Complicate Your Sexuality: Men in Love Part 1

I think about my own sexuality every day. Some days it feels like a struggle. Some days it feels like an after thought. Some days it feels like a necessity that cannot be ignored. Male sexuality is an interesting mix of urge, anxiety, creativity, romance, restraint, and, yes, love.

We are not cave men. We are much more evolved than that.

I am consistently challenged to help men understand the complexity of their sexuality. As men, we are socialized to believe that our sexual impulse is rather simple and, because of that simplicity, animalistic. We are encouraged to accept this state of affairs, to accept our simplicity, and to revel in it. But because we accept this simplicity, we may also believe that’s all there is. Because we believe our sexuality is so simple, we’re not challenged to consider how it might be more interesting, more engaging, more emotional.

The propagation of this belief can be seen in how male sexuality is commonly portrayed in media and even in certain circles of the mental health field. Men’s sexuality is portrayed as violent, impulsive, caveman-esque. And some men buy into this lie. And the epidemics of college sexual assaults and childhood sexual abuse, most commonly performed by men, are the result. We can see this belief in the mental health world where well-intentioned counselors and other helpers pathologize male sexuality by proposing and “treating” scientifically unsubstantiated diagnoses of sex and porn addiction. [ AASECT Releases Historic Position Statement on Sex Addiction | Psychology Today ]

I would like to propose an alternative view. Male sexuality is not inherently dangerous. It is not inherently violent. It is not addictive like heroin or alcohol. We are not cave men. We are much more evolved than that. Male sexuality, like female sexuality, is beautiful, natural, complex, and important. The problem is not male sexuality, it is that men are taught to treat their sexuality as far simpler than it actually is.

The results of this incorrect message are widespread. One example is that men are taught that, because their sexuality is really only about animalistic impulse they must make sure to treat sex as a performative act. If they do not, they will be unable to please their partners. So they stage a play with intent to have an emotional and physical impact on its audience – themselves, their partner, or their peer group. Most try to produce closeness, ecstasy, and both relational and physical satisfaction. Some, whether consciously or unconsciously, produce fear, the illusion of power, and shame avoidance. Both intents are problematic, and this simple idea, that sex must be a performative act meant to bring about an impact of some kind, can explain why male sexuality can simultaneously be a coveted impetus for sexual ecstasy and also responsible for horrible acts of violence, molestation, and incest.

If not expanded to transcend this idea of sex as performance, of sex as simple, male sexuality is incredibly fragile. To demonstrate, I talk to my clients about the mental and physical “zone” in which most men have to enter in order to climax. They must close their eyes and concentrate on the sensation or the image in their head. They block out all other input in order to be able to climax and thus end their play, their performance, in the way it was meant to be ended. Most men are aware of how easy it is to get knocked out of that zone. An expanded sexuality, however, is not only not as easily knocked out, but it also challenges the very idea that climax is a necessary part of this obligatory performance play.

Sex as performance often works fine until men can no longer treat their sexuality simply. When they enter into a relationship where they are expected to be emotionally intimate and sexually satisfied and satisfying, many men begin to run into sexual problems. Again, their sexuality is not the problem, it’s that they’ve been taught to treat their sexuality as much simpler than it actually is. And, when they fall in love, their sexuality becomes complicated quickly.

I am beginning this blog series, Men in Love, to explore some of the things I’ve learned about male sexuality in my tenure as a man, first, and a sex therapist, second. The last thing I want to do is propagate the belief that men’s sexuality is dangerous and violent; however, I will explore some of these themes in an effort to challenge them and to help men understand that their sexuality is more complex than they were told. Men have feelings too, and our feelings are the key to understanding how complex our sexuality can be. Feelings are not anathema to masculinity, and they do not disrupt sex and love making. If understood and cultivated, they can enhance sex in the most powerful of ways. But this enhancement requires skill and the knowledge of tools that many of us were not taught.

I hope you’ll consider challenging yourself and the men in your life to complicate their understanding of their sexuality, to change their perspective on sex, and, subsequently, to transform their relationships.

Dr. Kinsey’s new series for men and those who love them is called Men in Love. In it, he will chronicle the journey of understanding male sexuality and its challenges in the 21st century.

About the Author
Dr. Lee Kinsey

Dr. Lee Kinsey

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I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas (#67546). I hold a PhD in Counseling from the University of North Texas. I am also pursuing sex therapy certification from AASECT. I have extensive training in sex therapy through both SMU and UNT, and I continually write, speak, and teach on the topic.

