Me versus We,
Living Single Versus Together
His and Her Bedrooms, Partner versus Solo Sex,
and other Topics
By David Sebringsil
Me versus We: An Introduction
The Me versus We concept is a basic idea gleaned from the social capital literature. A “me”-orientation focuses primarily one ones self and specifically on making one’s self happy without relying in the behaviors and actions of others. A “we”-orientation suggests that one’s own happiness is primarily dependent on one’s relationships and interactions with others around the individual. We can think of those who have a we-orientation as being what is sometimes referred to as those who are people persons.
Contrast two individuals, both equally talented and successful. However, individual A is primarily a me-oriented person. Individual A has become successful primarily because of talents that can be effectively pursued without having to interact with others. Think of someone who is a very talented writer or artist. That person achieves success in large measure because of the ability to go off in a corner and write or paint at an exceptional level, not because of talents in dealing with other people around them. Such a person may appreciate the fact that others know that the work is very good, but the primary mechanism for achieving success is because the individual is very good at doing things not normally done in cooperation with one or more other person.
Individual B is equally talented and successful, and is what we would describe as a we-oriented person. Individual B has achieved success in large measure because of special skills in dealing with others. Individual B has found a way to put these special talents to good use. Think of someone who has risen to the top ranks and is now running a giant company, and is loved by everyone. The exceptional we-oriented person can dress down a subordinate while making the subordinate believe that he is still very much liked. Or think of a marvelously successful, even charismatic politician, who garners 80 percent or more of the vote on every election. These are exceptional examples of we-oriented people.
Given the circumstances that I have outlined, obviously the world works better with some of both kinds of people. Never mind that the two kinds of people often do not see eye to eye. We-oriented people see the work that me-oriented people do as incredibly dull and boring—we-oriented people get off on interactions with others and worth that does not focus on that is frequently seen as dull and uninteresting. Me-oriented people in contrast, like to focus on using their own wits and talents to solve problems and accomplish things that they deem are important.
Women, on average, probably tend to be further to the We side of the scale than men are, on average. For many, perhaps most women, relationships and linkages with others tend to form the very core of their psyche and well-being. The issue of “what do others think?” is critical for a lot of women.
Many men, on the other hand, frequently are perfectly comfortable living and working in a situation whereby what others think matters relatively little, if at all. They are perfectly happy pursuing projects that require little or no interaction with anyone. Of course, there are numerous exceptions to this.
This is also reflected in gender differences in the choice of employment between the two sexes as well. In general, both we- and me-oriented people tend to choose employment that builds on the comparative strengths of each type of person. A we-oriented person is likely to choose a job that by its very nature requires interaction with others, whereas a me-oriented person will tend to choose work that can be successful primarily by relying on one’s own skills without the need for others. Being able to pick up on interactional nuances such as body language, non-verbal communication and so on becomes a critical job skill for the we-oriented individual, and women on average are probably a lot better at this than men. This is part of that great Venus versus Mars divide separating men and women.
This in part explains why there continue to be large gender differences between various occupations—women tend to gravitate toward careers in occupations that place a high priority on these interaction skills such as in teaching or nursing seeing themselves as people persons, whereas men tend to populate professions that require a person to build or invent things with little if any interaction i.e. there are far fewer female engineers than there are male engineers.
But we can also look at various kinds of careers and whether each career might tend to attract me- versus we-oriented people. Probably the classic me-oriented job is the creative loner who invents things, or perhaps a writer or artist. What these people need and want most is a quiet place to allow them to pursue their work without having to deal with others. At some level I suppose that many of these people ultimately care about what others think regarding what they have accomplished, but what this is generally is far from the primary goal or what really makes these people function.
It is sometimes said that politicians in general have huge egos that are easily burst. Politicians live for interaction with others, and their careers represent the pinnacle for a lot of people on the far end of the we-oriented continuum. How politicians deal with others around them and what others think about them ultimately means everything to them, because it forms the very core of why they get elected or not.
A lot of careers are populated by significant numbers of both we- and me-oriented people as well as people who fall more nearly into the middle of the continuum. An actor or a musician in a symphony orchestra, irrespective of how talented they are as individual performers, must invariably cope with and require a host of interaction skills, some of which many probably would be happier if they did not have to deal with in order to survive and be successful.
Then there are universities. The public image of a university, I suppose, is that this is the ultimate place whereby a talented me-oriented person can find happiness and be profoundly successful working alone. I wish this were entirely true. Unfortunately, university research is intimately bound with the peer review process whereby what other people think about what the individual does not only matters, it is a critical part of the process. Furthermore, any decent university is populated with people who can be anywhere on the scale of me- versus we-orientation. There are we-oriented people on faculties at universities who, like politicians, tend to spend a significant share of their time not only interacting with others, but focusing on interacting with others in effort to promote their own self image. In a university setting, these people are among the most loathsome to other faculty. Then there are the university administrators who rose to power because they interacted well with the right people. Many of these administrators seem to devote an inordinate effort in hassling the creative, we-oriented individuals on the faculty and worst, proselytizing these creative, me-oriented types to behave more like the we-oriented types of the faculty—that is the very faculty the me-oriented types find most loathsome! These traits of administrators tend to lead to interactional situations that are full of conflict,
The Me-We Continuum
At the two ends of a continuum, there are we-oriented people and there are me-oriented people. For we-oriented people, life is all about relationships and interconnectedness Nearly everything that happens in a we-oriented person’s life is tied to someone else, but in particular a spouse or partner. The happiness of we-oriented people seems to revolve around the happiness of the people with whom they are close. We need to think of these contrasts as a continuum, with individuals at all points along a continuum, not an all or nothing situation. That is,
In contrast, “me” oriented people tend to focus on themselves as being of primary importance, not their relationships with others. While other people may enter the lives of me-oriented people on occasion, the well-being of a me-oriented person does not depend nearly to the degree that it typically does for a we-oriented person. IN their personal lives, strongly me-oriented people may be perfectly happy living alone and interacting with others only to a limited extent.
I have been careful so far to specifically not act as if there are specific places along the continuum that one should “strive” to be, nor attempt to claim that those who exist at certain points on the continuum are psychologically happier, more successful at work or in their personal lives or anything else of that sort. My goal is merely to suggest that the me-we continuum clearly exists for both men and women, and furthermore, these basic ideas play a critical role in determining how people behave both in their choice of work as well as in their personal lives. I do not wish to cast judgment either with respect to how successful or unsuccessful people live their lives in work and personal relationships. I suppose this is a ”whatever floats your boat” concept.
Having said that, however, and given the importance of where an individual finds him or herself in terms of how they feel both about themselves and others, it is important to note a number of ideas.
First, no individual is completely me-oriented nor completely we-oriented. Buried inside the most me-oriented person one could ever meet are remnants of a we-oriented person. Buried inside the most we-oriented person one would ever meet are remnants of a me-oriented person. At some level, these two personality types coexist in everyone!
Second, most people are not at the outer extremes of the continuum. In other words, for most people, there are some psychological elements that are me-oriented and other psychological elements that are we-oriented. That is, most people exist somewhere between the extremes of the continuum.
Third, having said that, it is still interesting to study the public and personal behaviors and psychology of people who exist at the two extremes, for studying these people enables us to understand how the rest of us who live their lives more nearly in the middle of the continuum, as we begin to see the we-oriented versus me-oriented aspects of our own personalities.
Fourth, as I have already indicated, gender may play a significant role. Lets suppose we devise a psychological survey designed to determine the extent to which a person is we- versus me oriented on a 1-10 scale , and further, we ask a large number of both men and women to complete the survey. There would probably exist both men and women scoring from 1 (completely me-oriented) to 10 (nearly completely we-oriented) on such a survey. However, if gender differences do exist, we might tend to find a greater proportion of women on the we-oriented end (6-10) of the scale, while men would have a tendency to score more heavily toward the me-oriented end of the scale (1-5) So on average, the scores would be smaller for men as a group that for women as a group.
The me- versus we-orientation plays a critical role in a host of dimensions and in our personal and non-personal lives. I have already indicated that the concept plays a critical role in one’s choice of careers. Perhaps even more interesting is the role the concept plays in a number of related ways.
For example, the concept plays a critical role in religion. Christianity, as well as most other modern religions, are inherently we- not me-focused. To the extent that a religion is me-focused, the central element is what me the individual can do to improve the well being of we, the larger group, however defined, and that one’s personal well being (me-focused) is enhanced by engaging in activities that directly help others (we-focused). Note that for many religious groups, we-focused people, in particular, we-focused women, play a critical role in defining the agenda for the rest of the group and in particular for those in the group who psychologically are more nearly me- than we-focused.
