This is the third part in my ‘Women need respect, men need love’ series (part 2 here), where I try to look at the male side of the whole ‘women need love, men need respect’ mess, which will alo be the longest of the three. (After all, the only perspective I can write from is from that of a straight married man.) And I must say that I’m appalled by how men are described in this kind of discourse, as if we are oversexed animals driven only by a few primitive needs, with no selfcontrol and not really a need for love even.See also for example my post On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism? from 5 years ago already. Porn and a certain kind of sexist fundamentalism are creepily close actually, and the same dehumanising ideology under porn and hook-up ideology is also present in this kind of funamentalism. The only main difference I can make out is that one side gives in to the animalistic sexuality they see as default, while the other more or less tries to tame it in marriages. But apart from that they’re rather the same, n
matter how much pretence of being ‘biblical’.
It would be an understatement I felt quite insulted as a man and as a Christian when I read Sheila Gregoires overview of the ‘love and respect’ view of what men want sexually and how they should be ‘respected’ I still feel the same way every time I reread it. Let’s add a shortened version here to refresh:
She honors her husband’s authority in the marriage, allowing him to make the decisions. She does not speak up when she disagrees with him, even if he is being selfish and seriously burdening her.(…)This is true even in cases where he is a workaholic; drinking too much; or having an affair. (…) No matter what, in all of these cases, she regularly gives him sexual release, without any regard for her own feelings, understanding that this is a need that he has, and that he cannot show her love without it. (source)
There’s a lot of toxic things in here, but at this moment there ‘s 3 very dangerous things jumping out for me:(1) erasing communication in a relationship will never do any good, and can only make it worse for both partners (2) the idea that a man feels respected when he’s tread as a despotic narcissist is just beyond alien to me. How you can have an intimate relationship without communication?
But the ultimate creepiness, and the ultimate degradation of the male side in the equation is like I already said (3); the idea that mere ‘sex as release’ is the driving need for men.
And then to say that those views are based on a verse from Paul that says that men need to love their wives as themselves is too much cognitive dissonance for me to handle. Note that Paul uses the verse to correct an asymmetry in gender patterns in his world, not at all to express pop-psychological needs, let alone express an absolute need for men and a desire for women that’s less important as the ‘love and respect’ doctrine seems to teach. I would assume it would be the other way around anyway: Love your wife as yourself is the most important command here, and there’s no way explaining it away if you really strive to be ‘biblical’. But alas; I have given up believing that US fundamentalists care one inch about being biblical though, so I’m not surprised anymore by this butchering of scripture, although it saddens me a lot to see how this kind of thinking can vaccinate couples against deep intimacy. Which is a very hideous thing!
Yes, no one can deny that in a way men need respect (as all people do), but I’ve already there is no actual respect in being treated as an entitled narcissist. Gender is irrelevant even, all people need basic respect, and all relationships need mutuality in that, especially if we’re speaking about an intimate relationship. Let’s also remark again that there is absolutely no respect in not being communicated to.
Now let’s take this overview of what the ‘love and respect’ doctrine teaches about men and their ‘need for sex’:
Men need physical release. They experience this as respect. If you don’t give it to them, they will be tempted to have affairs or to ogle other women.
Sheila Gregoire summarising ‘love and respect’
This kind of thinking might come from a man who wants to excuse his own weaknesses, but still is extremely denigrating and dehumanising to men. Why does the worst misandry always come from men who claim to defend their own gender? Yes, men desire sexual release among other things, but we are humans, not animal slaves to our bodies, and we certainly will survive without ‘getting release’. Men can and should have selfcontrol. That’s what the bible tells us too. That’s what I was told as a teenager as one of the reasons why having no premarital sex is a good idea: it’s a training in selfcontrol, and even within marriage there will be times that there is no sex. And a man is able to survive that, and love his wife. And still have other forms of intimacy with her.
It’s also nonsense to say that mere ‘physical release’ is the reason of most affairs. Most men are looking for something that’s missing in their relationship. Often even love and being understood and stuff like that.
The ‘men just need sex’ trope, combined with the myth of the absence of male selfcontrol is not just insulting, but it’s also very destructive for men as well as for their relationships when they start to believe that crap, making them aim for much less than they could and should be. Which isn’t only bad for them, but also for their lovers to, who deserve much better.
But we probably shouldn’t be surprised that some people think this way: it’s the underpinnings of the modern Western porn industry, basic individualistic consumerism, and our human psychology often works with self-fulfilling prophecies: strong beliefs of not being able to do something will very often manifest themselves and be affirmed. It’s bad enough that certain corners of the non-Christian world sell us this nonsense to get people hooked in their web of consumerist screwed-upness, but I expect more from Christians than a complete disbelief in male selfcontrol, and a higher view of what men expect from sex and relationships too.
Both men and women deserve better.
But yes, the male body desires sexual release. (Just as women have a sex drive too by the way) And yet that doesn’t mean that every sexual release as such will actually satisfy or fulfil us in any way. Or that a man always needs to get everything a body asks for. We’re not simple bodily animals. My body also wants sleep at moments that I can’t get it, and more food than is good for me. Not listening to your bodies needs is what makes us human. And just treating sex as mere release is just masturbation, and adding a human partner will not make much difference for that in a way. Except that we use another human being, that we are commanded to love as ourselves according to the bible verse behind the ‘love and respect’ logic to get that physical release.
It makes me feel sad and lonely that this is what people think of sex, even within marriage. Or of sex at all. If that would be all there was to it I would choose a life of celibacy, and pray to God to make me asexual. Or become one of those people who think sex is indeed by definition dirty, and always a sin and a weakness.
I’d even say that the mere idea that anyone would feel respected by getting sex-as-mere-release from a partner that doesn’t even want it without any actual emotional connection is beyond creepy. It’s a recipe for marital rape even, which I suppose to be punishable by law in any civilised modern country. Any man who’s content with that has no clue what intimacy is.
If that is really what a Christian book about marriage teaches, something is beyond wrong, antichrist even.
But it’s also no wonder that a man who has such a low view of sex, which is affirmed by his experience, might have no qualms with exchanging the source of the ‘relief’ with another one, be it porn, or maybe an affair in which more than this approach to sex is explored or the humanity that the marriage is vaccinated to by this destructive doctrine is sought back.
Because yes, as is very evident, men still need love. We’re as human as women and children are, and don’t differ much from them. Only the worst psychopath who tragically doesn’t have all of his humanity together might not. And while our body might desire sexual release, that is only a small part of the story, and probably one of our desires that is easiest put aside, or transformed into something else.
As Shane Claiborne says:
If we are able to have a healthier understanding of sexuality and to celebrate singleness as well as marriage and family, then we can transcend some of this. One of my mentors is a celibate monk, and he says we can live without sex but we can’t live without love. And there are a lot of people who have a lot of sex and never experience love, and people who never have sex [but] have deep experiences of intimacy and love. (the irresistible revolution)
Everybody needs love.
It’s much more basic than needing sex. And more destructive if we don’t get it.
The big problem is this whole ‘all we need is sex’ stuff. It can never satisfy. It empties sex of meaning and make sex itself more unsatisfying, which is quite ironic when you have put all your hope for fulfilment in sex.
You won’t get any fulfilment, but you will be told that’s all there is.
And this mess is supposed to be male chauvinism… It’s a good recipe for men making themselves worse than they could be, more sinful, and having terrible loveless sex-lives.
If that isn’t beyond sad?
what do you think?