By Peter Vogel
Having been involved with men's support groups for several years, I have become accustomed to people asking me what on earth men find to talk about - "I know they talk about sex all the time, but what else?", they ask. But the truth is that men rarely talk about sex, even in the privacy of a men's group where there is a high level of trust.
My experience is that sex is still a taboo subject for most men. When they do get onto the subject, it is often turned into a joke, to ward off the possibility of the conversation getting too personal or too serious.
Why do men have so much trouble talking about what such an important part of their humanity?
I think one major factor is that male sexuality is portrayed as inferior to that of females. We grow up feeling at least a little bit ashamed of our sexual feelings. As children we are told that that males are driven by an animal instinct to inseminate as many females as quickly as possible - that they get their pleasure from the act of inserting their penis into another's body and ejaculating as quickly as they can. "Boys only want one thing", we are told. Girls, on the other hand, want many things; intimacy, cuddles and kisses, a loving relation and more. "Good" sex is largely the male's responsibility; since he is so one-dimensional and easily satisfied it is up to him to fulfill his partner's superior, more complex desires.
That was certainly the picture when I was growing up. Seeing how repressed most men still seem to be, I wondered if this picture had changed in a post-feminist world. I paid a visit to the library and sampled some of the hundreds of books on sex.
It was immediately apparent that little has changed, except that the books seemed to have become much more strident about the man's responsibility for the woman's satisfaction and much more explicit about how he might meet this expectation.
Most books were about couples or about women's sexuality. Very few books focussed on men, and those that did usually turned out to be "how to be a great lover" manuals which invariably focus on techniques for pleasing your woman. Of course there was the Kinsey classic Sexual behavior in the Human Male. Even this major work, which goes into great detail about the physiology of sex, there was no mention of the spiritual or emotional aspects of men's sexual experiences.
Sex: a man's guide is more contemporary - it was published in 1996 and claims to have sold over 500,000 copies. An exceptionally confusing chapter on orgasm tries to explain the difference between orgasm and ejaculation but left me none the wiser. Again, the discussion is in purely physical terms; nerves, tubes and muscles.
My attention was drawn to one or two notable exceptions. The New Male Sexuality by Bernie Zilbergeld talks about male sexuality in a way I hadn't seen before; from a male-centred perspective. In these pages I found a lot of good news - men are not actually sexually inferior to women. Men too long for deep contact, says Zilbergeld, and sex can be just as multi-dimensional for them as it is for women. Men are not interested in "only one thing" - although in some cases they don't know what they other things are that they're missing, or know but can't achieve it.
Steve Biddulph's Manhood and Raising boys echo this theme. According to Biddulph, many men stay trapped in the fast-and-furtive pattern of sex they learned as adolescents.
What really stopped me in my tracks was the claim, by these two authors and subsequently several others, that many men are non-orgasmic. This flies in the face of the fundamental "truth" that defines the difference between male and female sexuality - that men reach orgasm quickly and easily, whereas women take longer and need just the right conditions.
Reading this confirmed what I had begun to suspect myself: just because a man ejaculates it cannot be assumed that he has experienced orgasm. As Zilbergeld says:
"Although many people use ejaculation and orgasm synonymously, I find it useful to draw a distinction between them. Ejaculation is the physical part, the propulsion of seminal fluid. Orgasm is the peak feeling in sex".
If this is true, some men have been deliberately "faking it" - saying they have experienced orgasm when they have not - and some have been mistaking orgasm for ejaculation.
The most interesting work I found was Love and Orgasm by psychiatrist Alexander Lowen. Published in 1965, this book is based on Lowen's clinical observation that "having a penis that can ejaculate [the man] is almost always assumed to have some kind of climax" however "in terms of full satisfaction, the male suffers from orgastic impotence as much as the female does".
"Faking it" has always been assumed to be a woman's prerogative. A woman's disclosure that she has been faking it can be extremely distressing to her partner because it shatters many illusions and indicates a lack of trust and openness in the relationship.
I was curious to find out more about men's experience of orgasm, ejaculation and how this might relate to their sexual satisfaction.
The last issue of Certified Male included a survey which asked a number of questions about men's sexual satisfaction. The survey was also posted on an website. I continued collecting data until I had obtained 100 responses.
The survey asked a number of questions about men's experience of orgasm and ejaculation. Some were multiple choice, others requested a detailed response.
