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Masculinity and Sex: Dr. Murray Discusses How Masculinity Can Stifle Men’s Sexual Desire.

Dr. Sarah Hunter Murray has a PhD in Human Sexuality. As a sex researcher and relationship therapist she is passionate about exposing how social norms and expectations about sexual desire impact men, women and their intimate relationships. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSarahHMurray or visit her website: www.SarahHunterMurray.com

What drew you to a career in psychology?

“I have always been fascinated by our inner worlds and our relational and social interactions. And I believe that sex is such an important part of our lives, yet something we rarely have straight, honest, open conversations about. So it seemed only natural that my career would lead me to exploring and understanding the psychological side of sex – being sexual desire. I was fascinated by why, when and how we are interested in sex, when we don’t want sex (or want as much sex as we think we should) and how all of that is affected by, and affects, our intimate relationships with our romantic partners.”

What drew you to investigating the way masculinity stifles men’s sexual desire? Is there a research gap in this area?

“I didn’t initially set out to research how masculinity stifles men’s sexual desire per se. I set out to better understand men’s sexual desire, period. There are so many assumptions about men and sex and very few studies that have actually talked to men directly to determine whether these assumptions hold any merit. So I interviewed men, not knowing what I would find, and it didn’t take long to find that masculinity, and more specifically – restrictive masculine norms and expectations – were highly intertwined with men’s sexual experiences.”

In what ways is masculinity stifling men’s sexual desire?

“The men I interviewed indicated there were certain social norms and expectations about the ways men “should” be with regards to demonstrating their interest in sex. Specifically, they described an awareness that socially we believe “real men” should have a high sexual drive, they should want sex all the time, and they should never say no to a sexual opportunity. And men said they felt these norms are reinforced in the media, interactions with other men and within their romantic relationships. As such, they felt conflicted when they had a lower or absent interest in sex, or when their female partner initiated sex and they weren’t in the mood. Men felt they should not (and sometimes could not) say not to sexual opportunities, as saying no or not expressing a high interest in sexual activity went against this norm. Men worried that if they didn’t say yes to sex, they would be seen less manly – to their partner and even to themselves. Men also described feeling that they had to initiate all sexual activity, even if their female partner was in the mood and giving signals – and indicated that they wished they didn’t always have to play by these stereotypical gender “rules.””

What impact can this stifling have on a man’s romantic relationships and mental health?

“I think the biggest impact on romantic relationships is that men may feel they can’t be their authentic selves when it comes to expressing their sexual interest. And in any realm of a relationship, when we aren’t being our truest version of ourselves with our partners, it is going to lead to emotional distancing and a lack of connection.”

“In terms of mental health, the underlying issue here is that men feel that their true selves might not be accepted by their partner or by society. My study focused on sexual desire, but when we have any self-evaluations of this nature (whether we think our appearance, our job, or how much money we make isn’t “enough” or “right”) it leads to feelings of inadequacy and lower self-esteem.”

How does age, race, and sexual orientation factor into this?

“Good questions – the men I spoke to in my research were between the ages of 30-65 but they were all heterosexual and the sample was largely Caucasian. Much more research is needed to know how this applies to men of different sexual orientations and races. I’m currently in the planning stages of a follow-up study that will recruit a much larger sample which will help address those questions down the road.”

Considering the topic of your research area, why do you think it’s important to discuss the ways traditional masculinity can in fact harm or restrict men (and not just women and other marginalized masculinities)?

“I am a feminist. And I think that if we want equality for all it really means questioning the ways we are ALL held back by current patriarchal norms and standards. Men have many privileges in our society, but they are also held back by some of those norms and expectations. When we can give space for men to be softer, emotional, more complex it creates space for them be themselves and it has a ripple of positive effects for women and all marginalized members of society.”

What would you say to individuals dealing with the pressures and stifling nature of masculinity as it relates sexual desire?

“I would start by normalizing the experience and tell them that many men, and perhaps even most men, experience desire in a way that does not align with stereotypical norms. That, in fact, men are much more complex that we’ve pigeon-holed them into being. And it is becoming increasingly clear that men do not only want sex, that men don’t want sex all the time, and that these experiences make them no less “manly.” I would also tell them that if they want a meaningful close connection with their romantic partners that they should consider being open about their true experiences (whatever they are) as, from my experience, most partners are quite receptive to men risking emotional vulnerability.”

 

Thank you Dr. Murray for participating in this interview!

9 Comments

  1. This article was very insightful about a topic that I do not know more about. I never thought about how men think that they will be seen as less manly if they reject having sex. On a different topic, this is why I believe that men being raped is an issue and it is not reported too often. Due to media portrayal and societal gender roles, men either do not realize they have been raped or they do not feel comfortable with saying/reporting it (in fear of being made fun of or not being believed). I have seen articles about a male teacher having inappropriate sexual interactions with female students and comments on the article are rightfully angry and supportive towards the girl. However, if the same situation came with a female teacher and a male student, there are so many comments along the lines of “good for you man” and “you scored” etc. This is a huge problem in our society. I hope that one day norms will change and men will feel more comfortable voicing their opinion because this could end up being a worse problem than it seems because of our biased views about this issue. We do not think it is a big deal that men have sex even when they don’t want to, but if the issue was about women not having sex when they don’t want to, there would be more awareness. In general, I know that women deal with the extremely terrible problem of rape, but men can too. It is almost as if some people think men can’t get raped which is absurd. It is extremely rare in comparison but is prevalent and as a woman I wish men would feel comfortable about speaking about this issue because it is perfectly fine and normal to not want to do it.

