The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex Is The One Thing Women Find It Hard to Give

How many times have we heard the phrase, “All men want is sex?” When I was 17 years old I was sure it was true. When I was 37 years old, I suspected it might not be true. And now that I’m 73 years old, I know it’s not true. Now don’t get me wrong, sex can be wonderful at any age, but there’s something that is more important than sex, but it’s something that men have difficulty admitting and women have difficulty giving.

This understanding has dawned on me slowly and became most evident to me in my men’s group. I’ve been meeting regularly with six other guys for thirty-eight years and sex has been a topic that has run through our discussions over the years. Like all guys we are somewhat competitive and we all want to be seen as successful, but we also have learned to be honest with each other. We not only talk about our sexual successes, but also our failures, fears, and confusions.

From the time I was a young I learned that wanting sex was synonymous with being a man. In high school I remember overhearing a girl I liked talking about a guy we both knew. She wasn’t complaining that he was preoccupied with sex, but that he “didn’t come on to me like other guys do.” She went on to tell her girlfriend, “He’s not being very manly.” The message was clear, “real men” want sex and if you don’t “come on” to a girl, you’re not a real man.

This early lesson was validated through the years: Always wanting sex is the mark of manliness for many. It’s better to be turned down again and again and be seen as a jerk who is totally preoccupied with sex than to want something more than sex and be seen as “less than a man.”

So, what do men want more than sex? We’ve all heard that women need to feel loved to have sex, but men need to have sex to feel loved. Let’s look more deeply at what it is exactly that men are getting when they get sex. Sure, there is the physical pleasure, but there is a deeper need that is being satisfied. I call it the need for a safe harbor.

The world of men is a world of competition. On the most basic level, males compete with other males for access to the most desirable females. Males make the advances and females decide which males they will accept. Sure, in modern times these roles are less rigid than they once were, but for the most part, whether we’re peacocks or people, we strut our stuff and hope it’s good enough to get us chosen by the woman we go after.

Getting taken into her body gives us a sense of peace and homecoming that goes way beyond simple sexual pleasure. Of course, I’m talking about heterosexual men here. There’s a similar dynamic in the gay world, but here I’ll focus on men and women.

Many of us remember the early school dances we attended. If you wanted to hold a girl in your arms, you had to make the long walk across the room with everyone watching and ask the girl to dance. If she accepted, you were in heaven. If she refused you were in hell. The key here is that you must make yourself vulnerable to rejection to hold and be held by a girl.

By the time we become adults, we’ve already been battered and bruised by the world of competition and rejection. We long for that safe harbor where we don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not in order to be chosen. We long for someone who sees us for who we are and wants us anyway, who can hold us and touch, not just our body, but our hearts and souls.

“Always wanting sex” is part of the male persona we wear to show we’re manly. What we really want is a safe harbor where we can take refuge, relax, and be cared for. In other words, we want the feeling of being nurtured that most of us didn’t get enough of when we were children. But admitting these needs makes us feel like little boys, not big strong men. Better to be manly with our sexual desire and then once we’re inside her body, we can relax, be ourselves, and be infused with love. That’s the hidden desire we have when we have sex.

One of the things I love getting from my wife, Carlin, is to lay in her lap and have my scalp rubbed. This is one, wonderful, safe harbor. I don’t need to have sex in order to have this need satisfied. I just have to ask for it. Here, I’m being touched deeply, accepted completely. I don’t have to perform or prove myself. I just must be willing to be deeply vulnerable.

Just as its difficult for men to ask to be held, nurtured, and touched; its often difficult for women to give that kind of intimacy. There are three main reasons, which are often subconscious:

  • First, women have their own conditioning about men being men. If he doesn’t want sex, they worry that they may not be attractive enough.
  • Second, a man wanting to be held and nurtured, triggers feelings that they are dealing with a boy, not a man. I can’t tell you how many clients I have who say things like “It’s like I’ve got three children in the house. There’s our two sons, and then there’s my husband.” Women want a man, but worry they have another little boy.
  • Third, women fear men who don’t feel manly. They know that the most violent men are men who feel weak and powerless. They’ve often had experiences of men allowing themselves to be gentle and vulnerable, only to have them respond with anger and rage later.

