Dear Straight Dude,
Straight Dude, I’m having problems having sex with my girlfriend, and they seem really emotionally complicated, but I’m too embarrassed to ask any of my friends for help, or go to a shrink. I feel so much shame surrounding my inability to perform in bed. I feel like if I told anyone they would think I was a shithead. What should I do?
I think the best thing you can do is understand why exactly you’re feeling embarrassed. And yeah, as far as I have seen, there is indeed some feeling of taboo or avoidance surrounding the possibility of public discourse regarding what I expect is a common and often deep-rooted issue for some couples in long-term monogamous relationships: the problem of sex, the problem of problems with sex, the problem of certain emotions associated with sex, etc. I don’t read Nerve, but I haven’t necessarily seen anyone in the blogosphere/ freelancer circle approach the subject of two individuals in a long-term monogamous relationship having sexual problems resulting from emotional and cognitive issues (not technical issues such as erectile dysfunction or whatever) except in a very superficial and ‘folky’ way, like suggesting ‘body sensate focus’ or ‘surprising her with a night out’ or ‘edible panties’ whatever, which in my opinion can really do nothing to solve the often deep underlying issues that can stymie good sex on a consistent basis.
Ashamed, you’re embarrassment and shame are not uncommon. I can’t tell you specifically why you are embarrassed, but I can offer you some ideas. First, I think sexual issues are treated as sort-of-taboos in our culture, and as such it is ‘shameful’ to experience sexual problems with your long-term monogamous partner to the extent that one is likely to feel embarrassed upon ‘revealing’ or ‘admitting’ them. “We haven’t had sex for a month,” or “it just seems like he isn’t attracted to me anymore” are statements only made within the confines of a close friendship in a quiet corner of a restaurant, for example, and only offered in a sort of desperation because telling anyone is one of the last measures one takes. One is embarrassed to admit that he or she is not sexually satisfactory to their partner – or embarrassed for their partner if he or she is not sexually satisfying them. Making matters worse, more immediate, and concrete is that there are real repercussions to breaking the ‘rule’ regarding openly and frankly discussing sexual problems (proof: check the comments section of this article.“Well, this dude obviously doesn’t get enough ass from his old woman!” will eventually appear in reaction to this article ‘breaking’ this sort of taboo for the purpose of ‘shaming’ me for writing it).
Why does our culture treat ‘not getting laid on a regular basis when you’re in a long-term monogamous relationship’ as ‘shameful?’ The answers are relatively obvious, but I’ll briefly review a couple significant ones. One of the most significant reasons sexual problems are ‘shameful’ is that the concept of not getting ‘enough’ sex is counter to the narrative our culture has for long-term relationships and marriage: when we get married or hook up with a person with whom we want to be indefinitely, we are supposed to “live happily ever after.” This narrative is deeply ingrained in the collective psyche, and emotional problems surrounding sex (which can be extremely difficult to work through) are definitely a sign that you’re not living happily ever after. To admit that you haven’t had sex with your partner for a month is to admit that you have failed to achieve success in what is one of our culture’s most prominent and significant success narratives.
Gender expectations also play a part in making sexual problems shameful. The health of the mainstream American male ego can be said to be heavily reliant on his capability to please women, to have a big penis, to be able to give women orgasms on a consistent basis, and basically, to use his sexual prowess and masculinity to (ideally, if you take the logic to its end) become a sort of sex god that when his ‘powers’ are revealed, women drop to their knees uttering pre-orgasmic moans and beg to be fucked by his massive cock. And when they do not beg and moan, when the one he has chosen to spend a long time with can’t even touch him anymore because of some giant and unexpected wall of confusing and bleak discontent has crept up between them like an enormous silent alien, the male ego suffers a loss both to himself and the onlooker. And he usually feels embarrassed.
Gender expectations for females also play a part in the silence around sexual problems, the averted glances and uncomfortable squirming. Traditional gender roles have the female as the sexual creature who is long sought after by many suitors but only allows one of them knowledge of her ‘secret’ (her secret being ‘what it’s like to have sex with her’), which is imagined to be graceful and perfect and orgasmic. Whether the existence of this gender role is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is beside the question. The role has an effect, and that effect serves to treat sexual problems as failures, and failures are embarrassing.
Ashamed, I hope this has helped you to understand a little why you might feel embarrassed. Perhaps you will soon have the ‘courage’ to seek help.