When men think about sex a lot, we assume it has something to do with testosterone. But men’s urgency about sex is not always about physical desire only. Sex can satisfy multiple needs at several levels for a man, giving him an opportunity to feel closeness, vulnerability, reassurance, and self-transcendence all in one experience.
What most women don’t understand is that for many men, sex is the deepest level of intimacy. This is not an inferior type of intimacy; it is a male type of intimacy. To him, sex can feel like the most profound, genuine sharing of himself he can imagine. It is not just a robotic release of sexual tension, it is the experience of giving his all in the drive to feel as close as possible to his partner, whether he is in love or not. It is the fulfillment of the most essential human need to connect.
For the man, sex may replenish his soul, but to the woman, his interest may feel only physical. Because a woman can get those same needs met partly in other ways, it is hard for her to imagine that a man may get that primarily, and sometimes only, from lovemaking. Women naturally create connections in their lives, so they have other sources of emotional fulfillment that men may only attain through their sexual experiences.
Women think that emotional intimacy is best achieved through talking about feelings and opening up to one another. When their man is not interested in this kind of intimate sharing, women can feel lonely and unheard, lowering their interest in further intimacies. Unfortunately, women who feel emotionally disregarded perceive the man’s sexual pressure not as a need to connect, but as a need to take. Many women feel that if their partners would be more emotionally responsive, they might want to have sex more.
Although emotional openness is increasing between the sexes, there is still an unspoken limitation on how much emotional openness is acceptable in a man. Women have societal permission to express their emotional needs, but males have been trained to be stoic. Only in the privacy of lovemaking does the man feel free to share himself at all levels with his partner.
Another thing men get from sex is a rare opportunity to be vulnerable. By its very nature, the sexual experience reassures him that he is safe and accepted. Vulnerability goes back to earliest childhood bonding when it was okay to depend on someone. Because there is so much social emphasis on men being tough and strong, it is easy to overlook how much men need to be vulnerable sometimes, to be released from preoccupations of control and success. For just a little while, a man can surrender in safety, and finally let go of it all.
Sexual connection for a man can also feel transcendent. Good sexual experiences take people out of themselves, lifting them out of their egos, and expanding them beyond the little workaday self. The experience of transcending the mundane reminds a man there is more to life than his daily routine. Lovemaking softens tough male defenses and moves him into the sublime experience of merger with another person. Men are so pressured to be practical, rational thinkers that sex becomes one of their only ways to rise above the tyranny of what everyone expects of them. They can leave their brains and reconnect to their souls.
But problems occur when men try to meet emotional and transcendent needs in sex without acknowledging that is what it means to them. Sex can then take on a driven, addictive quality, as unspoken emotional needs are compulsively expressed in action not words. The man is not aware of how truly needy he is, nor in which ways, and so sex becomes never enough, just like any intoxicant that is used to satisfy needs it was never meant to.
Men have to realize that if they are trying to meet all these needs primarily through sex, their female partners will get burned out. Women typically do not meet their emotional needs primarily through sex, and so sex with an emotionally driven man may feel more like giving than getting. In other words, she correctly senses that he is trying to make a deep emotional connection under the guise of sex, but because he himself is often unaware of this motive, he does not understand why she seems to see sex as tiring. It is not the sex that is tiring, it is the man pretending his needs are only about sex, as well as his reluctance to open up emotionally and communicate in the rest of their relationship.
The more a man is aware of his strong need for intimate connection, vulnerability, and reassurance, the more he can find additional ways of getting his emotional needs met with his partner outside the bedroom. Through sharing his feelings more with his partner, his emotional needs can be met directly in a way that replenishes the woman too, making her feel closer to him so that sex is an experience to be looked forward to, not avoided.
Meanwhile, women can have a new appreciation for the meanings sex can have to a man. He needs some understanding too. Sex for him is about a lot more than it looks like.