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How a Partner’s Fragile Masculinity Can Lead to Anxiety, Less Sexual Satisfaction for Women

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Feb 4, 2022

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Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Hitesh Sonar For The Swaddle

The answer to why women fake orgasms is quite simple: to protect the fragile egos of the people they love.

In monogamous, heterosexual relationships, a male partner’s insecurity about their masculinity (thanks, patriarchy) could cause female partners to be anxious regarding sexual communication, according to new research. This ultimately impacts how sexually satisfied women feel in bed — highlighting yet another instance of patriarchy affecting women adversely.

Published in Society for Personality and Social Psychology this week, a set of three studies concluded that “women who perceive that their partners’ manhood is precarious (i.e., easily threatened) censor their sexual communication to avoid further threatening their partners’ masculinity.”

The first study found that women who earned more than their male partners — thereby making them feel insecure for being the “primary breadwinner,” considered a man’s job, according to the tents of patriarchal wisdom — were twice as likely to fake orgasms than those who didn’t make more money than their partners.

The second and third studies delved into the reasons behind the first finding. The researchers found that when women sensed their male partners being insecure about their “manhood,” they experienced greater anxiety in being able to honestly communicate their sexual needs to them. This, of course, stifled their sexual satisfaction.

“Women are prioritizing what they think their partners need over their own sexual needs and satisfaction… that could [eventually] lead to a breakdown of communication,” explained Jessica Jordan, the lead author of the studies, who researches psychology, gender, sexuality, stereotypes, and prejudices at the University of South Florida.


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Heterosexual Sex Has a Problem: Half of the Participants Are Faking It


But what is fragile masculinity? Bred by patriarchal notions of the qualities a man must embody, or the respect (or fear) he must command, fragile masculinity is the anxiety about not being able to perform toxic masculinity.

“Masculinity becomes fragile through its rigidity. When it cannot afford to hold the panoply of gender expressions, sexual cultural orientations, or feminine strength intrinsic to any pluralistic society, then it must lash out, or risk crumbling under the weight of its own culturally-constituted expectations,” Britt East, author of A Gay Man’s Guide to Life, had said. But “whatever the cause, the response is [almost] always a form of violence…Sometimes this violence is outwardly expressed through physical dominance or aggression. Other times it is inwardly expressed, through depression, addiction, or suicide,” he added.

It is these responses, too, that affect women’s ability to communicate with their partners. Sure, they’re worried about upsetting their partner. But does it go deeper than just that? For instance, are they worried about what repercussions of upsetting their partners they would have to bear? Experts note that it is fragile masculinity that leads men to “become aggressive and abusive when a female challenges his masculinity.”

After all, as Gerald Walton, an associate professor in the education of gender, sexuality, and identity at Lakehead University had argued in 2017, sexual assault on women “is not a ‘woman’s problem’… [it’s] squarely a man’s problem.” Past research, too, has found that gender-based harassment is “linked to men’s anxieties about fulfilling normative masculine gender roles” and “men who perceive themselves as less masculine than average men report higher endorsement of harassment.”

Moreover, it’s not like fragile masculinity benefits men either. Living with anxiety of any kind — even if it’s about one’s perceived degree of masculinity — can put people in a perpetual state of anguish. So, to “treat” a case of fragile masculinity, East has a piece of advice for men that he’d like them to remember, “The truth is being a man can mean whatever you want it to mean… You get to decide.”

Plus, honest communication in a relationship can be helpful for all the parties involved — especially if they’d like to stay away from unnecessary conflict and resentment, and want the relationship to be a loving, lasting one. So, as Jordan notes, “When society creates an impossible standard of masculinity to maintain… nobody wins.”

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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