body, men, relationships, sexuality, shame

Frank Answers Briefly About Male Body Issues

From time to time I receive questions about a body or sexual issue, always about the male body, perhaps a general question or even a personal issue. This is because of the number of articles on my blog that deal with the body and sexuality and even yoga. These articles might raise issues in the minds and experiences of the readers that they’d like to ask about. I have, in fact, answered questions that arose from a previous article with another article. But some questions can be answered without writing a full article. I have been reluctant to take on personal issues on this blog because I’m a theologian, not a counselor; a liturgist, not a psychotherapist; a pastor, not a physiologist. When I took the required pastoral counseling course in seminary some 50 years ago, it was recommended that the pastor should know enough to know when to refer difficult cases (unless he or she did advanced work in pastoral counseling). I guess there’s no reason I couldn’t do that here.

I have several other blog posts dedicated to specific topics that give brief answers. So I will offer this post to give brief answers to questions related to body and sexual issues that are within my competence. I will post questions and answers in the order in which I receive them with the most recent on top. Questions that are sent through the blog platform come to me anonymously. So you are invited to ask and even to respond with comments.


Erection on Massage Table

Young Man Desires Older Men

Sleeping Naked

Sex With Family Nearby

Church-Inflicted Shame

Erection on Massage Table

May 29, 2020

Question: I think I’d like to get a massage when that’s possible during this coronavirus pandemic. But what happens if you get an erection during the massage? Is that normal? Sometimes I can’t control myself, and I worry I may enjoy it too much if you know what I mean…

Frank answers: You should get a massage. It’s good therapy for your body if you’ve been tense and this pandemic has created anxieties we may not be consciously aware of but are held in the body. Erections are known to happen because the massage is helping your blood circulation and, quite frankly, because massage is sensuous. You have a lot of erogenous zones throughout your body from head to foot, not just your penis, and the massage therapist is likely to press on several of them (they can be different in different bodies). If you get an erection, don’t worry about it. Professional massage therapists have probably seen it before and are used to dealing with it (mostly by ignoring it).

Anyway, why should a guy be nervous about getting an erection. It’s a sign that things are healthy done there. I mean, this is in the privacy of the massage studio, not out in public, and there is therapist-patient confidentiality. There are a lot of men with erectile dysfunction who have difficulty getting an erection. You should be grateful that erections come easily to you. If by “enjoying it too much” you mean having a spontaneous ejaculation, your massage therapist might have seen that before too and it will add to the release of all the tension in your body. On the other hand, if none of this happens, you can still enjoy the massage.

Young Man Desires Older Men

May 23, 2020

Question: When I was a boy I had a fascination with older men’s bodies, such as my Dad’s, my soccer coach’s, and even my priest. Is it weird that I used to get hard thinking about my priest? I used to get hard even when sitting with him at church events or when he put his hand on my head in blessing. For some reason, even though I’ve had sexual relations with girls, I still have an interest in older men, but not in men my own age. I fantasize about a man at my gym who is probably about sixty. What do you think about this?

Frank answers: I don’t think it’s weird or unnatural for boys and youth to be fascinated by the bodies of older men. As boys go through puberty and adolescence their body is changing rapidly. They want to want to get a sense of what the end result will be like. Boys (and girls) compare their bodies with their peers’ bodies too. While they may think a peer’s body is more attractive than their own, the peer’s body hasn’t reached full development either.

It’s interesting whose bodies were of interest to you. They were all trustworthy men who had more to offer you than their physical body. They offered protection (your dad), skills (your soccer coach), and wisdom (your priest). These are qualities you would like to develop as you matured.

In many societies elders who would mentor young men included hunters, warriors, philosophers, and shamans. Male mentoring processes included sexual initiatiuon and social education. In ancient Greece and in the Celtic culture, among others, mentors provided youth with sexual experiences as well as with hunting, fighting, political, and religious skills. It was expected that the young men would marry a girl once they had established their place in society, produce and raise children, and mentor a young man in turn. Sometimes a homosexual relationship with their former mentor continued even when both were married.

