What Is He Thinking?

Decoding the male psyche.

Why Women Want to Cuddle and Men Don't

To cuddle or roll-over after sex--a psychoanalyst explains

Women want to cuddle after sex and men don't. Stereotypes. Lots of exceptions, overlap, blah blah blah. I know. Still-it's true as stereotypes often are. Everyone recognizes it even if everyone doesn't do it. What's up with this gender difference? Women like to make eye contact and stay close after the deed is done while men want to roll over and, literally or figuratively, light a cigarette.

Here's what my clinical experience tells me: women need the reassurance that the man doesn't just want to f**k her and men need the reassurance that it's OK to do just that. Women need the intimacy of post-coital connection while men need to separate from that connection. Women like to gaze into a man's eyes; men like to go to sleep.

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The causes of these differences lie in the different ways that men and women enjoy sex and intimacy. I know there's a lot of culture and socialization here. But I'm going to present an explanation that's so Freudian it'll sound like it comes from Central Casting. Fortunately, it also happens to be true. Here goes: For women, sex and intimacy tend to be intertwined in an obligatory way because women often  feel unconsciously guilty about having more sexual pleasure and fun than their mothers. Sex for its own sake would feel like dancing on their mothers' graves. For men, sex and intimacy have to be separated because otherwise they feel both too close to and worried about women-originally, their mothers. If their partners are objectified, these men can feel safe from both dangers.

Thus, after sex, women need the reassurance that they, themselves, haven't abandoned themselves to it for its pleasure. Men need to pull away so as to not feel any risk of merging with the woman or having to take care of her. Voila!

Neither gender has it right-or wrong. It's ridiculous for women to claim that separating sex and intimacy is inherently degrading. It's also ridiculous for men to claim that a woman's need for intimate connection during and after sex is some type of burdensome dependency need. Intimacy can enhance pleasure or detract from it. Objectification can be a springboard to intense pleasure or an obstacle to it. Drawing battle lines about what's healthy or not when it comes to love and sex is perilous and usually serves neurotic purposes. We should all just get over it.

Michael Bader, D.M.H.,  is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in San Francisco. He is the author of Male Sexuality: Why Women Don't Understand It—and Men Don't Either.

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