Men are people too: How erroneous expectations complicated my wedding night...and why that was really okay
I was 15 or 16 when I realized that sexuality didn’t make sense. I was getting ready for school, and had chosen a new spaghetti-strap camisole. I had a bra on underneath, and was proud that I had managed to hide the straps, since I had tried to wear this top a couple of weeks prior, and had been told by my mother that I couldn’t, because “if boys could see my bra straps, they would think about sex.” So I hurried out, with the straps dutifully pinned out of sight, only to be stopped by the front door.
“You can’t wear that!” My mother said vehemently.
Sensing a repeat of the previous weeks’ events, I quickly countered, “Why not? My bra isn’t showing! Now boys can’t think about having sex with me!”
Not skipping a beat, Mom replied, “No! Now they’ll think you AREN’T wearing a bra, and will think about it more!!”
I stood there, blinking in disbelief over this line of logic. I felt that there was no way to win, and that being a girl sucked.
From my parents’ heartfelt attempts to keep me from being lusted over, flirted with, or in any way sexually engaged by the male species, I began to wonder about men: “Are all men really that simple? Would just seeing my bra strap really cause them to hurl themselves at me in sexual frenzy? At what point do guys turn from humans who make choices, into the Hulk, without self-control? And how, really, could I ever trust a gender so volatile, so vulnerable to moral collapse if I accidentally showed some cleavage while bending over, or if my breasts bounced because I forgot to wear a sports bra while running?”
This didn’t seem quite right. So after careful thought, I decided that guys are people too, although some may not accept that responsibility quite yet. I have been lucky enough to marry a self-aware man who himself hated the messages he received as a young man, which implied that he was a slave to his penis, and would stop at nothing to prey on female classmates whose skirts were an inch too short.
However, although I was able to sort through some of my confusion at a fairly young age, I definitely carried other false messages straight into marriage with me. I thought that all that stuff about men always wanting to have sex must be true, even though they were responsible to control their urges. Therefore, I thought that my new husband and I would have a perfect sex life- I had a strong sex drive, so I wouldn’t be claiming to have a headache in order to avoid it, and he would always want to have sex! Not quite…
My husband and I had both been informed of the pain often involved for women in penetration. When our wedding night rolled around he was primed for patience, gentleness, and compassion, and I was ready for deep breathing, relaxing, and, really, taking one for the team. No one told us that in uncircumcised virgin men, the foreskin does not always fully retract, thus creating intense pulling and pain when intercourse is attempted.
So instead of an incredible wedding night where my husband was passionate and insatiable, and I was the fulfillment of all his fantasies, bravely offering my prized virginity, I lay there waiting to feel something, and he writhed in shocked and confused pain as we experienced the ultimate role reversal. Needless to say, we had a hard few days.
I remember mid-way through our honeymoon, looking expectantly at my husband, clad in my new lingerie. He looked up from bed, where he had been pretending to have a headache, and said mournfully, “I guess if we need to we can try to have sex…for the good of our relationship.”
Obviously, I have had to release universal rules about sex, and how all men clamor for it with every bra strap slip. It’s not a thing. Not, at least, for my husband. This has been difficult for me at times. But I’ve realized that when I assume that my husband’s desires are dictated by his gender, or that if he isn’t obsessing over me every time I show skin, he doesn’t want me, or I’m not sexy, then I’m buying again into the lie. The lie that men aren’t complex, human, and made in the image of God, to be understood, appreciated and loved, not controlled or manipulated via a pair of hot heels and plunging neckline.
Sex is for many things, and I believe God intended it that way. The God I know is not stuck in church, demanding that everything we do be solemn and weighty. My God sees our many needs, and created this incredible activity with so much variety. Sex can involve touch, taste, sight, sound, smell, lots of energy, or almost none at all. It is for pleasure, intimacy, stress-relief, entertainment, comfort, and reassurance.
If I could go back to that cami conversation with my mom, I would want her to explain not just how guys might think, but also how their bodies work. As a teenager, I understood confusion and complexity. Knowing that boys were in the same boat, trying to figure out how to handle their developing bodies andhearts would have given me much more appreciation for their situation, and allowed me to make decisions out of respect for their vulnerabilities, not out of fear of their sexuality. This could have spared me a lot of confusion, and my poor husband a lot of misplaced sexual expectations.
But that’s okay. I am learning still about his erections, preferences, and blue-balling, and he is learning about my fantasies, yeast infections and PMS. We didn’t have all of our sexual facts right when we met, so now we have the privilege of learning from each other, not as “men and women,” but as unique, storied individuals building intimacy.
By Jane Tallman, Seattle, WA
Tags: Gender messages, sex expectations, wedding night, no sex education, Jane Tallman