I’m just a regular guy. I don’t have counseling credentials. I’m simply sharing my personal experience, as an American male, with a sincere hope that it adds to an important conversation about male sexuality.
Sexual misconduct, or the accusation, by powerful men in entertainment and politics makes daily headlines, including both upcoming presidential candidates. It’s created a sense of solidarity among women in the #MeToo movement—and to my mind it’s exposed a lack of solidarity among men.
My quest for solidarity begins with my experience of boyhood sexual abuse. What I suffered as a little boy took years, through therapy and self-discovery, to sort out, or even name as “sexual abuse.” I didn’t wear it like a scarlet letter. Rather, it was far more insidious and painful because I couldn’t acknowledge it—and so, without understanding why, it heavily impacted my romantic relationships, career choices, and self-esteem.
I’m empathetic and sorry for the pain and suffering of those women affected by men’s sexual misconduct. And so I can’t help but ask larger questions about male sexuality:
How do men grow up learning, and thinking about their sexuality?
Why are some men sensitive and honest, while others are cryptic and narcissistic?
And why is there widespread sexual abuse?
What is it about our cultural ideas of being a “man” that fosters sexual misconduct?
I decided to poke around in my own life experience for insight. This is a huge subject, and it won’t address the enormous complexity of male sexuality. But, perhaps, it’ll create a safe space to start a meaningful conversation.
No Good Information
Because I was born in Baby Boomer America, with only three television stations and no computers, my older brother, my gang of friends, and the male population were my Sex Ed instructors. All I learned about sex was from what people said about it, and males were the ones only talking. This usually came by way of comments like, “Man, did you see the rack on that one?” Mindless comments about the opposite sex were constant background music for men when they got together. It was a kind of informal initiation for guys to “size you up!” It was common to call a guy a “faggot” or a “pussy” if he was perceived as being weak.
As early as the sixth grade, it was a race around the bases to see how far a girl would let you go sexually. Most of us never made it past second base. If you went to third, that was racy. Intercourse for most of us was just too advanced to imagine!
At that time, there was no mention of sex on television, or in “polite society.” Even on shows like I love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, the married couples slept in separate twin beds! I Dream of Jeannie was controversial because we could see—gasp!—her navel. No one was outwardly gay; they were simply “a little light in the loafers.” Playboy, the Holy Bible of heterosexual male conduct, didn’t show pubic hair, just breasts, which may account for the singular social commentary about boobs in the 1960s. Most Playboy models had huge breasts, and therefore men found sport in identifying women with big “knockers.” And a kid did not see the act of intercourse, unless they stumbled in on their parents or an older sibling.
The 1960s ushered in the commercial formulation of women as “sex objects.” Pornography was some underground activity that happened in a creepy movie theater on 42nd Street in New York City in an “Adult Bookstore” or “XXX Theater.” It certainly wasn’t viewed by anyone our age.
My first introduction to the idea of sex came when I was about six years old. I was in my front yard when two older boys on Stingray bicycles rolled up and screamed, “Hey kid, you want to make your mom really happy?” I enthusiastically responded, “Yeah!” And they said: “Then go tell her to fuck!” I didn’t know why at the time, but I burst into tears, and ran into the house screaming for my mother, and frantically told her what the “bad boys” on the bikes told me… and I asked her to explain what the word “fuck” means.
My poor mother. She began: “When a man and a woman love one another very much, they “make love.” As I recall, I stopped her at about this point: “Okay Mom, that’s good, thank you!”
All the movies and musicals I saw supported Mom’s explanation. Boy meets girl, pursues girl by being funny and debonair, they kiss passionately, fall in love, marry and live happily ever after. That was the script, and everyone knew it by heart. That didn’t quite explain why I liked to “mess around” with both my little girl cousin and my boy cousin. All I knew was the fascination of exploration.
Thus, it was shocking, a few years later, when my big brother and his friends talked about “getting pussy,” and sharing their step-by-step guide to driving all women wild. Yes, there was a universal formula, according to my brother, not unlike how to fix a flat on a car: You start by kissing them (or “Frenching,” for the advanced), then gently touching their breasts, then tickling them down south, and for the pièce de résistance, climbing on top and going to town.
That was right about the time when two of my brother’s friends forced me give them oral sex in front of my brother, who did nothing to stop them. They were five years older than me. I had not entered puberty, and I really just wanted to hang out with the “big kids.”
