Thursday, June 30, 2011

Perspectives on Male Sexuality

These two posts have been hanging around in my tabs for a while, but I found them interesting and wanted to share them - I'd be curious to hear what any of you think about these. One post (the first one) features men talking about male sexuality, the second one is a female perspective on male sexuality.

This first one was posted a month ago at the Good Men Project site by Rachel Rabbit White - then there is a follow-up from her own website. This is part of her "The Man Project," an effort to explore male experience.

As an aside, this post was part of the Sex Week series at the GMP, I'll link to the other articles below this post.

What’s Missing From the Discussion About Male Sexuality?

May 31, 2011 By Rachel Rabbit White

Rachel Rabbit White started The Man Project to hear about the aspects of male sexuality that don’t get discussed.

Never ask a guy to braid your hair. A study just came out that suggests men feel angry when made to perform a “traditional feminine task” like, apparently, hair braiding. The researcher suggests this is because men are expected to gender perform in ways that women don’t have an equivalent; they must constantly “prove” their masculinity. While it’s not easy equating the ways that sexism effects men and women, rigid gender roles don’t help anyone.
But I am writing about this male phenomenon as a woman. And most of my sex positive blogging peers are also female. It almost seems there is some silent rule: men aren’t allowed to write about sexuality, as though a guy with a sex blog is the intellectual version of a flasher. It’s another way sexism harms men.
In these sex positive discussions, there is so much I want to hear from the male side, so much about masculinity that needs exploring. And this is how The Man Project was born. I asked men who are vocal about sex and asked them what was missing from the discussion about male sexuality. After talking with a handful of men from varying backgrounds—literature, art, porn, television—here’s a sampling of what I found. Feel free to weigh in and continue the discussion in the comments section below.
How do you feel about your masculinity? Is this important to you?
David J: I think there’s an interesting cultural struggle around masculinity going on. At least judging by the advertising that’s targeting my demographic, like the Old Spice commercials. There’s this sense that masculinity, as it’s traditionally articulated, is problematic. So, masculinity isn’t something we seriously address. Also, it’s not something that’s presented to us in a serious way, it’s presented to us comically.
So, my friends and I, when we act traditionally masculine, we are both performing and making fun of masculinity–but we aren’t examining it. And we end up expressing our gender that way. It’s not, “I’ve thought a lot of masculinity and other forms of gender expression.” Instead, it’s, “The way I relate to my masculinity is by making fun of masculinity. And other than that, I don’t really know how to deal with it.”
Michael: The one thing that absolutely bugs me in the gay world is the question of, “Are you a top or a bottom?” It’s really, “How masculine are you?” If you want to see how masculinity and femininity are played out in the straight world, you only have to see how it is played out in the gay world. Top and bottom is really nothing but masculine and feminine. In ancient Greece and in Rome, homosexuality was accepted—but only if you were the top. The proscription against homosexuality was not about men having sex with men. It was about men not acting like women.
Why is the sex writing, sex positive sphere dominated by women?
Michael: When I was selected to be the co-host of Sex Inspectors, they didn’t come out and say, “We want someone who is gay,” but they did more or less. I think the idea was if a [straight] guy talks about sex to a woman, there’s a sense that there is a hidden agenda. Which is a nice way of saying, “He is predator-like.”
Grant: We think there’s something gross about reading about a straight guy and his sexual experiences. Women are given great sexual latitude to do a number of different things—bondage, kinks, even lots of different vanilla sex. Men are really sort of reduced to just wanting to fuck something, and that’s it. Sexually, we are forced into a box and not allowed to express ourselves in many more ways than society allows.
David S: I think the critique and developing analysis of women’s sexuality came out of the feminist movement to a large extent. So, that would explain the critique of traditional thinking about women’s sexuality in general. It’s too bad because I think traditional gender roles in sexuality are just as limiting and damaging for men.

