Esther Perel

Are men really always ready for sex?

October, 2010

Women’s complaints about their partner often sound like this: “He just wants sex. It has nothing to do with me. It’s like he has an itch, and he wants release and relief. Anyone could do it for him, I just happen to be there.”

Myth: A man is always ready for sex.

The cliché is that men are always interested in sex. Male sexuality, we think, is like perpetual motion machine. Contrary to women, their desire is seen as uncomplicated, a simple biological force seeking an outlet.

We typically simplify and say that men are creatures of nature and women are creatures of meaning. Her desire is influenced by how she feels about herself, her self-esteem, how her body image, how close and intimate she feels to her partner. In short, for her sex is powered by the context and not by a natural drive.

Correction: Both men and women are creatures of nature and meaning. We love to think that men and women are totally different when it comes to sexuality. We focus more on differences than similarities. And we are captivated by evidence that reinforces the idea that men’s desire is automatic and women’s desire needs the perfect conditions.

Stated truths about men and sex:

Men want sex more than women.
Their sexuality is more constant, spontaneous, and biologically driven.
They are more set in their preferences. They know what they like, and they don’t change.
They initiate sex when they are already, hot and turned on. They come prepared.
Their desire stands on its own and does not depend on how they feel about their relationship.

These views are held so strong in our society that they never get checked.

Researchers have conspired to maintain this fiction. There are seven times more studies done on sexual desire in women than in men. Why? Perhaps, if we were to research the facts, we may have to do away with a historical view of men that has been used to justify their infidelity for centuries. After all men are sexual conquistadors what can you do, it is in their nature. Is it? Studies on men and sex prefer to focus on sexual performance, erection difficulties, and premature ejaculation. We focus on men’s performance not their desire.

Men are not always interested in sex, they too are affected by their moods.

They are more or less interested in sex depending on how they feel about themselves. My patient Marco explains: “For Dalia, what matters is how she feels about her looks, her body, how she feels about the kids. For me, it’s more how competent I feel, how well I do at my work, my performance, my tennis match”. For a man, performance is linked to his sense of masculinity. And feeling good about himself as a man, drives his sexual desire.

David, a 39 year old IT director, struggles with this reality. “When I am not interested in sex, it makes me feel like I am not a man. In fact Joanna wants it more than me. So I had to come up with a chronic back pain. I think that is easier for her to accept.” I wonder if this is meant to make it easier for Joanna to accept, or if David is trying to find a justification for himself to keep face and his identity as a man intact. For a man, identity and self esteem are more linked to sexuality than for a woman. This explains why he is more likely to feel ashamed and afraid when he has no desire.

A man’s desire is affected by his mood.

Jacob gives me a detailed list of deterrents that can blow his sexual desire in a whiff. “When I feel depressed and when I am stressed or tired, I rather hit the sack. I worry when I have to give a presentation at work, I hate public speaking, it makes me nauseous. On those days, sex is the furthest think from my mind. I often get anxious about money, needless to say, I am not in the mood for love. “

Men use sex to sooth their moods.

While Jacob confirms that mood affects desire in men no less than in women, men are more likely to take care of their mood with sex as well.

They masturbate to relax, to calm their anxiety. They use sex to put themselves to sleep. They calm themselves with sex.

Little boys discover their penis very early and they find out quickly that it feels good to touch themselves. The clitoris of a girl is tucked somewhere inside her vagina, and it takes her much longer, sometimes years to discover it and the pleasures it can offer her. Anatomy plays a big part here.

And what about erections?

His erection doesn’t necessarily mean it is accompanied by desire, and desire sometimes is not accompanied by an erection. Physical arousal and sexual desire are not one and the same. No different than for a woman. Both, men and women can have sex without desire.

We look at a man’s erection as a categorical, an all or nothing. Either it is up and hard or it is not. We give women more fluidity, for her it is a matter of degree.

We ask her how lubricated are you? We ask him do you have an erection. We don’t ask him how much?

Ask yourself: What would be more difficult, to persuade a man that his woman wants him even if she is not lubricated, or to persuade a woman that her man wants her even though he is not erect.

Men, sex and intimacy

Fear of rejection is a major concern for men. And since they are supposed to be the initiators, the fear is with them much of the time.

Some of the men I meet are selfish and only want sex. But most of them want an emotional connection with their partner. They want to please her and they want to feel wanted, desired.

Stereotypes carry truth, but that does not mean they are true.

The information I shared with you in this column is based on the research of Dr. Marta Meana at the University of Las Vegas.

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