This article contains sexually explicit material.
The penis is finally having a moment in pop culture. After Ben Affleck’s headline-grabbing side penis in Gone Girl sent the Internet into a tizzy, designer Tom Ford debuted a phallus necklace just in time for Christmas. And in January, penis cutouts debuted at Paris fashion week, with heart-shaped peepholes in Rick Owens’ collection that exposed his models’ private parts. While topless female models have long been a staple on the runway, male nudity has a lot of boundaries to break.
This speaks to the larger discussion around male sexuality, where the realities of men’s bodies and sex lives remain obscured. Whereas the Internet has made female sexuality a topic of discussion and debate (the G-spot, anyone?), we’re reluctant to address men outside of stereotypes and misconceptions. That not only does a disservice to men, it hurts women who grow up internalizing these myths, and all of us who have to date them.
Here are just five of the most common truths about male sexuality that often go unaddressed, but trust us—it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
1) Men feel insecure about their bodies, too
Nico: According to poll data, men are nearly as insecure as women are. A survey published by New Look in 2014 found that 30 percent of British men reported feeling unhappy with their bodies, almost the exact same percentage as the 35 percent of women who feel the same way. Interestingly, researchers found that more women reported confidence in their appearance than men, at respective figures of 37 and 35 percent. The most common reasons men felt they didn’t measure up were their body fat, height, waist size, and lack of musculature. No matter your gender, everybody feels the pressure to have nice, six-pack abs.
According to RoleReboot’s Sydne Didier, she found the same thing from teaching private swimming classes; the men she worked with “needed the same kind of reassurance” that women do. Didier wrote, “[Men] fear man boobs and cankles just like women fear cellulite and back fat, and teaching men has reminded me that we are all filled with uncertainties about our bodies.”
No matter your gender, everybody feels the pressure to have nice, six-pack abs.
The Telegraph’s Rupert Hawkley reports that around a quarter of men in their 20s are “so self-conscious about their bodies that they prefer to have sex with the lights turned off,” which likely speaks to another sensitive area of male body discomfort: penis size. Data shows that 23 percent of men are unsatisfied with the size of their penis, while a whopping 62 percent want to trade in for a bigger model. (Who wouldn’t? Unless you’re one of those tiny baby arm guys, of course.)
This is a huge problem not only for men but their partners, as men who feel size anxiety are less likely to wear condoms, primarily because they refuse to buy a rubber that will actually fit; according to former Jezebel editor Anna North, 45 percent of men reported “[using] an ill-fitting condom in the past six months.” North wrote back in 2010, “These men were more likely to report that the condom was uncomfortable, or that it slipped or broke.” These men are not only more likely to impregnate their female partners but to spread STIs to partners of all genders. Condoms are only 98 percent effective as contraceptives, and that percentage is even less you’re doing it wrong.
The ideal isn’t just a fad—it’s also hardly ideal.
Harris O’Malley of the Dr. Nerdlove blog (also a Daily Dot contributor) writes that large penis size has little to do with manliness or one’s ability to pleasure their partner. “Just as there was a period where plump women were the height of beauty, there have been long periods in Western culture where a smaller, uncircumcised penis was the ideal,” O’Malley writes. If men want to feel secure in their bodies and themselves, simply remember that the ideal isn’t just a fad—it’s also hardly ideal. After all, Willem Dafoe allegedly has an oil tanker in his pants, and he’s hardly the guy you’d want to take home to Mom and Dad.
2) Ask before you play with a dude’s nipples
EJ: Nipple play is like canned tuna fish: Some people can’t get enough of it, while others recoil in horror when they see someone open a Starkist can. My partner falls on the latter side of the spectrum. When we first started dating, and I started absentmindedly tweaking his nipples while fooling around, he looked at me stone-faced and said, “Elisabeth, that does absolutely nothing for me at all.”
Like most other sexual acts, nipple play is highly variant: Some men love it, and some men hate it.
I was aghast. My previous sexual experiences had taught me that nipple play was an essential cornerstone of foreplay. Yet here my current partner was, telling me it did nothing for him, in the same tone of voice as if he was telling me my grandmother died.
Like most other sexual acts, nipple play is highly variant: Some men love it, and some men hate it. That said, there’s a body of research suggesting that there’s something of a nipple gender gap. A 2006 survey by Drs. Roy Levin and Cindy Meston determined that only 52 percent of men reported nipple stimulation increasing their sexual arousal, as opposed to 82 percent of women. Bottom line: #Notallmen love nip play. But #notallmen loathe it either.
