Male Sex Writers- An Interview with Dr. Stephen Snyder

Male Sex Writers- An Interview with Dr. Stephen Snyder

American society always had a double standard when it comes to sex and men.  And, it applies to the world of sex writing as well—though in this case it’s reversed. In real life men have sex when they want and women are not expected to actively seek out sex. In writing we rarely see men openly discussing sexual pleasure or sharing their thoughts and experiences. Why are most of the voices talking about sex women? Is it because we’re just naturally talkative or is it something deeper? sex writers, sex therapist

With this idea in mind I asked Dr. Stephen Snyder to talk about this topic with me. Dr. Snyder is a psychiatrist with a specialty in sex therapy. He practices in New York City and writes for his own blog and on PsychologyToday

Dr. Snyder, why do you think men are reluctant to write about their sexuality and thoughts on sex?  You suggest that one reason might be how we view men–as predators.  And, having been raised in the era of “watch out for men…protect yourself…they only want sex…” I understand that rationale.

A really revolutionary article came out in the June 2014 journal Nature Methods—not that I routinely read Nature Methods, but it was big enough news to make The Washington Post, and then on to twitter.

A series of ground-breaking experiments in mice showed that the mere presence of a male OF ANY SPECIES STUDIED—humans, rats, guinea pigs, cats, and dogs, as well as unfamiliar mice—was enough to cause anxiety in laboratory mice.  The researchers showed that this effect was mediated through scent. The scent given off by males of a variety of mammalian species just seemed to make mice more anxious.

Now of course it’s risky to cross species lines, but this study just makes so much intuitive sense.  People naturally feel less threatened by women than by men—both sexually and otherwise. I think this gives female sex writers much more latitude in expressing themselves.  I do find now that I’m approaching sixty years old, though, that women are more relaxed in my presence.  I have female patients whom I’m pretty sure would not have felt comfortable being in treatment with me when I was 35.

 

What if one of the ways to defuse the tension and misunderstanding about men as predators was to encourage men to be more honest about their sexual experiences? Wouldn’t we hear a more balanced view?

Men are often quite insecure sexually.  But it’s different.  As a generalization, women tend to be insecure about their power to attract.  Men worry about their ability to perform.  

 

There are really two kinds of sex writing–the personal exposition and the sex education writing? Agreed? Jon Pressick, the man with the classic pin-up pose writes and curates content on a wide range of sexually related topics. A good portion of his content falls in the category of sex education. In that instance it would seem less threatening for men to write about sex–and yet we don’t see men going there–maybe a few academic types but there isn’t much in between.

It’s more culturally acceptable for women to revel in pleasure, including sexual pleasure.

“Oh my God that sex toy was wonderful.  I came so hard with it.” That sounds great when a woman says it.  

But imagine a man saying it.  It doesn’t sound right.  It sounds icky.

We’re very funny about men experiencing pleasure for its own sake.  And DEFINITELY funny about men masturbating.  Female sex writers these days write endlessly about their masturbation.  Betty Dodson made a video of women masturbating called “Self-Loving Divas.”  No one will ever call a masturbating man a “self-loving diva.”  It just doesn’t happen.  

Men are supposed to work hard, compete, serve, and achieve great things — not revel in the delights of their bodies.

A certain male sex writer once posted an image of himself nude by a roaring fire in a fireplace, holding a glass of wine.  I was impressed. I figured he must be a really evolved human being.  But still it just felt odd.  After all, women are supposed to luxuriate naked in front of fires.  Men are supposed to be out chopping the wood!

It’s fine if as a doctor I write about sex.  That’s an acceptable male role.  It has the connotation of “work.”  But my thoughts on the subject wouldn’t be of much interest to anyone otherwise.  Women are the natural guardians of sexual space.

 

It’s hard for me to agree with the idea that women ‘own’ sex given that so many female writers report being attacked or shamed, called bad names, and taunted for being open about sex. No man is ever put down by his tribe, or our society, for being sexual—in fact it is expected. In a room of 100 women probably less than 10% would say they owned sex–we don’t have that understanding of heterosexual relationships. I think the increase in female sex writing is a positive thing. To talk openly about masturbation when so many women have felt shame about it (as have men) and been unable or unwilling to get in touch with their bodies–this is a healing process. We assume men masturbate. That’s not an assumption we have about women.

