Why Do We Blame Men For Their Own Sexual Difficulties?

April 18, 2024 by Justin Lehmiller

In recent years, I’ve noticed what seems to be a growing tendency among many sexuality professionals to suggest that men are responsible for many their own sexual difficulties. The scenario usually goes something like this: a therapist poses a question to colleagues (either online or in person) seeking input on treating a male client who is presenting with an orgasmic issue. The patient is usually described as orgasming too quickly or not at all during partnered sex (i.e., premature ejaculation or delayed ejaculation). The first responses usually fall along the lines of:

  • He wouldn’t have this problem if he hadn’t watched so much porn.
  • He caused this problem by gripping his penis too hard during masturbation.
  • He has been masturbating in the “wrong” position.

In short, the view is essentially that he “broke” his own penis and he needs to learn how to masturbate in the “right” way to solve his problem.

What’s interesting to me about this is that when therapists ask for input on female clients who are reporting similar sexual difficulties (usually delayed orgasm, but occasionally premature orgasm—some women do indeed orgasm faster than they’d like to), the response are strikingly different.

I’ve never heard a sexuality professional imply that a woman is responsible for her own sexual difficulties or suggest that she’s masturbating in the “wrong” way. Instead, we’ll hear that every woman’s body is different and that there isn’t one “right” or correct way for her to experience pleasure or to reach orgasm. The answer is never to blame her; instead, the conversation immediately turns toward finding a way to get her the sensation she needs during partnered sex.

So why isn’t that the same kind of response seen when men are experiencing these kinds of difficulties?

The Stereotype of Male Sexuality as “Simple”

The answer, I believe, resides in a stereotype about male sexuality that has populated the field since the pioneering research of Masters and Johnson. While they undoubtedly did important work and contributed to the field in many valuable ways, Masters and Johnson didn’t necessarily get everything right and, along the way, they popularized the view that male sexual response is quite simple. Among other things, they solidified the view that there’s just one sexual response pattern for men (whereas for women, it’s highly variable).

This and other work has led to the mistaken idea that all penises are interchangeable. A lot of folks seem to think that all penises are equally sensitive, that they have all of the same pleasure zones, and that they’re all capable of deriving pleasure from the same exact activities and sensations.

However, this view isn’t supported by modern research.

It’s puzzling to me that the sexuality field can quickly and easily identify complexity and individual variability in female sexual response, but struggle to do the same for male sexual response.

For example, consider something like premature ejaculation. Research has found links between certain features of penile anatomy (specifically, having a larger glans or “head” of the penis) and a greater likelihood of lifelong premature ejaculation [1]. This, in and of itself, is evidence that an individual’s unique penile anatomy is a key consideration in discussions of male sexual difficulties.

The specific size and shape of a given penis can create a propensity toward different kinds of sexual responses that have little, and perhaps nothing to do with things like pornography exposure or masturbation technique.

Likewise, studies show wide variation in general penile sensitivity [2]. Some penises are hypersensitive. Some are hyposensitive.

We need more research to know how baseline penile sensitivity levels might influence the development of specific masturbation techniques, but it stands to reasons that someone with a higher baseline sensitivity threshold might adapt to this by adopting a masturbation technique that involves more intense stimulation (e.g., a harder grip).

Why has the belief that a firm grip necessarily desensitizes the penis become the default assumption without ever considering reverse causality? A penis that is hyposensitive to begin with might simply require a higher level of stimulation.

Furthermore, as contemporary researchers have gone back to test aspects of the Masters and Johnson model, they’ve started to uncover various problems. For instance, they’ve found that the male sexual response cycle (just like the female sexual response cycle) is actually quite variable [3]. The early models drastically oversimplified the male portion.

We Need To Stop Blaming People For Their Own Sex Problems

The point in all of this is simply that when anyone—regardless of gender—experiences a sexual difficulty, the first response (especially among sex-positive sexuality educators, researchers, and therapists) shouldn’t be to blame the individual for causing the problem or to assume that they’re masturbating in the “wrong” way.

Assuming you aren’t breaking any laws or doing something non-consensual when you engage in self-pleasure, there isn’t a wrong way to masturbate for your body. People are likely just adapting their techniques to what works for them based on their own unique anatomy and genital sensitivity. Different techniques are not necessarily good vs. bad or right vs. wrong. They’re just different ways people have learned to bring themselves pleasure within their own bodies.

Of course, it is important to recognize that the sensations that lead us to orgasm during self-pleasure can be quite different from the sensations we experience during partnered sex. And therein lies the real issue we should be attending to.

Some masturbatory techniques may provide a kind of stimulation, friction, or targeted sensation that doesn’t typically occur during something like, say, intercourse. As a result, this can lead to difficulty maintaining arousal, deriving pleasure, or experiencing orgasm when those sensations aren’t present.

One potential solution is to try and bring more of the sensations that work for us during masturbation into partnered sex. Another is to try and incorporate the sensations of partnered sex into masturbation with the goal of expanding one’s sexual repertoire.

Depending on the unique circumstances of the situation, one approach may be more practical than the other. For example, low genital sensitivity may make the former more feasible than the latter because the individual needs a more targeted kind of stimulation in order to be sexually responsive.

Either way, however, the answer doesn’t have to involve any blaming or shaming.

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[1] Ates, E., Gok, M., Kazici, H. G., Kol, A., Sahin, T., & Erol, H. (2024). Glans penis volume is associated with lifelong premature ejaculationThe Journal of Sexual Medicine.

[2] Rowland, D. L., Haensel, S. M., Blom, J. H., & Slob, A. K. (1993). Penile sensitivity in men with premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunctionJournal of sex & marital therapy19(3), 189-197.

[3] Busby, D. M., Leonhardt, N. D., Leavitt, C. E., & Hanna-Walker, V. (2020). Challenging the standard model of sexual response: Evidence of a variable male sexual response cycleThe Journal of Sex Research57(7), 848-859.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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