Male Sexuality Explained

male sexuality fantasy
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Sex

Ever typed a web address into the computer you share with your husband and seen it automatically fill in a suspiciously sexy url? Do you have an ex-boyfriend who talked incessantly about a threesome with your best friend from college? Are you familiar with the phrase "male intimacy issues"? Dr. Michael Bader unpacks these situations and more in his new book, Male Sexuality: Why Women Don't Understand It—And Men Don't Either.

The psychologist and psychoanalyst has been practicing his trade in San Francisco for 30 years. About 10 years ago he realized that therapists "were supposed to be experts about sex but it turns out that we don’t really know a whole lot." He decided to do something about that, and published his first book, Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, seven years ago.

"At that point a lot of men came in to consult with me either on their own volition or because they had been sent by their girlfriends. I started to see that they often didn't understand what they were feeling and that few people in their environment understood." So he wrote a book about it.

With chapter names like "Sexual Boredom and Infidelity," "Lolita Fantasies and the Sexual Appeal of Youth," the book's mix of analysis and case studies tackles specific topics with sensitivity and without oversimplifying. YourTango spoke to Dr. Bader about fantasies, porn and why your man has trouble opening up.

YourTango:  One issue you write about in the book is pornography. Why do men who are in relationships still look at porn?

It could be simply wanting to give yourself pleasure in an environment where you have utter and total control over all the conditions. But then you get men who are extremely involved in pornography and the woman asks a legitimate question, "Well isn't this infidelity?" She has every right to feel that way, particularly if it's conjoined with a disinterest in her. But the man is often dealing with other issues—for instance, he may be actually lonely and disconnected.

And porn gives him that feeling of connection?

Yes. A lot of men grow up feeling like the Lone Ranger. In our culture, women are more connected to people. They have better friends, more community. Men often feel like they have superficial friendships but inside they are alone. That's a painful state.

I don't want to make excuses for them, but if you want to understand men and pornography think of it this way: through porn and internet sex a man can feel intensely connected to a woman without any obligations. 

Your book talked a lot about these feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Yes. A lot of men feel that they are supposed to take care of women and make women happy, but they struggle with a sense that enjoying being a man can make women unhappy. Men worry that they'll be perceived that as too aggressive or too selfish, and this creates a tension in men between wanting to be independent and masculine, and wanting to be responsible for a woman's happiness.  

Men respond to this in a many number of ways. Some actually downplay their masculinity. They become the guys that are friends like brothers that women like to confide in. Others respond the other way. They cut themselves off from women and treat them like sex objects. So although a man may not be not aware of it, he's made her an object so he doesn't have to worry about her feelings.

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How could a man not know that cutting himself off from someone and objectifying her would make a woman feel like he didn't care about her?

He does and doesn't know. You often hear men say, "It doesn't matter what I do. I work all the time to make her happy. Nothing's enough." Women will think that's bullshit. They'll think, "You're not doing the right things and you're not doing enough of the right things." He's actually being quite honest, but then rather than trying to listen closely and get it right the next time, the man gives up. He thinks, "Well that's the way women are. You can't ever please them."

That attitude is toxic because the woman feels that she's not being understood and that she's a burden.  A lot of women will come to therapy because they believe they're too much to handle and that their needs are too great. On the man's side the misunderstanding is that he's selfish and cold and doesn't care about her. But what I find with these men over and over is that they care too much.

So, wouldn't porn feed into this objectification in an unhealthy way?

I don't believe that there's any strong evidence that porn creates feelings of hostility towards women. The problem with that point of view is that it takes the superficial story and makes it the only story. So for instance, you have a woman in a porn video that is hitchhiking and a couple of bikers come and they start to have sex with her. At first she resists and then she gets into it and has sex with both of them. 

A lot of people would say that this is teaching men that women are just there for sex and that you don't have to care about them as people. I argue that that's a complete misunderstanding. The porn fantasy is generated by a man's underlying want and need for the woman to be happy—that's why men imagine that the women are always turned on.

What's your theory on why people have sexual fantasies?

Sexual fantasies are the mind's way of temporarily overcoming the threats to arousal that exist in all of us. Most people have inhibitions about getting fully aroused and feeling intense pleasure. We're not neurotic for feeling that; we all have inhibitions, but we don't give up our need for pleasure just because we have inhibitions. We have to figure out a way of overcoming our inhibitions to feel pleasure even if it's momentary, so what we develop are sexual fantasies.

I use the example of somebody who likes to be dominated. Usually that person struggles in their waking life with the idea they're going to hurt their partner or their sexuality will be too much for the other person. They worry about the other person's feelings so much that they can't surrender to their own sensations. Being dominated is the perfect solution because then they don't have to worry.