You’re right.  A man who wrote openly about sex wouldn’t get “slut-shamed.”  He might just be ignored.

In the sex therapy world, where the majority of the professional community is female, a man is a member of a minority that’s seen as potentially dangerous.  To be accepted in the female-centered world of sex therapy professionals, he must avoid spontaneous expressions of sexual feeling.  His female colleagues don’t have to constrain themselves in this way.  A woman at a sex therapy meeting could say, “yes, that really turns me on,” and that spontaneous expression of sexual feeling might be accepted and even celebrated.  I believe that for a man to admit that something in the moment really turns him on would not be so accepted, and would certainly not be celebrated.

 

You point out that we celebrate female sexuality but not male. I think you are correct and I’m saddened by that. The ability to accept and encourage male expression of sexuality would go a long way towards lessening the idea of men as predators–if “we” can sit with our discomfort long enough to find acceptance. What do you think?

Women sex writers go on at length about their sexual feelings. And they appear on their blogs and on twitter in all sorts of suggestive poses.  Male sex writers don’t do that.

 

Why is that? Are women overcompensating and overexposing themselves as they try to ‘catch up’ in a world where men have always been acknowledged as having sexual desire?  And, why is it that we feel so squeamish about men writing about sex when we’ve accepted for centuries that men enjoy sex? Is there another double standard that applies to the written word?

It may be less of a stigma for a man to admit sexual desire, but it would be more of a stigma for a male sex therapy professional to write about desire. As I mentioned above, male desire tends to be seen as uncomfortable and potentially dangerous—unless it’s directed by a particular man towards a particular woman who’s interested in being desired by him—in which case it’s permitted. But only then.  

 

Dr. Snyder and I didn’t reach any conclusions about why there are so few male sex writers or the challenges for men in expressing their sexuality. I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly my male readers.

19 Comments
  • Bobbie Morgan
    Posted at 09:37h, 06 November Reply

    I write about men and sexuality in my blog as often as I can because of the void of such information except for in The Good Men Project. I can’t speak as a man, but I have several very good male friends and readers of my blog who open up to me confidentially about their problems and issues. I’ve almost always been that girl who guys confide in but never date. Ironically, I just wrote three articles pertaining to men’s sexuality in my blog this week.

    I really think that Dr. Snyder, who I’ve communicated with several times on a couple of topics, is selling himself short professionally by saying, “…it would be more of a stigma for a male sex therapy professional to write about desire.” Men, especially those over 45 and older, speak about a need for passion and desire quite often, if only privately. I think Dr. Snyder would be surprised by the positive feedback he’d get from men if he did write about men and passion and desire. He might get some blowback from men who might accuse him of being a wuss, but those are often the men who crave it the most, even if they can’t admit it to themselves.

    I think Dr. Snyder doesn’t know or believe that men have needs for passion and desire. I believe it would be awkward for a man to admit that to another man privately, especially in a professional context.

    • Walker
      Posted at 13:56h, 06 November Reply

      Bobbie, thanks for a thoughtful take on this. Sometimes it’s a matter of who’s willing to go first, right? If a few prominent men would step into this and talk about their sexuality, relationships and their take on passion/desire it would set the stage for others and help to create change. But, there is that risk, depending on whether the conversation is from a personal place or an educational place? I know it’s a balance I have to look at, in what I share.

  • Stephen Snyder, MD
    Posted at 21:43h, 06 November Reply

    I’m glad to see this reply from Bobbie Morgan.
    Bobbie, I don’t think it’s accidental that these men open up to you “privately” and “confidentially.” I think there is still a stronger taboo against men expressing their real sexual feelings in any kind of public discussion. I got a twitter reply today re the Walker Thornton interview from one of my favorite tweeps, @blairglaser, pointing me to a couple of men’s sex-and-relationships writers — but as I answered Blair, there’s nothing on those men’s sites nearly as explicit as what one sees from women sex writers talking about their favorite sex toys — as on bit.ly/1qsAPRI
    I think we’re dealing with real taboos here, that are not so easily overcome.

