How can we define a sexually healthy man?
I’ve just spent a year thinking about what it takes to be a sexually healthy woman–after doing our survey of over 20,000 women last winter! You’ll see all about it in our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue.
But while I talk a lot about what a sexually healthy man is not, I haven’t spoken so much about what a sexually healthy man is.
So when Andrew Bauman told me about his latest book, I was intrigued, and I read it in one sitting!
You may remember Andrew–he was featured on my podcast recently talking about stonewalling behaviour and what it means to be an emotionally healthy man. But Andrew’s real specialty is sex. He’s a licensed mental health counselor, and the Co-founder and Director of the Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma.
His blog posts are really insightful, about how trauma affects us; how to navigate sexuality that’s been affected by porn or dysfunctional family dynamics; and so much more.
And he wrote a series of essays that form a book, The Sexually Healthy Man. They cut to the quick and that are highly personal and readable to help men confront the things that are often holding them back from real intimacy. He gave me permission to use part of his blog post on sexually healthy men today, and I thought I’d highlight some of what he said, starting with this image:
Now I’ll let Andrew talk:
When you review the image above, what do you feel in your body? Do you feel regret, hope, or maybe longing and desire for something new?
Where do you find yourself? Do you see yourself more on the unhealthy or the healthy side?
If you have a partner and enough courage, would you be willing to ask them which of these character traits they experience from you? Would you be willing to write about each of these aspects of unhealthy and healthy sexuality, and how they apply to your life? Think about your past, your present, and what you hope for your future. Let’s review these aspects of healthy and unhealthy sexuality together.
EMOTIONALLY DISTANT vs. EMOTIONALLY PRESENT
Simply put, does your partner have your face during intimacy? Are you with them, not just physically, but with the entirety of your being? Do you make eye contact during sex? Do you feel embodied, or do you at times feel you are a bystander to your own sex life?
ISOLATION vs. COMMUNITY
Sexual dysfunction is bred in isolation. Most of the men I know don’t masturbate to pornography in public, they do quietly and shamefully, either at night when their spouse is asleep, or when they are alone in the bathroom. To be fully known, we must be in communion with others. Community doesn’t just mean accountability, it means bleeding together; it means sharing our deepest shame, greatest fears, and deepest delights. True communion is fully knowing and being fully known by another.
IMMATURE vs. MATURE
Pornography use, secrets, half-truths, and lies are all examples of adolescent behavior. These habits indicate a need to look deeply within yourself and see your immaturity clearly. Ask yourself, “How old do I feel”? What would it mean for you to live into your true age? What parts of your trauma story have stunted your ability to become a mature man, and how can you give that part of yourself tenderness, kindness, and care?
SELFISH vs. MUTUAL
Pornography has taught generations of men to be selfish with their sexuality. In my thirteen years of use, it taught me that sex was about my pleasure, and no one else’s. This conditioning is problematic when a real person is introduced in the context of an authentic sexual relationship, because sexuality up to that point has never involved shared mutuality. Mutual pleasure and mutual service means that both partners get to use their full voice of consent; they get to say, “yes”, “no” or “maybe”, as they learn each other’s bodies and desires.
INSECURITY vs. STRENGTH
The sexually unhealthy man is an insecure man. These wounded little boys try their hardest to appear big because they feel so small inside. They try to find worth through money, toys, possessions, bullying, aggressive behavior, or the attractiveness of their spouse. These are all different ways of trying to overcompensate for how insecure they feel. Grounded, masculine strength never has to “prove” anything. Strong men know who they are and what they have to offer their partner and the world. Their strength protects and honors their partner, and does not try to gain mastery or power over them.
ASHAMED vs. UNASHAMED
Shame plagues many evangelical men. Some shame is guided by toxic beliefs about sexuality, and some of it is shame masquerading as guilt over living an inauthentic life. Shame and guilt are not the same. Shame says that the core of you is dirty and bad, while guilt speaks to your actions being bad, not your personhood. There is no place for shame in a sexually healthy man. He honors himself and his partner. He has made peace with his darkness and the stories of his past, and he now walks in courage and strength.
OBJECTIFY vs HONOR
The objectification of women has become normative. Many times through pornography use, men develop what I call a “pornographic style of relating” (this concept is explained more fully in my book, The Psychology of Porn) in which men learned how to relate to women from pornography. Sadly, pornography is centered on the objectification of women, making women “less” so that men can feel like they are “more”. This view of women dehumanizes them, making it easier for men to harm them and harder for men to honor them. We must change the way we engage with beauty, standing in awe, and honoring the feminine, which God created and named the summit of all of creation.
You can’t be sexually healthy if you’re not comfortable with yourself.
If you are always trying to prove something to others, but especially yourself; if you worry that you’re not worthy of love; if you’re so disconnected from yourself that you can’t connect with other people but can only use other people–you’ll never be able to be sexually healthy in the bedroom.
All of that applies to both males and females, but I found his book, speaking to men who have grown up in the porn generation, to be refreshingly honest and also right on the money. Whether it’s about how men often feel disembodied in a way that women don’t; or how shame is only confronted when we allow ourselves to tell our stories and confront our stories; or how to create a healthy sex life after years of porn addiction, I found myself agreeing with Andrew in every page.
Here’s something I thought many guys needed to hear:
I encourage my clients to take full responsibility for their poor choices. If they want to objectify, use, and abuse women, then that is their choice and they should own it. If they want to cheat on their wives and live secretive, hidden lives, then I echo the great reformer, Martin Luther, by telling them to at least “sin boldly”. Fully own that you are a misogynist who loves to abuse women! At least then I can respect your integrity in owning your poor choices.
What I have learned over the past decade of working with men and their sexual restoration is that neither shame nor shamelessness is the answer to sexual wholeness. Both extremes miss the point entirely…..
“[S]hamelessness” has become popular in progressive circles recently. This approach to sexuality is a reactive counter-response to the toxic, shame-driven narrative promoted by more conservative ideologies. I am thinking of the stories I have heard from one of those “liberated” progressive seminaries, where a couple of the students decided to “mark” certain areas of the campus by having sexual intercourse there. This is not liberation, but a form of adolescent rebellion which stems from immense wounding and unaddressed heartache. Many of these folks take their painful stories and sprint toward the other extreme in pursuit of a radical escape from toxic shame, yet in that noble plight they end up cheapening sex and making it less than a sacred act of love. Another example is the pro-porn progressives and therapists that I run into all the time. I believe they are well-intentioned, but merely focusing on shame reduction is to misunderstand healthy sexual reconstruction and wholeness.
And that wholeness is found in coming to terms with who you really are; understanding your own story; and accepting what it means to be intimate with others and to serve others.
It’s a very Christ-centred look at what health should be, and, quite frankly, it is just so darn NICE to listen to a Christian man write about this in such an affirming way after over a year of combing through all the terrible messages in some of our bestsellers.
Andrew Bauman deserves to be a bestseller for men far more than Every Man’s Battle, and so I encourage people to check out The Sexually Healthy Man!
(It’s also free with Kindle Unlimited, so take a look!)
What do you think? Are there elements of sexual health that you think are more difficult for men? Or are we missing something? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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