A scoff. A prolonged, intense, and bemused scoff. Followed by an aggressive bite of a granola bar.
This was my first reaction when reading “Why Is It So Hard for Men to Write About Sex?” — a piece from Slate’s Amanda Hess that gave some sociological (and, potentially, biological) reasons for why it’s more difficult for us (men) to write about love-making.
I mean, had she not been to VSB? (Probably not, but play along.) Had she not read the dozens of pieces I’ve written about sex, sex acts, when to have sex, when to have certain sex acts, who to have sex with, who not to have sex with, who to perform certain sex acts on, what you’re supposed to do when an eager cat is watching, etc? Did she not know that the longest chapter in Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night — a book about dating, relationships, and SEX — was titled “19 Things About Sex I Definitely Didn’t Learn In Sex-Ed” and contained 28 pages of sex-related topics written by me, a man?
Basically, what the hell was she talking about?
But then I finished my granola bar. And another. (I like granola bars.) While in the middle of that second bar, I started to think about the sex-related pieces I’ve written. By the time I was finished, a realization hit me: She was right. Well, she was right when it comes to me. And, since she’s right when it comes to me, she’s right when it comes to (straight) men.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve written about sex quite a few times. And the sex-related topics have varied. But, despite this variety, they all seem to fall under one of three categories:
1. “Explain” pieces. Usually tongue-in-cheek, these bring up a sex-related topic, and “explain” why you need to do it, why it’s not important, why you need to do it differently, etc. Example: “The Dos and Don’ts of Making a Sex Tape”
2. “Mandom” pieces. These tend to adopt a collective male voice while giving insight into a “difference” between men and women. Something with a title like “Why Men Love Sex On The First Night.”
3. Anecdotal pieces. These are usually humorous stories about a sex-related incident in my past. Example: “My First Time.”
While these types of pieces serve their functions, all stay on the peripherals of sex, using humor, observation, and an occasional bit of sophomoric overshare to talk about sex without actually talking about sex. VSB has been up for almost six years now. In that six years, I’ve had sex at least 1,000 times. (2,000 if you count sex with myself.) Yet, I’ve never written about my sex life. Nothing about the myriad feelings — physical, mental, and emotional — associated with sleeping with someone. Nothing about the difference in preparation and performance between sleeping with a one night stand and sleeping with a f-buddy. Nothing about the awkwardness of being with someone new, or the extra awkwardness of sleeping with someone familiar but thinking of someone new. Nothing about any sexual fantasies. Nothing about my own sexual prowess (or lack thereof).
Of course, there’s one very obvious reason for this lack of openness. Every woman I’ve been with in that time is aware of VSB. Some of these women also have friends and family who read, and it just wouldn’t have been the best idea to provide sexual details about those relationships.
But, while this reason is practical, it’s a bit of a cop-out. I’ve written about other intimate relationship-related topics before. Some of these topics were very sensitive in nature, but that didn’t stop me from finding a way to express myself without being too explicit. Also, even if the women I’ve been with didn’t read VSB, I still wouldn’t feel very comfortable sharing anything sexual.
Why? Well, it’s complicated. Part of it is stylistic. My work tends to be more observational/distant, and that type of writing doesn’t lend itself to detailed conversations about the bedroom.
Also, it just doesn’t feel…right. Writing about sex makes me feel like I’m either humble-bragging or pandering. There’s no inbetween. Even earlier, when I mentioned how many times I’ve had sex in the past few years, I was tempted to delete it. Despite the fact that it’s an innocuous stat and a (relatively) unremarkable number, it felt tactless to include it.
This feeling of tactlessness is present whenever I see other men writing about sex. Sharing those type of details seems, for lack of a better term, feminine. And yes, I realize the irony in thinking that a straight man sharing details about sex with women is feminine, but I can’t deny that the feeling is there. Considering how rare it is to see straight men talk openly and explicitly about our own sex lives, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. We’ve been socialized to think that sharing those types of intimate details about what happens in our bedrooms is something women do, not men. Sure, there are the storied “locker room” conversations, but those are more about reporting conquests than sharing details about them.
Also — and this goes back to the humble-bragging point — because of the language commonly used to describe sex, it’s difficult to really talk about it without using certain verbs and adjectives that suggest that you are, in fact, bragging. The way words like f*ck, bang, screw, pop, hit, beat, and bone are usually incorporated drive home the conquer/conquest concept. And, if you prefer to use less aggressive language that suggests you were receiving more than giving, it feels soft. Unmasculine. So instead of striving to find the perfect language to hit that sweet spot between “too aggressive” and “too weak”, we just don’t talk about it. (And, if we want to, we use a fifteen-year-old rap song as a proxy.) The best writing is inherently, sometimes painfully vulnerable. And we (men) can be vulnerable about family or fear or even love. But, when it comes to (straight) male sexuality, there really isn’t much room for it.
This brings me to my last point. Perhaps we don’t talk about it because no one really wants to hear it. Maybe there’s just no real audience for a straight male version of someone like Feminista Jones. Which sucks for me. Because I did want to start talking about my sex life more often.
Actually, nevermind. Even if there was an audience for it, there’s one person — a person I’m marrying this summer — who I know wouldn’t be happy with me sharing. So I won’t.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)