The main objective was to discover what the respondent understood by the words "ejaculation" and "orgasm" and to elicit the feelings associated with each. I also hoped to discover their image of a satisfying sexual relationship and what factors help them realise that vision.
The respondents ranged in age from 16 to 73, the average age was 43 years.
85% said their responses applied to sex with women, 5% to sex with men, 10% to both.
Here are the main findings of the survey.
Orgasm and Ejaculation
To the question Do you consider "male orgasm" and "ejaculation" to be the same thing? 70% of respondents answered "NO". 50% said that they have experienced orgasm without ejaculation - these men were very clear that they are not the same thing.
Respondents were also asked to describe the feelings associated with orgasm and those associated with ejaculation.
Very definite trends emerged from these descriptions. The feelings reported fell into two clear clusters - the feelings accompanying ejaculation are predominantly physical feelings localised to the genitals, whereas the feelings of orgasm are emotional, spiritual and physical, and they involve the whole body.
Here are the themes which recurred time and time again when describing orgasm:
A whole body experience. Ecstasy. Feelings of love, closeness, union with my partner. Waves of bliss. Transcendence. Momentary transportation to another dimension. Oneness with the universe. An emotional, spiritual experience beyond physical.
And for ejaculation:
More physical than emotional. Relief, release, emptying. pumping, automatic pressure release. Disappointment, unfinished, depressed, frustration. Centred on genitals.
It's clear from these descriptions that for these men orgasm and ejaculation are two very different experiences. Notably, orgasm seems to be a much more positive experience than ejaculation.
26% of respondents seem to never experience orgasm as defined by the majority. They described a purely physical, somewhat disappointing sexual climax.
Another indicator of the difference between orgasm and ejaculation is the response to questions about the type of climax reached through masturbation. 60% of respondents achieve ejaculation "often" or "always" through masturbation, but only 45% achieve orgasm that way.
There seemed to be a strong correlation between being in a "long term" relationship and experiencing orgasm as a distinct event. About half of men who are not in a long-term relationship reported orgasm as being the same as ejaculation, whereas for men in a long-term relationship, the number of men who described orgasm and ejaculation as being different experiences was three times the number who said they are the same.
The survey also asked whether the man's partner believed that there is a difference between orgasm and ejaculation. About a quarter of men replied "yes" a quarter "no" and the rest "don't know". This indicates that about half the men had never discussed orgasm with their partner.
The survey asked "Do you find that some sexual experiences leave you satisfied for longer than others, and others leave you wanting sex again quite soon?". 92% of respondents answered "Yes" and most went on to explain in some detail why.
Although answers were quite varied, some obvious trends emerged. 14 men said that sex with orgasm leaves them satisfied for much longer than if there is ejaculation but no orgasm. A typical comment: When I have orgasm, I am satisfied. When I just ejaculate or fake it, I want sex again soon.
Participants were also asked how their partner helps them reach orgasm. The most common responses were (in order, starting with most popular): oral sex; by hand; talking/sounds/squeals; by being there; touching; kissing; muscular control and positioning; prolonged foreplay.
They were also asked how their partner could make sex more satisfying.
9% of the men said "nothing". Here is an example: I don't think we could have a better sex life. We are totally into each others needs and wants and know how to achieve them and keep in contact with each others needs.For those men who did see an opportunity for a better sex life, the most commonly expressed wish was that their partner be more adventurous, more funloving: "Let it go wild; being more adventurous and in particular finding out her own needs and expressing them; more overt, more active, less passive; interested in sex as fun; could be a little less inhibited, more open minded to try new experiences".
The men were also asked whether they envy women's orgasm. They were evenly divided on this question: 46% said "yes", 47% said "no", the remainder being undecided.
The survey asked whether external factors such as stress or money worries affect sexual satisfaction. 56 men replied "yes" and 29 "no". Some of the common responses were: "Stress really affects my ability to be present for my lover. Stress and tiredness drastically reduces my libido, if I'm tired I don't feel sexual at all".
For some men the the effect of external stress was positive. Some quotes: After a hard day's work I'm driven to sex; great stress relief; don't let externals affect sex; none as far as I am aware - I can put that in the background!
Although the survey did not specifically ask about effects of aging, several men remarked that their sex life has improved with age.
As I get older my orgasms are very much more intense and far more protracted i.e. the older I get the better they are
Sex, satisfaction, pleasure, love do not decrease with age. Attitude, cultural expectations influence this process.
Good sex is mostly a state of mind. I also notice that the older I get the intimacy I share is the thing that enhances the sensuality and sexuality of our relationship.