In politics, we-focused people tend to be attracted to such careers, where success is defined largely in terms of how one relates to others. For a master politician, every forthcoming election is a new test of one’s ability to relate not only tto the people they interact with on a daily basis, but also, and even more importantly, the voters. We all realize that charismatic politicians are very much a part of this scene, or people who are widely believed to have a lot of personal magnetism or charm. Although this concept has sometimes been linked to physical attractiveness (JFK won the presidency in 1960 over Richard Nixon in large measure because a lot of people—women in particular—found him to be more physically attractive than Nixon) but the idea transcends physical appearance and what a person might see as attractive or not. What is going on here of course is that voters generally find politicians who have honed their we-oriented skills to be attractive choices for that reason alone.
In athletics, there are me-oriented athletes and we-oriented athletes, just as there are individual as well as team sports. Me-oriented people tend to be attracted to sports that place near exclusive emphasis on personal ability. Running, swimming and diving would be classic examples of me-oriented sports. Gymnastics, perhaps only a little less given that there are tem competitions (well there are group relays in running and in swimming as well) but in these teams the accomplishments of the group typically represents the sum of the accomplishments of each individual competitor on the team.
We-oriented sports tend to place relatively greater emphasis on the accomplishments of the group working together as a cohesive team. In sports like basketball and football, the one who passes the ball needs someone else who is equally adept at receiving it, which entails cooperation to a degree. In football the offensive line guards the player moving the ball, and this has to involve cooperation. But even these we-focused team sports attract me-oriented people—football quarterbacks for example, often see their role as so important to the team effort that they can behave largely like me-oriented people, sometimes (well, frequently) drawing the contempt of their more nearly we-oriented team members. Members of team sports tend to be less than enamored with me-focused prima donnas, however successful the latter might be.
We-oriented people and me-oriented people often devote a great deal of energy sniping at each other and their respective lifestyles. We-oriented people tend to see me oriented people as self-centered, and perhaps lacking in basic social skills in interacting with initiating relationships and generally dealing with other people in a variety of settings. The derogative term “He’s a loner” often enters as a verbal description. Generally, we-oriented people tend to view me-oriented people as being basically unhappy in their lives—certainly not as happy as they would be if they had a partner or spouse and were surrounded by family and friends. Even medical doctors have gotten into the act by arguing that we-oriented people who have close ties to others both in and out of sexual relationships are likely to be healthier and live longer.
Me-oriented people, although perhaps smaller in numbers and less vocal, tend to be equally suspicious of we-oriented people and how they choose to live their lives. Me-oriented people generally see close relationships as leading to situations in which the relationship partner is not going to live up to expectations and thus create situations whereby the me-oriented individual if stuck in a relationship, any relationship, is invariably going to end up being disappointed at some people. People in relationships quickly discover that the partner never fully lives up to expectations. (That is why there are divorces!). Some people are able to deal with this issue, others not. A person on the far end of the me-oriented side tends to not understand why the happiness of we-oriented people tends to be so dependent on others around them.
We-oriented people tend to like to join groups and work together with other people. Me-oriented people either prefer working alone, or if they do join groups, tend to look for every opportunity to be the center of attention. Truly we-oriented people are content to see the group functioning efficiently, and in most cases are happy letting others run the group.
So the we-orientation that characterizes politicians, business leaders etc is a very special form. These people were never gotten where they are were it not for the fact that they have large egos and outsized views with regard to their own abilities to solve problems and accomplish things. The ego thing is actually very me-oriented, but remember that I have indicated is that lurking inside the psyche of nearly every we-oriented person is a me-oriented person just waiting to come out at the proper moment. Further, nearly every strongly me-oriented person is at least to a degree concerned with what others think of their accomplishments—those who achieve a lot in the way of personal success are frequently quite concerned that others see the accomplishments in a favorable light. On Oscars night, think of all the me-oriented people in the hall who still seek approbation from their peers as well as their fan base—and yet the occasional Marlon Brando, who snubs the entire ceremony ( or worse!).
Me, We and Relationships
Think about a person who has a lot of personal magnetism or charm. People of both sexes tend to enjoy being around this person. A lot has been said and written in the media regarding the role that physical appearance plays in this personal magnetism or charm. Women would perhaps find physically attractive men to have more personal magnetism or charm than physically unattractive men. And surely, most men would find physically attractive women to be more magnetic and charming than physically unattractive women.
But personal magnetism and charm are far more complex than this. Kennedy beat Nixon in 1960 in part because he was seen by voters of both sexes as having more to offer in the personal charm and magnetism department, so we are talking about something more than simply differences in physical appearance and sexual attractiveness here. For sure the sexual part plays a role. Any politician in order to succeed is going to have to have strong we-oriented components to his or her personality. It is critical to winning elections to ultimately be able to put others ahead of oneself, or at least convincing voters that one is capable of doing this.
In comparing Nixon versus Kennedy in 1960, voters saw that Nixon frequently seemed uncomfortable in we-focused situations, and primarily lived in a me-focused, personal egocentric skin. Kennedy, on the other hand, seemed not only comfortable in we-focused situations, his personality seemed to thrive on them.
Of course, Nixon, once elected in 1968, did some things as president that had to be we-focused—the biggest item was opening the doors to China and in particular meeting with Chinese leaders. But Nixon always seemed uncomfortable and uneasy in we-focused settings, and ultimately me took over, and was his undoing as a politician.
In contrast, Reagan was the consummate we-focused
politician. One must conclude that he was loved by so many voters of both sexes
because of a personal magnetism and charm that was largely centered in the we-oriented dimension of his personality. There are
always conflicts between the me aspects of a
personality and the we aspects. Clearly, in order to survive and prosper in
In many instances the same characteristics that attract or repel voters are also characteristics that may very well lead to sexual attractiveness and opportunities. Bill Clinton was and remains a charmer in a host of different ways. His opponent in 1992, G.H.W Bush, in contrast was found wanting in the personal charm and magnetism department. This personal charm and magnetism was an important component to Bill Clinton’s success in winning elections over the years, and no one knew this better than Bill did.
The dark side of this of course is that at least for men, women often find a lot of men who possess this personal magnetism or charm—in particular the we-focused dimension of the personality--to be very sexually attractive. These characteristics of his personality were very apparent to members of the opposite sex from puberty on, and he no doubt took full advantage of them. For Bill, finding a woman who wanted to have sex with him was almost too easy, and he invariably took full advantage of this “gift.” Women love to hook up with men whom they feel at some level puts them first—the so-called loving, caring person is grounded in the we-focused components of one’s personality, and the guy who can appear largely we-focused around women has a huge advantage in getting a desired sexual partner.
Consider Hillary. Hillary no doubt was attracted to Bill for the same reasons other women fell to his feet to have sex with him over the years, The personal charm and magnetism that attracts him to other women as well as voters attracted him to her. There is no greater admirer of Bill Clinton the charmer than Hillary Clinton.
Unfortunately (or by some counts, I suppose fortunately), Hillary does not possess the same personal magnetism or charm that Bill does. For starters, this does not work quite the same for women as a group than for men. Men as a group tend to be more attracted to women based on physical appearance—in general there is less of a we, or concern for others component to the attraction of a man for a woman than it is for a woman being attracted to a man.
So even if Hillary were a we-focused person she could not succeed in this department to the extent that Bill has. But she has other problems as well. In public, she often comes across to voters as me- not we-focused. She seems interested in working on problems in a group setting but only if she is always the center of attention, that is the one invariably calling the shots. At some level even as a president, she has to be able to step back and let others do their work. To the extent that these people succeed, she will be able to claim at least part of the credit. Her problem is that her me-oriented ego won’t permit her to do this unless she is the center of attention.
Based on simple IQ tests, Nixon was no doubt much brighter than Reagan. But as president, nearly anyone would claim that Reagan was not only far more capable and was far more successful than Nixon was. A key here I believe is that Reagan was primarily we-focused, whereas Nixon was primarily me-focused. Unfortunately, Hillary’s persona appears to have a lot of the characteristics of Nixon and few of Reagan. Enough of politics and psychoanalyzing public figures for now!
Me and We in Childhood
We-oriented people tend to develop their other-dominated skills at a very early age, that is, in childhood, and these tend to come into full bloom around puberty. Sex and a relationship with another person in essence become one and the same, and the idea that being with another person is essential to having sex. Sex and a close relationship therefore are synonymous.
Developmental psychologists would no doubt argue that the basic aspects of one’s personality are developed at a very early age, long before puberty and that what happens in large measure depends on a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Even at a very early age, kids who can relate strongly to others, that is, those who appear to be more nearly we- not me-oriented around them have some key advantages. While we-oriented kids are playing with and otherwise interacting others, me-oriented kids are frequently off engaging in activities that they can do alone. While some me-oriented kids tend to be more comfortable in we-focused settings as they get older, frequently these differences never really go away. Oftentimes the we-focused child quickly discovers that his or her parents, teachers and perhaps others pay more attention to siblings who happen to have more of a we-focus. Other times the sheer skills and exceptional talents of the me-focused child tends to pull him or her along, and the lack of a significant we-orientation ultimately poses less of a disadvantage. A me focus tends to populate groups of really bright people capable of exceptional individual accomplishment, but these people tend to gravitate toward occupations that heavily reward personal as opposed to group accomplishment.
