“Women are complicated.” It’s a phrase you hear in pretty much every context, but especially in the context of sex and relationships. Stereotype has it that women are more emotional, more demanding and more difficult.
Men (and Their Sexuality) Aren't 'Simple,' and Here's Why We Need to Stop Saying This
Feminists have been challenging this stereotype as of late, showing that “what women want” is not a mystery because women really just want basic rights, that pleasing women in bed is not a hopelessly difficult task, and that the feelings that get brushed off as women being “emotional” or “complicated” are usually very valid.
But there’s another side to the “women are complicated” cliché that’s worth addressing. Every time there’s a stereotype of one group, there’s an opposing stereotype of another. And in this case, the stereotype is that “men are simple.”
Women are "Complicated," Men are "Simple" (and Why Stereotypes Are Stupid)
You hear this all the time: that women are puzzles even the best scientists cannot figure out, while men “want just one thing” (AKA sex), are easy to understand, and are equally easy to satisfy.
The truth is, women are not particularly complicated, men are not particularly simple, and there are many people who don’t identify as men or women, which further breaks down this binary. However, I’ll be focusing on the “men are simple” stereotype, since it seems to be the most often overlooked and taken for granted. Here are some reasons we need to stop saying this.
It Discourages Men From Self-Exploration
Teaching men that there is not much to them discourages them from exploring themselves and their sexuality. It deprives them of the chance to discover, for example, erogenous zones outside the penis, new sexual acts that might interest them, attraction to partners they may not have previously considered, or sex toys.
It also leads them to view sex as a one-dimensional, purely physical experience when it can also be an emotional or even spiritual one. Many men, for example, are expected to buy into hookup culture when they really crave deep connection and relationships. One University of North Carolina study found that 71 percent of college men wanted more chances for long-term relationships.
Deeming men simple also causes them to neglect their complexities in areas outside of sex. For example, it may cause them to numb their emotions and avoid connecting with people on a deep level.
Men, like people of all genders, are complex human beings and deserve the chance to enjoy the rich and colorful experience of being human.
It Naturalizes the Pleasure Gap
When it’s made in a sexual context, the claim that “men are simple” conveys that men are easy to please, while women require lots of work. This belief makes it seem as if it is only natural for men to get more enjoyment out of sex than women.
As of now, this is what’s happening. A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that only 4.3 percent of men but a full 15 percent of women said their last sexual encounter was barely or not at all pleasurable. Another study in Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 95 percent of straight men but only 65 percent of straight women orgasmed during every or almost every recent sexual experience.
If women are more complicated, then these discrepancies seem to be justified. If women’s bodies are just more difficult to please, they cannot expect to have an orgasm every time or experience sex as uniformly pleasurable.
This belief system obscures the reasons women actually experience less pleasure in bed: that men are more likely to receive oral sex and other forms of pleasure; that too many people conflate “sex” with “intercourse” instead of participating in activities that bring women more enjoyment; that many women are dealing with body image issues and/or sexual trauma that affect their ability to stay present during sex; that women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain and illness, which can kill your sex drive; the list goes on.
We cannot fight these problems and rectify the situation if we keep pretending that it is just nature taking its course.
It Stigmatizes Men’s Sexual Issues
Many men struggle with sexual issues typically attributed to women, like trouble getting aroused or reaching climax. One study of men ages 16-21 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, for example, found that 10.5 percent experienced a lack of interest in sex, 8.3 percent reported difficulty reaching orgasm, and 7.8 percent struggled with erectile dysfunction.
Saying that men’s sexuality is simple discourages these men from getting help by leading them to believe they’re abnormal. It also makes their partners feel as if it’s their fault that their partners are struggling. They may think, “If men are so simple, why can’t I figure them out?”
There’s a double standard that says that if a woman is struggling sexually, it’s because her body was just not built to enjoy sex, but if a man is, it’s his partner’s fault. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy in men’s partners when it’s really nobody’s fault at all.
It Contributes to Rape Culture
Claims that “men are simple” are often accompanied by the saying that “men only want one thing.” Wherever they are and whatever they appear to be doing, the thinking goes, men are plotting and scheming and waiting for the opportunity to get someone (especially women) to provide them with sex.
This is a very dangerous view of sex. It makes it out to be a commodity that women owe men, and it gives off the impression that men cannot help but objectify women.
When we teach women that “men only want one thing” from them, we are teaching them that they only have one thing to offer. We are teaching them that half the world views their bodies as the most important thing about them.
And when we teach men that they only want one thing, we teach them that it is normal to behave in manipulative and coercive ways in sexual situations. We deprive them of the chance to experience their sexuality in a multi-dimensional way that involves emotion and connection.
It is only once we acknowledge men not as innate sexual predators but as complex human beings who want more than sex and can form genuine bonds that we can end rape culture.
It Creates a Hierarchy - With Men on Top
The first step toward creating a hierarchy is creating a binary. And when we say “men are simple, women are complicated,” that’s what we do. We reinforce a gender binary that in turn enforces a power hierarchy. This hierarchy not only oppresses women and non-binary people but also shortchanges men.
Rather than seeing any gender as exclusively simple or complicated, we should understand that we’re all a combination of both. We have many complex emotions, ideas and experiences, but there are a few simple desires beneath them. And in that way, we’re all the same.
Suzannah Weiss is a feminist writer, certified sex educator, and sex/love coach. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more.