Contrary to the popular belief that men "always reach orgasm" during sex, the survey revealed that only 38% of respondents always ejaculate during sex with a partner, and only 26% report always having an orgasm.
6% said they rarely have orgasms, although from looking at the descriptions of orgasm, it appears that 26% of respondents never experience what would generally be accepted by other respondents as orgasm.
37% of the men said they have faked orgasm at some time, and 30% have faked ejaculation.
Further challenging the stereotypical view of men as "only wanting one thing", responses to the question "What does a quality sexual relationship mean to you?" revealed a strong consensus that good sex is far more than a physical act.
The recurrent themes were mutuality and love: Open and honest communication; mutual trust; the physical expression of profound love; a mutually sensuous and satisfying give and take union; if you are in love, the sex is a 1000 times better; where both people share the responsibilities, joy and satisfaction of the experience; sex is much more satisfying if I take my heart to bed along with my dick.
There were also several men who stressed the importance of fun in their sex life: let it rip, no boundaries, fun, friendly, close, wild; lack of inhibition, freedom to express yourself sexually.
Only 10 respondents spoke of a quality sexual relationship in purely physical terms. All said that "quality" is important, none preferred "quantity".
Men are from earth, women are from earth
The survey confirmed very clearly that male orgasm and ejaculation are two quite distinct experiences, and that either can occur without the other. Ejaculation is largely a physical act, like scratching an itch, and is sometimes experienced as disappointing. Orgasm is mainly an emotional or spiritual event, and is almost always deeply satisfying.
Alexander Lowen pulls no punches in his assessment that:
"the full feeling of satisfaction escapes the man because his whole body does not take part in the sexual response. He is not moved".
About one in four men never experience orgasm. One in three have faked orgasm, and a similar number have faked ejaculation.
Many women are unaware that ejaculation is not a sure sign of male orgasm, in fact many do not know there is a difference.
Most men are not satisfied by mechanical sex without emotional connection with their partner. Many men long for more intimacy, more foreplay, more caressing and kissing in their sex life.
Lowen describes orgasm as a process of surrender based in love:
"Surrender to the woman, surrender to the unconscious, surrender to the animal nature of man. It is precisely the fear of surrendering that inhibits the average male from experiencing the full orgasm in the sexual act... it is possible to surrender only if one is in love with one's sexual partner"
In short, men and women are much more alike sexually than we have been led to believe.
It's possible that participants in this survey, mostly Certified Male readers, are not typical of the entire population. They are probably more self-reflective than the average male, otherwise they would probably not be reading this magazine. The survey's value lies in taking what these men have learned, and using it to help other men achieve greater sexual liberation.
It seems that many men are "faking it". By this I mean not only misleading their partner, but also that many men are deceiving themselves about the degree of fulfillment they experience through sex. My guess is that a large and growing number of men are realising that their frustration arises not so much from the quantity but the quality of sex. As women did decades ago, men are starting to compare notes, and they are discovering a shared, uneasy feeling that "there's got to be more to it than this".
35 years ago Lowen wrote that he finds it hard to answer patients who demand that he show them a happy marriage. "They are so rare I would feel foolish to argue on the basis of their number that marriage is a happy state... my patients are exceptional only in that they have come for help and have revealed their difficulties". Ignorance of what "making love" is really about is the problem, he says, and "the knowledge of the nature of orgasm is a light that illuminates the darkness".
Relationships are still far from harmonious. But more and more men seem to be voicing their dissatisfaction with "faking it"; in their sex lives, their work, their societal and family relations.
Men's sexuality is deeper, more emotionally alive, and more spiritually oriented than our culture admits. Liberation of men's sexuality from its narrow cultural prison, into a more whole and open-hearted form of being, has enormous benefits for men, women, and their shared capacity for closeness and trust.
Sidebars accompanying the article
Gay/Bisexual menSome of the participants in the survey commented specifically on sex with men:
I was married for 20 years and now have a male partner. I feel there is a definite difference between M/W and M/M sexual intimacy. With another man, there may be an initial tenderness and exploration; almost treading forbidden territory....after all it isn't "natural". But that soon seems to transform into an intimacy of male strength and power that is awesome to experience. Not strength in the "muscle" relativity, but an innate strength that is shared between two males. Very difficult to describe!
I think, in my experience, gay sex is more accurate in understanding each other's needs/desires. And I find it much more adaptable, much more fun, and far less pressure.
