This post is a kind of “preview” of a chunk of the book, because I want ya’ll’s feedback.
It’s about arousal non-concordance in men, a subject that gets virtually no attention from me on the blog because (1) no one ever asks me about it and (2) it’s so important a factor in women’s sexuality that it shades out its importance in men’s sexuality.
But it’s important, and it’s going in the book, and here’s what I’ve got:
(trigger warning for descriptions of non-consensual sex.)
Guys who can’t relate to non-concordance from a basic functioning point of view may be able to relate to it from this “experiencing” versus “enjoying” point of view. Most boys, around adolescence, experienced unwanted arousal–sitting at the back of the bus, noticing a teacher’s body, ill-fitting pants, or even just general excitement about non-sexual things (driving a car, eating a donut, really ANYTHING) can activate the relevant pathways and generate the physiological response of arousal.
But response is not desire; response is not even pleasure. It is simply response. Which brings me to one of my few lessons targeted specifically toward men (though certainly it applies to everyone):
Just because your body responds to a particular idea or sight or story or whatever doesn’t mean mean that you necessarily like it or want it. It just means it activated the relevant pathways. Sometimes guys notice their bodies responding to something even when their brains are like, “Woah. That’s not okay.” And they feel conflicted about that, because on the one hand it’s clearly sexual, but on the other hand… it’s not okay.
I’ll give you an example (and folks might want to skip this paragraph if you’re triggered by sexual assault related things). When I was in college, I was hanging out with a group of guy friends, and one of them told a story about a buddy of his. At the end of a party, when there were people sleeping or passed out all over the house, this friend of mine found his buddy having sex with a girl who was passed out drunk, unresponsive, and clearly unaware of what was happening. Well, I say “having sex with,” but the technical term is “raping.” And the buddy says, “Hey, you want to try this?” And my friend telling the story says, “Nah. We gotta go.”
The reason that’s all he said, he told us, was that he felt torn between his gut instinct that what his friend was doing was not okay, and the automatic (indeed,autonomic) response of his body to the sight of sexual intercourse.
What your body does is not an indication that something actually is sexy; it’s just an indication that something is sexual. What makes something sexy is the CONTEXT in which the sexual thing happens, and that context absolutely requires mutual consent and mutual satisfaction, both of which were missing in my friend’s story.
It is a failure of our society that we don’t teach boys when they’re little that consent and satisfaction are the sexiest things in the world. Our cultural emphasis on “reading her body language” or “seducing” a partner, rather than “listening to her words” or “appreciating” a partner create an environment where guys learn that response is desire and that wanting something is the same as liking it–even though their own individual experience doesn’t map onto that idea. Guys experience unwanted response in non-sexual situations; and sometimes they experience unwanted response in sexual situations too. The way to tell if a sexual situation is also a sexy situation is to check for mutual consent and mutual pleasure–more on that in Secret #5.
So sometimes your body may do things that your mind doesn’t agree with. When that happens, when you feel both your brakes and your accelerator activated at the same time, the right course of action is to delay, to pause, to let your arousal reduce so that you can think clearly about the situation. Figure out what was activating the brakes and decide what to do about it.
That last bit in particular I could use help with. What is good advice for a guy who finds himself with a hard penis and moral discomfort?