On a recent Saturday night, I found myself in an uncomfortably familiar place … not contributing to my end of a sexual partnership. Despite the numerous legitimate reasons I was quickly able to surmise — a new and untrusting partner, a night of festivities, etc. — I still found myself feeling frustrated and inadequate. I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that strong sexual performance is a tenet in almost any conception of manliness and thus anxiety of satisfying that standard underlines a lot of my and many other men’s troubles. So what? Am I not a “man?” Am I inadequate because I failed to have an erection with a strange, naked woman? Deep in the bedrock of our societal subconscious, I think we are trained to say yes, but that could not be further from the truth.
For college students, at least those to my knowledge in the heterosexual population, I think men fall into three major categories: those with healthy sexual experiences and mentalities; those with the Superman-Pornstar, f–k-everything-as-hard-as-I-can-like-the-guy-in-the-video approach and those, like me, who are to some extent limited by their anxieties. To the immediate liberal arts counterpoint — yes, those lines are often blurred and often vary depending on context. But, for the sake of simplicity, I am staking my claim that at least 50 percent of the Tufts male population, if they are honest with themselves, can relate to the feelings of the above described “Pornstar” or “Pussy.”
I hope the first reaction readers have to that statement is to mentally turn down past and future judgments because sexual discomforts, in whatever form they manifest, are just as much the rule as the exception. I hope the second reaction would be to ask: Why are there so many stresses around sex, such an inherently pleasurable activity? I of course credit it largely to myths of masculinity. While easily dismissed as too large an issue to tackle, when we look deeper we see that we are all to blame in perpetuating toxic notions. An easy proof is my above choice of the word “pussy” as a counterpoint to the Superman-Pornstar, which will rightfully offend some but nonetheless communicates my point.
An even stronger example for me is my fraternity. I have often argued with my brothers that a large appeal of fraternities to new members is the idealization of upperclassmen and the pursuit of their image of masculinity. Of course, fundamental to the vast majority of fraternity conceptions of masculinity is sexual performance. Joining as an insecure freshman myself, I was struck by the incessant and broadly advertised conversations about getting laid. Even more unhealthily, it is almost always discussed in the context of conquests, often “blackout” conquests, rather than pleasurable, intimate and respectable experiences. This is so abundantly clear that fraternity rush criteria, an embodiment of social currency and value systems, has been stereotypically and rather accurately defined by the “chill-to-pull ratio.” And of course, members with sexual anxieties, despite the fact they are perpetuated by the very institution they are a part of, do not pull and are not chill.
As a brief aside, it is not truly my objective to provide answers for those guys currently yelling to themselves, “I am not alone.” However, I do want to assure them that you absolutely are not, and as I tell myself: With time, patience and an openness to risk taking, it will all work out. And I will add that having talked to several sexual partners — all who have valued my sensitivities — be very glad you are not the Pornstar type.
Having said that, I will state my sincere objective in this op-ed: to proclaim that I am a man. I find the expectation of manliness that you must possess the ability to f–k women indiscriminately is perverse, as if we are all animals in the crudest sense. I find the double standard around men and women is ridiculous — that it is more understandable when a woman has sexual inhibitions with the underlying notion that women are supposed to be the sensitive and guarded ones, despite the obvious fact that, with slight degrees of variation, we are all governed by the same biological interests. And I find the notion that a man who doesn’t perform must be gay is abhorrent, as the gross misjudgment and the implied offense toward homosexuals reflects a fundamental impediment to a more open-minded society, accepting of the spectrums of sexual identities. Again, I will express my hope that readers recalculate their judgments and ask why and how we got here.
I want to conclude with two important points for future thought. First, if I brushed over other important sensitivities and issues, it was not my intention to be inconsiderate or dismissive — there is only limited space to create a cohesive argument and I have only limited experiences I feel comfortable writing about. My hope would be to have this foster a more open dialogue about other issues such as the assumed relationship between sexual and gender identities or the influence ideas of masculinity play in the over 300,000 incidents of rape that occur annually on American college campuses. For example, under the influence of alcohol, in a stereotypical pathology, is it possible that the alleged Supermen roaming campuses “misinterpret” the meaning of the word “no,” as they use the conquests of women to validate their sense of desirability and power?
Some of you may come to the end of this piece and be determined to speculate on who I am, but I would sincerely ask that you respect my anonymity. Instead, question the issues I raise and how their solutions can foster an improved community where we sympathize with our peers of diverse experiences and fight the harm caused by societal misconceptions of masculinity.