As a teenager, I felt natural hooking up with guys–a seatbelt in my back, a heel popping out the car cigarette lighter. And yet I felt confused. I was unsure how to treat the male body, what to do with it, exactly. When I lost my virginity, my partner proudly showed me the six pack abs he’d been working on, I think I was supposed to swoon or feel something but I just stared. Neutral.
“Penises are ugly. It’s like God went to tie a bow, and just kinda forgot what he was doing in the middle.” This is one of my best friends, joking, over coffee. I had asked her about this cultural idea–the female body as a work of art (who doesn’t like naked women!) and the male body as, well, gross.
And it’s not just penis that gets painted with “ew”–it’s the whole of male bodies: hairy, sweaty, narrow or bulky. (And of course not all male bodies have penises or extra hair.) My female friends had been raised to think: the dick is just lucky to be here.
How much do girls spouting this sound like homophobic straight guys? You know, guys who rant, wide-eyed, about how they could never. EVER. get with a guy. Are women unconsciously aligning their beliefs with those of the great white bro-dudes? Not to sound like your-mom’s-feminism, but oh, hai patriarchy. Yet, I do think it cuts deeper.
When I was learning the ropes of hooking up, I felt unsure what to do with the male body, how to kiss it or treat it. I’m not sure there was any lust when that aforementioned partner lifted his shirt ala The Situation, but I do know I felt confused about expressing my lust. And I’m still learning what owning my desire looks like. Women are culturally taught to repress desire. This is what Lady Porn Day was about–it’s become okay, post Sex and The City, for women to use vibrators–but jacking it to hot dude porn? “Ew.” That gives masturbation a desire.
Yet, porn is a good example of where I still feel uncomfortable with male bods. I feel intimidated ogling men in porn. There is a silent idea embedded here, that men are creepy. I see this in sex writing–many of my fellow sex-positive writers are also women. The idea seems to be: if a guy is vocal about sex, it’s icky. Predator-like. If this is what we (unconsciously) think, how can we celebrate and enjoy bodies that carry a connotation of danger?
The thing is, male bodies are more visible than ever: perfume ads with unrealistic abs and shoulders, men’s mags pushing the T shape, but according to a study by psychologist Deborah Schooler this is harmful. Schooler found that men who consume television, music videos and magazines felt worse about their bodies. Interestingly, these guys had unhealthier sex lives too. Schooler explains: “If you’re in an intimate situation and these aspects of your body are exposed, you have to deal with the fact that your body doesn’t meet the ideal. You’re concerned with how your partner is evaluating you, how you look and smell.”
The male body = gross is an idea that hurts men. It’s something I heard more when I was younger, but there are curious ways it’s seeped into my adulthood. A bear-like ex–chubby and furry– once said: “Why don’t you ever kiss my stomach, or touch me this way. You make me feel so unattractive”. In some ways I still feel uncomfortable with male bodies. Even with my husband, I don’t quite know how to express lust. But when I tell my him that I love his body and want to drink it up, I mean it. I am still learning to own this desire.
I think from now on, when I hear men=gross, whether it’s from guys or girls, I’ll challenge myself to own my lust and remark: The male body isn’t gross. It’s sexy.
Do you have a favourite male body part?
This piece first appeared on Rachel Rabbit White’s blog here
And to get you, ahem, thinking here is a gallery of 20 men and their different bodies: