I recently learned something about myself that was kind of an ‘aha’ moment. As a boy, I was raised/conditioned to keep my emotions in check, or in other words hidden from view. Basically, as males we are taught to avoid being emotionally vulnerable in any relationship. We receive continual reinforcement to keep tears away, private or deny them completely, probably by age 10. We are taught to ‘hang tough’, ‘take it on the chin’, ‘rub dirt on it’, etc. Vulnerability is not an option for most males or so we are lead to believe. As a result, we typically build elaborate cognitive labyrinths to keep any emotions from seeping through. This means we are implicitly lead to enter into relationships armed with this way of being – i.e. not feeling with our partners. Many men I have worked with in therapy for erectile dysfunction have stated such when
reporting past successes when they really did not “feel” anything for their partner, or in other words were emotionally disconnected.
The problem emerges for some men when they truly do start to “feel” or become emotionally connected and/or vulnerable when getting intimately close to their current partner. Anxiety levels spike as one feels emotionally vulnerable in ways that he typically cannot explain and had previously alienated himself from feeling. As anxiety rises to the north – arousal and along with it erection usually heads for the deep south. Let me point out that my professional opinion about erectile dysfunction is that it is usually mislabeled. If you have received a thorough examination from a competent urologist and you are able to masturbate without issue then guess what – the erection is working as it should or should not…where the problem becomes evident is when another person enters the picture – that is when the relationship with the ‘other’ becomes dysfunctional and not the penis.
The question remains is how do we educate/condition our males to permit a healthy exposure to becoming more accepting of vulnerability – emotional or otherwise? Fathers have to teach their sons [what some if not most men do not even have a clue as to how] and
we need to learn as a society to value emotions in all their wonderful variations and not limit them to a handful. Just like the push in recent years has been to accept diversity, we need to do the same for the acceptance and embracement of emotional diversity.