041: The Cost of Men’s Sexual Shame

In Podcast, Sexuality by Robert Kandell2 Comments

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Welcome back to Tuff Love, with Rob Kandell. This show is pretty intense, so be warned: if you don’t want your life to change, run and hide quick! The topic today is one of the most important things to talk about in Rob’s work: shame. This is something we all have to deal with on a constant basis, internally and externally, because we live in a culture that encourages shame. Shame is an endemic part of our society. Our society is one of disapproval and from that we have shame.

Rob’s shares his story about his sexual shame:

  • Rob has been doing work on himself for 17 years and he still encounters shame from time to time. It’s much less now than it was in the beginning of his story.
  • Rob was born in 1970 in New York to an upper middle class family. His parents were very open around sexuality so he grew up with the benefit of people who could talk about sex.
  • In 1st and 2nd grade Rob had a few crushes, but then a few years later he had a crush on a girl named Susie. This crush lasted for 10 years, but Rob never admitted it to anyone. He had so much shame around this basic core attraction and desire. It ran him, he was out of control over it.
  • The first time Rob masturbated and ejaculated was on summer camp when he was 12 or 13 years old. He was shocked that his body could create that pleasure. There was so much shame in the absolute heavenly pleasure. Even though the other boys on camp were probably masturbating too, there was no communication about it. In that silence, Rob’s sexuality got denied even more.
  • A few years later and Rob would masturbate to his Dad’s playboy magazines in the garage. Again, there was shame and Rob would make sure nobody heard him or knew. Even though he had really good friends in high school, none of them ever talked about sex or masturbation.
  • As a senior in college, Rob was living with his girlfriend, Holly. Their sexuality was rich, they had oral sex and played around. Rob remembers one weekend she was away he bought a magazine and rented porn from the video shop. There was shame in having to go through the curtain to get the XXX videos.
  • He was so turned on with the concept of having that freedom to masturbate alone while his girlfriend was away. When she came home, Rob never told her about it because there was so much shame around it.
  • Rob got married, he was a New York Jew and she an Irish Catholic. Shame met guilt and they didn’t communicate around sex.
  • Eventually Rob got involved in personal development and had the opportunity to really investigate his shame and desire around sex. Now he has spent thousands of hours with himself and other people, talking and investigating the concept of shame.

Rob explores the concept of men’s sexual shame in particular. There is a really in depth piece about women’s shame but he’s not qualified to relay that, so this episode is focused on men:

  • There’s a heavy cultural bias against men being honest about their internal state. Society says men are supposed to be stoic, grin and bear it, “be a man.” The internal world that they have is not that clear, so there’s actually not permission to speak out loud what their truth is.
  • Men have to be this really weird mix of totally stoic and solid and also vulnerable. But they have to be vulnerable with the right thing in the right time and it’s a math equation that everyone sucks at.
  • Women are trying to relate what they want to men, but they’re not very clear about it, so there’s a mess and men default to silence, to holding it in, to not being open and vulnerable about their shame.
  • Men try to look all cool, calm and collected but inside we’re messes around our thoughts. We put them away. When we put those thoughts away and put them into our shadow, that’s where we actually get unhealthy.
  • In Rob’s book, all sexual desire is right. All sexual thought, all sexual innuendo is valid. It’s okay to have these thoughts. Acting on every thought is not right. We should not have non-consensual sex. We should not have sexual relationships with children. We should not pass people’s boundaries.
  • All your thoughts are right. If you have the ability to be right with your own views and thoughts and feelings, and then to integrate that with society in a way that actually is healthy, then shame can get a little bit less.
  • It’s our inability to bring what’s inside, out into a conscious deliberate decision, that causes shame. In Rob’s world, everyone would have the opportunity to take what’s in the shadow into the light so it doesn’t run us. What’s in our shadow runs us. Our fear runs us, our shame runs us, and in running us, that’s where a lot of the trouble kills what we want in our relationships to the world.
  • Rob is in the most open, honest relationship of his life with Morgan. He can fully be who he is every single day. They’ve created the container so they can both be authentically who they are.
  • Rob still has shame. His current iteration of shame is, “I’m too much and I want too much.” He likes the ladies a lot. He likes a lot of different ladies. The beauty of what Morgan has brought to Rob is permission to bring it out, but he still feels sometimes blocked because he has fear that he’s too much. It’s okay to be human in your feelings of that.