Even in childhood, a me-oriented person tends to develop skills needed to achieve independence, that is, specifically the variety of skills needed to survive on one’s own without the help of another person. At puberty, the immediate focus is on discovering sex for one’s own happiness—that is the emphasis is on the individual not the relationship. We-oriented people sometimes tend to see me-oriented people as being self-centered, and perhaps even a little weird. Me-oriented people tend to see we oriented people as being overly enamored with (almost invariably, at some level, disappointing or not fully fulfilling expectations) relationships with other people as the sole route to happiness route. Keep in mind once again that all of this is a continuum, not a one or the other (0 or 1) situation.
Of course, at puberty, many things change. Children who had primarily been used to interacting among playmates of the same sex suddenly become interested in the opposite sex. This transition, of course, generally proceeds much more smoothly for the we-focused person than for the me-focused person. Guys quickly discover that the girls tend to be attracted to the charmers in their group that tend to be both other-focused and have a lot of personal magnetism. However, guys also discover that girls are attracted to guys who can accomplish things, for example a leader of a high school team sport may very well possess the perfect combination of physical attraction, the other-focused (that is, team-focused) mindset and be seen as a capable leader. Such a guy might have some real advantages in the dating department in comparison with the guys who is seen to be the brightest in the class but a little on the geeky side, not that other-focused but rather focused on personal accomplishment.
Me, We and Sexuality
When I began this essay, I had some specific thoughts in mind with respect to how the me, we continuum affects sexual behaviors, sexual relationships, and sexuality in general. Furthermore, I have gotten somewhat sidetracked by themes relating to how the we-me continuum affects choices people make regarding occupations, the behaviors of politicians, athletes and movie stars and similar topics not related to sex and sexuality.
However, it is now time to return to what was originally to have been the separate theme of the essay. That theme is as follows. Given the importance of me versus we in the human psyche, it is not surprising that people drag these same issues into their private lives including personal relationships and sexual behaviors.
To my knowledge, available research data touch only the periphery of some of my central concerns here. I am not going to be the one to do the applied research, but merely suggest a number of ideas that could be used as a basis for applied research using human subjects at some point in the future. My initial thoughts are as follows.
First, the transition through puberty represents a tough time for many if not most boys and girls, although some appear at least to make the transition more easily than others. Both boys and girls learn about their bodies and in particular sexual feelings long before puberty, but this seems to be of particular concern or importance for boys. Not only that, there is often a dearth of information from reliable sources. Boys are particularly reluctant to ask for answers to questions from their dads, in part because they often feel that the questions that they really need answers to are too embarrassing to ask, or that the search for information will be misinterpreted or provide clues to their behavior that they would rather keep private and perhaps even lead to punishment. Many boys assume that their mothers do not understand or would be able to answer their questions anyway.
Posing questions to peers sets up its own series of complications, even if one can get up the nerve to discuss the topic. There seems to be an unwritten code among many boys which says that some questions cannot be asked for fear that the question might label him as “gay”, or a “pervert” of some sort. Boys soon learn that they can talk about conquests with girls without having this fear, but not much else.
Girls face their own set of problems. In the case of boys, the development of secondary sex characteristics at puberty can largely go unnoticed by the family. The family might notice that the voice is changing, and observe the need to deal with the “peach fuzz” that will eventually call for shaving, but issues related to, say, the first orgasm and ejaculation are frequently largely ignored. Girls, however, are going through changes at puberty that cannot be simply ignored. Not only is there the issue of the first period and what to do about it, there are issues such as breast development.
Until puberty, most boys and girls tend to favor playmates and establishing bonds of the same sex. This all makes a fairly rapid shift at puberty, as boys discover girls and girls discover boys. This does not mean that either sex suddenly abandons their same sex friendships, however, and in some ways the bonds between girls and the bonds between boys may indeed become stronger not weaker—its just that this new dimension has been added now involving the opposite sex.
Even as young people just going through puberty, females as a group frequently tend to be more we-oriented than males are as a group. For girls, the relationship and in particular how one relates to a person of the opposite sex quickly becomes of primary importance. Girl’s fantasies tend to focus on having a relationship with a boy, with actually having sex with a boy being of secondary importance, if at all.
In contrast, boys tend to focus more heavily on sex itself as an emotionally satisfying experience, either alone or in partner sex. To the extent that boys are interested in girls, the primary concern quickly becomes in having sex part, while the relationship part is secondary. Boy’s fantasies tend to focus primarily on having sex with a girl with the relationship part being of secondary importance, if at all.
Males are genetically programmed to turn nearly everything they do into a me-focused competition. In contrast, for females, sheer competition is often less important and we-focused relationships are frequently more and become increasingly important particularly as the girl gets older. This basic difference becomes particularly obvious during the teen years. Obviously, most post-pubescent teen boys have relatively few opportunities to engage in sex with a girl, so solo sex (masturbation perhaps while fantasizing about having sex with a girl found to be particularly attractive) becomes particularly important. However, for girls as they get older, relationships with others, and often with a particular boy, assumes an increasing importance. In general, solo sex is not is important in the lives of teen girls as it is for boys. The girl fantasizes about having a relationship with a particular boy, but sex is only a component of that relationship, and likely not even the most important one.
Girls perhaps on average learn more about sex and sexuality than boys learn from their fathers. A lot of this is basic female (and perhaps to a lesser extent, male) plumbing and how various body parts fit together. Girls generally learn that they are or should make themselves central to a guy’s sexual happiness. In short, a girl correctly learns that a guy wants sex to keep him happy, and further, that this is critical to all the other things that a girl wants out of the relationship. Some of this information is accurate but incomplete. For example, the whole idea that a girl might or should experience pleasure in sex tends to get pushed into the background, if mentioned at all. Sex exists mainly to keep the guy happy so that he will continue to provide all of the things necessary for the relationship to flourish, and, and, oh yes, procreation, but little else. Around puberty, boys learn a lot about pleasuring themselves during solo sex: girls frequently miss out on much if not most of this. Some mothers might even discourage such self-exploration, in part concerned that the girl will start to like it “too much” and then will not see the need to find a husband. Guys generally have no such hang-ups and so it is “full speed ahead” in the solo sex department, assuming that a sexual partner is not available.
Men and Women carry all of this sexual baggage into adulthood, including the accumulated misinformation that passes from mother to daughter and from father to son. Young men seeking female partners quickly learn that women as a group tend to be relationship- (that is, we-) focused and that sex as a concept is subordinate to the relationship as a concept. Women see their roles with men as their mothers had described them. Specifically, the role and significance of solo sex and sexual self-pleasure is under the radar. Women are generally taught that once guys get through puberty their sexual energy quickly shifts from solo sex (thought of as an inferior substitute) to “real” sex with a woman.
The problem of course, is that men do not quite make these shifts as described by the women’s mother, or if they do, the transition is not nearly as neat or simple nor as clean as it is presented. Some guys probably have an easier time making the transition than others. But guys learn the nuances of exciting solo sex long before they met their first girlfriend and get used to having solo sex whenever they are able to get some privacy. Of course, if guys really believed that sex with a woman is ultimately far more satisfying than solo sex, maybe they would abandon solo sex in adulthood entirely in favor of partner sex. But only a small percentage of guys do.
Thus, it often is a real shock to the young wife when she discovers, perhaps accidentally, that her husband, despite being married, is still engaging is solo sex and with zeal. This entire idea was certainly not in the playbook mom gave her. For some wives, this discovery comes as nearly the shock she would have had the guy been having an affair with another women. Meanwhile a lot of guys quickly decide that if they are going to engage in solo sex, if they don’t want a weepy wife on their hands, they need to engage in solo sex very secretively. It is almost as if guy is still living in his parent’s home and is worried how he will be punished if his mom and dad discover what he was doing, or perhaps living in a college dorm and is concerned about what his room-mate might say or do. Solo sex was always done on a secretive basis and getting married unfortunately does not change that!
I frequently have told women who are hurt and angered when they perhaps by accident discover that their husband still engages in solo sex that there is a proper question to ask and that question should be “May I join you?” Many men, perhaps most men find the whole idea of being able to watch their wife (girlfriend) pleasure herself to be right up there with the most pleasurable of all sexual experiences (and here women often think penis-vagina sex or perhaps oral sex topped the list of erotic activities). Not only that, many men would find it enormously erotic to simply engage in masturbation while having his wife or girlfriend watch and pleasure herself at the same time. Or if the two want to masturbate each other using a variety of methods, then that is fine too. Again, this is one of those items that simply never appear in mom’s playbook passed on to daughters. Thy guy has honed is solo-sex techniques at an early age and by the time he is married he has fine-tuned all of this for erotic pleasure. However, the girl is often much less experienced in this regard, and was perhaps even told that solo sex was “not nice’ or dirty. So there are psychological hurdles to overcome in addition to technical details to be learned.