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4 Comments on “Complicate Your Sexuality: Men in Love Part 1”

  1. I applaud your articulated celebration of the complexity of male sexuality. It is as diverse and complex as the milieu of the human family.

    You are correct in stating that urge is a component of sexuality. As both a recovering sex addict and a licensed therapist credentialed in sex addiction treatment, I can attest to the complexity of the urge component. When men (and women) experience chronic affect dysregulation and, at some point, they sexualize their anxiety, the neuropathways of this response can lead to chronic problematic behavior. Numerous reputable studies and ongoing research continues to point to a pattern or process that mimics substance addiction. None of this is based on moralism.

    Such clients report clinically significant distress or impairment in social, work, or other relationships and they have wanted to stop, tried to stop, and been unable to stop their behavior. Up to 94% of these clients have been found to have a history of trauma, not necessarily sexual trauma, that has led to their inability to regulate their mood and has resulted in sexualized anxiety.

    Sexuality is complex and sexual addiction is not about moralism nor is it about how much sex someone is having—it is about problematic behavior that is caused by affect dysregulation.

    Though there are some in the behavioral health field that do not recognize or accept sex addiction or its treatment, the science and research is currently tilting the meter in the direction of seeing this process addiction as something both real and complex. This is not unlike our previous history when the American Medical Association did not accept alcoholism as a disease but merely a moral weakness.

    I look forward to your future blogs and to discussing this fascinating complexity of our human experience.

    1. Dr. Lee Kinsey

      Thanks for your comment, Gary. I think the ongoing discussion surrounding compulsive sexual behavior and the pain it causes is both important and interesting. I agree that sexuality is often hijacked by other psychological processes that can be problematic and difficult to control. But I am not alone in critiquing the science behind sex “addiction”. It really all depends on how you define addiction.

      As I mentioned in my blog, the American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists issued a statement recently saying that they are skeptical of the science behind sex addiction noting that it is often based on moral ideas about sex. Even more so, the treatment associated with sex addiction is decidedly sex-negative, often based in old, moral ideas about sex, and heavily promoted and offered by religious groups who, unfortunately, have a long history of demonizing all forms of sexual expression. When rewriting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the APA committee came to a similar albeit less articulated conclusion; they would not include Sex Addiction in the DSM-V due to lack of valid research.

      I will address my critiques of sex addiction as a scientific construct in later blogs. I do not believe that these critiques of sex addiction delegitimizes the work of therapists like yourself; nor do I think it suggests that people, also like yourself, who struggle with compulsive and problematic sexual behavior are morally weak. I think it’s the opposite. As I will discuss throughout this blog series, sexuality is, by its nature, compelling enough to be considered compulsive if we’re looking at and experiencing it through a certain, moral lens. If we accept this urge as natural, then maybe we can weave it into our lives in a way that promotes healthy expressions of sexuality. So many of the sex addiction treatment protocols call for further repression, further restriction, abstinence, etc. which I consider to be a recipe for failure, confusion, and sex negativity, because they pathologize sexuality’s natural state – a boundary pushing urge.

      I believe that your work and that of other sex addiction therapists is important and valid. Sometimes, I will disagree with the conceptualization of the problem and the implementation of treatment, but I work with sex addiction counselors all the time. And I respect you and them. But I work from a staunch, dare I say, radical form of humanism, and I am wary of things that could easily be interpreted as delegitimizing the natural, human experience.

      I am excited that we work in a living field of study that is constantly moving and upgrading and learning. And I look forward to our discussions about how we can best help the people who are struggling to integrate sexuality as a natural, normal, healthy force of nature.

  2. Great article Lee. The simplistic matras of well meaning but intellectually defeicient mental health profesionals and feminists have never helped anyone. Eventhough I disagree with much of who Camille Pagllia is, she is one of the few feminists who seems to have a clue about male sexuality. I agree with what I believe is your view of a rejection of the ideas of porn and sex addiction. Attraction, visualization and deep desire are gifts to be used and cared for not external substances that form a chemical abnormablity to diminish impulse control.
    I look forward to reading more of your ideas and articles.

    1. Dr. Lee Kinsey

      Thank you, Mark. I understand the critique of male sexuality from women. Male sexuality seems to be the driver of pain and suffering for many, mostly women. But I think that pathologizing impulse actually increases the likelihood that sexuality will “come out sideways” in hurtful and destructive ways. I also look forward to discussing these ideas with you!

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