A spiritual approach to dating takes a gender-blind stance, addressing every person in the same way, and admonishes masculine / feminine roles as sexist games and manipulations. But men and women are different and gender roles show up in same sex relationships as well. While spiritual philosophies are foundational to my life, I am inclined to approach dating from a more gendered perspective. As always, feel free to disagree with some or all of what I write.
It seems to me that we contradict ourselves when it comes to dating. We say we want one thing, but actually are attracted to something else. We pursue people we know are unhealthy for us, while dismissing compatible, available, attractive potentials.
Ask a woman about her sexual fantasies and she’s likely to tell you they involve being desired and dominated. So she wants to mate with the stable, reliable, emotionally-attuned man and get fucked by the Bad Boy (a similar dynamic shows up with the Madonna/Whore complex in men). So what’s the psychology under this?
The reason why women like bad boys, says Esther Perel, is because the bad boy knows how to take care of himself perfectly well, which frees her from having to feel responsible for him, from having to worry about him. Since he can let go and be in his pleasure, it frees her up to do the same. The primary erotic block for women is that they are used to sex being a duty and that their role is to care for others. They struggle sexually in taking for themselves.
The patriarchal system has ingrained into women thousands of years of sexual duty and obligation. Men have sexual needs that must be met and they are paramount. He bought you dinner, you led him on, you owe him this. Break the entitlement of the stiff penis: no one will die if an erection goes untended!
Women are most free when not having to think of anyone else. Since she knows the bad boy will take care of himself, she’s able to focus on herself and experience healthy sexual narcissism. If the man needs to be mothered, she won’t be able to let go into her own pleasure. Once it becomes a duty, she’s no longer in the realm of desire.
Men also need to feel that their partners are strong enough to withstand their desire. If he feels she’s too fragile, he’s unable to submit fully to his sexual appetite. The aggression in sex is too dangerous to bring to someone he loves.
Many men grew up with mothers whose emotional needs engulfed and burdened them. So any whiff of a woman being needy sparks an anti-sexual, dutiful, caretaking response. Who wants to have sex with their mother? This dynamic with mother also leads men to become love avoidants. Why submit to another relationship in which you feel incredibly burdened and responsible for another person’s happiness? Much simpler to screw a woman with whom there’s no commitment.
1. Esther Perel’s Sexual Conversations: Try exploring these questions yourself and with your partner. Have fun, laugh, make a night of it, don’t make it so serious.
2. Self-Pleasing: Think broader than masturbation. What feels good to you? What do you enjoy just for sheer pleasure? Like the ocean? Try spending a few extra moments letting the shower water drip down your neck, your back. Do you twirl your hair? Stroke your arm? How would it be for your partner to lightly stroke your arm or face in the morning time between sleep and wake? Would you enjoy that?
3. Beyond All-or-Nothing Thinking: If your partner does stroke you like that, can you just let yourself enjoy it? Don’t assume that he’s angling for more or trying to lure you into sex. Trust that he wants nothing more than this. Or see it as an invitation, not a demand. More may happen, it may not.
Sex is not just in the genitals, it’s an entire universe. The word sex – it’s closeness, it’s connection, it’s prioritizing, it’s remembering me, it’s making me feel that I matter, it’s all of that under the word “sex.” Guys, if you're feeling pressured for sex and are not into it, your partner may just want to connect.
4. The New Masculinity: For men, sexuality may be the only place where they can experience forbidden emotions – tenderness, vulnerability, fragility, access to inner child, being taken care of. Read my previous post on men’s relationships and seek out and deepen your male friendships. Your wife is not a Wellbeing Dialysis machine. She’s not your Xanax, mother, and psychiatrist. You need to find other ways to get your own sense of wellbeing.
(Much of this is from a training I did with Esther Perel & Terry Real, so thank you to them for their colorful language 😊)
Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel (Streaming free on Audible now)