Of course, as Western society became more Christian these pederastic and same-sex relationships became taboo. But some of this “mentoring” may have continued in monasteries in clandestine ways. Since you’re still fantasizing about a mature man’s body you may feel that something was omitted from the mentoring you received from these men in your youth. You had erections thinking about your priest (and maybe your soccer coach?), but you received no actual sexual initiation from them. That part of the mentoring was left unfulfilled. But what you may have desired was illegal under the age of eighteen and socially disapproved of and institutional sanctioned even over the age of eighteen. Yet how pervasive this kind of mentoring was in ancient societies is thoroughly documented in the book by John Neill, The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009).

From a gay Orthodox calendar

You state that you continue to have an interest in older men, but not younger men, in spite of having had sexual relations with girls. But apparently you have not had sexual relations with older men, or any men. I suspect you have an interest in exploring these unrequited desires. You should know that age differences between both homosexual and heterosexual couples is not unusual. Some women as well as some gay men prefer older men (and some younger men prefer older women). Some older men prefer younger men or younger women. So the age thing works in several directions. It is not fair to disparage these relationships. Older men have something to offer younger men, including emotional and financial stability and the wisdom that comes from added years of life experiences.

Are you gay because you are attracted to men, even though older men? That depends on whether your attractions are exclusively same-sex. You’ll have to discern that in yourself. Putting people into sexual boxes is a result of modern clinical sexology. But as the Kinsey Institute reports indicate, most people are much more sexually fluid than that. It’s not unheard of for gay and straight men to date and develop a relationship simply because they are attracted to each other for more than the sex. Right now your sexuality seems confused. It will take having more life experiences to sort it out.

(Credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr)

Sleeping Naked

May 22, 2020

Question: You mention in your article on nakedness and modesty your boyhood experience of sleeping naked. I’ve read that there are health benefits to sleeping naked and would like to try it. Suppose your spouse doesn’t prefer to sleep naked but you do?

Answer: Yes, there are definitely some health benefits to sleeping naked. We sleep better when we’re not hot and sweaty, and sleeping naked will keep the body cooler. If you are getting too cold, just add a blanket rather than pajamas.  The body’s self-repair mechanism during sleep works more effectively in a cooler environment. The skin breathes better and circulation is increased without the constrictions of bed clothing or underwear. Nakedness also allows the genital area to get aired out. Touching your partner’s skin might also arouse sexual desire.

I take it that you’ve been married for a while and haven’t done this before. Changing routines can spice up a marriage. Just tell your spouse or partner that you’ve read about the health benefits of sleeping naked and that you’d like to try. Invite her or him to try it with you. If your spouse or partner doesn’t feel comfortable doing that, it should be okay with you. You sleep naked and let your partner wear pajamas. If the two of you are moved to have sex in bed, removing your partner’s pjs can add to the eroticism of the moment. You might fall asleep after sex and then both of you are cuddling naked. In any event, spouses or partners should share their bodies with each other, so spending time being naked for each other or with each other is a good thing. Sleeping naked together is one possibility. Go for it!

Sex With Family Nearby

May 21, 2020

Question: Is it shameful to have sex near family members?

Frank answers: There are many situations in which couples want to enjoy sex when they are near other family members. The biggest one is always parents who want a moment for sex when their children are nearby, supposedly sleeping. Then there are couples who may be visiting their parents or their parents may be visiting them. Having sex with your parents nearby always raises the adrenaline, and maybe for that reason heightens the passion. But there’s nothing inherently shameful about couples having sex with other family members nearby.

However, there are situations where young couples having sex in a parents’ home is more ambiguous. Since the questioner uses the word “shameful,” maybe he or she grew up in a family where attitudes of shame were communicated about sex. Even though the children may now be married and sex is expected of married couples, they are not able to overcome the mentality that associates sex with shame with the teachers of that mentality in the next room. Could an unmarried couple bring a partner for a visit and engage in sex in the parents’ home? There’s nothing shameful about this, but you’d like to have a sense of your parents’ attitude about it to avoid a nasty confrontation. This would also apply to unmarried young adults who are living at home while working and would like to bring in a boyfriend or girlfriend for an overnight visit. Are you’re parents okay with this? What about a gay son bringing his partner home for a visit? Frank family discussions about these situations are recommended but may be hard to pull off. In my view even parents with traditional attitudes about sex before marriage (or types of sex) need to give adult children some leeway on this.