There is this idea that male sexuality is different, simpler than female sexuality. It’s just a button to push. Thoughts?
David S: I used to run a workshop on male sexuality for women. One of the most common things that women would ask is, “So I’m with this guy, we have amazing sex and then in the morning, he is like gone.” I think guys think they are just gonna have a fun time. Because sex is as powerful as it is, sometimes a big door opens up inside you. Suddenly, your emotional guts are all over the table. Sex, touch, it is powerful in that way. Suddenly, you are dealing with the fact that you never got touched as a child, suddenly you are dealing with the time something happened and you were embarrassed. Suddenly, all sorts of larger issues, even existential ones leap up, and there you are in the middle of them.
I think women are more prepared for this, less frightened. For some guys, in this deeply intimate exposed place with a person they hardly know, they wake up in the morning and start putting a wall up, really fast. One of the sad things about sex, particularly for men, is that the culture shoves a version of sex down your throat that is just a poor, pale version of what is really possible.
Buck: I think and act and interact totally different from how I did when I was female and had little testosterone in my body. Even though I was a very masculine female. But I was much more sensitive, I cried easier. I looked at things differently, my sexuality. My sex drive was intense for a woman. But I would say it is much more intense now.
What about male stereotypes like guys being “less in touch with their emotions”?
Eon: In a breakup, for example, I think women have a lot more coping mechanisms that society supports. Men are expected to not care and move on. I don’t know what’s going on at the Moose Lodge and I’m sure that some of those brothers are helping each other out. But in general, it’s hard to help another man emotionally. It’s a pride thing and a societal pressure not to.
Danny: There has been so much discussion over how women are treated, or how women feel when they perform in pornographic scenes. But heterosexual men seem to have been left out of this discussion. Maybe even gay men too. “How do male performers feel about performing in sex scenes?” It’s not a question often asked. I think it’s just assumed we want to fuck anything that’s put in front of us. I assure you that’s not the case.
What about the one, guys are just “thinking with their dicks”?
Zak: So, guys can be extraordinarily smart in order to get their dick to have what they want. Like, right now we’re talking on a telephone. You’ve got Skype. My guess is that both of those things were invented by guys who thought that if they could invent something cool, it would make them rich and famous and get them laid. So Alexander Graham Bell wasn’t maybe thinking with his dick but thinking really helped his dick out.
Women are a complicated target. You have to really do all kinds of crazy shit in order to impress them or to get them to know you. And so, you know, men invent computers and airplanes and socks and healthcare because, like, you can’t have sex with women when they’re dead! We’ve really got to keep them all alive.
Eon: In my youth, the idea was that no girl would want to look at a dick—the dick is just lucky to be here. But I think both men and women want to be ambitious and explore the world in a similar way. [What’s missing for men is] the inability to make the one partner both of these things, wife and sexual adventurer.
What is missing from the discussion around male sexuality?
Grant: I want to suck a dick. I don’t want to conform to a lifestyle or necessarily move to Chelsea. I just want to suck a big one. If women [want to experiment], it’s cool, but for guys it’s, “Oh, so you’re gay?”
Also, here is what I want to see changed: the way men use language. They talk about banging girls, finger-banging or fucking. It’s something mechanical that sort of gets done. I hope for them it’s actually a little more complex than that, a little more considered. But anything other than some sort of Anglo-Saxon term for what you do to a woman as a man is viewed as somehow weird, or creepy, or it makes you a sensualist.
David J: The message we are getting today is that our sexuality is problematic and destructive. I think that culturally there aren’t enough symbols of non-destructive sexuality for men to really adopt.
Rachel Rabbit White is a “sex journalist.” Follow her on Twitter for more conversations about masculinity, sexuality and sex positivity. And to see more from these interviews, visit her blog.

More from Sex Week at the Good Men Project:

Benoit Denizet-Lewis: The Dan Savage Interview

Amanda Marcotte: What Women Don’t Tell You

Ed Fell: 10 Secrets to Satisfying Sex

Andrew Ladd: A Billion Wicked Assumptions

Charles Allen: Why I Hate My Giant Dong

Emily Heist Moss: Does Size Matter?

John DeVore: Multiple Inches of Love

Joshua Matacotta: Do Gay Men Fear Intimacy?

Bhatia and MacKinnon: The Psychology of Erectile Dysfunction

Wilson & Robinson: Can’t She See I Need It?

Robert Levithan: Sex at 60

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This is a follow-up post, of sorts, to the above article - it is a guest article by Elly of Quiet Riot Girl that was posted at Rachel Rabbit White's blog.

