What do we really know about male desire? Not much, according to Canadian sex researchers
ZOSIA BIELSKI PUBLISHED JULY 23, 2019
Winnipeg relationships therapist Sarah Hunter Murray found a male desire that’s less voracious, indiscriminate and skin deep, and more emotionally complex – fragile, even.
Although sex researchers historically gave male subjects centre stage, they paid surprisingly little attention to how men actually desire. Today, contemporary sexologists say our cultural understanding of men’s sex drive remains simplistic and leans on old clichés – that male libido is always sky-high, self-centred and ready to go, with practically anyone. Men who aren’t this way are still treated as exceptions, not the rule.
Canadian researchers and clinicians are starting to push back on these ideas by asking deeper questions about the inner world of male desire. They’re looking at how heterosexual men lust (and don’t) within their relationships, what motivates them to have sex with their partners, what frustrates them in their intimate lives and how they process rejection from the women they love. What they’re finding counters much of what’s been previously assumed about men.
“We’ve got this stereotype about men’s desire being constant and unwavering. More recently, we’ve got #MeToo highlighting stories of men’s sexual desire being dangerous, toxic and about power. But what else is going on?” said Winnipeg relationships therapist Sarah Hunter Murray.
Murray interviewed nearly 300 men and spoke to hundreds more over a decade in her therapy practice – executives, truck drivers, athletes, teachers and dads among them. Their insights are included in Murray’s recent book, Not Always in The Mood: The New Science of Men, Sex, and Relationships, which offers a rare glimpse into a world we think we understand, but possibly don’t at all.
Notably absent from Murray’s book are the usual tales of raging male libido. One husband is too stressed out by the family business to think about sex. A boyfriend turns down his girlfriend’s advances for two months as he dwells on an unresolved argument. Another husband tells Murray his sexual interest piques when he and his wife talk late into the night. In her conversations with men, Murray found a male desire that’s less voracious, indiscriminate and skin deep, and more emotionally complex – fragile, even.
While Murray offers a strikingly new perspective on heterosexual male sex drive, other Canadian researchers are studying men’s sexual problems in long-term committed relationships. In Halifax, clinical psychologist Natalie Rosen is looking at why men experience low desire with their partners. At the University of Waterloo, PhD student Siobhan Sutherland is exploring male and female partners’ sexual complaints, which happen to be the same. And at the University of Kentucky, Canadian researcher Kristen Mark mines “sexual desire discrepancy” in couples, finding it’s sometimes wives and girlfriends who are more interested in sex than husbands and boyfriends – guys who find this scenario particularly troubling because of social expectations about the supposedly more carnal male gender.
Their emerging research suggests serious blind spots around male desire are harming relationships and holding couples back from broaching what they want in their intimate lives.
“If we ignore the nuances of sexual desire in men, we risk continuing to perpetuate stereotypes – that men’s sexual interest is uniformly high and independent of context – to the detriment of the many men whose experiences are multifaceted,” said Halifax’s Rosen. “In enhancing our understanding of men’s sexual desire, we can improve individual and couple sexuality and ultimately promote the quality of intimate relationships.”
The Globe spoke to researchers – and men – about busting the most pernicious myths lingering around male desire.