Sex with male partners tends to be more a matter of "getting your rocks off" - not so emotionally charged. Often I will have sex with a man just to oblige him and it seems a "matey" thing to do and because it is nevertheless very enjoyable.
I have only had male partners for the last 5 years. Prior to that I was married for 15 years. Even though I was able to go through the motions of a heterosexual relationship I always fantasised and longed for a loving man to make love with. I have experienced many partners and now I realise I was always gay, but couldn't accept it myself so I repressed these desires for a long time. I am totally blissful when passionately embracing a naked muscular man!
Two points about gay sex. 1. No all gay men do not role play (ie female role vs male role only in sex). Most of us mix and match. 2. Most straight guys nearly faint when I tell them I really enjoy it when I take the passive role. Some have confessed to me that they enjoy if girlfriends/wives tickling their prostate with a finger. Well guys another man's dick is just a "bigger finger" and if he's banging your prostate while you're wanking and you cum, it lifts your skull off from the rest of your body!
Being bi-sexual, and having a partner who is also bi-sexual, has allowed me to be open about my many desires and fantasies, without having to hide a part of me that is important to my sexuality and sexual desires
I would just like to say that I think that I, like many other men, have a good marriage, and a satisfying sexual relationship. However, I have also experienced sex with men, and I feel that that is perfecty normal.. It is not accepted by western culture, however, and I have not experienced it since my marriage, but I continue to be attracted to men, and fantasise about it often.
A whole-body experience, total body deliciousness
Ecstacy, elation, joy, waves of pleasure, bliss
Connection, closeness, union with my partner
Feelings of love and trust, being accepted, touching hearts
Emotional experience beyond physical
Whole physical emotional and spiritual engagement
Energy rising through my body
Deep internal spasm, amazing body shudder
Transportation, transcendence, out of body
Oneness with the world and partner
Temporary loss of intellect, loss of control
Abandonment to pleasure, overwhelming
Relief,release, outpouring, letting go
Uncontrollable laughter, weepy, tears
Warmth , total relaxation
Hairraising, completeness, paradise, tingling, floating
Dreamy, peaceful, delightful erotic, euphoric
Relief, release, emptying, satisfaction, relaxation
More physical than emotional
Involuntary pumping, automatic pressure release
Disappointment, unfinished, depressed, frustration
Centred on genitals, tense
Open heart, fulnness body alive and tingling, closeness
Power, accomplishment, virility, making my mark
Spasm of muscles in groin area
Wet, hot tingly head of cock
extreme sexual pleasure, excitement
scratching an itch that needs scratching
Like sparrows flying out of my arse.
Sensation not unlike that that occurs directly before urination.
At the end of the survey, respondents were asked "Anything else you would like to add?" Here is a sampling of the diverse thoughts expressed:
The overriding issue for my satisfaction is how my partner feels. It is especially important that she takes responsibility for her own sexual fulfillment, participates at least equally with me, and enjoys sex. I refuse to "do all the work".
I still have a problem identifying whether I have achieved orgasm or just ejaculation. How can I learn how to tell the difference? How can I achieve orgasm on my own?
I am currently using condoms for birth control, but find that orgasm is more intense but I do not find the non-release of ejaculate into the woman satisfying.
I've just learned the great gift of treating one another's fantasies as some kind of sacred element. Make it happen for each other - no ridicule. In this space orgasm is awesome - hers too.
For the first time in my life I have fears related to myself as a sexual being. I can no longer ejaculate with the same force I had as a young man. I can come maybe 2 times a day. And I question if I will be able to keep up with my partner's growing sexual appetite, especially of it keeps increasing as it has been.
I think that sexual pleasure for a lot of men has been adversely affected by circumcision. I think that male circumcision is one of the greatest sexual abuse issues of our time
Why the interest in implying that somehow orgasm without ejaculation is a higher or purer experience? Ejaculation is a core part of male sexual experience and identity which should not be diminished by suggestion that other forms of activity are better. By all means have fun trying other things and seeing what enjoyment you can get from your body but let's not suggest sex sans ejaculation is to be somehow preferred. To think so is to avoid maleness.
All my life my sexual expression has been been curbed, or the limits have been set, by my partner, not hers by me. Only once have I met a woman who I would call sexually liberated and who I could "open up" to. Sexually, women aren't particularly interesting. It's a pity I'm heterosexual.
I have been married for 12 years and still learning about my sexuality every day - becoming more comfortable with myself as normal.
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