You often hear about how standards of femininity hurt women’s sex lives by discouraging them from expressing their sexuality or asserting their needs in the bedroom. But toxic standards of masculinity hurt men’s sex lives — and everyone’s — just as much. When people are held to gendered expectations in the bedroom, everyone misses out on being their authentic selves and connecting with their partners’ authentic selves.
“Those of us who behave outside of our culture’s gender norms are at risk of all kinds of damaging (and often dangerous) consequences, and these risks are heightened in the vulnerability of a sexually intimate situation,” sex educator Anne Hodder tells Bustle.
“Toxic masculine stereotypes dramatically limit the ways people of all genders can safely express their sexuality — especially POC, sex workers, transgender people, and gender non-conforming folx — and the fear of being judged, rejected, assaulted, or a victim of intimate partner violence as a result certainly does not help set the mood for a safe, mutually satisfying sexual experience.
Toxic standards of masculinity rob masc-identifying people of the right to safely express themselves as they see fit and can create pressure to play a role, rather than simply exist as themselves. It’s also important for partners of masc-identifying people to be conscious of ways they might be perpetuating these toxic standards in their own sex lives.”
Here are just a few ways toxic masculinity hurts everyone’s sex lives.
1. It Makes Men Insecure About Their Penises
One major tenet of toxic masculinity is that sex revolves around a penis and men’s sexual value lies in what their penises can do. This myth is behind profitable industries geared toward increasing penis size and making erections last longer, often on the grounds that these two things are instrumental for female pleasure. But the fact is, they’re actually fairly irrelevant. Most women don’t orgasm through penile thrusting. Toxic masculinity’s overvaluing of the penis both makes men unnecessarily insecure and perpetuates the prioritization of acts that don’t give women much pleasure.
2. It Makes Women’s Pleasure About Men
Along with the idea that the penis is the center of sex comes the notion that if a man doesn’t please a woman, he’s not a real man. One study in the Journal of Sex Research found that in a hypothetical scenario where a woman didn’t orgasm during intercourse, both men’s and women’s greatest concerns were the man’s ego. This puts a lot of pressure on men to automatically know what pleases their partners, and it also puts a lot of pressure on women to behave as if they’re enjoying themselves for the sake of their partners, rather than pursue acts that actually please them. Another study in the Journal of Sex Research found that the number one reason women faked orgasms was to please their partners. While it’s great to care about your partner’s pleasure, a problem arises when someone makes their partner’s pleasure about themselves.
3. It Encourages Disconnected Sex
Another aspect of toxic masculinity is the stereotype that men want sex while women want love. In reality, most of us want both. One University of North Carolina study found that even more men than women — 71 percent vs. 67 — wanted relationships in college. But because wanting a relationship or even just an emotional connection during sex is considered “feminine,” men are often hesitant to seek the closeness they crave with their partners. Porn even depicts scenarios where men dominate women as sexy, encouraging sex that is not only disconnected but also unequal. This is a shame for everyone because whether it’s hookup sex or relationship sex, we all deserve partners who care about us and communicate with us.
4. It Encourages Misogyny
Masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity. Men are taught that their manhood comes from their ability to dominate women and that it’s wrong for them to act “like women.” This often means that sex where women are degraded is glorified. That’s not fulfilling for either party. It deprives men of the chance to truly connect with their partners and deprives women of the chance to be treated as equals.
5. It Encourages Homophobia
Since men are dissuaded from doing anything that could be interpreted as feminine, they’re dissuaded from pursuing sex or relationships with anyone other than cis women. They’re also dissuaded from pursuing anything that could potentially be interpreted as “feminine” or “gay,” like being submissive during sex or engaging in anal play. And, perhaps most harmfully, they’re taught to fear those whose sexuality doesn’t fit within society’s narrow standards.
6. It Trivializes Sexual Assault Against Men
While women and gender-nonconforming people are more likely to report being victims of sexual assault, sexual assault against men is also extremely common, with 8.6 percent of male college seniors reporting unwanted touching while in college. But standards of masculinity that say men always want sex and can physically overpower anyone make it seem as if sexual assault against men is impossible. It’s not. Sexual assault is any kind of sexual contact with someone without their explicit consent. The gender of the victim is irrelevant. Men who are brave enough to speak out about being victims of sexual assault deserve applause and compassion.
7. It Encourages Rape Culture
The “ideal” man in our society is aggressive and doesn’t take “no” for an answer. In many cases, this ideal encourages behavior that borders on sexual assault, if not sexual assault itself. Movies glorify men who force kisses on women, keep asking them out after they say they’re not interested, and use their charms to manipulate them into sex. The result is that sexual assault isn’t only poorly understood; it’s actively encouraged.
What’s the solution, then? To stop romanticizing and sexualizing pairs of opposites in which men act “masculine” and women act “feminine” and allow everyone the freedom to act however they are, regardless of how much it conforms to any gender role.