What about the opposite, the fantasy of doing the domination?

There's one secret that's essential in 95 percent of the domination fantasies that men have: the woman enjoys it. The reason that that's so crucial to the fantasy is that it shows that the woman isn't hurt. It shows that actually she's robust, feeling good. To the man that's very reassuring against the fear that they're going to hurt the woman. So even in domination fantasies you have a way to negotiate this problem of hurting others because instead of hurting them, you make them happy.

If the fantasy is driven by a worry about hurting a woman, why would he have a domination fantasy in the first place? It is because men feel their natural role is as the aggressor?

I think so. The social role matters because the men grow up thinking that's sort of the way they're supposed to be. It's very hard to know one man next to another. One man has the fantasy of dominating a woman and the other man has the fantasy of the woman being the dominatrix. They're both dealing with guilt but in a slightly different way. It's impossible to know—unless you knew the details of someone's individual life story—how they develop a specific fantasy.

What about another common fantasy, the threesome? Why is that so popular?

There are three things here. The first part of the fantasy is that the women are making each other happy, so the man is not responsible for their pleasure.

The second thing is that you've got two people taking care of your sexual needs so you don't have to worry about wearing somebody out or being too much for them.

The last reason is more obvious but it probably needs to be said, which is a man feels special when he's the object of two women's attention.

With these three things all the man's insecurities about sex get reassured all in one batch.

You say in your book that as people get closer, the sex gets more boring, and you have an interesting explanation.

For great sex, there has to be an element of what I call ruthlessness—the ability to not worry about the other person's welfare and to surrender to your own selfish excitement and feelings. One woman described it to me like this. She said, "To me when I'm getting excited and I'm really getting into it, I feel like it's like a wave crashing on the shore and I don't want to have to worry if the shore can take it or not. I want to take the shore for granted."

It's the opposite of empathy. Of course, you need to have empathy for good sex otherwise you're just masturbating. But you also have to have the willingness to be able not to worry about the other person. Too much awareness of the other person's delicate inner state is like a cold shower on sexual desire. Some people will come into my office and say, "I wish he'd quit whining and just throw me on the bed and f*ck me." It means I wish we didn't have to be so concerned about each other. Worry and guilt and feeling super empathetic and responsible are antithetical to sexual excitement.

Ever typed a web address into the computer you share with your husband and seen it automatically fill in a suspiciously sexy url? Do you have an ex-boyfriend who talked incessantly about a threesome with your best friend from college? Are you familiar with the phrase "male intimacy issues"? Dr. Michael Bader unpacks these situations and more in his new book, Male Sexuality: Why Women Don't Understand It—And Men Don't Either.

The psychologist and psychoanalyst has been practicing his trade in San Francisco for 30 years. About 10 years ago he realized that therapists "were supposed to be experts about sex but it turns out that we don’t really know a whole lot." He decided to do something about that, and published his first book, Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, seven years ago.

"At that point a lot of men came in to consult with me either on their own volition or because they had been sent by their girlfriends. I started to see that they often didn't understand what they were feeling and that few people in their environment understood." So he wrote a book about it.

With chapter names like "Sexual Boredom and Infidelity," "Lolita Fantasies and the Sexual Appeal of Youth," the book's mix of analysis and case studies tackles specific topics with sensitivity and without oversimplifying. YourTango spoke to Dr. Bader about fantasies, porn and why your man has trouble opening up.

YourTango:  One issue you write about in the book is pornography. Why do men who are in relationships still look at porn?

It could be simply wanting to give yourself pleasure in an environment where you have utter and total control over all the conditions. But then you get men who are extremely involved in pornography and the woman asks a legitimate question, "Well isn't this infidelity?" She has every right to feel that way, particularly if it's conjoined with a disinterest in her. But the man is often dealing with other issues—for instance, he may be actually lonely and disconnected.

And porn gives him that feeling of connection?

Yes. A lot of men grow up feeling like the Lone Ranger. In our culture, women are more connected to people. They have better friends, more community. Men often feel like they have superficial friendships but inside they are alone. That's a painful state.

I don't want to make excuses for them, but if you want to understand men and pornography think of it this way: through porn and internet sex a man can feel intensely connected to a woman without any obligations. 

Your book talked a lot about these feelings of loneliness and isolation.

A lot of men feel that they are supposed to take care of women and make women happy, but they struggle with a sense that enjoying being a man can make women unhappy. Men worry that they'll be perceived that as too aggressive or too selfish, and this creates a tension in men between wanting to be independent and masculine, and wanting to be responsible for a woman's happiness.  