In church, we were taught sex “out of wedlock” was a sin. As was sex with someone of the same sex, which was not just a sin, but “an abomination” (a thing that causes disgust or hatred) to God. In eighth-grade science, I was taught that homosexuality was a mental illness, and it was illegal in every state of the union.
According to historian Colin Talley, sodomy statutes in colonial America in the 17th century were largely unenforced. The reason, he argues, is that male-male eroticism didn’t threaten the social structure, or challenges the gendered division of labor or the patriarchal ownership of wealth. There were gay men on General Washington’s staff and among the leaders of the new republic, even though in Virginia sodomy was a death-penalty offense. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson tried, unsuccessfully, to “reduce” the maximum punishment to castration.
As of March 2019, sixteen states in America either have not yet formally repealed their laws against sexual activity among consenting adults, or have not revised them to accurately reflect their true scope. Thirteen states purport to ban all forms of sodomy, regardless of the participants’ genders.
In my childhood, someone who enjoyed sex with both men and women was not even considered. Bisexual men were frequently accused of not being honest, of hiding their true sexuality. That’s like suggesting a biracial person is really “black” and just posing as white!
So, as girls wouldn’t let you have sex before marriage—it was a “sin”—it was easier to appease one’s seedling sexual curiosity and desire to make a smaller, younger kid suck your dick. Or “play around” in secret with a same-sex friend.
Does that make them sexually gay or bisexual? Of course not! As it was explained to me, It was the recipient that was “queer”—that is, the “fuckee,” not the “fucker!” And there we find the source, the first tiny seed of emotional/psychological rationalization for sexual abuse: power! The “one on top is the one trying to feel, and “act like a man!”
A few years later, when I was about nine or ten, I was innocently telling a male member of my family how my friend Michael and I discovered how good it felt to rub our penis on the bathtub, after a hot bath, with soap. He then anally raped me. I didn’t understand what was happening. He was forceful and violent, and stronger than me. I told no one. I couldn’t tell anyone.
Male rape simply did not happen to boys in Texas. I blew it off as just a bad day. Forgotten. Wiped under the rug. My mother was a television star; my father was an ex-boxer who routinely told me stories about how his buddies “rolled queers” and robbed them. He went on to say, “I never did it, but they were great about sharing the money!” My grandfather owned an oil company and was a very conservative and religious man. There was no one to tell.
When I was about twelve, my father demanded to see my penis. He told me he wanted to make sure it was “big enough.” He told me that he had doctor friends who could prescribe testosterone to make my penis larger. He told me that what women say they want is “love,” but what they really want is a “big cock.”
I felt humiliated and embarrassed, and again with no one to tell how I felt. I thought this was standard father-and-son shit, like playing basketball in the driveway. He also drilled into me that I should either be a doctor or a lawyer, stay physically fit, and should “have sex with as many girls as you can.” He added a popular expression of the time: “What you don’t use, you lose!”
That was my father’s idea of success. The second seed, the broadcasted message: what it “looks like” to be a man: high-paying job, muscles, nice home, big dick, secretary with big boobs, fancy car, hot babe on your arm, or any amount of interchangeable variables, all equally illusionary. When framed on the level of appearance, they were designed to give men a false sense of elevated esteem.
What causes this? Is it Mother Nature? “Survival of the fittest” in our DNA? Is it the result of advertising and film companies telling us what a “man” looks like? Is it what women want?
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network):
- Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
- Each year, 80,600 jail and prison inmates are sexually assaulted or raped.
- Each year, 60, 000 children are sexually abused.
- Each year, 433, 648 Americans, 12 and older are sexually assaulted or raped.
- Each year, 18, 900 military personnel experienced unwanted sexual contact.
According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center:
- One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
- 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and 9% are male.
- In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them.
- 81% of women and 35% of men report significant short-term or long-term impacts such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
- 34% of people who sexually abuse a child are family members.
- 27.8% of men were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization.
- 96% of people who sexually abuse children are male.
Losing My Virginity
At fifteen, I met Melissa, my first serious girlfriend, in a youth counseling program. In my usual mercurial manner, I walked up to her and announced, “You are going to be my girlfriend!” We dated for nine months and after hours of discussion about whether we should or shouldn’t, we had sexual intercourse on Valentine’s night. I had no idea what I was doing. No one explained the female anatomy to me. I had no idea what a clitoris was, much less how important it was for her enjoyment. She didn’t mention it. All I knew is that somehow I was to manage putting my penis inside her, and we were then going to “fuck” ourselves into bliss.