I have often thought that if mutual masturbation is as powerfully erotic sexual activity as I argue it is here, then a to the extent that couples could engage in that form of sexual activity as opposed to penis-vagina sex, a lot of problems could be resolved, starting with unwanted pregnancies in unmarried teen couples through the transmission of sexually transmitted disease.
Combining and Summarizing Some Ideas
Two Master Bedrooms in New Homes
So, both men and women enter adulthood carrying a lot of accumulated psychological baggage from thir teen years relating to sex. Particularly for males, but probably also to a certain degree for females, part of this baggage involves the need for occasional privacy primarily to pursue solo sex. It is well recognized that just because people enter adulthood and form pair-bonds, that they do not abandon activities that made them happy as a young person. Most people’s interests of all kinds remain remarkably stable over time, and activities that were found to be a source of pleasure in childhood very often remain a source of pleasure in adulthood as well. No where is this more true than in matters of sex.
Obviously as a person passes from childhood into adulthood, some interests decline as other interests move into the forefront. As a person begins to find interest in partner sex, for example, one might expect that interest in solo sex would tend to decline. At least that’s the view expressed in many books where researchers have looked at the frequency of masturbation versus partner sex for the two sexes and for various age groups. Human beings of both sexes tend to like to sort through various kinds of sexual activities that they are able to pursue, gradually discarding those activities found to be less pleasurable and not as erotic, while increasingly narrowing in on and emphasizing those that are found to be more pleasurable and more erotic. This is a natural process that by some counts would tend to argue that adult partners in a sexual relationship would (perhaps should) generally opt for partner-sex activities over solo sex activities. There is something of a hierarchy of sexual practices individual to each person.
I further would argue that for a specific individual, what this specific sexual practice hierarchy turns out to be is as unique as a fingerprint. Part of the entire compatibility in marriage issue relates directly to the fact that two people who claim to be in love with each other had better share a lot in common with respect to what both agree are activities deemed to be highly erotic and pleasurable versus not so erotic or pleasurable, or the marriage ultimately is going to be filled with conflict. Ultimately, this sexual compatibility is the psychosexual glue that enables two people to form pair bonds and hang together even in the face of disagreements and conflict that might occur elsewhere in the relationship. For that reason alone I cannot overemphasize the importance of understanding this.
The unfortunate part of course is that a lot of couples do not sort this all out until long after the marriage has begun, and by then it may be too late. No wonder the divorce rate is high and rising! For example, if, deep in his psyche, a guy still wants to occasionally have solo sex and the woman gets all weepy because she feels that because of this she is not the wife her mother taught her to be, then we have a recipe for disaster in the relationship. Either that, or the love partners need to quickly explore the alternatives that will lead to happiness for both. Of course, the real solution is improved sex education for the wife in her teen years, but it is impossible to back track. Mom probably got weepy every time dad was caught doing the same thing! But for this particular problem, an enlightened understanding of what is going on with the guy—that is, just because a guy on occasion pursues solo sex does not mean that he loves his wife less—might be the most helpful
Of course, always the interesting question for science is “does what seems obvious indeed happen for most people?’ In other words, as people enter adulthood do they gradually abandon solo sex activities in favor of activities involving partners? I believe that the best answer to this question is “Well, perhaps to certain degree, but the issue of solo versus partner sex in adulthood is not a 0-1 all or nothing situation, but, again a continuum. Envision once again a continuum not unlike the me versus we continuum.
Solo-Sex Focused Partner-Sex Focused
Again, for both adult men and women, there are those who live their lives at all points along this continuum. There might be some differences in averages for the group of males and the group of females. I would not be surprised to learn that males on average tend to be a little closer to the solo-sex focused side of the continuum than females on average are. However, this again is an empirical issue and no one to my knowledge has done a survey centering on this particular issue.
However, there are some indirect clues. For example, to the extent that men in relationships remain interested in finding a way to pursue solo-sex activities some of the time, even though they might regard their primary sexual activity as partner sex, then they will still need to find situations whereby they can pursue this option on the side without being interrupted. If the guy has a wife who somehow believes (perhaps learned from her mother) that if her husband ever engages in solo sex during a marriage that she has somehow failed him as a wife, then this sets up some complicated circumstances if the husband even only occasionally wants to have solo sex.
However, most guys aren’t with their wives 24/7. Some guys opt for employment that requires a lot of overnight travel, for example, and this provides all sorts of opportunities to engage in sexual activities that the wife might not approve of if she knew about them. Ultimately, a better solution
Which is More Fun, Partner Sex or Solo Sex?
It is always interesting to pose questions that have obvious answers. It is even more interesting to pose questions that only seem to have obvious answers. As my readers may have guessed, in working through what has mainly been an extraordinarily long introduction to what I really wanted to discuss, and the answer to this question is complicated. Indeed, there is no one answer. There are many different answers and many different qualifications along the way.
Let me lay out a psychological basis for my theory. Those persons whose psychological makeups lie at the extreme of the me-oriented side of the scale tend to be highly competitive and ego-driven. These are the people who strongly believe that their own success or failure is largely determined by their own personal skills, and that they actions of others around them are important only to a very limited degree.
In contrast, those persons whose psychological makeups lie at the extreme of the we-oriented side of the scale tend to be focused on relating to other people around them. These are people who strongly believe that their personal success or failures are largely driven by what others around them think about them, and so, unlike a competitive and ego-driven me-oriented person, honing and fine-tuning skills for relating to other people become an all-important part of their persona.
There are dramatic differences in the basic psychological makeup of two people occupying the two extremes of this scale. On course, most people do not live on the two extremes, but rather have personas perhaps favoring one side of the scale or the other. In other words, the vast majority of people exist as a mixture of the two even though most individuals might favor one side or another.
Given this, it would not be much of a leap to assume that all of this gets dragged into the sexual lives of everyone as well. In other words, the me- or-we focused aspects of our personalities get dragged right into how each of us sees ourselves as a sexual human being.
Thus, solo sex, also known as masturbation in private, being focused on ones’ self, may very well play a much more important role in the life of a person who is me-oriented, competitive, and ego-driven. Me-oriented people tend to like to find ways of dealing with problems and issues that they face without having to rely on others around them, to the extent that they have connections to others at all. Is it a great leap to this thinking to theorize that these same people will treat their sex lives somehow differently than how they try to deal with everything else in their lives. Indeed, sex for these people without a partner poses no great problem, issue or even any major concern.
In contrast, my theory further suggests that those who score far on the we-oriented side of the scale will tend to drag this all into their sexual lives as well. Such individuals will tend to see sex as being all about a relationship with another person, and perhaps even find the idea of engaging in solo sex to be perhaps revolting, childish, or an indication of a person who never really developed into being an adult in the sexuality department. Presumably, people on the we-extreme of the scale made a smooth transition from solo sex to partner sex shortly after puberty. Personal charm and a certain magnetism that comes about from being highly we-oriented likely made it possible for them to have sex with a partner at a relatively early age, and after that they never looked back. To the extent that solo sex exists at all for such a person, it is something that they might have tried in childhood or at puberty but have long sense abandoned entirely as an adult.
Puberty represents a time whereby most young people go through a transition period from being mainly me-focused to a more nearly we-focused persona. But each person is unique in this regard, and this transition may proceed smoothly or perhaps hardly at all. Many people but most particularly a significant number men, retain a strongly competitive ego-driven focus on one’s self as being primarily important as part of their personas, and furthermore, they do not necessarily see this as in any way representing some aspect of their personality that failed to develop. They are content with who they are.
However, in the case of the average women, the role of social relationships with others, both with men and other women is quite often of primary importance, and success is gauged on the basis of how successful they are in forming these social bonds. To a certain degree, women who achieve success from their own personal achievements frequently seem to believe that they somehow need to rationalize their me-focus with others. Think of many me-focused, competent but personal ego driven female leaders in business, industry, academics and others who see what they did at some level as being a consequence of making sacrifices in their own lives involving limiting we-focused activities in order to achieve personal success.
Given all of this, it is no great leap to conclude that the average adult female is likely to be more into partner sex than into solo sex. In this context, it is very difficult if not impossible to separate the sex from the relationship. Solo sex becomes something people might have engaged in prior to puberty but has long-sense abandoned. They believe that the only women who would engage in solo sex are the unlucky few who somehow have been unsuccessful in forming bonds with others.
The question of whether males prefer solo sex to partner sex has been researched. Results are reported in Shere Hite’s survey book on male sexuality. I will focus my answer on the male side of the issue, at least initially. Maybe after I get through with that I can also speculate about what might be going on with respect to the female side.
