Men & Feminism: Behind the Scenes of the Man Project
The second installment of my project, The Man Series went live on Sexis today. This time I am talking to prolific writer, photographer and sexual activist David Steinberg who was recently named Erotic Photographer of the Year.
Being one of the visible and outspoken guys working in the realm of feminism and sex, he’s got a lot to say on the topics of masculinity and sexuality. Here are some unpublished excerpts about men and feminism, peppered with some of his (NSFW) photography.
RW: So why does it seem the majority of sex writers are women?
DS: I think the critique and developing analysis of women’s sexuality came out of the feminist movement to a large extent. So, that would explain the critique of traditional thinking about women’s sexuality in general– who women are, what women’s gender roles are related to sexuality. I was very much involved in the what we called “men’s pro-feminist movement”, a movement of men examining traditional gender roles. This goes back 25 years.
RW: Did the male feminism groups explore male sexuality?
DS: There was some discussion on sexuality…though not the major focus. That movement being much much smaller than the feminist movement among women, it really did not generate the same kind of analytical thinking about male sexuality. Absent the women’s movement there might be a whole less writing about women’s sexuality too. It’s too bad because I think traditional gender roles in sexuality are just as limiting as damaging for men.
RW: What was the focus in the dialogue about men and feminism?
DS: What we felt we had to offer men was better relationships with their partners and particularly with their children. And the other thing we felt we had to offer was a much richer sexuality. If you are working a high stress 60 hour a week job that takes you out of town and puts family behind, having a meaningful sex life is not in your interest. That meant getting men to look at sex differently than what the mainstream culture teaches them to do. If you re-organize what it means to be a man, a proper man, around your values, then your emotional, family and sex life all improve. There is so much that men deny themselves. If achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself aren’t making you happy then you’ve got to ask yourself if you have set the wrong goals.
RW: Do you think there are more men questioning their gender roles?
DS: There is a significant number of men, even if it’s not most, that are aware of and working on these issues. They are shifting how they see themselves as men and what masculinity means to them. I certainly feel that my own life has been enlarged and made happier when I learned I could make conscious choices about what aspects of socially defined masculinity I wanted to hold onto and what I wanted to move away from.
RW: How does this effect sex?
DS: My guess would be that men who make a point of focusing on being more aware and expressive of a full range of emotions will be able to move into sex in a deeper way. I think it happens in that direction more often then discovering themselves in sex and spreading to the rest of their emotional life. My sense is that men who have rejected traditional roles are the guys that get to experience sex in a more intimate and satisfying way. Women often think all guys wanna do is get off, but often that is not the case.
RW: What else have you found that women assume about men’s sexuality?
DS: I used to run a workshop on male sexuality for women. One of the most common things that women would ask is, “So I’m with this guy, we have amazing sex and then in the morning, he is like gone.”
I think guys think they are just gonna have a fun time. Because sex is as powerful as it is, sometimes a big door opens up inside you. Suddenly, your emotional guts are all over the table. I think sex, touch, it is powerful in that way. Suddenly, you are dealing with the fact that you never got touched as a child, suddenly you are dealing with the time something happened and you were embarrassed. Suddenly, all sorts of larger issues, even existential ones leap up, and there you are in the middle of them.
I think women are more prepared for this, less frightened. For some guys in this deeply intimate, exposed place with a person they hardly know, they wake up in the morning and just start putting a wall up, really fast.
RW: It’s interesting because we kind of ignore that this goes on, with one night stands.
DS: I am an advocate of people being free and sexual but one of the things that can happen in jumping into sex without knowing each other is that you end up in a situation where you are exposed, kind of prematurely, to somebody that you are really not prepared to allow into your soul. And oops you just did. Sex is a tricky business.
RW: I love this observation about sex.
One of the wonders of sex and one of the things that interests me so much is that it’s this part of life that opens so many doors and can give you an opportunity to look at childhood joys and traumas. One of the sad things about sex, particularly for men, is that the culture shoves a version of sex down your throat that is just poor, pale version of what is really possible.