In recent times, I'd say in the last couple of years, a lot of feminism has gone mainstream in terms of sex and sexuality. 2013 saw a huge surge of feminist porn, and global feminism's 4th wave is off and running, giving women all around the world a voice via the Internet to speak out about everything from rape, to sexual harassment, to body image (think Dove commercials and SlutWalks). Women are everywhere these days and sexuality is one area in which women have globally joined forces to have a voice. But interestingly, in all this activism, one thing that has been slightly quiet and unheard, one thing often missing, is the male voice. A lot of emphasis is being placed on empowering women, whereas a lot of stigmas and myths around sexuality are very much directed towards men. And while I don't believe this movement is taking away men's voices, I don't necessarily think it's empowering men to understand that they have a role with a voice, too.
I think many men have taken it upon themselves to make themselves part of the conversation, but I think a majority have just left, and since they haven't been specifically called on to speak up or speak out, they aren't making the first move. Men aren't making the sexual revolution part of their lives. Instead, I think men believe this movement is targeting a certain type of man, such as the perpetrator, the rapist, the abuser, the molester, or the sexual harasser, and most men don't feel as though they fall into this category. Therefore they don't feel the need to take part. They just don't relate to it.
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The thinking is more that certain men "screw it up for the rest of us [men]." But I think that every man is listening. Every man is aware more and more of the type of things that keep women down. Perhaps they're recognizing the need to act accordingly, and this is causing them to take a backseat in being open about their own shame. (Women also are guilty of ignoring the conversation, albeit a little less so, but when your life could be potentially in danger — well, then you're more likely to listen and act.) But if men don't speak up, how can global change ever really take place?
Ultimately, the conversation about healthy sexuality is about everyone. We cannot talk about prostitution only in terms of female sex workers, as those who pay for sex are equally vilified in our society. We must not forget the conversation about circumcision: genital mutilation that happens in our country to males before they're able to speak. Men are half of what's going on; they're not always the perpetrator, and quite often they're also victims of a larger society which places a lot of emphasis on sex, but doesn't invite anyone to take an active role in their own sexuality. Men have a voice too. Sexuality and discussions about sex are about everyone, men and women alike. Whether you've perpetrated or not, whether you've been victimized, raped, molested, or harassed.
Some male issues are very subtle, but the message still sinks in.
Here are some issues in which men are often blamed for perpetuating, but in actuality, men may be just as susceptible to as women.
1. Body Image
Body image is not an issue that affects women only. Men hide under clothes, diet obsessively, take steroids, and suffer just as much when it comes to body image. It's almost commonplace to hear a women tell her girlfriends or even boyfriend, "I feel fat." But rarely do men have such a voice, or place to express this. We encourage women to embrace curvy bodies, and subtlely blame men and the media for perpetuating the size 0 image without even a second glance that men have media images and criticism from women to contend with as well. Let's start by recognizing that body image issues affect both men and women.
2. Self Esteem
Women aren't the only ones who suffer from low self esteem. I know this may sound like a no-brainer, but men get victimized everyday — from bullying to sexual harassment. Men are not excluded from this suffering, and it would help a great deal if men felt it was okay to share their experiences openly without being shamed.
3. Gender Roles and Identity
Fifty or sixty years ago, the rules were much simpler. Men went to work and were the bread winners, while women stayed home, raised children, cooked, and cleaned. Nowadays, with women working, men are finding themselves in more domestic roles. Although many men and women think this is acceptable and egalitarian, it is still a shift from prior decades, which can create some identity confusion for men, especially when hearing messages which may suggest otherwise. It's important to recognize that talking about such things can help to make such negative messages less powerful.
Talk about confusing. For many men, they were raised to believe that they need to take the woman out. But nowadays women are empowered; not only do they ask men out, they will often pay (at least offer to go Dutch) on the first date. Many men like this break in the responsibility, but not addressing it and just letting it go can lead to confusion in other areas of the relationship. Does a guy still need to ask a girl's father for her hand in marriage? Because some women still like the more traditional forays of courting. There are a lot more conversations to be had now, so it's even more important for men to speak up, and start asking more questions.
Women not only initiate dating, but initiate sex too. Awesome, right? Women initiate friends with benefits, and want sex with no strings attached. While this may sound like a win-win for men, I am here to tell you that this can make relationships confusing for men if they don't know what their role is. When we are conditioned a certain way from a very young age, it's hard to know which end is up or down when the roles change. It's nice and easy when a woman initiates things, but this doesn't abscond men from their part in being a great lover, and this can be downright confusing.
6. Porn Addictions
I think men are largely represented in this category, and often shamed for their sexual desires as a result. As I mentioned above, men are vilified if they pay for sex with a sex worker, and being shamed for watching porn goes hand in hand. We need to be careful about the way we address male sexuality in these realms. Accepting and understanding male sexuality is another way in which we can give men a voice.
Talking about sex and all these issues around sex and sexuality are conversations we can all be having, both men and women.
Moushumi Ghose is a Sex-Postive Therapist based in Los Angeles
She is the co-host of queer-centric TheSexTalkSeries.com
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