  • Bobbie Morgan
    Posted at 08:09h, 07 November Reply

    Walker, I fully agree that more men need to take up leadership roles to talk and write about sexuality and relationships. Slowly, eventually, and more often than not privately, I’m sure a lot of men will think, “That sounds like me.”

    I try to get Parrot to write about sex, sexuality and relationships as often as I can. He understands and owns his sexuality, but he always has a passion project or two going on.

    I’m not saying that we need to change every man into a sensitive new age man, Look at all of the changes that have taken place for men and their roles in society, they’ve changed so much in the last 40-50 years.

    Dr. Snyder, I know it’s no accident that men find it easy to confide in me. It’s a combination of things — respect and the ability to keep things confidential. On the topic of women being open and explicit in talking about sexuality in a public forum, that public forum is very small and very out of the mainstream. It’s pretty much limited to “I loved Fifty Shades of Grey” and it ends there.

  • Les
    Posted at 20:56h, 07 November Reply

    “No man is ever put down by his tribe, or our society, for being sexual—in fact it is expected.” That quote really stuck out for me, Walker, in terms of your question. What I immediately thought was, “Maybe not, but he’d get put down for being sensual.”

    And that is the problem. What I wish I saw more was men being able to write about sensuality, pleasure, intimacy. By “being able to” here I mean being open enough and comfortable enough to be honest and emotionally articulate, and also that others wouldn’t respond by thinking it’s “icky.” I’ve written a little, and I get a few men who – privately – acknowledge what I’ve said; some women who respond with a mixture of interest, surprise, and gratitude; and a sizeable number of both men and women who, basically, say some version of “ick.”

    I agree with Dr. Snyder: men are more often seen as dangerous, and that makes it dicey to write about sex. I have no intention of having it stop me from doing more of it, but I think it does answer your question and it does give pause.

    Great piece, thanks as always for writing it.

    • Walker
      Posted at 09:36h, 09 November Reply

      Les, thanks.
      Don’t women want a male partner (if that’s our preference) who is sensual and can express pleasure and intimacy? If we do, then we have to be willing to accept his expression of those desires. How do we change this discomfort? Most people aren’t willing to risk the fear of being shamed and aren’t as willing to forge ahead as you are. When we shut down those voices we continue to reinforce the stereotypes. It’s unfortunate.
      I’d love for you to share your thoughts on this in greater depth. And, though hesitant to say this, would speaking/writing through a woman’s website mediate the danger/ick factor? If this woman finds his writing safe and relevant than is he really dangerous?

  • raefrancoeur
    Posted at 09:36h, 13 November Reply

    I agree completely that this is tricky ground for men and male therapists. But, like writing, you can say almost anything if you can figure out how. I like the way Louie C.K. enthuses about masturbation and I want to believe he’s made a difference. And Dan Savage does a great job facilitating discussions about sexuality in which both men and women feel quite safe expressing their deepest feelings and concerns. So I think we’re making progress in some arenas.

    • Walker
      Posted at 08:56h, 14 November Reply

      Rae, I agree. And, as I begin to dig around I am finding men who are writing openly about the male experience of sexuality. Will have to go find the video of Louie C.K. on masturbation–I bet it’s hilarious.

      • John Hayden
        Posted at 00:01h, 20 November Reply

        Wait, wait! Walker, why are you assuming that a video by a man talking about sex must be hilarious? I think you’ve just exposed one reason why men are reluctant to publicly talk about sex and feelings. They’ll be either ridiculed or laughed at. And possibly arrested.

        A well-known public man, i.e. a politician, CEO or clergyman, can easily have his career ended by almost any public comment about sex. In many contexts, it’s literally against the law for men to talk openly about sex. A man with supervisory responsibility, no matter how high or low, can be accused of sexual discrimination or sexual harassment for nearly anything he says. There are laws that define harassment as whatever an individual woman subjectively thinks is harassment.