Finally, I should note that there are currently many college students sheltering at home during the pandemic because college and university classes are doing distance learning. In the current COVID-19 situation of sheltering in place bringing an outsider into the family residence is not advised, including girlfriends or boyfriends.

Church-Inflicted Shame

May 20, 2020

Question: I see your articles as preaching embodiment. I see Jesus’ teachings as claiming our vitality vs. much of the Church’s teachings (vis-a-vis the zealot Paul) of the body as the thorn in the flesh. Evangelical shame and disembodiment of my youth led to numbness and PTSD.  How do you suggest I heal and reclaim embodied living now  in my middle-aged years?

Frank answers: Let me sort out a couple of issues, make some referrals, and offer some suggestions.

First, “embodiment” has become a concept with various meanings. I take it to mean experiencing something in the body. For example, I wrote I book on Embodied Liturgy. By that I meant experiencing public worship in the body and engaging in it bodily.

Second, I will not quibble over how you see Jesus and St. Paul. I will note that Jesus called all people into abundant life under the reign of God and Paul extended this call of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, the Christ (Messiah) of Israel, to the Gentiles. Paul’s worldview is a tough nut to crack since he was simultaneously a Pharisaic Jew, a Roman citizen, and an inhabitant of the Hellenistic cultural world who wrote in common (koine) Greek. He had a new reality to proclaim within and over against all these cultures. His emphasis was not on what Jesus taught but what Jesus did in his body (cross and resurrection) for the salvation of the world.

Third, in my Frank Answer About Nakedness and Modesty I recommended the book by Aaron Frost, Christian Body: Modesty and the Bible (self-published, but available on Amazon,com). Aaron comes out of an Evangelical background (Baptist) and understands that mindset about nudity and modesty. He argues that Evangelical views on these issues owe more to Victorian prudery than to the Bible. A deeper and more scholarly work is by Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988; revised with a new introduction 2008). It documents how deeply Greek Neo-Platonism affected ancient Christian negative views of the body and sexuality from St. Paul to St. Augustine of Hippo. It’s too bad that we lack a comprehensive study of the Reformation’s treatment of the body other than the positive views of the Protestant reformers regarding marriage and family as Christian callings over against the medieval prizing of celibacy and virginity.

With regard to your personal issues, numbness and PTSD (if this is a professional diagnosis) suggests that you experienced some trauma that resides in your body. Such traumas include but are not limited to accidents, diseases, physical, mental, or sexual abuse. This could be compounded by negative teachings about the body and sexuality in your church. Many men who “come out” as gay are ill treated by their church and even alienated from their families. Realizing this, others suppress their sexuality, but that suppression eats away at them and lingers in the body.

I recommend reading the work of Dutch psychiatrist Besser van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (New York: Viking, 2014). Van der Kolk has contributed to the recently-developed practice of somatic psychotherapy which is a holistic treatment of trauma that looks for the impact of trauma on the body and the need to discern what the body has to say about current mental disabilities. Most of the therapists are licensed clinical social workers with additional certification in somatic psychotherapy. If the traumas your body harbors impact negatively on your life and mentality, you might want to seek out such a practitioner.

I would suggest that you practice embodiment by engaging in activities that keep you present to your body. These might be physical activities such as sports, workouts, running, swimming, or yoga. As far as social conditions and your comfort level allow, dress down to expose your naked body to yourself and others. Demonstrate your belief that your body is not something to be ashamed of. Accept it as it is and work on keeping it healthy by exercise and diet.

Finally, it may be important for you to love your body, that is, your bodily self, to the extent that you don’t mind sharing your bodily and mental experiences with others, for example, in a group that focuses on issues of body and sexuality. I’m going to jump to the conclusion that you are male. Many of the men who participate in such workshops or retreats are in the middle age bracket. Yoga retreats and workshops may offer such gatherings. If you find something, you can always call and press for more information about what the retreat or workshop will be like. Maybe on “Meet Up” you might find a men’s discussion group that meets regularly. I wish you the best as you seek and experience healing.

A 3-Day Men’s Retreat with Hridaya Yoga teacher Craig White
Explore Masculine Maturity and Purpose
In this retreat, like-minded men will have the opportunity to come together as brothers to reflect on their journey into manhood, share their own stories, and be heard in a safe and non-judgmental space.

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    Thank you for your helpful feedback!

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