“Men don’t have bad sex, do they?” I questioned a former boyfriend rhetorically not too long ago. What followed from his side was a moment of bewilderment, before he burst out laughing at my stupidity. “Of course they do,” he said post digesting my apparent ignorance. While you might be judging my former understanding of male sexuality, I had a more pertinent point I was trying to get at – what was the source of these skewed sensibilities, anyway?
Sex and everything it entails – from taking the very initiative right to the final climax – has proven to be quite a minefield. Dealing with raging hormones, balancing the politics of pleasure, and getting comfortable with nakedness in hyper-sexual India can freewheel a range of sexual insecurities. So why wouldn’t men be equally vulnerable to their sexual desires as women? Frankly, I had never heard about it from a man’s mouth. Growing up in an all-girls school along with having few opportunities for interactions with the opposite sex, my exposure to the concept of typical ‘locker room banter’ was restricted, if not altogether null and void. Perhaps these were just my own limited relationships, but then again, where in public forums do we find men talking about what’s got their boxers (or briefs) in a twist? They aren’t, really, and that’s because patriarchy has a strange way of functioning. The privilege that it gives men also cripples them. How’s that? Nothing that you haven’t already heard.
“Real men don’t cry.”
“Men don’t do feelings.”
“Men always want sex.”
It’s true that there is some biological evidence to support the fact that men and women view sex differently. According to CNN’s Louanne Brezendine, “men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. All that testosterone drives the ‘Man Trance’—that glazed-eye look a man gets when he sees breasts...their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for fertile mates. Whether or not they intend to pursue a visual enticement, they have to check out the goods.”
To protect its power dynamics, patriarchy has modelled ‘manhood’ in a similar fashion and any signs of weakness indicate clear emasculation. These “pressures” often wreak havoc with the male sense of self, and it has inevitably been linked to the alarming rate of sexual violence against women all over the world. So what’s the solution? We don’t have one yet, but we did take a small step towards breaking the silence around the sexual insecurities of Indian men through an online survey.
Who took the survey and how?
- It was taken by 140 men.
- The age group of the men ranged from 16-35 years old.
- All of them identified their sex/gender as male (other options included non-binary, intersex, transgender).
- On the majority 35.8 % have had 2-5 sexual partners and on the minority 13.9% have had no sexual partners.
- For qualitative responses we did not push people to force-fit their answers to the available list of options but provided space for them to choose otherwise.
*The names of contributors who have requested anonymity have been changed to protect their identity.
On Performance Anxiety And Being The Creep
On the clinical front, most men claimed that “performance anxiety”, “lasting long” and the traumas of a “whiskey dick” is what haunts them the most. Though for many, the struggles begin long before entering the bedroom. “I find it difficult to approach women freely, that is without the fear of being judged as a pervert,” says 28-year-old Jatin, a restaurant owner in Delhi. Others from small towns like Haridwar to metropolitans like Bangalore and Mumbai have similar issues when it comes to initiating a conversation flirtatious or otherwise with women without seeming “creepy” or “offensive”.
This isn’t surprising because women in India have been brought up to constantly stay on their guard. If to prove their manhood men must look for “fertile mates,” women are taught the complete opposite. In Indian culture, “good girls” avoid male intimacy before the bonds of marriage and even if you are lucky enough to escape this conservative upbringing the sexual climate in the country keeps women biased about male intentions. Like countless other women in India, I have been leched at, molested, “jerked off at” and experienced verbal sexual abuse in crowded public spaces. By default, the threat of rape lingers on our minds more so that it does for men. So when I, or any other person, is at a cafe, a bar or a bus and is confronted by a man with even just a harmless, sub-conscious gaze or an unintentional brush of hand, it can bring our walls up without the need for further investigation. So, yes, it turns our (some) men suffer from sexual insecurities because of what (many) men have inflicted on the female psyche and body for years.
