Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Not All Masculinity Is Toxic

Why communication in the bedroom often fails.

“She doesn’t like when I touch her neck or her breasts anymore. Kissing is off-limits, too. She has lots of rules.”

It’s not uncommon for husbands in heterosexual relationships to tell me what their wives don’t like in bed. Willing to follow her directions, trying to sexually satisfy the women they love, they are frustrated. These men know much more about what turns their wives off than what excites them. Their wives are discouraged and exasperated too, opting for masturbation as a more efficient, less annoying alternative than trying to explain the unexplainable. What would feel good between the sheets?

In truth, she doesn’t know what to ask for, because nothing seems to feel the way it should.

Communication in the bedroom often fails precisely for this reason. Just knowing what you don’t want doesn’t make sex great – it just makes sex tolerable. For many of the couples in my sex therapy practice, making sex satisfying entails an entirely different skill set.

Great sex is less about where and how he touches her, and more about the presence he brings to the bedroom.

Yes, his presence – how he carries himself – is perhaps the most potent sexual elixir around. But understanding presence, let alone defining it, is quite mystifying. It’s abstract and intangible, created more by nonverbal communication than anything logical or measurable. Yet women know it when they see it, they respect it, and often they are hungry for it. Ultimately, women lose sexual interest in partners who don’t manifest this energy. It’s a primary reason I hear women lament “He’s my best friend. I love him, but I don’t want to have sex with him.”

4PM Production/Shutterstock
Source: 4PM Production/Shutterstock

Masculine presence is a tricky enterprise because it gets confused with toxic masculinity — which is abusive. However, implying that all masculinity is toxic only encourages men to disconnect from their most intimate, sexual selves. Masculine presence isn’t inherently toxic. In fact, as a sex therapist practicing for over 20 years, I have seen that most heterosexual women require some level of masculinity in their partner in order to feel sexually interested and engaged. It’s the energy that the highest paid, most desirable male actors build their careers on – because women crave it. It’s why romance novels are the top-selling book genre across the globe. No, masculine presence is far from toxic — it is an essential ingredient for vital, satisfying sex in long-term hetero relationships.

Masculine presence is about a direct, steady gaze. An assertive, respectful, unafraid sexual style. It’s about standing tall, holding emotional intensity without laughing or talking baby talk, all while breathing deeply into one’s heart and body. It’s confidence without narcissism. Assertiveness without aggression. Emotional sensitivity without anxiety. Tenderness without passivity. These characteristics distinguish sexual boys from sexual men, sexual immaturity from maturity. Masculine presence wakes up a woman’s body and triggers her sexual instincts.

Men who don’t manifest masculine presence are appealing relationship partners, but usually for reasons other than their sexual potential. Many women value men who are agreeable, flexible, and not threatening. They are terrific co-parents, respectful partners, and polite lovers: kind, and eager to please. Over time though, predictable, polite sex in long-term relationships becomes boring and, for many women, not worth the effort. It’s very upsetting when the harder a man tries to please his partner, the less she seems to respect him. Her lack of enthusiasm for intimacy damages his self-esteem. And their deficient sex life demoralizes her, too – she feels sexually closed to her husband, yet she has no idea how to shift it.

Of course, turning a failing sex life around requires the efforts of both partners. But if your wife is sexually unenthusiastic, cultivating your masculine presence is one thing you can do right now that will probably help. This process involves embodiment or tuning into your heart and body. It’s more of a sensual practice than a thinking one. As silly as it sounds, try this:

Remember a time you felt powerful and confident, and imagine it in as much detail as possible. Maybe it was landing a new job, skiing down a canyon, or the sex you enjoyed with your lover at the beginning of your romance. Now, stand up, and locate those sensations in your body. Feel your legs solidly on the ground, your chest broaden, the aliveness in your belly. Use your breathing to amplify these feelings as if you were turning up the volume on a radio dial. Breathe more slowly and deeply, and use the power of your breath to experience your body in a more primal way. Allow your gaze to intensify as the muscles in your face form a more serious, focused, alert pattern. Feel, and own, your power. Keep your attention on your body, all while remaining alert to your environment like a lion stalking his meal. Breathe that feeling in, and live from it.

Walk around like this, until you get more used to experiencing the world from this perspective. It takes practice, because it’s not how you are used to being in the world. Ultimately, this is the man you want to bring into the bedroom. You’ll feel vulnerable at first because the more present you are in your body, the more the authentic you is showing up. You aren’t hiding, or emotionally shut down, or protecting yourself. In the bedroom, most women respect and trust a man who is emotionally present much more than a man who is closed. And the more present you are with your own emotions, the more present you will be with her experience as well. She’ll feel seen by you, be better able to tune into your emotional experience, and simultaneously feel closer to you. These are super-potent nonverbal aphrodisiacs that many women are responsive to.

Our world today requires us to spend more time in our thinking brains than inhabiting our bodies, and this lack of embodiment isn’t good for sex. Great sex isn’t a head game, it’s a sensual, body experience. This problem is compounded by our current blurring of toxic masculinity with a strong masculine presence, a profoundly appealing and beneficial energy for many men and women. There is nothing inherently toxic about masculinity. And in the bedroom, his masculine presence is an essential element of her satisfying sex life. When she says, “I don’t like to kiss,” she might really be saying, “I need to feel your masculine presence in order to enjoy kissing you.”

Facebook image: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock