Ladies, are you actually contributing to the problem?
Modern men are struggling, ladies. They feel tremendous pressure to uphold cultural-sexual stereotypes about "real men" which clash with their deep desire to feel equal with their partner.
Toxic shame about lovemaking for American males is usually around how they perform. Are you currently making it better or worse for your man? How can you provide a feeling of safety for him to explore his sexual desires and his intimate feelings?
When a man feels shame, his sexual authenticity is diminished. So let's uncover areas where he feels embarrassed sexually so you can help prevent that.
There are two basic approaches to this: One, dive into the deep end — what sexual memory is he the most ashamed of? Two, begin exploring one thing at a time that he has felt afraid to ask for. Both approaches bring you closer to knowing him better. His areas (read: feelings) of vulnerability will be the most strongly walled-off. Healthy sexuality needs comfort and risk. He will become more comfortable when you two survive uncovering his confusing feelings.
While all of us have some feelings of shame, sexual shame can interfere with sex in countless ways. Not to mention, it feels counter-intuitive to pay attention to our shame. It feels like it will get worse if you think about it. So, men hide on their side of the bed, either resenting you for not doing as they please or, feeling inadequate because they cannot figure out how to give you what you desire.
Resentment and shame are two feelings which build on themselves. In fact, many people bounce from one to the other in an escalating set of destructive feelings.
In the simple form, he will develop more shame when criticized or questioned. He will need to protect himself less once you learn new ways to ask for what you want, rather than criticizing or questioning him. Eventually, you'll become more receptive, rather than instructive.
How damaging to your shared sex life do you suppose it would be if he felt he could not ask for what he wanted, because you might think he was a "pervert"? What if he fears being seen as controlling? What if he fears being engulfed by you? Gender roles are changing in our country. Figuring out how to feel good about your urges and desires may take airing out the dirty laundry.
The cultural expectation for men, is that we treat women as objects — or, at least that's what most of our upbringings taught us. Messages from our uncles, older brothers, cousins, and peer group often were about conquest and taking advantage of women.
"Have you scored with her yet?" "When are you going to get laid?" "She's easy." As teenagers, pornography likely included images of women being subservient to male's sex drives. Becoming aroused, while observing this inequality, may mix up a maturing males sense of what is erotic.
When he explains this to you, in his desire for open honesty, intense lingering feelings about his past sexual attitudes may still hover about. Shame will be the most powerful of those feelings. He must feel the lines of communication are open and that he is able to express his early attitudes to best determine what he currently considers healthy. His part requires courage and a trust in you, his partner. Your part is nearly impossible. You cannot take his sexual feelings towards you personally, as they were developed in an unhealthy manner. He needs to explore his sexual desires in sexual moments.
You two can do some of this exploration in counseling or talking outside of having sex, however his most intense vulnerability will occur during sex. When you are cuddling, having foreplay, during intercourse or after sex he may have the hardest time explaining what he's thinking and feeling.
If you're both ready to begin a new process of equal sharing about your fears, please start with one person being the focus of attention every other sexual encounter. You're not asking your man to perform. Relax. Both of you simply need to know he is responsible to help you understand what he wants and what he is thinking and feeling. This is not an opportunity to teach, you're simply searching for insight. Perhaps, he's able to perceive even the slightest bit of judgment. He is working to reconcile deep felt conflicts of not wanting to feel dominated by you and not wanting to dominate you. Remember, many of his early formed sexual attitudes included men being dominate of women.
Just to complicate this further, males have more testosterone floating around in their systems; testosterone tends to make them more aggressive, thus seeking a feeling of dominance. Those early formed sexual attitudes seem to go along with their bodily feelings. He wants to feel as though he can say, "Right then, when we touched like that, I felt like hiding," or "being dominate," or "turned on," or "turned off" without it hurting your sex lives. He may not know he wants to explore these contradictions inside himself.
The next encounter you will provide a loving example of asking for what you want. You will tell him some hidden part of your sexual attitude after being sure he knows you don't mean it towards him and you're NOT trying to teach him better lovemaking. You're just being intimate by showing him more about your vulnerability.
You can use the alternating roles as long as you'd like. You may set up ways to communicate more naturally immediately. Or, you may find it helpful to use this process for years. Any way you do this will be uniquely tailored to you two. Hold warm, loving image of your partner in both roles.
Bill Maier, LCSW has more writings about softening shame on his website: billmaiermsw.com. Please feel free to contact him for further information about Attachment, Neuroscience and Applied Psychoanalytic approaches to change.