As a man, I have my own personal gender experience to use as a reference point in answering this question, but I can’t represent the views of all men. I also have my professional experience as a marriage and sex therapist of forty years to use as well when addressing this question.
The popular attitude in our culture is that when the word intimacy is used in reference to males it is synonymous with the act of sex, but what they are really referring to is the act of intercourse. For males intercourse and intimacy are one in the same.
The reason for this limited view of intimacy is rooted in the model of masculinity that has been the dominant paradigm in American culture for a very long time. The model of masculinity doesn’t allow males to be emotionally vulnerable. A “real man” doesn’t disclose his true emotions to anyone. Vulnerability is seen as a weakness in a man. This belief may serve a man in the “cover your ass” business world or in the military, but this limitation prevents him from forming any real intimacy in his personal life, and has a severe consequence on his physical health.
If a male is not able to be emotionally vulnerable then it makes it difficult for him to form an emotionally intimate relationship with a lover.
With this being the case it leaves a male only one way to be close, sexually. If they are not sexually close then males can experience a certain degree of anxiety due to an unconscious fear of abandonment. Having intercourse is the balm for their anxiety.
Unfortunately, though the more that a male pushes for intercourse to offset his feelings of anxiety they generally experience less sexual frequency with his partner. With less sexual involvement the more anxiety occurs. It all becomes a vicious circle and his relationship becomes more about power and control to have sex and less about truly loving his partner.
Another way to bond intimately with a partner is through general affection or touch.
When a couple is first together there usually exists a great deal of affection and touch between them. The problem for men is that they see touching as an activity that has a major goal associated with it, intercourse. For them, the purpose of prolonged affection and touching is to have SEX. They are not viewing touching as a way to be intimate. It was very clear to me that holding a girl’s hand was the first step to going on down the line to something bigger and better. The metaphor of the baseball game and getting to a base and then making it all the way to home plate has long been thought to be the whole purpose of the experience.
Once there is a high level of commitment in the relationship then the male feels he has his partner and feels a general sense of emotional security, and as a consequence the level of affection and touching between the couple generally declines. For the male in the relationship, if the touching between himself and his lover doesn’t seem to be leading to sex then he generally he doesn’t want to participate as he once did before their was a strong commitment to the relationship.
Touching for most males must lead to sex or it’s seen as a waste of time. Touching as a way to be intimate and close holds little pleasure for them- there is no tangible product produced and nothing is accomplished. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, men just don’t know how to focus on the pleasure of the moment when it relates to touch shared with their lover.
Another consequence of not being able to be affectionate and allowing non-sexually intended touching in their life outside of their bedroom, males develop a certain amount of touching deprivation. Just like babies need to be touched and held in order to have healthy development, adults need touching as well. I think the lack of general affection in a lot of men’s lives leads to being angry, irritable and depressed. This also is true for women as well.
Are males conscious of their “touching deprivation”?
I don’t think so, but it is one of the major reason men feel so much pressure to have sexual intercourse, because that’s the only way that they allow themselves any form of touching in their lives. In the middle of my work day when I have my hair cut and the haircutter shampoos my hair I am struck by how good it feels to have my head massaged and how quickly I relax. Just that little bit of touching that has no sexual intention makes a major difference with my mood.
For males, not being able to be emotionally intimate on a verbal level and not seeing the value of touching and affection or physical intimacy that doesn’t include intercourse puts a tremendous handicap on their ability to have a fulfilling sexual experience. This limited way of looking at intimacy puts an incredible amount of pressure on males and their ability to really enjoy a sexual experience, with their lover. This is not to say they don’t enjoy sex it’s just that it limits the amount of pleasure and real intimacy they can experience. Fast food tastes good, but the experience is very limited when compared to a five course gourmet dinner.
One particular emotion that men aren’t allowed to express in any constructive manner is anger. Yes, men get angry, but usually when they do it’s not viewed as a constructive experience. After being in a long term relationship like a marriage they have bottled up a lot of resentments that have never been resolved. These resentments get in the way of being intimate in any real way. It’s hard for them to enjoy spending intimate time just hanging out with their lover in some romantic way because their fear is that the resentments might surface and this would lead to fighting, which is something to be avoided.
Besides not wanting to spend much time alone with their wife in any intimate environment without diversions, or other people and children, their sexual interest seems to be waning. It’s the unresolved resentments taking their toll on their sex drive. Once a males leaves his thirties the lack of emotional intimacy and his inability to communicate his resentments/anger in his marriage impacts his sexual desire.
At this point any form of intimacy for a male is removed from his relationship. No verbal intimacy on an emotional level, no intimacy in the form of general affection and touching and now no sex, which he saw as his only way of being intimate. Now he looks at his wife as a “roommate” or the mother of his children, or maybe his buddy, but the concept of being lovers has faded from the relationship. Now he has no real intimacy in his life, which will cause problems, because a lot of his psychological needs are not being fulfilled.
So now that it’s clear what intimacy to a male means for many men. I think there are males out there who have learned to break through the the stereotypic model of masculinity. Can a male learn to development intimacy on an emotional level? Absolutely. He just needs to want to make the change and have the help and knowledge on how to create other ways to be intimate other than sexually.
About the author
A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Daniel Beaver started his private practice in 1973 in Walnut Creek, California, and continues providing individual and couples therapy today. He co-founded the Relationship Counseling Center of Walnut Creek in 1974.
The author of three books, Creating the Intimate Connection, More Than Just Sex, and Love Yourself, which was just published this year.
Visit www.danielbeaver.com to know more about Dan.