Metro or Bi? Digging Deeper into Modern Masculinity

3rd Jun. × ’11
This is a guest post by the cheeky, entertaining and always whip-smart Elly of Quiet Riot Girl. Photo by Mona Kuhn
“Contrary to what you have been told, metrosexuality is not about flip-flops and facials, ‘man-bags’ or ‘manscara’. Or about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’” says Mark Simpson, the man who coined the word “metrosexual”. “It’s about men becoming everything. Quite simply, metrosexuality is men’s “desire to be desired”. Men in contemporary society are now able to admit to wanting to be beautiful and to be appreciated as “objects of desire” in a way that was previously reserved for women.”
One of the things I love about Rabbit’s blog is this is a place where men and expressions of masculinity are taken seriously. That sounds strange, when we are forever told (mainly by feminists) that it is women who are not considered adequately in our culture–as people, as sexual beings.
But I find that wherever I look there are discussions about ‘‘the objectification of women’s bodies” or “sexual violence against women and girls” or “pornography and women”. It has reached a point where I have to ask, without irony, “what about the men?” Simpson, an English author and journalist, has spent his entire career asking that very question.
Simpson coined “metrosexual” back in 1994, but it really became a media-fuelled phenomenon in 2003 when “metromania” hit the USA. From Barack Obama to David Beckham to Giorgio Armani to Eminem to The Situation, the metro man is everyman. As Simpson explains, “metrosexuality is the male desire to be desired by everyone, including and sometimes especially by other men. This was once regarded as pathological, perverted and definitely something to keep to yourself. Now it is so commonplace it’s almost ‘normal’. Perhaps even – eek! – ordinary.”
But, it’s not as though men just became narcissistic. Simpson says it’s clear that men had a capacity for sensuality and vanity – a desire to be desired – but for most of history it has been closeted. Men were to be warriors or laborers or empire builders. They weren’t meant to be beautiful. The Victorians codified a sexual division that decreed women were beauty and men were action. But now that men have been encouraged to get in touch with their vanity and sensuality it seems there’s no stopping it!
Metrosexuality differs from other incarnations of male self-love, in that it’s reliant on consumer capitalism. In other words, if you want to look hot: buy more stuff. But that narcissism, ever-apparent for the metro-man who needs mirrors like Narcissus needs the pool, is not necessarily a negative, argues Simpson.
“The rise of male behaviors, practices and tastes characterised as metrosexual are made possible in large part by the decline of stigma attached to male homosexuality. While this stigma made life difficult for homosexual men, it also had an instructive, not to say repressive, effect on all men.” In contrast metrosexuality means masculinity is no longer black and white, “no longer always heterosexual and never homosexual or always active never passive, always desiring never desired, always looking never looked at,” says Simpson.
Nicole Lesser, photo
Back in the 90s, Simpson identified “lesbian chic” — you know, those women celebrities snogging each other on magazine covers and at film premieres-as an example of increasing acceptability of female “bi-curiousness”. It is this blurring of sexual orientation amongst men that some people have found hardest to swallow. I asked Simpson if metrosexuality blurs the boundaries between gay and straight, and enables men to express bi-curiousness, why is it still not acceptable for men to be openly bi?
“It’s still early days, remember. And we’re only just beginning to move away from the commonly held nostrum of the last thirty years or so that all women are bi, but any man who touches another man’s ‘pee pee’ is gay” says Simpson. “ Metrosexuality is definitely a form of bi-responsiveness. But a lot of people want masculinity to remain repressed. Some men are scared stiff of having those options. They don’t trust themselves. This is crucial in understanding how metrosexuality has impacted men’s sense of self, and also why it is still a controversial concept, especially in conservative corners of the globe.”
In the end, it all comes down to one plain fact, Simpson explains, “Frankly, everyone knows that men love cock. Though we’re not meant to mention it. And as a result of this secretiveness there is an unconscious idea that if men taste cock then they won’t want pussy. It’s untrue of course, in most cases – Professor Bailey and his kinky sex-lie detector tests notwithstanding – men love cock AND pussy. Just look at straight porn! It’s salient that this fear doesn’t generally manifest itself with female bi-curiousness. Because, the assumption seems to be ‘she’s always gonna want cock’.”
But despite this homo-anxiety he triggers in many men, the metrosexual won’t stop shoving his pretty sexually-undefined ass in our faces. He symbolizes men gaining pleasure from looking at themselves and each other, you just can’t be 100% straight and metro. In the metrosexual noughties, some male stars have come out as bisexual. James Franco, Duncan James from the UK Boy-band Blue, and Tom Hardy for example. Simpson says about Hardy, “There is something quite inspiring about this married Hollywood star’s ownership of his bi-curious past and his ambi-sexual persona. It’s a good advert for metrosexiness: ‘Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling’.”
Some recent research backs up Simpson’s theories. A 2010 report by academics at The University of Bath suggests that “the majority of male students in the UK think nothing of giving one another a big wet one on each other’s lips in all sorts of social situations”. The researchers found that 89% of white undergraduate men at two UK universities and one sixth from college said they were happy to kiss another man on the lips through friendship. Doctor Eric Anderson, the lead researcher, claimed that heterosexual men kissing is a result of the decline of homophobia.
The young men interviewed came out with some lovely quotes which illustrate how comfortable they are with expressing their “metro-love” for one another. Matt, telling a story about breaking up with his girlfriend, “I was really lonely…So one night I asked my housemate who is one of my best friends if I could sleep in the bed with him. He looked at me, smiled, and said, ‘Come on,’ opening the covers to invite me in.” Matt continued, “He kissed me, and then held me. It was nice. I sent him a text the next day saying, ‘I’ve got the best friend in the world’.”
Sam, comparing university with more conservative approaches in his home town, “I never kiss any of my friends back home,” he said. “And I can’t imagine it going down too well.” When asked about how his friends showed him affection back home, he said, “Punching and rubbing their knuckles into my head.”
Pete stressing that when he kisses a mate, it is not because he is drunk: “Alcohol might make it easier for some guys, I guess. But I don’t think that’s why guys kiss.” He added, “I can tell you why I kiss my friends. I kiss them because I love them.”
“I kiss them because I love them” is a little bit different, a little deeper, than the stereotype of the metrosexual, preening and plucking and prancing in front of a mirror. The achievement of Metrosexy and its potentially subversive power lies in the way Simpson manages to take all these aspects of metrosexuality and make whole, a rounded picture of how contemporary masculinities are being formed and changed, made less heteronormative, through our consumer culture.
Quoting that early metro icon, James Dean, who famously denied being homosexual, Simpson characterizes metrosexuality as a man’s way of saying, “I don’t want to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.” And why should he?
Editors Note: “No-Homo”.

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