Strange Sex Lies Men Tell Themselves

Nadia Bokody says the pressure on men to express their masculinity through sex has toxic consequences in and outside the bedroom.

A few weeks ago at a party I met a man with whom I immediately clicked.

After much dancing and way too many glass roses, we decided to meet again the following week for a purely platonic dinner (we are both gay).

Between bites, he told me about the numerous investment properties he owned, his seven-figure trust fund, and the Tesla he’d just bought. I assumed it was a monologue meant to impress me, but I found it all very dull and superficial.

But as the evening wore on, he relaxed and talked about his strained relationship with his parents since coming out as gay, and the loneliness he felt because he had few close friends. It was an unexpected display of vulnerability that made me reach across the table, put a hand on his arm, and say, “You’ve got me now.”

It would have been the start of a wonderful friendship love story, except a week later someone who had seen us together on Instagram anonymously urged me to google him, and I found out he was in fact a fraud, under investigation for scam people to give him money after he convinced them he was rich.

While we often think of lying as a habit of scammers and shady types, it’s actually ubiquitous—we all do it, every day—although its usefulness tends to vary between men and women.

Research suggests that women usually lie for prosocial reasons (i.e., being unfair to others to spare their feelings – “Don’t be ridiculous, I LOVE the sweater you bought me!”), while men tend to manipulate the truth in more self-serve ways.

Most of us are familiar with the old joke about how women can’t parallel park because we’ve been lied to about how tall six inches really is (*Ba-Dum-Tss!*); it’s an archaic sexist joke, but it does reflect a universal truth about the kind of tall tales men are likely to use.

For example, we know that the majority of women have faked an orgasm at some point, and yet there seem to be almost no men who believe they have been on the receiving end of this ruse.

Every time I write about performative female sexual pleasure, I’m inundated with protests from guys on social media declaring that I’m blowing up a very rare problem.

“Obviously you’ve never been with the right guy!” is a popular figure of speech among men who seem convinced that every sexual encounter they’ve ever had has led to a woman’s climax.

This self-deception – and more than that, the compulsion to make such claims so publicly – is likely because our cultural definition of masculinity is linked to sexual performance, and in particular its recognition by men.

To recognize that there is sexual disappointment among heterosexual women is to risk being cast out of a code of masculinity based on gaining sexual approval, not from women, but from other men. And the fear of what it means to be ostracized from this club is so great that many men go to great lengths – and often bizarre – efforts to avoid it.

Take, for example, the men who claim that the female orgasm is mythical.

“I’ve fucked dozens of women and none of them were able to fuck. It is biologically impossible for women to achieve orgasm,” read a tweet that went viral last year.

“Women may claim to love sex, but you really don’t. You TOlerate it under LIMITED circumstances,” another tweet read by a man.

Incidentally, this is what feminists mean when we talk about toxic masculinity: not, as is often misunderstood, that men themselves are naturally toxic. It’s the pressure that the societal construct of what it means to be a “real man” puts on men to demonstrate their masculinity in harmful ways.

In her groundbreaking book Boys and sexAuthor and researcher Peggy Orenstein explains why this pressure is forcing men to be inauthentic about their sexual experiences.

“If emotional suppression and contempt for the feminine are the two legs of the instrument that sustains ‘toxic masculinity,’ the third is bragging about sexual conquest,” Orenstein writes.

“The whole point of ‘locker room chatter’ is that it’s not really about sex… Those exaggerated stories are really about power: about asserting masculinity through control of the female body.”

And it is precisely this pressure to assert and execute masculinity among other men that contributes to a culture of truth-distortion around sex.

A study published in The Journal of Sex Research noted that men consistently overestimate the number of sexual partners they have had, while other research has indicated that they tend to do the same when it comes to self-reporting penis size. Even the vernacular that men use to talk to each other about sex is rooted in exaggeration and self-deception.

We often hear young men brag about “hitting,” “nailing,” and “smashing” women as if they were talking about being on a construction site, while theatrically describing their sexual partners not being able to walk after sex. Rarely do we hear guys talk about pleasure, vulnerability and connection, or about their bedroom insecurities and sexual shortcomings.

In a culture that equates sexual conquest with masculinity, it’s easier for men to tell themselves that these things don’t really matter, or even don’t exist at all.

And this is the ultimate consequence of toxic masculinity — it makes sex a transaction used to demonstrate power among other men, as Orenstein writes, rather than a vehicle for intimacy and self-expression.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, because so few men are honest with each other and themselves about sex, and neither does the compulsion to constantly propagate status trickle down to countless other aspects of their lives.

In a way, my near-friend the scammer is an extreme example of this. One of the last things he told me before I blocked him was that he’d been sincere about feeling lonely, and maybe I’m an idealist, but I believed him.

Perhaps because lies (like telling our partner that we love the horrible gift they got us for our birthday) can help nurture our relationships, bigger lies – the ones that force us to act in ways that conflict with our own values ​​- thwart us from having meaningful connections; not only with each other, but also with ourselves.

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