Rob has a client who is a high end New York City escort. They have had really frank dialogues and she’s taught Rob so much about men’s sexual shame. She wanted to be on the show but has fear of her family hearing her voice and figuring out that she is a high end New York prostitute. She wrote some notes:

  • The cost of sexual shame as the very obvious level is sex, money and relationships.
  • Her clients that are paying her $800 per hour, $2-3000 a night, $7-8000 for weekend trips.
  • She’s told Rob time and time again that her clients would rather be doing the stuff they’re doing with their wives. They would much rather be doing it with someone they love, but because either they conceive that their partners don’t have the capacity for them or because they perceive that they don’t have the ability to speak, they hide it and keep sexual shame.
  • To them, because of the shame, they’re going to see other people rather than being connected to their partner. Their price of their shame is intimacy and honesty with their partner. Because of that, they keep themselves really enclosed and disconnected from their partner and keep themselves separate.
  • The funny part is that her clients are highly respectful, engaged, passionate, deeply interested in her as a person, deeply attentive to her sexual desires, warm, responsive, caring and generous. They’re paying her $800 per hour and they’re acting like the kind of guys that women are dying to have.
  • Rob has talked to so many women in the last month and they keep saying, ‘there are no men.’ That’s because these men aren’t being received by the women or don’t have the ability to be men in their presence, and they go to pay a prostitute to have it. It’s because this woman is open.
  • She said, ‘When clients enter my world, you can distinctly feel them relax, let their guard down, open up, unwind, share themselves freely. Suddenly they’re in a good mood. This is partly because I’m a very nice person, but mostly it is because in that moment, I am shameless.” She is shameless and allows them to be shameless, and in doing so they can fully, authentically be themselves.
  • We live in a society of fear. Rob blames the set up of who we are in our shame and our reception of it. Rob has broken the social norms and created a relationship where they can be shameless in their desires.
  • As long as men are tortured by sexual shame, they will generally project it onto and feel it as hatred of women. As long as women are tortured by sexual shame, they will generally project it and feel it as hatred of sex itself.
  • Men love women and women love sex, so once the shame is removed, the amount of love that is beneath it is incredible.
  • “I cannot count the number of clients who told me they love me, that they feel real love with me, pure, selfless, generous love. I know they mean it but I don’t take it personally. I love them too because love is our natural state once we are free from shame.”
  • This is not a quick fix that you can fix in a moment. This is a conditioning. This is a long history of who we are in the world. The greatest gift you can give to someone appropriately is a place where they can be fully themselves and move past their shame.
  • If you can just be one step closer to who you are, to acknowledge your shame and move past it, that’s the kind of world we’re looking for.

Rob brings Philippe Lewis on the line to discuss men’s sexual shame further. Philippe runs play parties where he creates the element of consent and openness unlike any other. Rob has been to 4 or 5 of them and they’re a remarkable experience. Philippe shares his viewpoints around shame:

  • Shame kills empathy. The biggest difficulty is that when men are in shame, they are so stuck inside themselves that they are really unable to feel into others around “what do you do about these sexual desires and how do you bring that to people around you?”
  • It prevents men from being connected to themselves and connected to others. It kills their empathy and disconnects them because they’re so into whatever it is they desire.
  • The result is that when they approach women, she can feel what he feels, she can feel his shame, because generally women are more empathetic. She can feel the shame he’s directed towards himself and that appears as creepy. The result is a complete disconnection.
  • Philippe suspects that in the case of the high end escort, at least some of these men have difficulty being in deep intimate relationships. Having occasional encounters allows them to have just the right amount of intimacy that they want.
  • There’s a lot of men who have avoidant attachment styles, which means they run away from intimacy rather than run toward it.
  • Philippe suspects that the men who have a difficult time having a beautiful, unfolding, intimate relationship with their wives have an easier time being with this high end escort who is only asking of them money and some consideration. Beyond that, she wants to have a good time only in those short stints. If these two people were in a deep, intimate relationship some of the same things would show up.
  • Rob agrees that women can read men like newspapers, because most women are trained emotionally. Meanwhile, men think they’re cool, calm and collected.
  • Philippe’s recommendation for a man who wants to connect to a woman but feels his own shame is, in that moment, don’t do it. You can approach someone, but sharing shame is a very intimate experience. If you approach someone randomly, they have to be ready for it, otherwise it is also a disconnect.
  • There’s a sort of a pacing that comes with sharing intimate things. Small talk actually is useful. It shows your ability to connect, to pace another person, that you’re not too attached to the outcome. If you approach, do it slowly and with consideration.
  • Philippe has been in the sex positive work for 14, 15 years. His relationship to shame when he started was he had a lot of it. He still has a lot of it, although now it’s connected to the fact that he’s older and connecting with someone who is a different age.
  • He has shame because society says you’re not supposed to do that. He’s discovering his own difficulties around sexuality that maybe weren’t there before or more layers that he has to deal with now that he’s 45.
  • He was naïve when he strated doing this work. Back then he was innocent, so if he did something stupid he could say, ‘I didn’t know.’ Now, he does know and have to handle what it means to know but don’t know what to do about it.
  • Philippe and Rob explore the messages that come into Philippe’s head when he’s approaching or with a young lover. There is a difference in maturity between them and society will perceives that a certain way.
  • Philippe does wonder ‘what are people going to say? What are people thinking? Will people think I manipulated her? Do they think I’m only interested in another young, hot thing?’ He’s tried to not pay attention to that but feels like it’s present and a part of him is self-conscious.
  • Rob observes that it’s really Philippe’s interacting with the external viewpoints. He does have a choice around that.
  • The way he handles it is to first of all feel into the person, do his best to be as considerate as possible, make invitations that are very light hearted and not heavy handed. Wait for them to respond. If the response is positive, at some point it the conversation, say ‘how is it for you that we’re a different age?’
  • That’s consent. Make an offer, and respond to the offer. It’s important for men to not take a rejection internal and increase the shame. It’s being in consent mode to be sure that you’re in connection, going slow enough that they have the right and the ability to say ‘no, thank you.’
  • We live in a society that is sexist, racist and ageist. So there has to be consideration around that and if you have privilege, you have to compensate for that not with shame but with a deeper knowing, deeper empathy and deeper consideration.
  • Philippe’s recommendation for the creepy guy is to work on their shame, do the internal work. There are no specific steps but it has a lot to do with sharing and being in relationships where you don’t feel the shame so that you feel authentically true to yourself.
  • It’s also about working on empathy. When you no longer feel shame, you actually can feel into other people and people can give you real feedback and they know that you’re going to get it. Working on empathy is a very important skill for men to become less shameful.
  • Sometimes we avoid shame by going into shameless situations. The shame is not going to go away. You can get a quick fix of intimacy but the hard work is staying in the fire and staying inside it. We can have the quick avoidance and disconnection from it but it’s always going to be there unless you interact with it.
  • At the same time, to have that shameless experience might have a really positive impact and begin a path of going from a coping mechanism to what the real desire is. That can take a long time, and in the meantime, people still want to live and have positive, sexy experiences.
  • Even the coping mechanisms can be a way to keep going so that you can get to a better place. But it’s good to pay attention to see if you’re just avoiding the real work.
  • There are all sorts of ways that men and women need sexual and emotional support. If the escort is all they’ve got and is the best thing they can find, it serves a purpose. Philippe really admires and supports all the sexual healers in our community for that reason.

  • Mr.B

    It can go much deeper than that.
    Especially if sexual abuse is in one’s history.
    Sexual energy is the fuel of our creative endeavors.
    If blocked the consequences are systemic.
    As if our staff of authority has been taken
    From us. Standing erect in our own authority
    Becomes very hard to do if shame has made a
    Rule that we are bad for expressing our core masculinity.

    • Robert Kandell

      Thank you my brother. I whole heartedly-agree. Shame can go down to the core of our bones. It is the withholding that is the cancer. It is the release that brings us sanity.