New Internationalist

Power And Pleasure

April 1986

A man’s greatest sexual hangup is his potency - his power of erection and ejaculation. But Emmanuel Reynaud argues that sexual power is the least of a man’s problems. His real malaise is the absence of pleasure. And his real sickness is frigidity.

MEN don't really understand sex. What should be an experience of communication and delight is, for a man, just a struggle and a means of asserting his domination over a woman. The language he uses expresses his general attitude perfectly: he 'fucks' and she 'gets fucked'. And it is reflected in the images he has of his penis. He does not really perceive its softness and sensitivity, its fragility and its potential for pleasure. Instead he turns it into the symbol of his power.

Photo: Jan Kopec / Camera Press Doesn't he feel potent when his penis is erect? It is the weapon or the tool he uses to possess a woman through her vagina. And his main concern about his penis is its size. He sees it as a sort of biceps: the bigger it is, the more efficient it must be, and the more powerful he is.

Since it is the sexual organ that most obviously differentiates males and females, it is hardly surprising that man associates the penis with power. Indeed in a patriarchal society the penis does actually bestow power on a man. But what about pleasure? What kind of pleasure can one get with a weapon or a tool between one's legs?

In fact man is more interested in power than in pleasure. And he feels sexual pleasure as a threat to his power. This is why he does not allow his sexuality to develop fully and why he likes to think of woman as such a sexual creature - an Eve, a Pandora, with the capacity to experience fabulous orgasms (supposedly nine or ten times as intense as his own). Of course this does not mean that a woman may actually enjoy her supposed extraordinary sexuality in her own way. No, on the contrary. The pleasure that man keeps for himself is - first and foremost - that of power, and - in particular - power over woman's pleasure.

Man's sexuality is not a simple expression of 'natural needs', but a relationship of domination of one sex over the other. In fact man does not perceive sexuality as being a relationship between two human beings at all, but as a relationship between one human being - him, a 'man' - and the object he uses, a 'woman'.

He gets his sexual pleasure through the use of a woman1, instead of experiencing it in the sensual meeting of two individuals.

This sexual use takes different forms. The more sophisticated one consists of giving pleasure to a woman: using her as an instrument that produces sensuality. The most common image is of a man playing music on a woman's body with his hands and penis. She produces harmonious notes but, without the musician and his bow, she is nothing but a curvaceous object, a mere promise of music. She quivers but cannot choose the rhythm or the melody. She is totally dependent on the musician, on his skill, his mood and his sensitivity.

The comparison is striking and it has been frequently used in art and literature. But not everyone is a virtuoso. So a man does not generally take the risk of trying - and failing - to be sophisticated. The result is that he usually just ignores woman's pleasure altogether and reduces his own to mere ejaculation. His sexuality becomes a simple question of needs to relieve, and he regularly relieves himself by imposing conjugal rights on his wife or by going to a prostitute.

Sometimes a man will try to enhance the poverty of his sexuality by living out fantasies. He seeks in his mind what he does not feel in his body. Another way he tries to increase the intensity of his pleasure

Because he is, first and foremost, a 'man', and therefore sexually inhibited, his way of experiencing intensity has little to do with sensual pleasure. When he gives in to his desires he frequently feels the urge to brutalise or rape. At times he does it on a large scale: when he is at war, for instance. Between 200,000 and 400,000 women were raped in Bangladesh by Pakistani soldiers during the nine-month conflict in 1971. And when the Japanese invaded Nanking in China in 1937, there were over 1,000 rapes a night during the first month of occupation. But man also seeks his pleasure in rape and violence on a more daily basis. Even when he does not actually commit violence, it can nonetheless be on his mind. According to the Hite Report on US men, between seven and 11 per cent regularly fantasise about rape and one in two admit they have sometimes wanted to rape a woman.

Rape is the 'pleasure' of violence, but it is also a means for man to use a woman without having to give her anything in return, as he does in marriage or with a prostitute. It enables him to satisfy his needs without giving up any of his power. In fact it is the very expression of that power. In that sense rape is the archetype of masculine sexuality: when man desires, woman is not to desire or refuse. She must only acquiesce.

This is man's sexual paradox: he uses women to get his pleasure, but in doing so he restricts the pleasure he could get. He is missing the rich sexuality that lies in the meeting of two persons, in the merging of two pleasures: a relationship where one's pleasure is reinforced by the feeling of the other's pleasure. The sad fact is that, however obsessed by sex man seems to be, his sexual pleasure is desperately weak. Hanging onto the notion that his penis is an instrument of power, and to his perception that the sex act is an act of domination and use, he experiences a profound frigidity. And this frigidity is all the more serious because he does not really know that he is frigid.

A woman can be frigid or not. But frigidity is not perceived to be the issue for a man. He just has to be potent. He feels that his problem is not the experience of pleasure, but the ability to express his potency and fulfil his desires through his erect penis. Likewise, woman is not supposed to be potent or have any desire, but she is expected to feel pleasure. This traditional view is reflected in modern sexology. Woman's problem is presented as the absence of pleasure - frigidity - and man's as the inability to express his desires - impotence. But surely the sexual problems of the two sexes are really just the reverse? Surely woman is all the more impotent because her impotence is unrecognised, and man is all the more frigid because his frigidity is ignored?

Modern sexologists do not understand male sexuality at all. They assume that ejaculation automatically brings about sexual pleasure in the male; they even consider ejaculation to be synonymous with male orgasm. This assumption was questioned by sexologists of the past - Wilhelm Reich, for example, or Kinsey - but sexology today considers that ejaculation equals orgasm. And, on this principle, it defines normal male sexuality as being the capacity to ejaculate and - at the same time - to give the woman an orgasm with the erect penis. From this definition 'naturally' follow the corresponding sexual problems: absence of ejaculation, premature ejaculation, difficulty with, or absence of, erection. And the treatment consists in fixing the man in such a way that he is able to give a woman an orgasm. Sexual pleasure for her, ejaculation for him.2

But ejaculation has little to do with sensual pleasure. It can perfectly well be triggered off in a man who will not let himself go the tiniest bit in experiencing pleasure. And this is man's biggest sexual problem: his inability to let himself be really carried away by sensuality.

Man is afraid of letting himself go. In his struggle to dominate, he feels that every sexual pleasure is a threat and he wants to control it. He dare not abandon himself to his sexuality. When he embraces a woman, he does not feel enveloped and overwhelmed by pleasure. He penetrates and wants to 'possess' her, projecting into her as if he hoped to draw from her the sensuality which he is reluctant to experience for himself. His mind fixed on the objective, his penis aimed at the target, he does not allow himself to be caught up in the experience of two bodies discovering each other. He is afraid of losing his way; he controls and channels his sexual feelings to prevent them from spreading and causing him to lose control of himself and the situation. Instead of letting his whole body be sexualized, he confines his sexuality to his penis. He stems the tide of pleasure at its source for fear it may submerge him if he allows it to swell. His ecstasy then becomes no more than a series of wavelets: four thrusts of the pelvis, a few drops of sperm, and it is all over.

1 I am speaking here of the dominant sexuality - i.e. heterosexuality - but a man can also sexually use another man or child.
2 For a general view of modem sexology see W H Masters and V E Johnson: Human Sexual Inadequacy, Churchill, 1970.

Emmanuel Reynaud has been active in the men's movement in France since it began. His book, Holy Virility (Pluto Press, 1983), caused an uproar in France when it first came out in 1981.

This feature was published in the April 1986 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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