My last post dealt with Sex: Use and Misuse. Today I want you to reflect on intimacy and sex and why sex is so important for many men. It’s because a lot of men are uncomfortable with intentional emotional intimacy and find sex to be a shortcut for them.
A funny thing happens to me when I look into the face or eyes of some men with tenderness or a positive regard. They immediately ask, “What?” in a defensive tone, as if my gaze were one of accusation. They seem to be ready for an argument, or at least to explain themselves regarding whatever they imagine I may be thinking. When I tell them I’m just looking at them they calm down, but remain suspicious and guarded.
Many men seem embarrassed by their hunger for emotional intimacy. Actually they are often hurt. They’ve been shamed by others for just being who they are, or for having shown kindness, deep feelings, or strong emotions that did not fit into the rigid stereotype of maleness required of them. And so, in adulthood they are reluctant to reveal their tender side, as if to do so would lower their shields and sword and open them up to a mortal wound.
A lot of people do not realize that when men get hurt emotionally the pain and wound run very deep. They often don’t get over it, but their memory of the affront lasts a lifetime. This emotional scarring often starts in childhood, especially when sensitive or intellectual kids are harassed by men and boys whose image of masculinity is seriously stunted. This childhood emotional scarring and the reopening of these wounds by experiences and people along the way keep some men in a permanent state of defensive readiness. As soon as someone seems to peer into their intimate self, they shut down.
Sex thus becomes a substitute for intimacy for many men. Being naked with another and communicating with each other’s private parts seems to be sufficient intimate contact for them. Sex is thus a preliminary ice-breaker so that they can get up the courage, if they feel safe, to reveal more of their emotional landscape. For these men, getting through the layers of defense to find true intimacy rooted in heart-to-heart communication is daunting. It’s as if they are saying, “Let me in sexually, and I might let you in emotionally.”
This chain of events is not satisfactory. It simply perpetuates habits of behavior that make true intimacy difficult. It is critical that mindful men and women help boys and men to find avenues for the expression of their tender feelings. And any attempt a man makes in this direction ought to be affirmed and never criticized as not being adequate. Many men, so hurt from their own self-doubt, will simply give up rather than receive yet another indication that they are not man enough. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.
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