It takes a lot of time and maturity for men to admit to themselves that they need a safe harbor where they can be nurtured and embraced by a woman. It takes a lot of courage to let his woman know he may want sex, but more important is his need for security, love, and nurture. It requires a level of wisdom to know that allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable as a child may be the manliest thing a man can do.

For a woman, she must also go beyond her own conditioning and be open to a man who is making himself vulnerable in new ways. She must have a great deal of self-love and self-confidence to accept being a safe harbor. She must also have the strength to protect herself, when his shame at being vulnerable turns to anxiety, anger, or depression. It isn’t easy for men and women to take these kinds of risks, but the payoff is a life-time of deepening love and intimacy.

I look forward to hearing your comments and experience. Please leave a comment here and join the discussion or email me.

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  1. Interesting article. I’m almost 60, so I have also been living for quite a long time. What I observe, is that the older I have become, the more I apreciate intimacy. Both trough physical touch, massage, and of course sex.

    • Jan,

      Yes, indeed, its the intimacy we want and the touch that goes with it. We can get that through sexual intercourse, but there are lots of other ways as well.

  2. BULLSEYE Jeff! I’m 73 also and have long known experienced deep intimacy — with its touch and psychological intimacy — as at least as satisfYing and comforting as sex’s physical act (s)

    • Bernie,

      Glad you agree. For too long we’ve been afraid to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to want the kind of psychological intimacy and loving touch that we need from the time we are babies until we are on to the next life. We never outgrow our need for real, lasting love.

  3. This may be your most inciteful blog. I remember so many times when I felt at home when having sex with my wife. Funny, can’t remember feeling that when with other women. The snug harbour analogy is perfect.

    • John,

      Thanks. I image of a safe harbor, bubbled up from my subconscious when I was writing this. It captured the deeper desire that I’ve had all my life, but had difficulty accepting. I believe we all need to feel safe, cared for, seen for who we are, and accepted even with all our excesses and deficits.

  4. I love your posts. I agree with all you posted and I admire your courage.

    • Rick,

      Thanks for the comments. The older I get, the more I come to see the importance of this kind of loving intimacy and safety. In a world that is turning upside down, we need to have a safe harbor we can go to to recharge our batteries, replenish our spirits, and heal our wounded souls.

  5. Hi Jed, Thanks for more of your insights. I have a comment, here goes. I agree completely with you about men wanting a safe harbour but it’s more than that, we want a deeper connection with our partners because men want something more than just sex. Men know better than anyone how sex can be so, SO superficial and therefore not that ‘connecting’. Guys are masturbating all the time, they are in a hurry, and they know how quickly they can be done with their release without feeling much of anything. However, when we are with women we are looking for more than just a release, we are looking for the shared experience and connection with a species that we find OMG so alluring. I’m not a woman but I suspect women don’t look at sex as being superficial even if they are just hooking up for a night. They do have to open themselves (maybe because they are not self pleasuring at the frequency men do) in a way that men do not realize (well practised at very quick releases). Most guys could have sex or self pleasure themselves every single day, maybe twice a day in the am and pm. Anyway, this is all a very round-about way of saying: many times women may get the feeling that all men want is sex (the release), in fact men do want sex because that may be the only time women are capable of being fully present with the guy. We want women to be fully present with us. It is often said women are great multi-taskers. I suspect men know this quite well from observing female family members and peers. If men want intimacy and connection with this alluring species, the only time they will ever get it is during sex because women are incapable of being fully present at any other time.

    • Ted,

      Interesting observations. If we look at our biological nature (yes, we are all animals), its clear that having sex during most of human history was dangerous. Being in the wilds of Africa with our pants down made it more likely we would be eaten by a wild tiger. Women, too, were vulnerable at these times, but they also ran the risk of getting pregnant (Many died in childbirth). From an evolutionary point of view the more often men had (superficial) sex with a female, the more children he might father. For women having sex with more men didn’t produce more babies. As a result women are more cautious about who they have sex with, when they have sex, and whether it will lead to a committed relationship or a passing fancy. Next week, I’ll post an article of what women really want more than love.

  6. I think you missed a big reason why many women are not always available to men when they just want to be held, nurtured or touched, and that is that it is very often leads to the man wanting to turn it into sex just when the woman is starting to relax and enjoy cuddling, so then she has to ask herself if she wants to have sex when he asks her to give him a massage or whatever. Maybe he is not actually doing this on purpose, but it feels like you are being manipulated or used when it happens.