Here is something more to ponder. Think back in your life to the time you had what you considered to be the most exciting and wonderful experience ever. First, think about the whole range of experiences you have had when you were alone. Of all of these, which one do you rank as absolutely the best, and why did you come away feeling that way? In particular try to think about exactly what it was about this particular experience that you found to be mind blowing. What was going on that made it so wonderful? In your head? In your genitals? Elsewhere? So far as you were concerned was it the physical stimulation, the psychological stimulation, or some combination of the two that sent you into a psychosexual nirvana. Now probe deeper into your memory. Was there something unique or special about the experience that could be repeated at other times?
Now consider the other option. This time, think back in your life to the time you believe you had absolutely the most exciting and wonderful sexual experience with a partner. Consider the whole range of sexual experiences you have had with a partner. Of all of these, which one to this day still most blows you away as being the most gratifying partner sex that you ever had? Exactly what were the circumstances? Specifically how did you and your partner go about the process of setting up the circumstances such that the sex was mind-blowing fun? Is whatever you did that time repeatable? If not, why not? What exactly was going on that made this all so wonderful? In your head? In your partner’s head? In your genitals? In your partner’s genitals? Elsewhere for you? Elsewhere for your partner?
Now ponder this question. If you were to quiz the person you were with during this mind-blowing partner sex do you believe that your the partner be as thrilled about that particular experience as you apparently are (or were)? In particular, what specifically would your partner describe as being particularly mind blowing about the experience? Or as an alternative, maybe your partner was not nearly as blown away as you were? The real issue that is worth pondering here is whether or not the knowledge or belief that your partner was experiencing mind blowing sex at the same time played a significant role in your own personal sexual pleasure.
It is funny how this all works, isn’t it? We could call it a psychosexual connection. There may very well be “wires” connecting the pleasure centers of two people’s brains together. I get more personal pleasure from the knowledge that you, my partner are experiencing pleasure as a consequence of something I am doing. Conversely, you, my partner, get personal psychosexual pleasure from the mere knowledge that my brain is hitting on all the psychosexual pleasure centers. Broadly but, I think this could be called “bonding.” We are playing with the tubes of the very glue that binds relationships together. This all can be a lot of fun for both partners, but sadly, it can go all wrong too. Then relationships have an unfortunate way of falling apart, as one of both partners discover that what they thought was there isn’t really there. At this point we could write the lyrics to a touching country and western song about love and lost love that didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. But I’m getting too melancholy now, and I need to get back to the topic at hand.
Now, since you have been reliving the most mind-blowing solo sex experience that you have ever had, and reliving the most mind blowing partner sex experience that you have ever had, it’s time to give out the “Oscar” for the best motion picture, overall. Or in your case perhaps, the best sexual experience you have ever had. Period. Please, no, “ifs”, “buts” or other qualifiers. Which one was it, the most mind-blowing solo sex experience or the most mind-blowing partner sex experience?
At this point it is useful to analyze the findings of Shere Hite in the context of what I just told you. There are Oscars for things other than the best motion picture. In the case of sex we could thing up other categories for awarding Oscars too. For example, in addition to the Oscar for best sexual experience overall, we could toss in another category ands award a separate Oscar specifically for the most powerful and enjoyable orgasm ever. We could think up still more categories too. But for the moment, let’s look at this second category and see how it might relate to the first category.
The answer to all of this may seem obvious, but again it is not, especially with respect to partner sex. How can it not be that the best sexual experience you have ever had was not the one where you had the most powerful and enjoyable orgasm ever. That’s equivalent to asking the question as to why the Oscar for best picture is not always given to the movie that also got the most Oscars for specific actors and actresses in the movie, or for that matter why isn’t the best motion picture always the one that also won the award for best director?
There is something about the totality of the sexual experience that may very well exceed the sum of the parts. A person alone has a powerful orgasm. Another person alone has a powerful orgasm. But the experience of two people both having a powerful experience at approximately the same time is different. Supposedly, 2 + 2 is always equal to 4, or at least that’s what a friend of mine claims. But in matters of sexual experience, 2 + 2 frequently does not equal 4. The sum can be 5, or 6, or 8, or, sadly even 3. The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, and often is, but also, perhaps less.
I need to return to the question I initially posed. Specifically, what did Shere Hite find in her survey? Well, when she asked men to compare and rank the sexual experiences they have had, many if not most men routinely reported that they had more powerful erections and orgasms during solo sex, but that overall partner sex was more enjoyable. What these men were saying is that a powerful orgasm is a component of excellent sex, but that alone was not the whole ball of wax and that connecting with one’s partner not only sexually but psychologically to make for an emotionally thrilling sexual experience on many different levels. This is complicated and it was never intended to be simple. The fact that mankind has existed for many thousands of years is a tribute to the fact that this complicated system employing a combination of sheer physical pleasure and emotional connectedness works at all. Stop and think about it. If most men found solo sex more pleasurable than partner sex (in this case, with a woman. In this instance I apologize to my gay friends everywhere. I do not mean to demean you here, but sorry, if everyone were gay and found no pleasure in heterosexual intercourse the human race would have quickly died out too), overall, the human race would have died out a long time ago. So somehow this system, sloppy and uncertain as it seems, keeps successfully going along, at least at a level sufficient to keep the human race going.
What Does Penis-Vagina Sex Have to Recommend It?
At a very early age, most guys discover that their penises very much like to be in a very confined space. In the case of most heterosexual guys, the ultimate confined space is the female vagina. But there are myths here. The first myth is that the basic reason a vagina feels good is that it encases the penis all along. The truth is, most of the sensation on the penis of a vagina comes from the ring that fits (hopefully) fairly tightly around the penis at the entrance. After that, the vagina more or less billows out, and there is generally little real physical sensation of being in a confined space from the inside of the vagina, if at all. The idea that the penis is somehow tightly encapsulated by the vagina for the most part is a psychological experience and not physical. Of course, with the right vagina, the ring at the entrance is going to move back and forth along the penis as the guy thrusts in and out. This can create a neat sensation, but it works better if the penis and vaginal entrance are closely matched in terms of size.
A second myth is that during intercourse in deep thrusting, the guy will fairly easily press the glans or base of the tip of the erect penis, up against the women’s cervix, at the end of the vagina. The whole idea here is that the glans or tip of the penis is a sexual “G” spot for men, that is, extraordinarily sensitive, and that hitting the cervix in deep thrusting is a particularly unique and psychologically interesting part of penis-vagina sex. In reality, getting all of this to work according to the design theory is not that easy and may involve some considerable gymnastics by both partners in order for everything to come together as it is supposed to biologically. According to a number of authors at least, nature intended for the glans of the penis to come in contact with the cervix only during very deep thrusting and with the penis as long as it can be. It is a well known fact that if a guy is very erect, simply touching or slightly rubbing the glans area will cause him to ejaculate in a hurry. But if this is what happens, then nature, always concerned about pulling off successful reproduction, is interested in making sure that the guy is getting lots of pleasure in deep thrusting, and this same deep penetration serves the reproduction objective well in that the sperm are placed as close to the cervix as possible. This placement gives the sperm a minimum distance to travel and therefore the maximum probability that the woman will be impregnated—unless the guy is wearing a condom, of course! If the guy has more fun by doing deep thrusts on occasion hitting his glans against the cervix, why not take advantage of the guy’s pleasure by convincing him that it would be really enjoyable to ejaculate his semen into the exact location that would maximize the probability of a pregnancy? Nature is like that.
This is all biology and the physical connection between a man and a woman. Biology and penis rubbing vagina while vagina rubs penis is all fine, but this is only part of penis-vagina sex, maybe only a small part. The rest of it is a psychological connectedness. I suppose we could talk about being in love and that is what the psychological connectedness is all about. Let’s stop and thing about all of this. Psychologically, there is something enormously interesting for most people in simply knowing that one’s person is stimulating another person sexually. Both men and women spend a lot of time and energy trying to do just that, often intentionally but sometimes unintentionally. Women routinely wear clothing, fragrances, and whatever they think will arouse the men who observe them. A lot of women are pretty up front with regard to what they are trying to do. Designers know that women like to buy clothing and other items they think men will find erotic, and the designers are more than happy to comply. Women are more than happy to experiment with whatever they think might work for whatever men they are trying to attract.
Men, heterosexual men at least, are generally a little less up front with respect to what they are trying sexually to do. A lot of guys think that any overt display that could be seen by women as sexy is inappropriate. Most straight men will not openly admit that they are making choices in clothing etc in an overt effort to capture the attention of women in general or perhaps a specific woman. On the other hand, if that happens most men are not going to run. Indeed, the whole idea of being carefully checked out by a woman (who, conveniently, as everything proceeds, is getting increasingly turned on by what she observes) is generally seen by guys as a plus not a minus. That men like to spend a lot of their waking hours checking out women and in particular finding particular sexual turn-ons is well known in our society. That many if not most women like to do the same thing is generally less well recognized by society, but this is still very much a part of sexual behavior for women.