One of the other reasons why many men found themselves being labelled as the “desperate weirdo” is the minimal interaction allowed between the two sexes when they are growing up. In many parts of the country little boys don’t play with little girls, when they reach middle school, girls and boys must not sit next to each other and as consensual adults if they decide to spend time together, whether in the garden or a bedroom, they must bear the brunt of state-sponsored moral policing.
For 18-year-old Dhruv who lives in a town in Uttar Pradesh, his sexual frustrations seem inescapable. “I’m living with ultra-conservative parents and social situations that don’t even allow one to think of having a chance to do anything sexual.. Except maybe with my hand,” he says sardonically. Others can’t afford any humour with their levels of sexual frustration that manifests itself in precarious ways. “I get aroused and have thoughts about having sex every time I see any good-looking girl,” 22-year-old *Gautam from Kochi admits candidly.
Whereas for many Indian men, when they do have sexual experiences, a silence around their feelings keeps them from truly enjoying themselves. “It’s always been difficult for me to express my sexual fantasies to a woman. I feel that I’ll make a fool of myself in front of her,” says 27-year-old *Shaurya. As for 26-year-old *Kevin from Chennai, sexual pleasures always remain incomplete. “I try to satisfy the woman but in return, the woman doesn’t try to satisfy me, I don’t know how I should convey this message to her,” he laments.
Another block road that denies Indian men unhindered sexual gratification was a prevalent spirit of competitiveness, a typically masculine attribute revered globally. Many of our contributors who took the survey found that before and even during sex they begin thinking about whether their female partner has had “better” sexual partners than them or whether she is “faking” her orgasm. For 24-year-old Nikhil, who is a graphic designer, even an open conversation about this particular issue did little to help him. “I felt sexually insecure about pleasing my partner. Even though we talked about it and she reassured me, it didn’t solve everything.”
Do Bros Talk About Sex?
For a large group of men, having a conversation about their sexual insecurities is just not an option. 42% of the men who took our survey admitted they don’t feel comfortable doing so, and more so with other men. At the most, debates around how to cure the “whiskey dick” or the expertise behind “putting on a condom” have been part of the chatter in the Indian boys club. It’s not a natural reticence that keeps men from opening up, but like other sexes, the trauma that they must re-visit to unearth their insecurities. As the codes of masculinity don’t encourage the emotional outpour, which is seen as a strictly feminine trait, men remain silent. The sensitisation is so low, even women, who usually have their tight-knit circles of confidential sharing, encourage men to keep their baggage to themselves. 19-year-old Adamaya from Delhi confesses, “I’ve been slut-shamed so much. I think that’s the reason I’ve grown apprehensive when it comes to sharing my sexual history with anyone.”
For others, the fear of ridicule keeps them mute about their sexual inhibitions. “I’ve heard about performance issues mostly in the form of women joking about their partners (who I sometimes knew) and I felt rather bad for the chaps,” says 29-year-old Karan. “If you have erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation or anything else that’s not your fault. Moreover, someone’s personal issues should not be made fun of as if those people are in any way inferior or not worthy of your respect.” For men, worrying about the mechanisms of their penis, especially its size, is not always a choice.
Loving Your Penis-A Source Of Power And Shame
“Too much foreskin.”
“What is the okay-ish size anyway?”
“I think I need to have it circumcised.”
“Sometimes it’s hard as wood but sometimes even if I’m willing to have sex it just doesn’t come up.”
An article in the Guardian provides interesting insight into this phenomenon, writing:
“..while women’s bodies are geared around accepting all sorts of shapes and sizes, the pinning down of what is and isn’t a ‘normal’ penis could be dangerous. After all, how much comfort can you take if you fall outside the range? And how much comfort can you take if you fall within the average range but, for psychological reasons, you feel inadequate?”
