Behind The Growing Gap in Understanding Between Men and Women
There is a profound dichotomy between the way men and women view, practice and embrace masturbation, and this rift may be at the core of deep cultural barriers that limit not only healthy sex lives but also compromise basic relations between men and women.
For the past 50 years, sex-positive feminists such as Betty Dodson have worked hard to recast self-pleasure for women as a sign of health, liberation, power and independence. While owning a vibrator or dildo a few decades ago might have suggested a lackluster sex life, it now represents the empowered woman who knows how to manage all of her needs well. Men, however, lack the intellectual and cultural framework to place masturbation at the center of a sexually, emotionally and intellectually vibrant lifestyle. The result: women will talk openly with each other about their toys, their experiences, their interests and the positive affects of masturbation and they generally have more sophisticated understandings of sex, pleasure and gender. Men?…Silence, fear and shame.
On one level it’s quite simple: this intellectual surge has cracked open the cultural dialog about and acceptance of women’s sexuality, and men lack both the movement and spokesperson to accomplish the same. Ironically, while women have progressed significantly over two generations, men have perhaps regressed (think of the more expansive understanding or male sexuality being explored the 60s and 70s, for instance). Masturbation is rarely discussed in genuinely curious ways and it’s still associated with a porn-addicted recluse — despite the fact that we KNOW it’s good for us on so many different levels. The lack of understanding of male sexuality, however, is equally shared by men and women, and this not only limits the sexual, intellectual and emotional development of men, it limits our ability to have healthy relationships. Because any healthy relationship is based on the ability to navigate complex topics in an honest and non-defensive way, and sex — which is the center piece of most of our relations — is rarely discussed in ways that lead to growth and understanding.
Carol Queen also notes that, because male sexuality can seem ubiquitous to many women, they often feel that men don’t need to explore their sexuality the way women do in order to counter the strong, negative messages in media. But saturation in the media’s ever-present objectification of women isn’t the same as delving into those issues all of us share that are influenced by shame and silencing of sexual diversity and deep understanding. And while many women are well-versed in female sexuality, many women have never been exposed to much in-depth information about male sexuality. Couple this with the general difficulty men have in discussing the topic, and we have the dynamics behind the rapidly growing gap in understanding between men and women.
While it’s certainly not the responsibility of women to solve men’s sexual hang-ups, the lack of understanding of male sexuality often tightens this cultural Gordian Knot. For instance, many women are intimidated by male masturbation and wrongly interpret it as a threat to their intimacy (‘If he’s masturbating to 18 year olds in porn videos he must not like me and my body’ or ‘If he fantasizes about anyone else he must not really love me’ or ‘If he needs to masturbate so much then I must not be satisfying for him’ etc…). The reasons are complex and I discuss them in greater depth in an earlier post, ‘Why Are Some Women Threatened by Male Masturbation?’, but by viewing masturbation as a threat and/or as a sign of a problem rather than as a critical part of a man’s sexual self-discovery, women are inadvertently compromising not only the personal development of their partner but the integrity of their relationship.
This is why it’s so critical for men to develop not only a more expansive approach to self-pleasure, but also an understanding of how to talk to their partners about it and diffuse the tension around their sexual interests and needs. Masturbation is not a sign of something missing: it’s a critical part of mens sexual development that, when stymied, compromises every aspect of their ability to form stable, sustainable relationships.
This article is an excerpt from the book, ‘Better Than the Hand: How Masturbation is the Key to Better Sex & Healthier Living.’
Magnus Sullivan has been at the forefront of technological and cultural shifts for more than 20 years. In 1993 Magnus founded eLine, one of the first system integration firms in San Francisco, bringing some of the biggest brands in the world online. One of his first clients was the storied progressive adult toy reseller, Good Vibrations. This was his first foray into the world of adult and he never looked back, partnering with the powerhouse, Game Link, to help create one of the most formidable companies in the online adult market. He has created two of the most awarded and recognized movies in the adult industry (‘An Open Invitation’ and ‘Marriage 2.0', which won The Feminist Porn Awards coveted ‘Movie of the Year’ award in 2016) and recently launched www.manshop.com, a reseller of sex toys for men, and www.betterthanthehand.com, a sex positive blog that promotes male masturbation and discusses the various social issues associated with it. Sullivan has written extensively about the need to expand and enhance content production in the adult industry and is also the author of ‘Better Than The Hand: How Masturbation is the Key to Better Sex and Healthier Living’. He is a fourth-generation SF-native, lives with his wife and children in the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoys kite boarding, skiing, triathlon, cooking, reading, writing and just about everything else that engages his mind and his body.34 Articles