So in this world of male-female partner sex, the psychosexual signaling by both sexes plays at least as important a role as the physical aspects of sex, the latter being the actual sensation of penis inside a vagina.
What Does Solo Sex Have to Recommend It?
Well, for starters, solo sex is readily available, requiring only a degree of privacy. Further it’s egalitarian in that anyone can participate. Partner sex in any form, well, requires a partner, which implies at least a significant degree of social interaction. Some people may not be interested in that part, but probably still are very much interested in sex. The biggest issue I suppose is that if part of the enjoyment of penis-vagina sex is physical and part psychological, in the case of solo sex the emphasis is primarily on the physical aspect of sex. Not that the psychological aspect is completely absent, hence the popularity of men’s magazines, Internet Web sites etc.
In at least one important way solo sex is superior to partner sex. Generally, a partner sex act occurs only over a relatively short period of time, perhaps as little as 3-5 minutes. All sorts of issues are involved, most obviously that both partners must “pace” themselves especially if the desired goal is for both partners to have an orgasm at (more or less) the same time. Of course, many things can go wrong in this “timing”. The man may be either too slow or too fast at getting aroused and then ejaculating (premature ejaculation or delayed ejaculation). Physical stimulation by the penis inside a vagina alone may not provide sufficient stimulation for the woman to have an orgasm. At the same time the guy is dealing with his own erection and what should be a very pleasant time for him, he may also be working on other strategies such as clitoral stimulation in an effort to help the woman achieve an orgasm if that is a potential problem.
Good penis-vagina sex is a delicate balancing act that in order to be fully successful needs to come together like clockwork. The guy whose mind (and fingers) are mostly engaged in stimulating her clitoris is probably going to be less than fully engaged in the pleasurable sensations in his own penis. This can all get rather complicated, with everything occurring over a relatively short period of time. With solo sex, a lot of these timing problems are no longer an issue. For starters (unless someone else is waiting to get into the bathroom) one can take as much time as he wants!
Sex Education of Adolescents
Many women, perhaps most, are very much attracted to men who are highly competitive, ego-driven and occupy powerful positions. At the same time the personal charm of a strongly we-oriented man is frequently seen as attractive for women as well, and the search for a mate regularly involves a search for a man who has some of both traits. Many, perhaps most men, on the other hand, place a very high priority on finding a woman who is able to relate to other people very well, in particular a women who places her concern for others first over her own needs for approval. In short, many of the personality characteristics that a woman might find attractive in a man are the opposite of the characteristics a man might find attractive in a woman. For many men, the idea of marrying a woman who is highly competitive, ego driven and occupies a powerful position is a turn-off not a turn-on.
If two people who are both highly competitive and ego-driven do find each other, the result if often fireworks. Many men are uncomfortable engaging their wives in a competition this way. The wife who brings a competitive, ego-driven husband home may quickly discover that there is a whole lot about this person that her mother never discussed in the “playbook” she was given during adolescent sex education.
Not that the dads did any better in helping their sons deal with the possibility that they might find a wife who is more nearly on the me-oriented than the we-oriented end of the continuum. This possibility is never really broached when the topic of sex education of young males comes up. Dads frequently tend to have a more or less patriarchal view of relationships complete with all the traditional stereotypes.
Teen boys and girls live in completely different worlds with respect to sex education by their parents. By the time kids get to be eleven or so, parents decide that it is probably time to have their first conversation about “the birds and the bees” relative to how human reproduction occurs, and perhaps discussing boldly changes associated with growing up etc. The funny thing here is that most parents are running about 5 years late and at the age of ten or eleven they are telling kids the stuff that they had pretty well figured out when they were, say five or six. Specifically I’m referring to the standard “sex education” information on how penis enters vagina in intercourse and how sperm enters egg, and the basics of how babies grow in the womb.
Of course, for ten or eleven-year-old kids there are still a lot of things about being an adult that they would like to know more about and they are clamoring for information. This is information on a whole array of issues that parents are either too embarrassed to discuss or incorrectly believe is too “adult” for young minds to comprehend and appreciate. Meanwhile kids immediately categorize questions related to sex into two groups 1. Questions I think I might dare ask a parent. (Generally these are the questions about the basic biology of reproduction that are not that interesting) and 2. Questions I would love to have an answer to but I am too embarrassed to ask my parents, or for that matter, anyone else (This is the really juicy, interesting, and ultimately important stuff). At every age, most kids know a whole lot more and are far more interested than parents give them credit for, and this sets up a constant struggle between parent and teen.
At some level, young girls may get better quality sex education from their moms than boys get from their dads. Basic biology here plays a role. It is possible for a boy to go through puberty without saying anything to anyone other than perhaps “I think I might need to shave now.” But girls are not nearly so lucky in that regard. First there is the issue of beginning to menstruate that cannot be ignored. Suddenly girls need to have products from the store to deal with that. Then there is the problem of enlarging breasts, which call for shopping for a bra. In short, mothers can’t simply ignore that all of this is happening like dads are prone to do with their sons. Along with this both parents, but particularly moms, begin to worry that their daughters are about to “discover boys” and suddenly the terror of my little girl getting into a situation with a boy that they don’t know how to deal with sets in. For girls, the onset of menstruation brings with it a whole series of discussions with moms about the hazards associated with getting involved with a boy and how to deal with a whole range of issues in order to make certain that the penis doesn’t enter the vagina. Generally the discussions are a series of admonitions to not do this and not do that and to attempt to establish some reasonable bounds with respect to what would be considered proper social behavior for a young teen girl versus inappropriate behavior when young teen boys are present in a social situation, and why it is generally inappropriate for a young teen girl to be alone with a young teen boy under any circumstances because of what might happen.
These same moms, especially if they have young teen sons, fully realize that that the boys’ brains are being bombarded with testosterone for the first time, and under the right (or, depending on how you see it, wrong) circumstances this situation can get out of control in a hurry. So young teen girl sex education becomes a whole series of warnings and don’ts about sex and everything that might lead to sex.
A basic problem, of course, is that sex education gets passed down the generations, from father to son and then to his son, and from mother to daughter and then to her daughter. A lot of this so-called information is misinformation, but still gets routinely passed along from one generation to the next.
First, fathers tend to pass on information to their sons about women that was passed from their fathers, generally variations on the theme that women exist largely to make life pleasant for the man, sexually and otherwise. This quickly leads to a very patriarchal, male-dominated view of how life for a married man should be in an idealized world, and at the same time leaves little room for wives who earn a significant amount of money thus sharing the responsibilities as breadwinner. Many men in 2007 would probably still claim to be happier in a world in which the responsibilities for income were not shared, and mom stayed home, did the cooking and baking and did most of the care of the kids. The problem of course is that we live in the early part of the 21st century not in 1953 and yet we have sex education about the broad role of women in a family being more nearly appropriate for how people lived in mid -20th century circa 1953.
When the wife doesn’t live up to this patriarchal view, whether this involves working outside the home, not making home-cooked meals, or being primarily responsible for keeping the house clean and caring for the kids unless some quick compromise can be reached recognizing that reality is not nor cannot be what exists in such an idealized world there will generally be disagreements.
Meanwhile, mothers, and therefore their daughters also live in an idealized world of their own, and this idealized world is frequently no more on the mark than the description from a male perspective. The female idealized world tends to look at life as a package deal from a female perspective. Living as a married couple from a female perspective drags along a whole series of things, starting with an income sufficient to support a nice home, two cars, several children, fancy furniture, designer clothes, expensive jewelry and a whole lot more. This entire package is every girl’s dream of a perfect adult life. Television, movies and the other media are filled with demonstrations of exactly what the package entails if not instructions on exactly what a girl must do to get it. Women in this world may work, but the husband earns enough money to support the household and the children, so that is not really necessary, and any income from the wife can be used for the wife’s personal happiness. So, the wife in this world basically needs to have the skills to keep her husband happy.
Did I forget to mention that from a female perspective, sex is in this package somewhere? But in this world, sex exists more as a duty to the husband than as something that could ultimately bring a lot of personal pleasure for the wife. Indeed, from a female sex education perspective sex becomes the trading card necessary in order to get all of the other things in the package. If there are to be children, sex is usually (although not always) necessary. But beyond that, merely having partner sex for the pure fun of it is not really on the list other than as a control device.
So both men and women have their unique hang-ups regarding sex. Both sexes seem to believe that there is some “right” way and a wrong way to deal with the array of issues.
Let us consider the following options:
Penis-Vagina sex. From a guy’s perspective that was the sex he was after dating as a teenager. This must be pretty good stuff! From the female perspective, this is necessary for procreation (the usefulness here depends on whether the couple wants to have kids, and this is the one mom said the daughter must learn to cope with in route to the “package deal”. That a woman might engage in this in part for her own enjoyment somehow gets left out of the lesson planning.
