to have sex. And I am not talking about tantric sex, or egalitarian sex, or orgasmic meditation, or sensitive New Age sex. I am talking about fucking. I am talking about shoving it in.
How a man responds to this primal urge to fuck—how he adapts it in order to live at peace in the modern world —is one of the two or three things that define his life as a man. Does he react fearfully, threatened that the image of a being so delicate and beautiful can have so much power over him? Does he bring his desire into the realm of fantasy so as not to bother her with his longings? Does he behave with a sense of entitlement, placing all the responsibility on her to quench his thirst? Does he get arrogant and presumptuous, cocky and funny, chivalrous and charming? If his strategy is to pretend she doesn’t exist, or to lie to himself and pretend he doesn’t desire her, he might not interact with her at all.
There are two common ways men adapt our desire to this civilized life so we won’t be arrested. There are more, many more. But I only have 800 words and I don’t want to waste them.
- It’s not arrogance, it’s insecurity. We’ve all known—or been—the guy who talks too loud at social events, who embeds his conversation with subtle or not-so-subtle displays of high value, or who acts like he’s entitled to a conversation or to a woman’s company in general. This is a man who is either so afraid of rejection that he’s unwilling even to consider it as a possibility, or else is someone who is used to getting most of what he wants, including women.
Once, at a party, I saw an attractive young man who talked to a lot of women. Initially they were open and friendly to him. But after just a few minutes of conversation he’d begin touching them inappropriately or getting into their physical space at the wrong time, and the women would quickly leave. He ended the evening in the crowded room alone, unable to find anyone who wanted anything to do with him, even in passing.
- It’s not male privilege, it’s a fear of desire. Remember that bathroom analogy? If a man thinks he needs women to satisfy his needs, he can feel so threatened by those needs, so powerless to control them, that he’ll behave as though women are obligated to satisfy them. That may come off as a sign of strength and confidence. But savvy women will recognize this for what it really is: weakness and fear. Gradually, if a man does the work to come to terms with his fear and desire, he learns to manage both. Until then, he’s in a relatively powerless position: he both craves and fears the object of his desire, and he’ll put the responsibility of satisfying the desire and quelling the fear on her. Again, what looks on the surface like a feeling of strength and invulnerability is actually a symptom of weakness.
We can make friends with our desire for sex and power. We can learn to enjoy our attraction to a woman without feeling the need to move into sex immediately. We can even have compassion for whatever it was that caused us to handle our feelings so unskillfully or unlovingly. But we need to appreciate the fact that we’re dealing with universal urges that are many thousands of years old, which the species created for survival. They are not to be apologized for, frittered away, or underestimated. They are to be respected, celebrated, and dealt with.