This is the eleventh post in the 1/2 Marathon being orchestrated by the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association. I have a bunch of questions left from the A Males Perspective teleconference I spoke at last week. As such, I’ll be using this marathon to answer some of the questions I received. Please note, these are my perspective. I cannot vouch for all males and when I’m giving my perspective on women, I certainly cannot vouch for all women. Also, all references to gender traits are based on the average population, there are exceptions of course. Please do not be offended by these if you are not “neurotypical” for your gender. So, on to the question:
In one of your blog posts, you said that men like to be rewarded for being good providers, fathers, and just a man in general. And to most men, if they have done something good it should = Sex, Something bad = No sex! Can you tell me why men tend to think this way?
There are 3 reasons I can think of (there may be more) for men thinking sex is a reward:
- Society’s teachings
- How close sexuality is to our core self
So, let’s explore them.
Dopamine is the hormone in our brains that is responsible for “rewarding” us. We get dopamine bursts when we do something that “increases our chance of survival”. This is a very broad category. We get dopamine from winning contests, from being told we did something well, from taking risks (and succeeding), even from drinking water (important for survival). Dopamine plays a big role in relationships: initial attraction, the beginning of a relationship, first kiss, first sexual encounter. As well, we get bursts of dopamine right before orgasm. Dopamine has a very important role. It tells us when we’ve done something good. It is a reward, it makes us feel ecstatic, a natural high. This is why we feel good when we do well on tests in school, when we get a raise at work. This is our brains way of making sure we continue to strive for these goals. So, can you see where the problem comes up?
When we have sex, our brain is telling us we’ve done something good. That’s a big part of why we think that if we get sex from our wives, we feel everything is OK, our brain is rewarding us, even if that was not the intention of sex from your partners viewpoint.
Our society is hyper-sexualized. We are taught from a very young age that if we’re having exciting, varied, kinky, frequent sex then we’ve succeed in a very important aspect of life. So, when we have sex (no matter what kind), it is a set toward that realization of the goals we’ve been programmed with by movies, TV, radio, music, etc.. Alternatively, if we don’t have sex, we feel we are failing. Now, most of us know this goal is a sham, but it’s so ingrained that it’s hard to remove it completely from your subconscious.
Since our spouse is the only one we can be having this exciting, varied, kinky, frequent sex from, when we have sex this translates into our spouse helping us meet that goal. When we don’t have sex, our spouse is holding us back.
It’s not fair, for both parties, but the perception exists.
In addition to this, magazines, articles, blogs, etc will all tell you that if your not having sex, then your not putting enough effort into your marriage. You must be doing something wrong. You need to try harder! It’s not hard to see why men might think they are doing something wrong if they are turned down for sex based on these messages.
Sexuality At Our Core
I’ve discussed this a few times during this 1/2 Marathon. Men (typically) have their sexual self very close to what they feel is their core. When we are accepted sexually, we feel that we are accepted as an entire person. When we are rejected sexually, we feel that who we are is being rejected (regardless of reason).
The closest analogy I have found to date is that women tend to have the same relationship with conversation. Women (generally) need conversation to feel loved, cared for, connected. If everything else in the marriage is good, but there is no conversation (beyond purely functional discourse), then the woman often feels abused, neglected and unimportant. Regardless of all of her other needs being met, regardless of how the husband is as a father, regardless of how many orgasms she has during sex.
Likewise to most husbands, if there is no sex (beyond purely functional (procreation) sex), then the man will feel abused, neglected and unimportant. Regardless of all his other needs being met, regardless of the intellectual conversations they have, regardless of her kind words and praise.
So, if you tell your husband that’s he’s doing a good job, that you love him, that you appreciate him, but then turn him down for sex (regardless of reason) your actions (or inaction in this case) will speak louder than words. He will hear something akin to telling a wife “You know, I love you, but I really don’t feel the need to talk to you”. Most wives would be devastated by a statement like this, and yet, on average, husbands receive the equivalent more often than they actually have sex.
Add these all up, and that is why we think we’ve done well when we are having sex, and we’ve done something wrong when we aren’t. We’re fighting a 3-pronged war against these feelings. Some of them are nature, some are nurture but all effect us in some way.
Men: Is this how you feel when you are having or not having sex? If not, did it take you time to learn not to think sex is a reward?
Women: Have you witnessed this? Does this help to explain this behavior you’ve seen?