Oral Sex. Even in the 21st century, I wonder how often this topic ever comes up between mothers and daughters. I know that teen males spend quite a bit of time fantasizing about going on dates with women who are interested in engaging in oral sex (fellatio), but teen males are largely ignorant of any techniques that would permit them to pleasure a woman that way (cunnilingus). This is the one topic that sometimes may be worked out between a couple prior to marriage, but I suspect most couples still are carrying around a lot of unresolved issues here that may eventually get resolved, or not.
Anal Sex. Even if a guy had the nerve and the courage to bring this one up with his date, he probably would not do so, for fear that this would be an indirect “signal” to his girl that he could have a “gay streak.” After all, anal sex is a favored form of sex for gay guys, then an expression of interest in this suggests that the guy is not as “straight” as she might have thought.
Mutual Masturbation with Partners Watching Each Other. Believe it or not, this possibility is even more off-limits than the anal sex discussion. Grown boys no longer masturbate, for that is a childhood activity! Furthermore, no women would find watching such a travesty in sexual development even remotely interesting, let alone erotic for goodness sakes. From a female sexual education perspective, uys get off on penis vagina sex like they had in the back seat of a car on a date, not on watching women massage themselves for sexual pleasure. Yah sure!
So both men and women enter adulthood loaded down with very little accurate information about sex and sexuality, but instead are both burdened with a series of myths This list of four broader groups of sexual activities, while not exhaustive, illuminates what I am trying to say. Many boys are conditioned by their fathers to believe that there are sexual activities that society thinks are “ok” mainly, “normal” penis-vagina sex, and other activities that society deems “unacceptable” for any number of reasons. This conditioning would suggest, for example, that solo sex without a partner present is perhaps ok but only for young boys prior to developing a relationship with a female sex. Any interest beyond that suggests that the guy must have problems because he has not made what should be a natural transition into penis-vagina sex and abandoned any interest whatsoever in solo sex. Oral sex is certainly kinky if not repulsive, and variations on oral sex using the fingers instead of the tongue are somehow unnatural as well. A guy who is psychologically in good shape should be fixated on getting his penis into a vagina and nothing else and the faster the better. This pretty much rules out the use of the fingers or tongue. In any sort of partner sex. There are a host of issues with anal sex, starting with the fact that both partners could find the whole idea to be repulsive. Anal sex between heterosexual partners also suffers from the fact that it is looked upon as being mainly a “gay” activity, and of course the whole idea of two gay men having sex together in whatever form is, or should be repulsive. Further, anal sex as a form of pleasurable activity for a couple got heavily beat up in the bible, and this is the form of sex that would make bible thumpers very nervous for sure. Clearly there must be something seriously wrong with any couple who would engage in this (and then show up in church the following Sunday)—indeed, an interest in engaging in anal sex is one way to define a pervert. I’m not saying that any of these views have merit: I’m merely saying that these views represent a lot about what adolescent boys learn about sex from various sources growing up, and as a consequence it is not surprising that this psychosexual baggage gets dragged along right into the adult relationship, for better or for worse.
The whole subject of mutual masturbation and its variations, i.e. partners touching and stimulating each other with their fingers while watching each other become sexually aroused, presents its own set of problems and issues. A sexually enlightened woman might call what I have described as sexual “foreplay” as in the kinds of activity that will help the woman achieve one or more orgasms as the sex act in its various forms continues. There are several problems here. First, as adolescents, boys are often told that the objective of sex is to put the boy’s penis into the girl’s vagina, and that preliminaries leading to this are a silly waste of time, indeed the fact that the guy can get an erection and get it into the vagina the more of a “man” he is. Furthermore, girls are conditioned by their moms to believe that what the dad must have told the guy about sex is correct and accurate. Any attempt at foreplay in its various forms from a male sex education perspective is simply seen as an unnecessary waste of time—the objective of penis-vagina sex is to see how fast a guy can get a full erection and then move right on into the really fun orgasm part. Never mind that sexually the woman might very well be left way behind to the extent that the entire sex act is treated as something of a “timed” event. Competitive guys are all about doing whatever they engage in with the least amount of time, and in this regard, sex is no different from any other activity.
I’ve written a whole series of papers that place an emphasis on the entire concept that in matters of sex, slow is better than fast. Furthermore, if both partners slow down and not treat the sex as a timed event, things might work out differently for both. Oddly enough, the series of events that could lead up to orgasm could also ultimately prove to be as erotic and as exciting as the orgasm itself.
This is really radical new age thinking about sex and sexuality that I am promoting here. First we have sons who were told by their fathers that sex is all about getting the penis into the vagina and that the son if he is to be a “real man” must be fixated on that, and certainly not all this other stuff that by some counts could be interpreted as weird, perverted or worse. We also have daughters who are taught by their mothers not only that guys are fixated on getting penis into vagina, but further, if the daughter is to get all the other things they want out of the relationship (big house, fancy car, children, jewelry, fine clothes etc) then the woman must be willing to treat her responsibilities for sex as if were simply a household duty and get the whole idea that sex could in part be for the pleasure of a woman as well out of her mind. That’s just the way it is!
The sad thing is that at least 98 % of sex is absolutely marvelous. Obviously there are a few parts of sex that are definitely not marvelous—rape, incest, sexual disease transmission and so on, but if we look past the relatively small number of items that are not marvelous, we still have a very long list of really marvelous stuff that falls into the category of some of the best experiences life as a human being has to offer. I tend to see all of the rest of it in terms of a near religious experience.
For Men: Questions you probably never got to ask (or would be too embarrassed to ask) your dad (not that dad would ever answer these!):
Do you think penis-vagina sex is more fun than solo sex?
Is it ok if I masturbate once a day, or even twice a day?
Have you ever masturbated in front of a woman?
Has mom ever masturbated
in front of you?
How can I learn to use my fingers to pleasure a woman?
For Women: Questions you probably never got to ask (or would be too embarrassed to ask) your mom (not that mom would ever answer these!):
Do you think penis-vagina sex is more fun than solo sex?
Is it ok if I masturbate once a day, or even twice a day?
Have you ever masturbated in front of a man?
Has dad ever
masturbated in front of you?
How can I learn to use my fingers to pleasure a man?
Making Progress and a Call for Modernization
This essay began on the theme of me versus we and the role of these two concepts in human psychology. I then made the strong argument that the me versus we concept gets dragged into all sorts of situations that human beings confront in their daily lives and how we choose to deal with others or not in our lives. It is not surprising that everyone drags baggage into their sexuality and into intimate relationships that develop in each of our adult lives as a part of this. For better or worse, all of us enter adulthood with a host of beliefs and values about sex and sexuality as well as what we believe to be proper or not so proper.
Many of these basic ideas about sex and sexuality with respect to what should and should not be are passed down through the generations, usually from father to son and from mother do daughter. This is largely a verbal not written tradition, and seldom is anything written down. While a few efforts have been made by authors to write books or other materials designed to be helpful for parents in knowing what to say to their children about sex and sexuality, a lot of this material either tends to focus on the biology of sexual reproduction (sometimes interesting but more often than not boring, and filled with scientific words that are not only difficult to pronounce but tough to grasp and understand, or deals with the subject of relationships from such a broad perspective as to not say anything at all about the really interesting parts.
So young people learn almost nothing about the really interesting stuff in matters of sex from the information passed down from one generation to another. The really interesting stuff is of course all the stuff that is too embarrassing for parents to even talk about in semi-general terms, let alone discuss the details as they might or might not apply in the parent’s own particular situation. Goodness, there is one set of questions about sex that parents are generally willing to answer, mostly about basic biology and related matters, but most young people are just as happy looking at articles in a (now on-line) encyclopedia in order to learn those details if they lack that information. Young people can do that in private without fear of embarrassing their parents or asking biology questions parents honestly do not know the answers.
But let’s suppose the guy wants to find an answer to another basic question i.e. “What happens if I masturbate ‘too much’? Most sons would probably be reluctant to ask that question for fear of embarrassing themselves (“dad doesn’t even know I do that”), thee dad (If dad answers the question truthfully then he more or less admits that he masturbates or at least did when he was the son’s age) or even might be punished if his parents found out what he was up to.
A basic question from a girl’s perspective is one relating to the idea of whether or not sex is largely about providing enjoyment for the man, or whether there is, could or should be something in this for the woman as well. If finding a man is mostly about the relationship and the non-sexual benefits arising from the relationship, then what role could (should) sex play in the life of an adult woman?
What seems to be lost in all of this is the importance and role of sex in a relationship for both a man and a woman. We have all these psychosexual hang-ups over what is proper and what is not proper. Men are frequently critical of women for stubbornly refusing to engage in some particular sex act the man might find deeply arousing. But women have their own equally damaging hang-ups that largely are developed from the idea that most men are not into foreplay other than getting to the part where the penis goes into the vagina as quickly as possible. Not only that, a lot of women basically do not know how to deal with a guy who drags into the relationship a lot of the baggage associated with a very active life incorporating solo sex whenever feasible. In this regard, women could learn a lot from men with respect to what they are able to do to pleasure themselves.
