How Does a Man Feel When There Is No Physical Intimacy?
Women need to feel loved and have a sense of connection to have sex. Men need to have sex to feel loved and appreciated. Does that ring a bell? Is it always true? Or are these just stereotypes that have been perpetuated over time? And more importantly, what happens to a long-term relationship when there is no intimacy? In the next two blog posts, we will take a look at how both genders feel and act when the physical aspect of the relationship just disappears. I have to admit that as a woman, I have been exposed to a number of unhealthy stereotypes such as “men are dogs”, “they only care about sex”, “all men cheat, it’s just a matter of time”, “men only fake romance to get sex”, “men think about sex every 20 seconds”, “men who show emotions or ask for attention are needy”, “what’s wrong with men that don’t want sex?”, “there must be something wrong with a guy that doesn’t want sex all the time”, “wanting sex all the time must mean he has a sex addiction”. All these ideas have been introduced and drilled into my brain for the first 25 years of my life. When I started my career as a psychologist, I counseled men in different life stages. Yes, many of them were in unhappy relationships and part of that unhappiness had something to do with the lack of sex and physical intimacy. But that was not the entire picture. It was also about the constant rejection, invalidation, the inability to open up and not be considered weak and vulnerable. It often showed up in pent-up anger and aggression, tension, drinking, and just unplugging from home life. Those, of course, are socially acceptable norms of male unhappiness. And then, I became a wife and more importantly, the mother of three boys. Having the opportunity to see how the male mind develops, witnessing their emotional and physical needs as babies, toddlers, pre-pubescent young men gave me an entirely different perspective on the entire conversation. At the time I am writing this post, my kids’ ages range from 2 to 11 so sexuality has not become a major issue yet; although I can vouch that men are truly side-tracked by their penis from the times they are in diapers. Now, I finally understand that they do have a special relationship with that part of the body. However, more importantly, I know how much love, hugs, kissing, and emotional validation they need. And I am not saying they need them more than girls or women do. I am saying that they need them as much. And that is ok and normal development. It does not make them needy, weak, or dysfunctional. It makes them perfectly normal. But to expect that to change when they grow into adults is also erroneous. I love this essay from Jed Diamond at MenAlive.com:
“Many of us remember the early school dances we attended. If you wanted to hold a girl in your arms, you had to make the long walk across the room with everyone watching and ask the girl to dance. If she accepted, you were in heaven. If she refused you were in hell. The key here is that you must make yourself vulnerable to rejection to hold and be held by a girl. By the time we become adults, we’ve already been battered and bruised by the world of competition and rejection. We long for that safe harbor where we don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not in order to be chosen. We long for someone who sees us for who we are and wants us anyway, who can hold us and touch, not just our body, but our hearts and souls. But admitting these needs makes us feel like little boys, not big strong men. Better to be manly with our sexual desire and then once we’re inside her body, we can relax, be ourselves, and be infused with love. That’s the hidden desire we have when we have sex.”
It's the same conclusion I’ve arrived to, but only after 20 years of multiple experiences as a psychologist, wife, and mother. I still have times when the old stereotypes enter my consciousness and I always have to take a break, re-frame my thinking, and pause before I open my mouth so I don’t say something invalidating, rejecting, or offensive. I find this topic essential in all couples’ therapy sessions to ensure that deep down, behind the things we say, we don’t have archaic and erroneous beliefs that are feeding our thoughts and choices of words to our spouses. With all that said, physical touch and intimacy are still essential to men, but they have to be fully integrated with their emotional needs. I touched on this topic in my book, My Spouse Wants More Sex Than Me: The 2-Minute Solution For A Happier Marriage. Here is a short excerpt from it:
Just like women, men need love, warmth, closeness, validation, and acceptance. Men are also more physical (due to a higher level of testosterone), and they express these needs for emotional closeness by doing things side by side with their wives. It could be walking together, gardening together, eating together, or, their favorite, having sex together. When sex is not an option in a marriage, it throws them off not only physically but also emotionally. Although women assume that men are used to this kind of rejection, please use this as a reminder that rejection is never pleasant. When a man is rejected by the partner he loves for days, weeks, or years, it also takes a significant toll on his self-esteem and emotional well-being. When men feel a stronger interest in, and need for, sexual intimacy, they will speak up at first. When that turns out to be unproductive, it turns into nagging. Yet when his nagging leads to the wife’s blow-up, he is left with only two choices: shutting down or acting out. On a day-to- day basis, shutting down may look something like this: not paying attention to the surroundings (such as the wife or the kids), focusing only on work, working overtime, not participating in household chores, spending most of his free time on the computer or watching TV, and choosing to spend time with friends, even when his spouse needs help at home. Shutting down also happens because it is physically painful for a man to be attracted to or turned on by his wife but not be able to touch her. He has to shut down his senses to co-exist with her under the same roof without walking around frustrated and angry all the time (which may still happen). Acting out, conversely, may look like irritability, anger, and aggression with you or the kids, overeating, overdrinking, spending too much money, watching too much porn, paying attent ion to other women, and even having extramarital affairs. Most men go back and forth between the two styles, hoping that it will get the spouse’s attention and resolve something in the relationship. Unfortunately, if the couple doesn’t get to the bottom of the core problem, unsatisfied physical urges and lack of emotional intimacy, not much will be resolved. Another way to look at this, especially if you have boys, is to think back when they were babies, toddlers, and teenagers. At every stage and with every milestone, they needed attention, reassurance, and love. They needed and wanted to be hugged, kissed, and cuddled. Not any different from girls, as a matter of fact. Yet for some reason, we expect men (who are just a bigger version of our sons) to drop these needs and wants and to be happy in a long-term monogamous relationship without satisfying their basic needs. Does that sound fair?
It’s the misconception that women care only about love and security and not sex…and men only care about sex and not love and security when they truly both care about all of the above but in different doses and at different times triggered by different circumstances. Communication about physical needs in a relationship still seems to be a taboo topic. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t happen until one or both partners are highly frustrated or choose unhealthier ways to fill those needs. The willingness to listen to and accommodate each other is what makes a difference. And, trust me when I say, it’s better to do it earlier in the relationship to set the right foundation for when those stressful times hit. ABOUT: Dr. Ruxandra LeMay is a private practice psychologist in Litchfield Park, Arizona with experience in family therapy, ADHD, stress and anxiety management, and executive coaching. She is the author of My Spouse Wants More Sex Than Me: The 2-Minute Solution For a Happier Marriage. Click HERE to check out her free resources on effective communication, emotional unavailability, intimacy, and anxiety management or join her at www.ruxandralemay.comfor monthly blogs posts.