Opening the Tiny Hurt Locker - Why Men Need to "Hurt" Their Partners

I am a new writer for the Relationships, Love + Sex section of the Good Men Project. The Good Men Project's tagline says it all: The conversation no one else is having. I like to think I have a lot of conversations with folks daily about things that don't usually get talked about. So I'm excited to bring my perspectives on sex, intimacy, relationships, gender, and power to the GMP table. Below is my first article with them published today:

It’s necessary to hurt your relationship partner. No, seriously. Think about it this way: it is inevitable that when you come together with another person with different experiences, expectations, beliefs, goals and needs, you will sometimes disagree and disappoint your partner. That can hurt both you and your partner emotionally. But sometimes, that’s necessary.  For example, your partner wants to spend the afternoon shopping with you. You agree, although you’d rather poke your eye out with a sharp stick. On Friday night, you assume you’re hanging out with your partner, but then learn she chose to spend time with her friends instead. And the list goes on. These things may seem minor, but they add up over time if you don’t discuss them honestly because they are based on a false compromise.

Some men are afraid to hurt their female partners. I see this in my private practice all the time. Kids are often told by their dads: “don’t ever hurt a woman.” That’s great advice for raising men who respect women.  And it’s great to acknowledge that many men do have the power to physically hurt women. Unfortunately, kids don’t have the brain development to grasp the nuanced meaning of social issues. Therefore, by adulthood, this well-intentioned guideline becomes a black and white principle for many men, even around complex emotional situations. If men want to talk about anything that could hurt their partner, they don’t. This is where real problems emerge.

When you don’t express your thoughts or opinions, bad shit starts to happen. Your unspoken truths turn into unspoken resentments. I’ve observed that when people have negative feelings and their feelings go ignored or unprocessed, people behave badly. So in the long run, your initial silence ends up hurting your partner even more. This silence is based partially on fear and guilt: fear of confrontation, fear of feeling horrible for hurting the woman you love, and the guilt over making her cry. That fear and guilt come from a noble and responsible belief system. But it’s imperative to recognize the difference between “small hurts” and “big hurts.” Small hurts, handled responsibly, can avoid big hurts.

Easier said than done though. Let’s say you disagree with your partner’s decision to discipline the kids, but keep your opinions to yourself and become passive aggressive with your resentment. Later on, when your partner is disappointed by your attitude or your lack of support, you avoid taking any responsibility at all, or even lash out because you didn’t feel like you had a choice. However, you did have a choice. You always do.

It all comes down to learning how to acknowledge and sit with the discomfort of hurting your partner. This means building resiliency, including establishing trust in yourself that you can handle your negative feelings, manage seeing disappointment in your partner, and know that you’ll still be loved.  It means remembering that you are a good man. It means choosing to acknowledge your discomfort and staying present with it. This is resiliency.

Where do you feel the discomfort inside your body? Is it a gnawing in your gut? A sinking feeling in your stomach? An ache in your chest? Sometimes, clients describe a tightness in their throat when they are afraid to say something. These sensations are so uncomfortable. Most of us probably learned to run, numb or distract ourselves, withdrawing into video games or the Internet, alcohol or eating. Sometimes, we even lash out in anger. But staying present with the pain and facing the discomfort head-on allows for more conscious and authentic interactions that are critical for relationships to thrive.

It is natural, normal, and even healthy to have disagreements. This is all part of the negotiation required to merge two lives. When you choose to acknowledge and negotiate the small hurts honestly and responsibly, you live more from love than fear.

Conscious conversations like this one must include the participation of both partners. It is tough when it’s one-sided, and this could happen if you start speaking your truth in new ways. Over time though, you can model responsible communication and claim ownership of difficult emotions, co-building a relationship where both partners are resilient enough to handle disappointment and move on. If one or both of you lack the skills to communicate in this way, a counselor or therapist, or even a good relationship book, can offer you tools.

I’m reminded of my mother’s framed needlepoint that hung on our living room wall. It read, “A stitch in time saves nine.” The more adept you become at addressing small hurts, the less likely you will need to address the big ones later on.

(Image Credit: Flickr/-Rodrigo Vargas-)

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker

Sex in the Office & Booty Calls?