3) Men like to cuddle
Nico: In 2007, there was a bit of a spat during a segment on the Today show when it came to the subject of cuddling. When author Ian Kerner asserted the old cliché that men don’t like a good post-coitus snuggle (they just want to sleep, bro), sexpert Tracey Cox immediately shot him down: “I disagree with this. I think men do like to cuddle! They’re just worried their partner might see it as weak and them as vulnerable. I think a lot of the time a man suggests sex, what they’re really after is the physical closeness a cuddle would provide.”
Some men argued cuddling was better than sex.
If you want the truth about cuddling, Reddit is ready to help. A 2013 thread in the AskMen forum inquired about men’s cuddling practices. Like a therapist asking about your childhood, the poster wanted to know: How does cuddling make you feel? Pretty good, according to users. The most popular comment, from Gingor, read, “You know that feeling when you cuddle a kitten? Like that, except I get a boner.” Other men replied that cuddling made them feel “wanted and appreciated,” while others argued it was even better than sex.
Sex and intimacy fulfill a variety of purposes for both genders, and as a Kinsey Institute survey suggests, non-coital interaction like kissing and cuddling is “more important to men than women.” While getting that intimacy is important, too many men are either unwilling to ask for it in fear their behavior will be perceived as less than masculine.
4) They’re not all interested in anal
EJ: The stereotype of heterosexual men is that once they’ve had a few rounds of standard P-in-V sex, they’re constantly on the lookout for the new Holy Grail of sexual experiences in the form of another orifice, be it a mouth, butt, or even an armpit. If they don’t gain immediate access to this orifice, they’ll stoop to extreme and occasionally mind-numbingly stupid acts of subterfuge to get it (hence, the “but it just slipped in there for a second by accident” trick).
If you’re one of those gentlemen that fall into this category, I’d like to take the opportunity to inform you that we ladies know exactly what you’re doing, and the next time you try it we’re going to return the favor. But more likely, you’re one of the not-insignificant number of men, like my boyfriend, who actually aren’t all that interested in having anal sex.
“I just don’t care about it that much,” he told me. “For one thing, doody comes out of there. For another, doody comes out of there.”
Sex is a complicated act, and the people involved in it are just as unpredictable and complex.
Granted, that’s not an incredibly sophisticated argument, and given the extremely high representation of anal sex in hetero porn, you’d probably assume that it’d be just as popular among the hetero male set. But in all my years of having sex, what I’ve learned is that straight dudes aren’t nearly as interested in experimenting with anal sex as one would assume.
While anal sex is on the rise among young men, with 19 percent of men aged 18 to 24 reporting having tried it, most dudes simply aren’t that interested in an alternative to vaginal sex when vaginal sex is already an option. The reasoning seems to be: Why have lobster when steak is already on the menu?
Of course, there are certainly dudes who have an insatiable appetite not only for steak and lobster, but chicken and fish and cheesecake as well, and God bless them. But for most men attending the high-end steakhouse that is the range of sexual activity and experience, one entree will do just fine.
5) Men and women are both on the same planet when it comes to sex
Nico: You’ve heard it all before: Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus. Thus, the twain shall never meet, especially in the bedroom, where the two have completely different expectations. Men just want to get it on, whereas women want puppies, rainbows, and a Pinterest fantasy. I believe it goes something like this: “Darling, what a passionate yet tender act of lovemaking we’re about to embark upon. Please caress me gently while we discuss my Beyoncé mug.” “Yeah, Beyoncé is hot. Now take your top off and wiggle.”
You’ve heard it all before: Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus.
There is some biological evidence to support the fact that men and women view sex differently. According to CNN’s Louanne Brezendine, “men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain.” Brezendine writes: “All that testosterone drives the ‘Man Trance’—that glazed-eye look a man gets when he sees breasts…Their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for fertile mates. Whether or not they intend to pursue a visual enticement, they have to check out the goods.”
But part of the way men deal with sexuality and emotions has less to do with biology and more about social conditioning. A prescient comic from Mike Rosedale depicts a man on a therapist’s couch confessing, “I’m too afraid to admit how I really feel.” The female counselor listening to him thinks, “And I just thought he was the strong, silent type.” The problem isn’t here isn’t that men are unemotional but simply that they process their emotions differently, especially in a society that often tells men they aren’t allowed to have feelings at all.
If women are just as sexual as men are (arguably even more so), men aren’t robots. Sex is a complicated act, and the people involved in it are just as unpredictable and complex. Want to know what men think about love, sex, and their emotions? Follow the first rule of affirmative consent: Ask. The answer might surprise you.
A version of this article was originally published on the Daily Dot on Jan. 28, 2015.
Illustration by Max Fleishman