It felt strange, and I was left with an uncomfortable feeling about sexual intercourse. In fact, it freaked me out. I had imagined that it would make me feel instantly like a “man” and I would hear a heavenly choir of angels singing. I would be able to scale buildings with a single leap, and this would catapult me into some kind of instant James Bond-like status.
Instead, I felt really conflicted: Oh, there are feelings involved in sex…
Nobody mentioned that part. When I messed around with guys, I felt “in control” and safe. With women, I was less sure about what to do, or feel. I was attracted to girls, but I enjoyed messing around sexually with guys and that felt confusing because the gay community said I was really “gay” and not admitting it, and the “straight” community said I was really straight, and just temporarily confused—I was going through a phase!
The word bisexual was coined in the United States in 1892, but I didn’t know a single person that mentioned the word or referred to themselves as bisexuals. Therefore, I lived in an emotional state of great uncertainty. By the time I was a senior in high school in 1977, there was more awareness of homosexuals. I was in drama and found myself having “gay” friends. But not one person in my high school was openly gay.
As strange as I felt, the gay theater community felt safe for me. The people were fun, disinterested in convention, and I got the sense that, around them, I could be anyone I wanted to be—which was not the case in my usual bourgeois social circumstances. As free as I felt around the gay community, I also felt increasingly confused about where I “fit” in the American experience as a young man.
My senior year was difficult. That my mother was the first woman in television for ABC’s Houston affiliate, and my father was insisting that I aspire to being a doctor, as he fantasized about being … all that added a certain anxiety about who I would be. My father said that he didn’t approve of me studying theater because of the homosexuals. He said, “I would rather kill you and know you are dead than have a gay son… your grandfather thinks it’s disgusting too.” My brother began to slip into drug addiction to numb his pain. I always wondered if it was precipitated by abuse he might have suffered, and at some point I questioned if I might ever feel “normal.”
With the sexual revolution in full swing, no known AIDS virus, and a school of 40,000 young people, it was fairly easy to find interested partners. I was dancing in the Austin Ballet Theater, working out seven days a week, and spending my free time with other young libertines interested in exploring sex.
This all came to a stop when I met Rita, a beautiful girl who was the first person that I could make love to and feel absolutely safe—emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
As I walked to class the University Tower had these words etched high above my walks to class: Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. That’s when I made some kind of subconscious decision to state my truth, to live my truth, alone or with others, right or wrong. I would have the courage to feel my feelings and to share them. This enabled me to begin to have a meaningful relationship and contributed to the reality that sex could be a beautiful experience.
With that said, I think I exhausted Rita with my emotional immaturity and need to be an energetic clown, to be a “human doing,” instead of a “human being.” She used to ask me, “Can’t you just fall off a rock?” In other words, can’t you just be quiet, and be comfortable in your own skin? Can’t you just be present, follow your breath, be in the moment?
No, I couldn’t.
When Rita returned from her senior-year Christmas break, we began to have problems. She graduated and left the city. That ended our three-year relationship, and started another round of dating and exploring as America came under siege by a new virus called HIV. I watched about twenty young men I knew die over the next two years. It created a kind of PTSD syndrome in me regarding sex, and I lived in daily fear that I was going to contract it, or had it and didn’t know. Out of complete paranoia I had six HIV tests over a two-year period, practiced abstinence, and, through the grace of God, tested negative.
In 1989, I fell in love with my first wife. I learned a great many lessons from my marriage, which lasted seven years. Sadly, for both of us, I had to learn every lesson the hardest way possible. I am a quick learner on the cognitive level, but when it comes to emotional lessons, I am a slow learner. This is when I began to realize that the big “reveal” about why you selected a person, and what you learned or needed, came in retrospect.
In my first marriage, I learned two hugely important things. First, good sex is not love, it’s good sex! Nothing wrong with that, but that doesn’t mean you have to live a life of hell together because you marry for the wrong reasons. Second, you sure as hell better like and respect who you marry, because all the magical sex can change, or even go away entirely. Sex is a flimsy foundation for a shared life.
My first wife and I were both injured children emotionally—for very good reasons—and neither of us had resolved our childhood pain, so we each tried to change the other, to get what we needed from someone constitutionally incapable of giving that to the other. We became embroiled in a battle of wills. All vulnerability and emotional honesty left us, and anxiety and resentment replaced love and understanding. Not a good formula for “making love.” The inevitable happened: she began to see someone else.
My divorce left me emotionally devastated, and at 37, I had to rebuild my life. I couldn’t make that mistake again. So I had to figure out what part of the failure was mine to own. Why did I pick that person? What lessons did I need to learn?