        Isn’t it possible that the man on the video talking about sex could be dramatic, or informative, or knowing, or romantic ? . . . or anything except laugh-out-loud funny?

        Of course a professional comedian, male or female, can talk as much as they want about sex.

        Sorry, I’m afraid the issue touched a nerve for me.

        • Walker
          Posted at 07:24h, 20 November Reply

          John, yes this does seem to have touched a nerve for you. I assume that the video would be hilarious because Louie C.K. is funny-he’s a comedian. That being said, I’ve not seen the video so maybe I’m wrong. That comment wasn’t about “men” it was about that specific man.

  • Interesting Man
    Posted at 10:17h, 13 November Reply

    I’m 63 and I tried writing “smut” about a year ago. The ladies who read it, said I was focused too much on describing the actions of sex, but did not describe the emotions that flowed from those actions. I used adjectives like throbbing, purple, dipping, and musky. (The “ick factor”?) The ladies wanted to read words like, dizzy, breathless, glowing, and ravished. I tried to find a lady to help me soften my writing – but had no luck in doing so.

    • Walker
      Posted at 08:59h, 14 November Reply

      Well, Mr Interesting Man, by using the word ‘smut’ you would seem to be indicating something quite different from talking about ‘erotica’. If you’re writing to a female audience you do need to use a female perspective-thrusting, throbbing, dipping are from the male experience. And, speaking for the average ‘woman’, we’re not that turned on by porn-like images/words about sex. But, I think it’s admirable that you’re exploring writing.

      • Interesting Man
        Posted at 11:11h, 14 November Reply

        Walker, Thanks, I’ll take compliments wherever I can find them – “admirable”, cool.
        Is the market for “erotica” mostly women? If it is, I think you can better understand why there are so many female writers. One of my lady-friends has a huge pile of paperback novels that she enjoys immensely. Me, I have a few websites that cheer me up on a lonely night.
        Now, I realize “gourmet sex” is the issue here. That is what we all want, but we seldom devote a weekend to having it. (It takes courage to feel sexy in a down economy.) Maybe the answer to your question is that women writers know what women readers want, and that is why there aren’t many male writers. Men get in the mood “visually”, while women seem to be better stimulated with word images they create in their own way – to their own individual taste.

        • Walker
          Posted at 09:00h, 15 November Reply

          I don’t know what the market for erotica is. I’m guessing it’s mostly women.
          As for the writers–that’s a question to keep thinking about and gathering thoughts on. Thanks for yours.

  • John Hayden
    Posted at 00:17h, 20 November Reply

    “If you’re writing to a female audience . . .”

    OK, why are we assuming a female audience? In my blogging and newspaper writing, I’ve never been aware of assuming anything gender-related about the audience. The audience is anyone who reads what is written. That’s one of the reasons mainstream publications have been so careful about sex. (Until fairly recently.) Anything that’s published might just as well be seen by a child as by an adult.

    “You do need to use a female perspective . . .” Oh, I thought you were lamenting an absence of men writing from a male perspective. I misunderstood.

    Walker, I apologize for venting. What I should have said is simply that men have been conditioned to be circumspect when talking or writing about sex. And safer still, just don’t say anything at all.

    I remember a fairly crude warning from a slightly more sophisticated male when I was in college, long time ago. “Keep your mouth shut. You can’t be put in jail for what you’re thinking.”

    • Walker
      Posted at 07:31h, 20 November Reply

      There is plenty of gender-specific content on book shelves. Chick lit…for starters. Gothic romance. Many blogs are written for specific niches–you come from a journalistic point of view where the appeal is to a wider audience. I think blogs and fiction writing at times can be written with a gender-specific audience in mind.

      This man is trying to write erotica and was finding that his female readers couldn’t relate to his language-any editor would tell him to know his audience.. i.e. my ‘female perspective’. Yes we were lamenting the lack of male sex writers–people speaking from their experiences and presumably talking to males or maybe all audiences. Writing erotica is slightly off-point, in my opinion.

  • Interesting Man
    Posted at 07:40h, 20 November Reply

    Thanks John, you summed it up better than I could.

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