Intimate? Don’t intimidate

Beware! Your approach to sex may be intimidating your man

Repressed urges and coy responses in women are being replaced by total acceptance of their sexual feelings and bold expression of the same. One would have thought this would thrill men. After all, they have been using lack of an exciting enough sex life at home, as an excuse to seek it outside. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Normal heterosexual men are getting increasingly uncomfortable with the sexually liberated woman. So are many metrosexual men, who otherwise say that they welcome the active participation of women in sexual relating. Men often enjoy the active participation of the woman as long as it does not push them out of their comfort zones. What this means is that when a woman initiates sex, and if the man is not feeling like it, he wants the liberty and comfort of turning down the advances, without being questioned or cajoled into responding. However, if he were to initiate intimacy, he wants that she be responsive at all times and be a passionate tigress, who fulfils his fantasies.

The bottom line is: he wants the remote control in his hand at all times. And if he does not have it, there can be problems in the marriage.

Mr Nice Guy needs comfort

Often, because of the upbringing and conditioning of such men they have two contradictory needs—the need to be seen as Mr Nice Guy and the need to remain a spoilt brat. The 'Mr Nice Guy' says men and women have equal urges and equal rights to express the same. He wants to be viewed as a good guy. The 'spoilt brat' says that sex should happen when he feels like it and the way he feels like it. His belief is that he must be made comfortable at all times.

Such men come across as considerate lovers whenever they initiate sex. But if they decide that they don't feel it for whatever reason, they can be the most insensitive partners, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the sexual urges of the partner. However, they continue to be caring men in other areas of life that they are comfortable in such as co-parenting, house chores, finances and others. This helps them retain the 'Mr Nice Guy' title.

The 'blow-hot, blow-cold' attitude of such men, can leave sexually liberated women not only unfulfilled, but also confused, concerned, hurt and angry. A confused and concerned woman questions her partner about his mixed signals; a hurt woman shares her feelings of hurt and rejection through tears; but an angry woman can be intimidating—she can demand, confront, accuse, put-down or even threaten the man. Let's look at Rakesh and Mira's example.

Rakesh and Mira were sexually active with each other before marriage. Back then, Rakesh initiated all the intimate encounters and was an extremely passionate lover. Mira, though active, wasn't comfortable having pre-marital sex. She relaxed only after marriage, and slowly started initiating sex.

However, Rakesh's lack of response on several occasions surprised, confused and hurt her. He said he couldn't get physically active if not in the mood. She resigned to this but later realised that he was unwilling if he was not the initiator. This was because of his need for comfort, which also came across in other situations in life. He reluctantly participated in togetherness activities planned by her, or resisted them citing the need for personal space. He was his Mama's favoured boy and was happy in his comfort zones. Unhappy because of this, Mira sought counselling for them. Rakesh was initially unwilling even in counselling, but reluctantly sat through sessions and gradually acknowledged his dire need for comfort and unwillingness to stretch himself in the relationship. Finally, he did mature from Mama's favoured boy to Mira's adult partner, but over time.

Apart from a man's 'blow-hot, blow-cold' attitude, there are other reasons why a sexual relationship might not be fulfilling for the woman. The man may be hesitant due to performance anxiety or doubt his ability to meet the woman's sexual appetite. Or, he might fear hurting her, especially if she has come across as a 'delicate darling' in previous intimate moments and accused him of hurting her. He might even have an actual physical problem i.e. erectile dysfunction or might be withholding sex from her to punish her for some other transgression in the relationship. Or perhaps he might be depressed or severely stressed at work or other areas of his life.

While the sexual relationship might not be fulfilling for a woman, the future of the relationship, in sexual areas and otherwise, depends a lot on the way she approaches the issue of sex with her partner.

Intimidation is self-defeating

Rita and Karan had a tumultuous relationship with loud fights and accusations hurled both ways. Rita would be extremely intimidating in her demeanour. In the absence of intimacy from him due to some work stressor or financial pressure in his life, she would put him down. She would say things like, “What are you doing about sex? Are you a man or what?” Her intimidating style in this sensitive area put him off completely after some time. In turn, he started putting her down by saying that her body was unattractive and her personality was a put-off. This created feelings of rejection in her, and things spiralled out of control for them. They finally divorced.

In the face of angry or intimidating demeanour, a man often reacts by ignoring the woman and remaining aloof, making excuses for his unresponsiveness or accusing her of being a nymphomaniac or unladylike. He may also put her down in other areas of the relationship or pass rude comments on her, switching off sex completely. Such reactions further infuriate the woman, escalating the conflict between them. This gradually leads to a complete breakdown in communication, and deterioration in the relationship, sexually and otherwise.

Clearly, anger and intimidation on the part of a woman is self-defeating. In such cases, she needs to be made aware about how her demeanour isn't helping anyone—her, the spouse or the relationship. She then needs to be asked to assume responsibility for the same, and to take action to change her demeanour from intimidation to one of nurturing the relationship, thus facilitating mutually fulfilling physical intimacy.