As is often the case, when you most need a teacher, they appear. I saw a man that specialized in “men’s issues,” especially male anger. At one point I was unsure why I was seeing him, because I didn’t feel particularly angry. In fact, I was known for my being socially upbeat and funny.
With my new therapist, I felt so safe, seen, and comfortable in his presence. When it was just the two of us, that is. But he wanted me to attend his “men’s group.” My gut reaction was an overwhelming “Fuck that!” But I soon found myself sitting among a group of eleven men in a circle on a Tuesday evening.
The therapist invited us to “check in.” This meant offering about two minutes of how I was feeling, and if I got emotional, I was invited to enter the circle, take a plastic baseball bat, and beat the shit out of a pillow. The idea was to do “the work,” to allow my stuck feelings to flow freely and safely.
My first reaction was that this was sophomoric crap. How would I ever get anything out of this group of ball-scratching, sports-talking simpletons? My shit was complex!
Then, I was invited to “check in” with the bat. I politely said, “No thank you, I’m good!” Again, I was invited. I grabbed the bat. And the next thing I knew, I was banging the pillow screaming, “Fuck you, Dad!” A kind of primordial anger spewed out of my subconscious.
My life began to improve exponentially. The universe gave me the biggest gifts as I sifted through the painful events of my childhood and young adult life. I felt safe to share the truth about who I really was in the company of these men, and they had no problem kicking my ass on certain ill-founded behaviors. My job as a marketing director allowed me to be creative in the midst of interesting people. For the first time, a job felt like a great fit for my talents. I rekindled a relationship with an old girlfriend, and soon our passion and love for one another was on fire.
It was all new to me: I was deeply, sexually connected to my girlfriend: safe, with an extraordinary spectrum of feelings, from deeply connected to God, to sexy and fun. I felt seen, successful, and normal. (Interestingly, over the three years I attended the men’s group, not one member shared intimate details of their sexuality or spirituality. That included the angry gay Lebanese-Mexican Catholic priest!)
The Big Bang
At work, I was producing a women’s festival that included an album compilation with nineteen artists and a live concert. In tandem, I was shooting a documentary film on domestic violence. The marketing director of Center for Domestic Violence, now called Safeplace, suggested that I take the volunteer “training” before shooting the film. The center was merging with the Rape Crisis Center, and she felt that the training would help me to better understand the subject.
When I arrived for the training session, a droning speaker was presenting on the subject of sexual abuse among children. I was in a sour mood, as I didn’t think this subject was going to further my understanding of domestic violence. I’d had a long, intense day, and I wanted to go home and have a glass of wine. My discontent grew as the monotoned woman adjusted her ancient overhead projector to display three words unevenly pinned: fear, insecurity, and low self-esteem. She said, “We have found among children that have been sexually abused that they suffer consistently from fear, insecurity, and low self-esteem.”
Those three words slapped me with such force; it was as if she was a Buddhist monk hitting me with a keisaku—a flat wooden stick—to awaken me to my enlightenment. If I had to find any three words in the English language to define how I felt about myself, underlying all of my social vibrato and positive performance, it would be fear, insecurity, and low self-esteem.
Holy shit, I was sexually abused as a child!
As unimaginable as it sounds now, for my own emotional perseverance I hadn’t really acknowledged nor defined those events in my life as sexual abuse. Something about that acknowledgement helped release some of my emotional anxiety. It gave me a context to begin healing.
With my work in therapy, and the incredible love and support of my girlfriend, I began, slowly, to cultivate a new sense of self. After four years of living together, we married in 2000. I started my own company, bought my first house, had a loving network of friends, got a dog, and was blessed with the ability to travel and live very well. Over the last ten years, I have written six novels. My marriage has lasted for twenty two years (and counting). We’ve had our share of difficulties: not only the normal wear and tear of long-term relationships, but many ancient behaviors to work through, and a number of unexpected family events.
Today, more than ever, I feel an even deeper commitment and responsibility to grow and to continue my path of healing. Healing from sexual abuse is a lifetime event. It’s not something you can muscle through, or simply “put behind you.” The best way I have found to truly heal is to share my feelings and my truth. When we are honest and vulnerable, on the other side of fear and discomfort, we find true connection, intimacy, and love.
One of the things I have noticed in my own sexuality is that we change. Especially in long-term relationships, change is a certainty. And that’s all the more reason to share with our partners honestly.
