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30 Nov 2004

We are different
I want more sex and my boyfriend wants more cuddling; I like porn and sex toys, but he says these are impersonal and turn him off. How do we become a more normal male-female couple?
Answer 356 views

01 Jan 0001

Wrong question.

The issue isn’t how you two can be more like other people, but rather how you can negotiate your differences. Besides, the common gender stereotypes -- men like this, women like that -- are generally overstated or simply inaccurate. The way they’re used by people and the media often create unnecessary heartache.

The issues about which men and women supposedly differ in predictable ways include desire, fidelity, masturbation, intimacy, communication, casual sex, and pornography. And it’s true -- in a big-picture, statistical sense. If 100 men say how often they jack off, for example, and 100 women (matched for age, race, income, and education) say how often they jill off, the average amount for the group of men will typically be higher than for the group of women. But the spread within the group of men, and within the group of women, is so broad that knowing a person’s gender doesn’t help you predict whether they masturbate a little or a lot. The same is true for desire level, interest in tongue-kissing, and other important sexual behaviors and attitudes.

Every week someone comes into my office wanting to understand “men” or “women” better. When I ask why, they almost always say, “I keep misunderstanding Joe” or “I never know why Maria gets upset.” But wanting to understand your mate by understanding a huge category of people is the exact wrong strategy. If you want to understand your mate better, talk to the world’s expert on the subject -- your mate. If you want your mate to understand you better, talk more with him or her, rather than encouraging your mate to learn about a big bunch of people who may be different from you in crucial ways. No one wants to be treated like part of a one-size-fits-all category. Relating to your partner using a gender category is a way of avoiding intimacy or doing the hard work of really getting to know someone.

But what about all those pop-psych ideas such as treating women like goddesses or understanding that men need to retreat to their cave or to feel like warriors?

These are metaphors, and they’re undoubtedly helpful and descriptive of some people -- but we don’t know whom until we ask. It’s more accurate to say -- if you discover it’s true -- that Jose likes to feel like a caveman or that Natasha needs to express her earth mother, rather than assuming that each of those is true of half the earth’s population.

Male sexuality and female sexuality actually have many more similarities than differences. Gay, straight, or bi, most men and women:

* Want pleasure
* Want to feel desired
* Want emotional connection
* Are somewhat ambivalent about pleasure and intimacy
* Are somewhat self-conscious about their imperfect body
* Are concerned they don’t measure up sexually
* Wonder if, sexually, they’re entirely normal

The “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” concept emphasizes differences, and too often justifies frustration, withdrawal, and hopelessness. But sexually, our similarities are more important than our differences. The contrast in two partners’ desire for porn, say, may seem like a big deal, but the headline is that both of you want to be turned on with each other. With that established, the two of you can work as a team to find ways of getting and staying aroused that you both like.

We all have hands, a mouth, and genitalia. Beyond that, sexually, we’re all individuals. This isn’t a problem -- it’s a wonderful challenge, an opportunity to discover the unique world in which someone else lives. Learning enough about that other world to enjoy visiting it periodically can be an exciting task--with thrilling rewards.

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