Men respond to this in a number of ways. Some actually downplay their masculinity. They become the guys that are friends like brothers that women like to confide in. Others respond the other way. They cut themselves off from women and treat them like sex objects. So although a man may not be not aware of it, he's made her an object so he doesn't have to worry about her feelings.

More Juicy Content From YourTango:

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How could a man not know that cutting himself off from someone and objectifying her would make a woman feel like he didn't care about her?

He does and doesn't know. You often hear men say, "It doesn't matter what I do. I work all the time to make her happy. Nothing's enough." Women will think that's bullshit. They'll think, "You're not doing the right things and you're not doing enough of the right things." He's actually being quite honest, but then rather than trying to listen closely and get it right the next time, the man gives up. He thinks, "Well that's the way women are. You can't ever please them."

That attitude is toxic because the woman feels that she's not being understood and that she's a burden.  A lot of women will come to therapy because they believe they're too much to handle and that their needs are too great. On the man's side the misunderstanding is that he's selfish and cold and doesn't care about her. But what I find with these men over and over is that they care too much.

So, wouldn't porn feed into this objectification in an unhealthy way?

I don't believe that there's any strong evidence that porn creates feelings of hostility towards women. The problem with that point of view is that it takes the superficial story and makes it the only story. So for instance, you have a woman in a porn video that is hitchhiking and a couple of bikers come and they start to have sex with her. At first she resists and then she gets into it and has sex with both of them. 

A lot of people would say that this is teaching men that women are just there for sex and that you don't have to care about them as people. I argue that that's a complete misunderstanding. The porn fantasy is generated by a man's underlying want and need for the woman to be happy—that's why men imagine that the women are always turned on.

What's your theory on why people have sexual fantasies?

Sexual fantasies are the mind's way of temporarily overcoming the threats to arousal that exist in all of us. Most people have inhibitions about getting fully aroused and feeling intense pleasure. We're not neurotic for feeling that; we all have inhibitions, but we don't give up our need for pleasure just because we have inhibitions. We have to figure out a way of overcoming our inhibitions to feel pleasure even if it's momentary, so what we develop are sexual fantasies.

I use the example of somebody who likes to be dominated. Usually that person struggles in their waking life with the idea they're going to hurt their partner or their sexuality will be too much for the other person. They worry about the other person's feelings so much that they can't surrender to their own sensations. Being dominated is the perfect solution because then they don't have to worry.

What about the opposite, the fantasy of doing the domination?

There's one secret that's essential in 95 percent of the domination fantasies that men have: the woman enjoys it. The reason that that's so crucial to the fantasy is that it shows that the woman isn't hurt. It shows that actually she's robust, feeling good. To the man that's very reassuring against the fear that they're going to hurt the woman. So even in domination fantasies you have a way to negotiate this problem of hurting others because instead of hurting them, you make them happy.

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If the fantasy is driven by a worry about hurting a woman, why would he have a domination fantasy in the first place? It is because men feel their natural role is as the aggressor?

I think so. The social role matters because the men grow up thinking that's sort of the way they're supposed to be. It's very hard to know one man next to another. One man has the fantasy of dominating a woman and the other man has the fantasy of the woman being the dominatrix. They're both dealing with guilt but in a slightly different way. It's impossible to know—unless you knew the details of someone's individual life story—how they develop a specific fantasy.

What about another common fantasy, the threesome? Why is that so popular?

There are three things here. The first part of the fantasy is that the women are making each other happy, so the man is not responsible for their pleasure.

The second thing is that you've got two people taking care of your sexual needs so you don't have to worry about wearing somebody out or being too much for them.

The last reason is more obvious but it probably needs to be said, which is a man feels special when he's the object of two women's attention.

With these three things all the man's insecurities about sex get reassured all in one batch.

You say in your book that as people get closer, the sex gets more boring, and you have an interesting explanation.

For great sex, there has to be an element of what I call ruthlessness—the ability to not worry about the other person's welfare and to surrender to your own selfish excitement and feelings. One woman described it to me like this. She said, "To me when I'm getting excited and I'm really getting into it, I feel like it's like a wave crashing on the shore and I don't want to have to worry if the shore can take it or not. I want to take the shore for granted."

It's the opposite of empathy. Of course, you need to have empathy for good sex otherwise you're just masturbating. But you also have to have the willingness to be able not to worry about the other person. Too much awareness of the other person's delicate inner state is like a cold shower on sexual desire. Some people will come into my office and say, "I wish he'd quit whining and just throw me on the bed and f*ck me." It means I wish we didn't have to be so concerned about each other. Worry and guilt and feeling super empathetic and responsible are antithetical to sexual excitement.

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