What I’ve learned about male sexuality
• If someone shuts you down emotionally, intellectually, or physically, that is abuse. If they disregard your feelings or speak to you in a way that makes you feel bad, think themselves superior and try to make you feel smaller, or offer unwanted physical touches or sexual comments—that’s abuse, too. Read that several times.
• Human sexuality is as powerful and complex as spirituality, and should be treated with the same respect.
• People can use sex for reasons that have nothing to do with love, caring, or concern.
• Consider how many abuses you’ve suffered at the hands of people who say “I love you.” It’s safe to conclude that just because someone says “I love you,” it doesn’t mean that person is healthy emotionally, psychologically, or sees what you need.
• People bring who they are and what they are feeling to sex: fear, insecurities, anger, power struggle, imagination, love, joy, playfulness, kinky, laughter, gentleness, kindness, and spiritual energy (yes, sex can be extraordinarily spiritual with the right partner). It’s important to be mindful of where you are and what you need, as well as what your partner needs: not just physically to climax, but emotionally to feel safe, seen, and loved. Why? Because that’s when sex is beautiful, and meaningful. I’m not talking about what you are doing, the literal act, I’m talking about the energy and intent behind the act. Big difference.
• Power and success may get you more sex, but it’s not necessarily good sex. If you truly believe that success in the boardroom equals satisfaction in the bedroom, you’re missing an enormous part of the human experience. If your self-esteem is tied to external values, you are setting yourself up for missing out on important growth in other areas of your life: friendships, relationships, creative arts, reading, learning, and growing. I think ambition, drive, financial success is great, as long as those qualities don’t come before other human beings.
• Some people hide in religion, professional roles, or archetypes like “Mom,” “Business Man,” or “Lawyer/Doctor” to avoid having to feel, experience, learn, and grow on a personal level.
• The happiest times in my life have been those in which I worked on myself, listened deeply, wrote in a journal, and let my life decisions come from my “heart space.” That’s when I’ve had the most beautiful sexual experiences. When I am in a “fear space,” I bring that into the bedroom, and I can shut myself down and get into the “See, I’m not enough” voice that my father gifted me so many years ago.
• Some folks like to make their partners the problem instead of taking responsibility for their own shit.
• Some men define their sexual appetite through cat-and-mouse games. The more sexual partners, the better. As long as they are pursuing and “acquiring” they feel vital and manly, and their self-esteem is propped up for the world. But, what is really going on with them, deep inside, when they aren’t pursuing or acquiring?
• Porn is all about the guy, at least the porn I’ve watched. Every fantasy seems to be for his pleasure. Think about it. Do you think women really want to be “cum dumpsters,” “double anal” recipients, and “fist-fucked” for their ultimate enjoyment? I highly doubt it. And if they do, fine, but only if men have stepped up to their responsibility to figure out the emotional needs of their partner before they stampede into the bedroom to try to replicate what they watched the other day on the internet. In other words, when a partner says “No,” they fucking mean “No!”
The New American Male
Sex is as ever changing and profound as human spirituality. It is powerful and magnificent, and deserves respect. Before we take a lover, we should get to know them, make sure that we are contributing to their joy, lifting their self-esteem, that we are on the same level of ability to process emotion, bringing them happiness, and they are doing the same for us. This takes time to talk, share, and get to know one another.
I believe that God is the highest part of ourselves, that which enables us to feel and share compassion and love. Therefore, when we find that love, wherever we find it, it is a gift from God and should be respected. That applies whether you’re heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, pansexual, transgender, or however you identify yourself. Any two—or more—people who find it are, as I define it, in healthy relationship.
I have known an exhausting number of “heterosexual” “Christian,” and “successful” men friends who have lied, cheated, and manipulated others to have sex. I think all that duplicitous effort was about feeling “powerful,” “worthy,” and “loved” as they defined it from a broken state.
I sure see a lot of men trying to “appear” like the men they “think” they are supposed to be. I think it’s time for a New American Male, one made strong by his humility and thirst for knowledge, not by his bravado and false claims of grandeur. The New American Male takes responsibility for how he feels, and takes into consideration the feelings of others.
A New American Male realizes that money is a man-made concept and therefore can’t be a true source of happiness. He realizes power is to be used with the utmost discipline and caution, and for good. He enters sexual communion fully present—emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
A New American Male willingly sheds his youthful vanity, insecurity, and narcissism, in exchange for kindness, compassion, love, dignity, hard work, and devotion to the benefit of his family, friends, and other brothers on the planet.
A New American Male doesn’t need to be the “greatest.” He needs only to be very good, very consistently.