  2. This article is great. I also think that men should be more open about their desires and emotions instead of acting through “norms”. It’s 2017, everybody should be able to be themselves. Sex is something special, it’s not only about physical contact, it’s also about energy and spirituality. We are supposed to talk about it instead of acting like it’s not that important or not there..

    I’d like to read more about this topic, i’m also very interested in learning about it because were supposed to know stuff like this. Guys have feelings too and don’t always feel like having sex, they have many privileges, true, but everybody in society should be accepted as a person and not as a gender stereotype, that could cause emotional damage.

    I enjoyed this alot.

  3. This is a great article that rarely talked by post people. The idea of men should always have a high-drive of sexual desire, and alwasy be sexually active is an idea that has been cemented thus very hard to be broken. This idea is almost the same with the idea that a mean can’t cry because it will make a man less manly.

    The underlying idea is that, men are also human.

    It’s kinda pity that most of the sample was a causcasian; it will be more interested if there’s a comparison as well with this kind of thinking in other races as well. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed reading this article.

  4. An excellent article that tackles an issue in society that people often ignore, or don’t consider important. Some of the expectations society has for men are toxic because they teach men that they always have to have a high sexual drive, they have to be strong and tough, not prone to emotional outbursts, avoiding expressing themselves because they would be perceived as weak for being in touch with their feelings.
    This article highlights how important it is to dissuade people of these assumptions, and to let boys and men alike know that it is alright to be vulnerable; that they don’t have to want sex all the time, or to exude an alpha persona when it makes them uncomfortable. This article shows how men fall victim to rape and abuse from their partners because they have it in their mind that they “have” to be this person society expects them to be.
    The article shows that this mentality does not only affect the men in question but their relationships with other people as well. It’d be great to read more about this topic, especially with a larger variety of men in terms of sexual orientation and ethnicity. I’d be interested to see whether or not their insight regarding the topic would be different from what Dr. Murray learned from her study.
    Overall, great article and a very important topic that everyone should be made aware of.

  5. I loved this article. The ways in which the patriarchy limits men are rarely talked about, let alone studied by a psychologist. I wish that more people could understand that Dr. Murray’s definition of feminism is a perfect explanation of what feminism should be. I would be interested to see the results of a future study with a wider sample to see if there are effects of race, sexuality, or age.

  6. It’s about time we talked about this topic! The stereotype and archetype of a ‘macho’ male has become so engraved in our society, that the problems it causes are swept under the carpet and never questioned!
    I feel it would be good to also find out more about men with an overly high sex drive too, just to study both sides of the scale.
    The questions were clear and pointed our methodological issues with sampling- which was helpful and I also loved the mention of feminism. I saw this as a very progressive interview and hope to see more like this!

  7. Love, love this interview.
    I often too felt that men are jaded and forced into societal roles themselves, just as badly as women are. They have to follow a certain narrative they’re taught to identify with from an early age: to be assertive, decisive, a strong individual with ambitions towards leadership, emotionless and full of sexual prowess. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s not difficult to conclude where these attitudes stem from, as they’re ingrained in the concept of what we’ve considered ‘male’ in each of the species. Unfortunately, we forget that as humans, with consciousness and instinct behavior driven to a minimum that this doesn’t have to be us. We are all individuals that are trying to conform to values we can never truly achieve, because it’s the only way society can makes sense of us in the most superficial of ways. No man or woman should have their lives or sexuality defined by standards that are so absent of what they would demand of themselves, and whenever we mention the female position in these topics, we should also argue that men have it just as badly.

  8. Reading this article, come to think of it, I never really thought of it that way – but it makes perfect sense: the media does not only affect women, feminism, and the queer community, it affects men as well. Society nowadays aim to reinforce in any way possible how masculinity should be observed and the stereotypes that come with it. And yes, I am guilty of believing that perhaps men have always been and always will be sexual beings – but this opened me to the idea that they’re not. They’re humans of their own complex histories and reasons for their sex drive. Every sexual relationship is different, and they are also affected by how they are pressured to always perform sexually, but women aren’t. The double standards are definitely present here.

    Men are also being held back by the patriarchal society is a very unusual sentence, but it does make sense. They are expected to perform, expected to do things that society considers masculine, they are not allowed to show their feminine or softer sides, and it’s really putting a dent into the mental health of some men. They are expected to be perfect machines of testosterone, when they’re completely complex human beings.

    Seeing the research gap and limited diversity, I definitely suggest that this study be expanded and replicated in order to gain more insight into how men’s sexuality is being stifled by the concept of “Masculinity”, and I think it will definitely help men everywhere having low-self esteem and feelings of inadequacy. Thanks for publishing this!

  9. I love how this interview was written. All the ideas were expressed in a calm matter and was not accusational; the clear goal of this article is to help bring awareness to this topic and shed light on how we can better accept everyone for who they are, including men, and not based off of stereotypes. I appreciate how Dr. Murray talked about the sample she used for her study as it offers transparency and credibility, even if the sample was narrow.

    My question to Dr. Murray: during your study mentioned in the article, did the people studied ever talk about how their partners reacted if they didn’t fit the male stereotype? What were their reactions?

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