    • Riley, yes, you’re right. Often we do want sex, but suggest nurturing because we think women will be more receptive, then move quickly to “I want sex” and women feel set up. Or sometimes we genuinely want to be nurtured, but our own conditioning pulls us immediately to wanting sex. Its complex and not so easy to navigate, but exploring more deeply, feeling more deeply, and being willing to talk more honestly is a helpful process for all of us.

  7. Thanks for your posts.My question is that :is it only from one woman a man can have this safe harbour? can’t men have this harbour from their sisters or mothers or other ladies who they are secured in and who genuinely love and care for them? does the harbour have to come through sex? Can’t genue intimacy come without sex? Thanks.

    • Bernard, Yes, men can feel loved and supported from others, including close women friends, but there is something special about having that one person who we can feel safe with, a wife, lover, partner. That feeling of safety doesn’t have to be through sex, but that’s one of the ways men feel close and nurtured.

  8. As a female I think I find that men tend to run if you want anymore than sex. The last guy I started dating got werid after I mentioned that he was very affectionate because he liked to cuddle and touch me and most men do not do that. That was pretty much the end for us and being that he is 31 its not like he’s still an adolescent.

  9. I have been pouring over the computer and came across this article. I am devastated. Last night my husband of 15 years says he wants to separate. He says that he doesn’t feel loved or appreciated, that I spend all my time taking care of our children and have nothing left for him. What worries me the most is that he is so matter of fact about it. I fear that he has completely checked out. Reading your article I have to admit, I have the sex thing all wrong. I thought that other forms of sex (oral) replaced the need for intercourse. For a number of reasons (not feeling good about myself mainly) i rebuffed his need for intercourse. I am so afraid I am too late. He is not wrong when I look at things from his prospective. I needed a kick in the ass, I pray that we can fix our marriage. He is the love of my life. Any advice would be greatly appreciated

    • Jenn,

      I know how devastating it can be when someone you love talks about leaving. In the busyness of dealing with the stresses of life, we often neglect the people we love the most. Usually the neglect isn’t intentional and we just aren’t aware at what our partner truly needs. It’s often the case that our partner might not even know what they need or how to put their need into words.

      Sometimes the words, “I want a separation,” are the beginning of going deeper to truly meet the needs that we long to have met in our marriages.

      My advice is don’t panic. I know its a shock, but think in terms of recognizing a problem that has gone unnoticed. Now that you are aware of it, you can do something about it.

      No one is to blame. Most couples hit a block in their marriage. I talk about it in my book, The Enlightened Marriage, as Stage 3, “Disillusionment.” We come to believe that we are incompatible and need to leave the marriage. But going deeper can help us see a path to healing and reconciliation. Don’t give up. Keep going deeper.

  10. Murdo Mack says:

    Jenn, I stumbled on this site by accident and enjoyed the article but your comment affected me deeply. I’m very sorry to hear about your marital struggles, and having had my own share of them, I understand some of what you’re going through. The thing that struck me about your comment was how well your honest concern, urgency and anxiety came through and if I could get that from reading text on the internet having never even met you, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble conveying them to your husband. And that is exactly what you should do and do it as soon as humanly possible. Tell him exactly what you said in your comment and let your care and emotions come through. And ask him to give it another chance. Ask him how long he’s felt that way and to give your marriage another chance for at least that same amount of time with both of you actively trying to correct it. (ie if he’s felt that way for 6 months give it 6 months to get better) It won’t be easy, might feel embarrassing or like a defeat to you, your desire and will to go through with it might even wane in the midst of it but that’s just your ego being a sore loser, don’t let it take over your higher mind. And if your husband ever truly loved you, and if he isn’t using the reasons he provided as a deception to cover up something else going on, then I don’t see how he could deny the request. If his feelings are genuine then I’d be willing to bet that hearing those things from you and seeing you make that effort are what he wants more than anything else in the world. I really hope this helps and I really hope it all ends well for you. Until then my thoughts and prayers are with you.

    • M,
      Thanks for your caring and kind response to Jenn. That’s what I love about this community. People care and they share and our collective challenges and wisdom enrich us all.