NEWS

How Male Fragility Can Impact Women's Sexual Experiences

Black couple lying in bed

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Key Takeaways

  • A recent study found when women perceive men as having fragile masculinity, they are more likely to fake orgasms and withhold open sexual communication.
  • Men who perceive their manhood as threatened are more likely to act aggressively.
  • Societal norms around men's behavior to be "strong" and "emotionless" must change for the benefit of all.

Our feelings and actions undeniably impact not only ourselves but also those we surround ourselves with.

When the relationship is intimate, this additional vulnerability can enhance the connected nature. If one person views themselves poorly or believes they are not living the way they ought to be, the other may feel a need to compensate to assure them.

In the case of fragile masculinity, this may mean a woman is changing how she acts around a man during sex. 

A recent report from Social Psychological and Personality Science looked at how women’s sexual communication changes based on perceived fragile masculinity in their partner across three studies.

The Research

In the first study, researchers found that women who had a higher income than their partners were twice as likely to fake orgasms and to have lower rates of sexual satisfaction. 

Next, they explored the impact of assumed fragile masculinity on sexual communication. Women who believed their partner had a high level of fragile masculinity were less likely to discuss their sexual needs and more likely to fake an orgasm. The researchers attributed this partly to communication anxiety.

In the third study, researchers provided women with an imaginary partner, described as either secure or insecure. When labeled insecure, women were again less likely to have open sexual communication.

“Women are often socialized to ‘be someone’s better half,’ reprimanded to ‘be someone’s peace,’  or ‘to be of use,’” says Lena Queen, LCSW, MEd, a clinical somatic sexologist and owner of Journey Wellness and Consulting Group. “From girlhood to womanhood, the expectation of women to avoid harm instead of their masculine partner to learn emotional availability and accountability continues to pressure women to be the problem fixer. While still perceived in a male-centered society as ‘ the weaker sex,’ women are also socialized to be emotionally available and stronger in their relationships and not expect much in return.”

Further research is needed to determine how perceived fragile masculinity impacts sexual communication outside of heterosexual couples. 

What is Fragile Masculinity? 

Fragile masculinity is frequently a buzzword thrown around to describe men perceived as insecure. While this paints part of the picture, there’s more to the term from emotional and societal perspectives. “To be fragile is to have low ego strength or a poor sense of self or self-image — this is true for both masculinity and femininity,” says Queen.

Society tells men they should be financially successful, physically strong, and have a high sex drive, but ignore the communal responsibility or character traits that are critical to being a compassionate person in the world. In fact, expressing emotions or empathy are both largely deterred. These “rules” change how a person views themself. “Gender performance is strongly impacted by the perception of one’s masculinity or lack thereof,” adds Queen. “In relationship with oneself, fragile masculinity could look like overcompensation to achieve or to cosplay the achievement of masculinity.”

Lena Queen, LCSW, MEd

While still perceived in a male-centered society as ‘ the weaker sex,’ women are also socialized to be emotionally available and stronger in their relationships and not expect much in return.

— Lena Queen, LCSW, MEd

In relationships, fragile masculinity can often lead to feelings of inadequacy. “The challenge emerges when people make decisions based on those feelings that are inauthentic or potentially harmful in relationships,” says Dr. Jennifer Litner, sexologist and founder of the Chicago-based wellness center, Embrace Sexual Wellness. For example, Litner explains that if a man believes they need to be tall to find a relationship, they may lie about their height on dating apps. 

 Additionally, a person’s feeling of lacking certain things that they “should” bring to a relationship can cause shame and guilt, expressed at the expense of their partner. According to Queen, this may present as emotional unavailability, anger, deception, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and gaslighting to make their partner feel at fault for their insecurities. 

Specifically, around intimacy, a person with fragile masculinity may have an anxious-avoidant attachment style, only allowing themselves to become somewhat emotionally invested before pulling away, adds Queen. In this case, they may also use sex in place of intimacy.  

Why Women Compensate For Fragile Masculinity During Sex

Returning to the question at hand: How has fragile masculinity led to less enjoyable sexual experiences for women? As touched on earlier, “women and people who have been socialized in the feminine have consistently been taught to cater to men's needs in multiple arenas,” says Litner. “Therefore, it is not a surprise that some women may feel they need to compensate for or take care of their partner in this way.” 

A desire to feel safe with a sexual partner may also account for why women compensate for a partner’s perceived fragile masculinity. A 2021 study found that men who believed their “manhood” was threatened were more likely to act in an aggressive manner.

Jennifer Litner, PhD, a sexologist

It may help to recognize that aiming to fit narrow, societally constructed ideas of masculinity does not necessarily lead to greater sexual satisfaction.

— Jennifer Litner, PhD, a sexologist

Whether subconsciously or clearly decided, women may believe that pleasing their partner and making him feel strong or capable of satisfying them will keep them safe in this intimate setting. “There are often timeless yet harmful societal relationship expectations that inform a woman’s motivation for being responsible for both her and her partner’s emotionality,” explains Queen. 

Changing Society’s Perspective of Fragile Masculinity and How Men Should Act

Like so many other concerns people face, men can only work on their fragile masculinity when motivated to do so. Queen recommends men work with a sex therapist or a couples therapist specializing in emotional and sexual intimacy to overcome these feelings.

“Remember, healing is not linear, it is layered,” they add. “It takes time, commitment, accountability, and ownership to see significant and impactful change. Healing fragile masculinity requires one to be committed to facing things they have avoided, things they dislike about themselves without projecting shame, guilt, and their fragility onto others,” says Queen. This may be an experience someone is not yet ready to go through. 

There also needs to be a dramatic change in the acceptance of harmful guidelines society expects men to follow regarding how they can act.

These ideas are detrimental to men and anyone they interact with, across their day or sexually. “It may help to recognize that aiming to fit narrow, societally constructed ideas of masculinity does not necessarily lead to greater sexual satisfaction,” says Litner. “Rather, self-awareness, strong relational communication, and sexual assertiveness are key to healthy and satisfying sexual relationships.”

What This Means For You

Fragile masculinity stems from a long-held notion that men must prove they are strong and capable of anything—an impossible task. When we remove these notions from our conversations and ideals, everyone benefits.

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2 Sources
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  2. Stanaland A, Gaither S. “Be a man”: The role of social pressure in eliciting men’s aggressive cognitionPers Soc Psychol Bull. 2021;47(11):1596-1611. doi:10.1177/0146167220984298