As a sex and relationship therapist, there are a ton of ideas that I come across that I feel very grounded in and confident expressing when they come up in conversation. For instance, when people shame other people’s kinks or sexual preferences, I charge into action and find myself truly living the definition of advocacy. It is hard to pinpoint which topic sits at the top of the list, but lately, I have been having a hard time not speaking up when I hear men and women (cis or trans) make sweeping generalizations about one another’s sexuality and gender. We need to start doing better as a society breaking free from gender stereotypes about sex and start working towards being on each other’s side. Let me break down what I mean by that.
For as long as I can remember, the genders of “man” and “woman” have been at war with one another when it comes to sexuality, gender expression, and gender roles. There is policing, sabotage, and rarely any room for agreement unless it is to gang up on another group that may be “too” outside of the box. I will hear women saying, “I am sick of men because all they think about is sex.” I will hear men say, “Women don’t know what they want, and I have to make all the decisions.” Both of these statements fall into specific assumptions we have been taught to believe about these two genders. This leads to arguments, more assumptions, reinforcement from friends, resentments, and before you know it, the relationship has ended, or the individual has become so cynical that it is going to take some therapy for them to recover. People think that the way to build up one gender is by tearing down the other one, but that does not have to be the case.
Instead, we need to start a dialogue with our partners and begin to fight the gender norms that have been unfairly thrust upon all of us. Let’s look at some of the consequences of these norms:
- Men have been taught that they must uphold stereotypical, toxic masculine messaging around “what it means to be a man” and performing almost robotically in the bedroom as a sex-machine. This has led to men be controlled by their anxiety and shame and inhibits the ability to express their sexuality in any meaningful way.
- Women have received messaging to be docile and take a second-hand role in the bedroom with physical intimacy; waiting for the man to start the process and because of this, fall short with pleasure. This has stopped them from engaging in their true authentic sexual self.
- Sex negative messaging, mixed with toxic gender norms, has caused both men and women to focus more on successful “intercourse” encounters instead of truly enjoying intimacy with one another.
We all deserve to have physical intimacy play a fun and pleasurable part in our lives. It is normal to have different sexual preferences and feelings than your partner(s). How we start the process of healing this great divide is by talking about values and creating a shared meaning about intimacy with each other. A staple to successfully doing this by being open and allowing each person the ability to initiate intimacy and refuse sex, knowing that the latter does not mean rejection. Allow your partner to be an ally on this journey towards sexual intimacy. Let go of the double standards, black and white thinking, and gender stereotypes. There is a future filled with pleasure and sensuality awaiting you once you do.