Men Experience Low Desire Too!
Dealing With Dysfunction
Western society has plenty of norms and scripts that people feel pressure socially, personally and interpersonally to uphold. When it comes to sex, any Hollywood movie will outline the feelings and behaviours heterosexual couples are supposed to follow. Men are presumed naturally always interested in sex, women are less interested in sexual connection, especially as relationships progress. Men are the pursuers with confidence, interested in sex at any time and any way with any one; women need to be pursued to feel desired and enticed into sex. However a recent study calls some of the stereotypes about men into question. According to research on heterosexual men by Sarah Hunter Murray, 8-18% of men have felt low desire. The challenge for so many of these men is that their low desire can make them believe that there is something “wrong” with them. Whereas women with low desire are considered “normal”, even though they may feel distressed about it, men with low desire are judged as “unmanly” or “feminine” (a supposedly bad trait). Their masculinity and sexual orientation are quickly suspect in this case. It is important to recognize and validate the occasional or frequent experiences of low desire that can happen for anyone without stigmatizing them for their reality.
Common reasons for low desire
There can be medical reasons for low desire such as low testosterone, depression and medications such as some anti-depressants. In addition, prescriptive, restrictive and shaming societal attitudes about sex complicate many people's inner fantasy worlds, turn-ons and sexual choices, creating obstacles for them to enjoy sex. Further obstacles include a history of trauma (sexual or otherwise) and repeated rejection or shaming by partners. Stress can also greatly affect libido: interpersonal turmoil, inner distress, financial insecurity, low personal, sexual (such as erectile challenges) and professional self esteem can all negatively affect desire. When we are stressed, it is hard for most of us to get in the mood, although for some sex can be a coping mechanism, for better or for worse.
Pressures to “Man Up”
Many participants in Murray's studies described initiating or accepting sexual advances in order to not compromise their masculine image or to not offend or upset their female partner. Of course many heterosexual women also have sex when they are not interested; however the motivation is often different. Women might comply to have sex out of a sense of duty or commitment. Many heterosexual men might comply in order to keep up their image of masculinity. In addition, because of the myth that men are ready anytime, anywhere, with anyone, a man's lack of interest can be interpreted by a partner that he must really not be attracted to her. In reality, he may not be interested despite his attraction to her. Her interpretation of his lack of interest can unfortunately reinforce her negative sexual self-esteem. Thus he may feign interest in order to not further damage to his partner's low self-image.
Men also desire to feel desired
In Murray's study, 94.5% of the heterosexual male study participants indicated that feeling desired was either "very" or "extremely" important to their sexual experiences. Perhaps men just accept that the sexual script is that they need to chase a partner or that women naturally have a lower libido and are thus not in touch with their desire. However, science now tells us that most people, including men, want to feel desired by a partner. And many men describe feeling tired of always pursuing. Murray's study found that 40% of heterosexual men want a more equal approach and 72% want their partner to also initiate so that they can also feel desired by her.
What helps men to feel desired?
There are five common themes of what contributes to men feeling desired. Many state that compliments about their looks and personality make a difference to their sense of feeling desired. They also identify that they really appreciate when a partner flirts with them. Physical touch of all kinds, even just cuddling and stroking, is another way that women can show their desire for their partner. Initiation of sexual contact is another strong way for men to feel desired. Finally, most people do not want a partner to go through the motions of sex. Having a partner who is enthusiastically enjoying sex can also boost a partner's desire. Enthusiasm does not need to mean making loud noises, but can be shown through presence and authenticity with pleasure. Unfortunately, only 12% of participants in Miller's study indicated that their partner made them feel as desired as they wanted. Even a shy partner, however, can show desire by initiating sex through sending flirtatious or suggestive text messages or with a certain look or outfit.
Couples can reap positive outcomes for each and as a whole from sharing in demonstrating their desire for the other. It can take the pressure off of men to not have to play according to the stereotype of the initiator. It also enables men to be more vulnerable and let go of some of the control in the sexual realm of the relationship. Although women are not socialized as such, to take a more assertive role can feel really empowering and help women to find their erotic voice and desire, leading the direction towards a sexual encounter that ensures their enjoyment and agency. Most men appreciate a partner who is confident and clear about their pleasure, thereby enhancing both people's experience.
Finally, lo and behold, Murray's research also found that emotional connection is also important to men. They value intimate communication and spending quality time with their partners. Some men even value these experiences even more than having sex! And many appreciate a positive emotional connection before having sex.
In the end, regardless of your gender or orientation, exposing myths about heterosexual men and their desires is helpful to expanding male sexual roles. Narrow expectations of anyone is harmful since we all deviate at times or regularly from the norm. And encouraging men to be authentic, respect their own desires and be vulnerable with their partners can only lead to healthier sexual relationships overall. To learn more, read Murray's book Not Always In The Mood: The New Science of Men, Sex and Relationships.