23-year old *Ataif echoes similar concerns, stating, “My penis size is actually normal but I have heard girls saying that they want big dicks and all and that, which has made me uncomfortable with myself.” For Sumit, a 24-year-old graphic designer from Pune, porn ruined his relationship with his penis. “Porn fucked me up,” he says very candidly. “Questions that came to me because of porn were-is my dick big enough? Should I be circumcised? Why do I have so many blemishes on it?” he adds. On the other side of the size chart, *Siddharth, a 19-year-old student from Meerut, feels his male partners panic when they see his penis. “It’s too freakishly huge for them,” he confesses. A measure of their sexual performance, the penis continues to be a source of both power and shame for men. “A huge part of patriarchy is putting the onus of ‘mardaangi’ (manhood) on sexual performance. There needs to be a conversation about this so the issue can be addressed,” says *Rohan, a 25-year-old Mumbai-based marketing professional.
Finding A Safe Space
58% of the men who took the survey had shared their sexual insecurities with somebody in the past.
Men who have had space to talk about their sexual struggles and insecurities had mostly felt “reassured,”, “relieved” and “normal” after doing so. For 23-year-old musician *Harsh, it was a breath of fresh air. “Talking to other men about my insecurities felt like, thank God, there’s someone else out there who isn’t a fuck machine having sex with different partners all the time,” he confesses. 58% of the men who took the survey had shared their sexual insecurities with somebody in the past, but why aren’t more men having these conversations?
In the West, online spaces like The Good Men Project have set out to “start an international conversation about the way men’s roles are changing in modern life—and the way those changes affect everyone.” Whereas for more than three decades Voice Male, which is based in North America, has “chronicled the social transformation of masculinity” before evolving into “a magazine exploring critical issues relevant to men’s growth and health while cataloguing the damaging effects of men’s isolation and violence.” Leading global publications like The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post have begun to address issues around the understanding of masculinity and manhood with men at the forefront of these conversations. Back home, men can’t identify any space that is willing to talk about their realities and problems. The only real articles posted for men are the ones that include a list of top foods that build muscle or the choice of shaving cream they should use for the closest shave – important for some, sure, but necessary for the overall evolution of society and its toxic gender roles? That’s a questions that shouldn’t be left rhetorical.
In Nasik-based *Abhishek’s opinion, it’s because “there isn’t a single place in India where men can talk freely about their sexual struggles without being bullied or joked about. We need one desperately for help, support and proper treatment.” 23-year-old Vedant feels that with prevalent labels like ‘protector’ and stereotypes like ‘men shouldn’t have any feelings’ there is a dire need for a public forum for conversation around these unrealistic expectations. “It’s very important to have a safe space where we can discuss and talk through the issues and get over our stressors,” says the risk consultant from Delhi. For women, social media has in many ways become a space for them to challenge patriarchy and set societal notions. Men, on the other hand, still feel hesitant to express their thoughts about issues concerning gender and sex.
22-year-old *Nikhil, a Mumbai-based event organiser says, “We need someone with whom we can share our thoughts freely without being judged as sexist or fuck boys.” Jaskeet, a visual artist from Ludhiana, feels that these spaces can have an immense social power. “They (spaces) can act as both educative for men personally as well as promote a healthier relationship with the other sex. If more Indian men continue to grow up sexually frustrated, women will continue to receive its backlash,” he confesses.
In this article published in The New York Times, author Michael Ian Black writes, “Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.”
This very scattered, skewed, and perhaps for some, even shattered notion of what it means to be a ‘man’ that Black talks about, is what feeds the sexual insecurities. For Indian men the crossroads are no different and the only way to navigate it is to start talking about it – that sexually repressed childhood, why the woman at the bar took offence to their flirting, what your manhood means for your penis, as well as what it doesn’t – will help build the bridge between a man’s sexual insecurities and his sense of self.
Ultimately, the answers lie in intersectionality. Raising a similar thought of promoting a harmonious existence between the sexes and their experiences, 24-year-old *Aditya emphasises the need for this conversation, best. “Personally, I think the many insecurities that women face are ‘man-made’. So it’s the onus of the men to take responsibility for it. To do this, men themselves need a space to talk about what sexually troubles them.”
Feature Image Credit: Veer Misra
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