So let’s again suppose that a woman accidentally “discovers” her husband alone masturbating. Visual pornography may be involved, or perhaps not, and this really makes no difference one way or the other. On finding her husband, the woman immediately shrieks, and goes into a very distraught, probably weepy mode. This all stems from the basic value passed from mother to daughter that says man abandon solo sex entirely once they enter a relationship and that a woman should be the sole source of sexual pleasure for the man. This could get nasty in a hurry as the sobbing wife now threatens to leaver her husband as a consequence, but perhaps not.
At this point it would probably be appropriate for the wife, on discovering her husband masturbating, to first avoid getting distraught or even a little bit weepy. The whole idea here is to turn what could have very easily develop into a relationship-threatening situation into a positive. For the husband, the proverbial “cat” is out of the bag, and he knows it. His wife will never “trust” him again to be alone, for fear of what he “might do to himself” in private.
Well maybe. It doesn’t have to be that way, it really doesn’t. Recall the Wal-Mart line “How may I help you?” Instead of falling apart, perhaps the wife should instead say in a clear voice “How may I help you?” We have now turned a big negative into a potential positive. In doing this, the wife is saying “I’m not critical of what you are doing, but surely I would like to be a key part of the fun you are currently having.”
The vast majority of guys would never walk away from this expression of interest for sure. The woman who asked me “How can I help you?” would get the education of a lifetime in David Sebringsil’s college course in Basic Eroticism 101 starting with the nuances of where and how I would like to be touched and why. Meanwhile I would be “most interested in learning exactly how all of this works for a woman, and obviously the best and most interesting way to discover all of this is to run a series of scientific “experiments” in which the woman shows the man how she likes to pleasure herself and then the man follows up by trying the exact same techniques with his own, hand, finger, tongue or whatever other body part might be suitable for the situation “at hand.” This is an emotionally charged, highly erotic atmosphere we have suddenly created here in which both partners are willing and able to explore each others’ bodies and all of the nuances contained therein.
Wait a second! I have just been discussing “Which is more fun, partner sex or solo sex?” and now I am all at once promoting a third idea that in essence combines the two. Yes, that is true. But in so doing, I have resolved a host of pervasive problems and issues. First, we cover a number of topics never approached by either parent, and focus on sex for the pure enjoyment of both partners, not just the man. Second, we admit once and for all that it is ok for a guy to engage in sexual activities very similar to the activities he loved as a young teenager. Masturbation is out of its cubicle in which it was placed over the eons, and perhaps for the better. Adult-type masturbation is just like masturbation in childhood, except that now the sexual partner gets to watch as well as be watched, as the partner engages in an analogous activity. That is clearly not a sex education topic passed from father to son and from mother to daughter.
Perhaps I am naïve, but I firmly believe that most if not all women would greatly enjoy this newfound freedom to unapologetically engage in a sexual activity specifically designed to be pleasurable for her as well as for him. Any number of adult movies feature scenes where the guy is watching a woman pleasure herself often using a dildo-shaped vibrator, often while he masturbates himself. If this is such common fare in adult movies, why shouldn’t couples try to recreate this highly erotic experience into their own lives. Furthermore, if guys are going to carry a profound interest in solo sex right into their adult relationships, which they do, it is important for women to try and make the most of the situation and in particular turn the situation into a plus without getting the least bit distraught or even uncomfortable.
Which brings up to another point: Women frequently complain that the entire sex act proceeds too quickly for them—that is, all the husband wants to do is put his penis into her vagina, get off, be done with it and then go to sleep! Instead, what I am talking about here brings the pace back down to slow the entire process.
In other papers, I have discussed extensively about the need for guys to slow down the whole process leading up to ejaculation, and that the guy who cam learn to master these techniques is going to get a lot more enjoyment from whatever sex act he is engaged in, alone or with a partner. I am deeply committed to both the basic idea that slower is better in terms of the basic erotic adventure for the guy, and most certainly with respect to what happens or at least could happen for the female partner.
In particular, most women would love to have their partners engage in more sexual foreplay employing fingers, tongue, feathers, vibrators or whatever. I cannot help but believe that buried inside of every woman is a deep-seated love for the feel of an orgasm quite similar to what it is that men have. Every woman therefore has the potential at least to enjoy a sexual orgasm for pure pleasure as much as a man does, if not more. If that is the case, it is just a matter of bringing this all front and forward. But if that is the case it is not at all helpful if the guy’s dad taught him to get into the penis in vagina part of sex and begin thrusting as quickly as possible, as if sex with a woman were some sort of timed competitive sport for the man, and definitely not a mutual act of love that is as deeply moving and erotic for both partners. Wow! Indeed some guys seem to grow up believing that if they can get an erection quickly and move right into ejaculation, that this somehow makes them ore of a man than the guys who might be slower and more deliberate in both. I wonder where these guys got that idea from. Their own dads, perhaps, who may have thought exactly the same thing. This is more of the me-focused, chauvinistic concept that suggests that partner sex is mainly if not exclusively for the pleasure of the man.
Meanwhile, women have their own myths to contend with, particularly to the extent that they believe all the things their mother taught them on how men think and behave in matters of sex. What I am promoting here is a quite modern sexually liberated idea that suggests that in a 21st century relationship, sex really exists for the equal satisfaction of both partners, and that neither the man nor the woman has the advantage here. To me, this is the ultimate in the battle for complete equality between the two sexes.
So where does this leave us? A woman, having “accidentally” discovered her husband masturbating alone, instead of getting weepy and starting to make negative statements about her own lack of self-worth as a wife, instead attempts to make the most of the situation by asking her husband “how may I help you?”. Initially in this encounter, the husband may indeed be focused on touching himself and his own pleasure, but his attention is quickly distracted by the scene in which his wife is in the process of removing items of clothing, and who soon is standing in front of him, completely nude. The next question the wife might ask is “Where would you most like to be touched?” The husband may provide a specific answer to that question, but at this stage it important for him no ask her the exact same question “where would you most like to be touched. I can see where one thing could lead to another quite quickly here, whereby the wife provides subtle but specific instructions with respect to where she needs to be touched in order to have an orgasm. A few guys may think they are smart enough to be able to figure this all out without a road map, but the safer thing to assume is that every female body is different, and the needed set of specific instructions here is as unique for each woman as a fingerprint. Suddenly my attention as a man would be directed toward seeing if I could get her off not only once, but perhaps twice , three times or even four times, and we haven’t even gotten yet to the part about where the penis enters the vagina. Maybe I’m dreaming here, but this could easily turn into quite the erotic adventure for both partners.
But then, I tend to like to try and turn any activity somehow involving my penis into something erotic. I do not find anything wrong with this at all, and in fact I am delighted and even amazed that I can readily go into erotic mode with so little overt effort. When I was a young teen, I thought that this would be something that I would just have to learn to put up with for a few years and once I got to be an adult such impulsive sexual feelings would dissipate. Then having had no peace at all in this regard in my 30s and 40s, I kept hearing that a guy’s interest in sex tends to diminish after age 50. Age 50 came and went, and still I was having these thoughts and worse, (or is it better?) being bombarded with all these overtly sexual and erotic feelings. That must surely be abnormal. How can I check my notes without embarrassing myself or others? Maybe write a Web page? Or two? Or three? Or even perhaps a few more than that? As I write this at age 59 I am surely beginning to wonder whether all this talk about guys losing interest in sex in old age is in any way accurate either. And so it goes. Oh well, better that than the alternative whatever the alternative is I guess. I keep thinking that at some point in time someone is going to tell me that this is all patently obvious, silly, childish, stupid or perhaps even a combination of these, but somehow that never seems to quite happen.
Take for example, the simple act of putting on and wearing a condom. Despite the fact that the penis is involved here, many guys would probably not regard this as being overtly sexual at all. I have no trouble turning the simple act of putting on a condom into a form of erotic adventure (“Could you perhaps help me here?”) Like I said, I tend to look upon all of this as a near-religious experience of sorts. Somehow, when I was but a wee lad of eleven or twelve, I got hooked on the sensations, and I have never looked back. Not that it ever done me the least bit of harm over the years, but in fact, quite the contrary. I just wonder about how many people out there observe this all the same way I do, and cannot help but think that many people muddle through their lives without any real understanding of what is going on right under their noses.
Maybe I am too pessimistic about where we as a society are. Maybe more people than I realize understand what it is that I am trying to tell them here. Maybe others have already figured out a lot of what I am saying not based on what they learned from their parents, but instead from “learning by doing.” Maybe what I have said is obvious to everyone except me. I am not quite through with what I want to say here, but I have also not quite yet determined where next this should go. Maybe it is time for some comment and at the same time wish my readers the best.
© 2007 by David Sebringsil.
Other papers in the series;
Sex in the 21st century:
Fun with male sexuality
and the overall Web site