Insecurity: What is her PROBLEM??

Here’s a common situation “Steve” outlined in the Comments sidebar to one of my earliest posts:

Man wants sex more than woman. Man seeks to find occasional sexual release in masturbation to pictures of other women. Woman throws giant fit, throws out magazines etc. Man feels woman is trying to completely control all sex by setting herself up as only provider, sees masturbation as harmless. Woman feels jealous, hurt and betrayed; feels threatened by masturbation. Man feels he has lost all control of sex life with woman completely in driver’s seat. Sex between them deteriorates.

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: as much as I understand and sympathize with what’s going on in this woman’s head (something similar having gone on in mine once upon a time), she is not behaving well. At all. She has unreasonable expectations and is making unfair demands. She is W.R.O.N.G., and that spells “stoopit.”

There you go. Do you feel better now? I’m glad.

Now the less happy news: knowing that the woman is wrong in this situation might make the guy feel deliciously righteous and nobly long-suffering, but it does absolutely nothing … zero, zip, zilch, nada … to solve his basic problem. Let me repeat that in starker terms (because it can’t be over-emphasized): sitting around seething in virtue and moaning about how unfair women can be has never, ever in the entire history of the universe gotten a man laid.

So the guy’s strategy has to be to think the situation through and decide on something to DO rather than simply feel sorry for himself. The thinking part is crucial, because a (justifiably) angry person who is not thinking is likely to respond to this complex and hurtful situation with impulsive, destructive, counterproductive crankassity hostility. He might even throw a “giant fit.” Or several.

But as satisfying throwing fits might be to any done-wrong guy’s immediate feelings, a steady diet of hostility + reaction to hostility + more hostility is not going to improve his sex life. You may already be seeing the results of this kind of vicious cycle in your own marriage. Like it or not, and as much as it might interfere with your idea of What Should Be, breaking these kinds of emotional spirals requires ONE of you to use adult and disciplined brainpower in the struggle against furious emotion. Guess who it’s gonna have to be? (At least at first.)

Steve has offered a couple of places to start the thinking process. One is to acknowledge that the man’s sense of control over his own sexual enjoyment and expression is a fundamental part of the impasse: “Man feels woman is trying to completely control all sex by setting herself up as the only provider” and “Man feels he has lost all control of sex life with woman completely in driver’s seat.” Another place to start trying to analyze the situation is the man’s knowledge that the woman is acting the way she’s acting because she’s feeling “jealous, hurt and betrayed.” Why she should feel that way about his merely recreational jerking off while looking at pictures of women who are utter strangers to them both is what has him puzzled — and severely annoyed.

Human beings, living as we do in sentient appreciation of the uncertainty of nature and the randomness of our fate, have a very fundamental, irresovable existential problem: we are hag-ridden by insecurity. The thing we hate most of all is admitting that we cannot, in fact, make the universe do our bidding, or worse, that someone else can make us do theirs. As a result we, all of us, male and female, put an extraordinary premium on feeling some sense of control over ourselves, our environment and — most unpredictable and dangerous of all — other people.

The only thing on earth that can diminish this grasping, desperate and constant need for some sense of control (over something, someone, somewhere, somehow) is… you guessed it … L.O.V.E. Love, giving and receiving, soothes the essential ache of insecurity. So now it’s time to put the big, face-smackin’, outrageously obvious point on this post: what Steve’s man and woman are really responding to, in their own peculiar and roundabout ways, is a sense that their partner no longer loves them. Because it is only when we start to give up on love in a relationship that we begin to seek power.

Now when I say people seek power when they become unsure of love (and a guy can become very unsure of love when a woman doesn’t want to have sex with him), I don’t mean that this is a conscious process. Nobody in Steve’s scenario is thinking, “By golly, I’m gonna get OVER on that bitch/bastard!” If we could all recognize our instinctive motivations that clearly and admit them to ourselves that frankly, life would be much easier for all of us — albeit also a lot less interesting. Where would art be without repression?

So that’s what we’re dealing with here: two people who are hurt and feeling betrayed because they suspect that the person who was Supposed to love them forever doesn’t. Two people whose natural “background” level of existential insecurity has just taken an enormous jump into high-blood-pressure territory. It’s “fight or flight” time, and humans, whose personal pride is an essential bulwark against their knowledge of uncertainty, are notorious for choosing “fight.” So the woman has a fit (demonstrates aggression) and throws out the dirty magazines (disposes of the threat).

But this is the mystery to you: WHY do these magazines threaten her? You could understand it if she was jealous in regard to a real-life woman, who might actually succeed in seducing you away, but what the hell is the problem with a little porn? It’s not like you’re having any kind of genuine relationship with those glossy pictures, is it? You’re not going to leave her and go live happily ever after with a photograph!     … continued …

In a sense her concern is not irrational. She does realize that you are not going to run off with paper and ink. What she is really afraid of is that you will come to love (or already do love) an Ideal Bimbo more than you could ever love the real person she is. She fears that with those images in your mind you will be comparing her to a standard she will never be able to meet. She is afraid that when you repeatedly take sexual pleasure with that ideal you are conditioning yourself to respond best to abstract perfection and are diminishing your ability to find fully satisfying sexual pleasure with an ordinary woman.

These are, I’m sorry to say, realistic concerns. These things happen. I’ll never forget the story of a woman whose husband had to have a porn magazine open on the pillow next to her head so he could look at it instead of her whenever they had sex. It’s not that fantasizing during sex is wrong. Not at all. It’s common and very useful on both sides of the marriage bed. So the fact that that this guy was having sex with the Betty in his head and using his wife as his rosy palm is no huge thing, it was that he was effectively TELLING HER that’s what he was doing. And it is unfortunately true that for some women, just knowing those magazines are in your underwear drawer can be the equivalent of bringing them into bed with you. (Don’t despair, though. If your wife has this problem, you can help her get over it. But it is part of the “advanced course,” so to speak. First things first.)

Then there are men like some who have responded to this blog in email or in the Comments sidebars, making it clear that they are seeking an impossible ideal: either a perfectly tuned, always eager, romantically “magical” sexual partner, or Pornobabe™, a woman who is not only airbrushed and siliconed physical perfection, but whose sex drive is so huge and so totally uninhibited that she’ll loll around poking her own pink for the delectation of millions of men and then have an orgasm (with theatrical screams) twenty-two seconds after a penis enters her vagina.

“But I’m not like that!” you say. “I love my wife, she turns me on great, I don’t need perfection. Aren’t I practically begging to have sex with her? She has to know she’s just fine with me!”

Well, yeah. That makes perfect sense to any logical observer. But maybe she’s not fine with herself. Maybe SHE’S the one who’s been bent out of shape by those images of perfect erotic womanhood. That could be her deeper problem with the magazine babes. Here’s one of the big “secrets” of female sexuality, at least in long-term relationships: a woman very often has to to think of herself as desirable in order to feel desire.

MORE on Insecurity

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