Lugging the baggage of the past

When a woman questions a man or expresses her hurt feelings, how a man responds depends on various factors such as his own perceptions of such an expression. It also depends on his own disposition to anxiety, which is a baggage from the past—a result of the environment he has grown in. If he has been raised in a family where expression of hurt feelings or sharing of concerns is viewed as confrontation, or if assertion is viewed as aggression, he might view the normal sharing of his partner as an act of intimidation and react as if to an actually intimidating woman.

In such cases, the man needs to be counselled about his distorted thinking and made aware that it originates in his upbringing, conditioning and environment. It needs to be reinforced upon him that a woman doesn't always question or express a concern to confront or accuse. The tears and sharing of hurt feelings are normal human emotional responses; they are not an act of aggression or means of putting him down. If the man is willing to give up his inferences by being more mindful about the same, a healthy communication between the couple can be established to address the issue of sexual relating.

Lose-lose with 'delicate darling'

Anahita accused Pankaj of hurting her when he attempted intimacy during their honeymoon. This made Pankaj withdraw completely. So when he did not touch her for six months, she complained that there was no physical intimacy in their marriage. He felt accused one way or the other. After an angry outburst and blaming on the part of both, they decided to consult a sex counsellor. After proper sex education, which cleared all their myths and misconceptions, they finally consummated their marriage.

A woman might intimidate a man by accusing him of hurting her during intimacy. This could either be because of her apprehensions about sex, or her need to be pampered during intimacy. In such cases, she would relate as a passive partner, and expect the sexual act to take place without her active participation and yet be fulfilling for her. If a man stops getting physical either due to lack of arousal because of her passivity or for fear of hurting her, he is in a lose-lose situation—he is intimidated if he attempts sex and even if he doesn't.

This might generate anger in him, making him switch off from her permanently. Early sex counselling for the couple, addressing the myths and apprehensions of the woman, and emphasising the importance of active participation by both, is what saves the marriage.

The vicious cycle of anxiety

Vanisha and Ajay had a far from satisfactory sexual life. The reason was Vanisha's histrionic personality coupled with Ajay's anxious personality. When they visited us for couple's counselling Vanisha said, “I have come here so that you can teach him how to satisfy a woman. There is something wrong with this man. He needs to be fixed.” A shame-faced and apologetic Ajay said, “Actually I'm trying to understand what she likes…” and Vanisha cut in, “Trying is all you know. When will you do something for a change? This is your last chance at the counsellor. Pull up your socks or I'm out of your life.”Ajay said with anxiety in his voice, “Doctor I'm willing to do whatever you say to make things better for us. I don't know what's wrong with me.”

If a man is anxiety-prone about his sexual performance and the woman comes across as intimidating to him, whether actual or perceived, it makes him more anxious. He is caught in a vicious cycle of anxiety about his own sexual performance or her sexual appetite, which affects his sexual performance. This again elicits an intimidating reaction from the woman, which in turn increases anxiety about his sexual performance leading to psychogenic impotence. Once more, we see how intimidating a man is self-defeating for a woman. In such cases where the man is extremely anxious, even a normal enquiry by the woman might provoke anxiety.

Therefore, the woman needs to be warm, patient, and nurturing. She needs to make him feel relaxed to get him off the anxiety mode. Sex counsellors often teach the sensate focus exercise to couples when the man is anxiety-prone.Â

The liberated couple

If a man has an actual organic problem and is unable to perform due to physical reasons, and if the woman is intimidating, he views his life partner as a woman who is insensitive and lacking in empathy. If she continues to put him down or threatens to abandon him, it can sadden him, depress him and bring about irreversible cracks in the relationship.

If a man gets into a downward spiral of depression about his condition, anxiety about abandonment by the woman and guilt for depriving his partner, the relationship suffers in every aspect; it invariably leads to a total breakdown. When there is an organic problem, the woman needs to demonstrate great sensitivity. She needs be a support while medical intervention is sought. In the meanwhile, they both need to focus on other fulfilling areas of their life together.

When a man is simply going through one of the natural lows and has a temporary erection problem due to ill health, depression, or a major stressor in his life, and if a woman is intimidating at such times, the passing phase can become a permanent one. This is because the man sees her as a selfish and insensitive partner, and he might either retaliate or totally switch off from her in every way.

Therefore, the woman needs to be his life partner in the truest sense of the word, sharing companionship with him, being supportive of him while he works through his stressors. She needs to encourage him in every way she can. This creates emotional intimacy of a kind that makes the relationship much stronger. So, when he is out of the tunnel, they relate with a renewed vigour and passion as a result of such emotional intimacy.

In conclusion, while the sexual liberation of women is definitely something to be celebrated, true liberation for both men and women can only come from being free and liberated from the need to intimidate or be in control of the relationship. This enables both to relate in mutual compassion, which includes companionship and passion.

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Minnu Bhonsle
Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre

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