toxic masculinity

When I asked the guy I was seeing why he always had sex with me so fast and hard, he answered, “I don’t know… that’s how guys do it in porn.”

And there we have it.

I had just told him I wanted him to go slowly, and, to my surprise, he replied, “thank goodness.” That’s when we both realized, pounding like two rabbits wasn’t stimulating for me, and it wore him out. All along we had been having sex neither of us would have preferred because my partner thought that’s how men were supposed to. He was not the first guy that assumed this. From my experience and those I have spoken to, men are more often than not poor sexual partners because they think they should act “manly.” They are taught from a young age to uphold certain traits like toughness and power and to abandon vulnerability and intimacy; to “acquire this almost disgusted view of [the] feminine.” The lack of these “feminine” traits in sexual scenarios can have consequences that range from minor problems like a poor, yet consensual, experience to extreme instances like rape.

Thanks to the Me Too movement, it’s clearer than ever before how common extreme experiences are. Women have become accustomed to settle for merely “okay” sex, sex without intimacy just so long as it’s not sex with assault. This should not be the expectation. But it is this reality that makes it so difficult to recognize that men, in their own way, are vulnerable too. Emotionally vulnerable. And it’s this vulnerability that is the root of toxic masculinity, and furthermore, the root of sexual assault.

The effects of toxic masculinity are embedded within society’s consciousness. It is “founded on the myth that… women are subordinate, passive, second-class beings who either need the protection of or deserve to be subjected to men.” It gives men the notion of entitlement; that they don’t have to ask for permission to fulfill their sexual wants. Since men believe they are “supposed to have access to power, men who don’t… might overcompensate by seeking to exercise power over women.” Therapist Kathryn Stamoulis counseled a young male college student who “admitted [a woman] was passed out when he penetrated her, but he said, through tears, he figured it wasn’t a big deal because he thought his victim liked him.” The student genuinely believed he knew better than his victim and so he dictated the sexual experience. After all, men are supposed to be in charge, “to make the first move”. This student’s confession may seem like a rare case, despite it becoming more clear it is not, but runs in tandem with the expectation that sex requires a man to orgasm, but not a woman to. A national study shows that during intercourse “women have one [orgasm] for every three men have.” A woman’s orgasm is no less valuable than a man’s, so argue for your right to equal pleasure. Also, what if you do not want to be dominated, but dominate? What if that is you and your partner’s sexual fantasy? When men are told they have to be dominant, they are cutting out all kinds of sexual possibilities that come with submissiveness, like trust and intimacy. It’s a loss both partners experience.

Often, men are not encouraged to speak about what upsets them, but rather “man up” and bury these feelings. See, “for girls, intimacy is the fabric of relationships, and talk is the thread from which it was woven.” While for men, talking isn’t a necessity during sex, but rather to bond; the physical act of it speaks louder than words. This norm often prevents men from communicating during sex, which not only is tricky to manoeuvre but also potentially threatening because it encourages men not to speak or listen. When making the point for communicative sex, I’ve been told talking during sex would “ruin the mood.” I call bullshit. Want to have the best sex of your life? Talk about your fantasies. Want to rock his world? Ask him about his. Maybe your partner likes BDSM or role-playing, and how otherwise would you know? Miming? As much as we would like to escape the embarrassment of being earnest with our emotions, it’s the only way we will get what we want in bed, and trust me, what we want feels good.

Not to mention, men don’t feel it is their place to be emotional, so this can be lacking from the sex they have. When boys are bred to be strong and stoic, “the man of the house,” they don’t feel they can be sentimental. But get this: men are just as emotionally “needy” as women. If they want a certain amount of affection from their relationship, whether casual or serious, and it is not achieved, they get hurt as any woman would. Men have emotions, they just feel they shouldn’t. But how could someone have great sex if not allowed to experience the emotional depth of it? Relinquish ego and give into the pleasure of feeling cared for. Ignoring emotions reduces sex to simply the physical act and any dog can do that. Make it known, it takes a human, a real man, to have intimate, engaged, enjoyable sex and it’s a shame toxic masculinity often prevents many men from experiencing it.

It wasn’t easy for me to talk to my partner about our sex life. I wondered “maybe this is just how guys are in their nature,” and felt it’s not my place to criticize or reject his advances. I would emasculate him by expressing my concern. How funny. I had to unlearn toxic masculinity just like men do. As women, it’s not our responsibility to fix this problem, but we can help, and we should, because it does directly affect us whether in the bedroom or not. Let’s be aware of what causes toxic masculine behaviour, and empathize. Help men feel safe to speak about what they feel and enjoy, encourage them to, and tell them how important it is to our satisfaction that they listen to our needs reciprocally. Do all this to end toxic masculinity, but still not tolerate it, and punish abusive instances fairly. That way when he makes it to the bedroom with a person of his choosing, no one will be reflecting on the experience as awful or “decent.” Life’s too short for bad sex.

Words by Sophia Castano