November 28, 2012

Mentoring Young Men Toward Healthy Sexuality

One of the more challenging aspects of becoming a man is navigating the mine field of male sexuality. Every adult man can remember the powerful sexual feelings, as well as the anxiety and confusion around sex they experienced as a teen. While this is a huge topic, a step toward addressing this challenge comes from a regular Man-Making Blog contributor, Tim Wernette. Tim is a Gender Equity Educational Specialist with the University of Arizona, and in this post he describes a helpful book on this important topic. Apparently, we can now add myths about men and sex to the list of barriers between a young man and a healthy male sexuality.

Our society is very schizophrenic about sexuality. On the surface it seems like we’re open about sex because it seems to be everywhere. You see allusions to sexuality in films, product advertising, in popular music, and even in the video games young guys are playing. Certainly internet access has made sexual images and information almost universally available for better and worse. And then there are the sordid tales of male sexual perpetrators so often in the news these days. With all that going on, there is often not enough good and credible information about sex and sexuality available from trusted sources. The result is a confusing prescription for healthy teen sexuality, and some powerful myths our young guys (and some men) will have to deal with on their way to manhood.

In his book, The New Male Sexuality, Bernie Zilbergeld explores some of the subtle myths about male sexuality which boys and men often encounter. These messages are clearly seen in pornography, but occur in other parts of the culture, too. If you’re not aware of them, these myths almost guarantee problems and pain in relationships if they are internalized by our young men. Here are just a few:

(For a full list go to the end of the post.)

Men Are Always Ready and Willing to Have Sex: The truth is males are not always ready to go, and can certainly have pre-conditions for having sex just as women do. In fact, the author, in his research, discovered 30% of men felt, at least sometimes, that sex was a burden. This “always willing” message discourages males from understanding, acknowledging and respecting their own terms for physical (or any kind of) intimacy. Feeling like you should always be ready to have sex can easily lead to embarrassment, sexual dysfunction, and other problems in relationships.

Sexuality = Performance = Competence: For many boys/men, sex becomes a proving ground for our sense of masculinity. A young man who has lots of partners is considered a “stud” or “player,” and often looked up to by other males. The irony is that the more pressure a male feels to perform, the more likely he is to have sexual problems. This message encourages males to consider sex as another platform on which to achieve success (and risk failure), and interferes with intimacy with one’s partner.

Size matters: This one is ancient in guy lore. As young men, we see all the (normally) different sized penises in locker rooms or even in pornography. Lacking a broad enough sample, questions about the size of your member and how that relates to performance, not to mention virility, easily come to mind. The truth is a short course on female anatomy and intimacy will quickly help a young man realize sexual pleasure, yours or hers, has very little to do with penis size or even shape, and is more about the chemistry between two people that count.

As adult male mentors and role models, we should consider these (and other) poor messages about sex and sexuality we have grown up with. If we take the time to explore the problems they have created for us, both our struggles and successes in overcoming them, we’ll have important wisdom to offer the young men in our lives. In sex and sexuality, as in all aspects of becoming a man, our young men need our support on their journey toward manhood.

Tim is so right, good men can be an enormous help to young guys in taking on this critical component of becoming a good man. Men can support young males by offering credible information when asked, sharing personal experiences as appropriate, and inviting young guys to talk about their thoughts, feelings, and confusion.

In this era of sexual abuse scandals, there is an increased need for solid and informed men who are willing to talk to young males about sex and sexuality. HOWEVER and almost sadly, to protect those men and boys today, we have to be sure those conversations take place in safe and appropriate settings.

To see a full listing of the myths about male sexuality, and a whole lot of other myth-busting and high quality data on the topic of sexuality in general, go to the Sexuality Education Resource Centre of Manitoba website.

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