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The Difference Between Sex and Love For Men (And Women)

As a psychotherapist who specializes in emotions, I have come to realize that some people, typically men, channel their need for love, intimacy, soothing, care, and comfort into sexual desire.

Here are some examples:

Dylan wants sex when he feels sad because he likes the comfort the physical holding provides. Dylan, like most people, wants to be held when he is sad. In fact, the need to be held when we feel sad is biologically programmed into our brains.

Jonathan craves sex when he’s lonely. He believes it is weak to let someone know that he's lonely or to admit that he needs company. Alternatively, he thinks it is acceptable to find and ask for sex, which satisfies his need for human connection.

Marty craves sex when he is anxious. He shared how sex reliably calms him and helps him feel better. The days he has sex he feels more confident.

Sexual excitement is a core emotion. And, as we know from research, each core emotion has a “program” evolved over millions of years for survival purposes. When an emotion triggers in the brain, its “program” causes specific sensations and impulses to arise inside our bodies. Sometimes we are aware of these sensations and impulses and sometimes we are not. They occur regardless.

Sexual excitement is often felt as sensations in the groin area with an impulse to seek orgasmic release. Sadness, anxiety, shame, anger, and fear are other emotions that can combine with sexual excitement. The mashup of the tender emotions with sexual excitement is the brilliant way the mind can make sure core human needs are met in consciously covert yet culturally acceptable ways. The combining of emotions happens unconsciously and certainly should not be judged.

Mental health is vastly improved by being in touch with the full range of our core emotions. It is in our best interest to know which core emotions are present and driving our desire for sex. Is it pure sexual excitement? Is it a need for comfort? Is it a need for connection?

Knowing the culture of masculinity we live in, it should not come as a surprise that some men sublimate tender and “needy” feelings into sexual desire. It is a challenge for boys and young men to maintain a connection to their authentic selves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. If more men and boys could own the full range of their emotions, not just anger and sexual excitement, we would see trends in depression and anxiety decrease.

Here’s why:

When we block our core emotions and needs for intimacy (love, companionship, sharing of feelings, closeness), both men and women develop symptoms including anxiety, shame, and depression. Symptoms go away when we become reacquainted with our core emotions.

The first step to wellness begins with the understanding that men and women have the same wired-in emotions. It is normal for both men and women to desire sexual connection, comforting touch and connection through the sharing of thoughts and feelings. Needs for affection and love are as “masculine” as needs for strength, power, and ambition. Emotions are not for the weak, they are for the human.

Although things are slowly changing, the two main emotions that are still most acceptable for men to display are sexual excitement and anger. The more tender emotions are considered by some “unmanly” to express. So it is not surprising that tender emotions bind to sexuality. In fact, channeling needs for comfort and soothing into sex is actually a clever compromise. After all, during sex men can unabashedly get held, stroked, kissed, hugged, and loved-up all under the acceptable guise of a very "manly" act — that of sexual prowess. But we can do better by helping to change the culture of masculinity so it is in sync with our biology.

Four Things Men and Women Can Do for Men

1) Educate people that we all have the same universal core emotions.

2) Inform the men in your life that the need to connect with others and share one’s true feelings and thoughts is normal for all humans, and not specific to sex and gender.

3) Invite the men in your life to share their feelings and thoughts (especially the ones they are ashamed about) while also stressing the point that you will not judge them as weak or feminine, just human, for sharing vulnerabilities.

4) Know that humans are complex creatures. We all have weak and strong parts. It’s important to hold all aspects of ourselves simultaneously. That’s the way people feel whole and complete.

Further Reading:

(Random House & Penguin UK, 2018)

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