I was interviewed for the June issue of Men's Health Magazine about the topics of sex in the office and booty calls. These are not topics that I generally discuss in much depth, but I appreciated the opportunity to offer my two cents (which is often more about responsibility and respect, than titillation). My main perspective on sex in the office is to not be foolish about it, in terms of too much risk-taking, irritating your co-workers, or leaving a mess behind (no one likes to find someone else's pubic hairs on their desk in the morning). It is a fantasy for some and can be quite exciting because of its taboo and passionate nature. If this is the case, also consider seeking out other taboo settings (e.g., nature) where the risk of losing respect or your job are not on the line.

Regarding booty calls or the more relevant booty texts, I say be respectful. Remember that regardless of how much you say you only want sex, that is still another human being on the other end, with emotions, insecurities, and needs for connection (just like you). Sometimes booty texts are flattering and exciting, but in the long run they can lead to disappointment and feeling used. So appreciate and honor the person you're hooking up with and make sure their needs are being met too. And don't show up sloppy drunk - that's not fun sex for anyone!

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker, and Sexologist

Why it Takes More Than Viagra

Last week I attended the annual AASECT conference (sexuality conference) in Miami, FL, and sat in on a two-hour workshop about sexual pharmacology. Did you know that the majority of viagra prescriptions are not refilled? I knew viagra-type medications did not work well for addressing women's desire and arousal, but didn't realize that perhaps many men were not satisfied as well.

It seems that some men pop a viagra and think that the added blood flow to their genitals will immediately take care of all their desire and arousal concerns. But without an emotional connection with their partner, or mental arousal, or some physical touching, it might not help. Sexuality is a full body experience.

The speakers shared an example of a man taking a viagra and then sitting down to play cards with his wife. He and his wife would occasionally peak under the table to see if something was happening. Unless they were playing strip poker, I don't think this qualifies as foreplay for most folks. And, as a side note, apparently viagra shouldn't be taken after a heavy meal, because its effectiveness is reduced. But think about that - who feels sexy after a heavy meal anyway?

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sociologist, Sexologist, Sexuality Speaker

Why so many Sperm?

How many sperm do men have in an average ejaculate? Why are there SOOO many?! Learn some interesting facts about sperm to impress your friends.

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sociologist, Sexologist, Sexuality Speaker

What is a "Rape Culture"? might have heard the term "rape culture" more than usual recently, in light of the conviction of the two high school football players in Steubenville, OH. These two young men were found guilty of raping a young, passed out woman at a party. There was ample social media evidence (including video, texts, and a photo) to show how there were many bystanders as they raped her and how some of the group of men then mocked the girl and the situation.

What is "rape culture" and how is that term relevant here? Rape culture is a term to describe prevailing social norms around gender, sex, and communication that faciliate an implicit acceptance of sexual assault humor and rape circumstances. In a rape culture, sexual coersion is a normalized part of sexual interaction. While this might sound extreme to some people, consider these excerpts from Lauren Nelson in her "So You're Tired of Hearing about 'Rape Culture'" essay:

"Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, no one says, “Stop.”

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, they can’t get anyone to come forward.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and adults are informed of it, but no consequences are doled out because the boys “said nothing happened.”

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and we later find out that their coaches were “joking about it” and “took care of it.” 

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and even though there is documentation of the coaching staff sweeping it under the rug, they get to keep their jobs.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and one of the coaches involved in the cover-up threatens a reporter - saying, “You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.” – but the town is more worried about keeping their coaching talent than his integrity.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, but because it happens at a party where both sexes were drinking, complete strangers on the internet argue ferociously that she is to blame for being attacked."

It's hard to ignore when you consider these facts. Being in a rape culture does not mean that as a society we publicly or overtly condone rape. But it does mean that we have a lot of backwards views on gender roles, the importance of athletics, personal responsibiliy, group mentality, sexual interactions, and sex education. We have a lot of shame around sex as a society, which I think is an important underlying component of our inability to think outside the box in difficult situations like Steubenville. Many would rather blame a victim instead of sitting with the discomfort of owning the state of affairs around sex...and then taking a stand to do something different.

If you're a parent out there who is not sure how to talk to your sons about these topics, so that they grow up to be respectful teenagers and men, and know that they have a voice in such situations, read this powerful letter from a mom to her sons.

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sociologist, Sexologist, Sexuality/Gender/Mindfulness Speaker

Sex Addiction - Dr. Jenn & Dr. Neil Cannon

Is the label "sex addiction" helpful or hurtful? Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus discusses this topic with Dr. Neil Cannon, and he shares how a therapist can help in a relationship where sexual actions are a concern.

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sexologist, Sex Therapist, Sexuality Speaker