From time to time I receive questions about a body or sexual issue, always male, that doesn’t require a long article as an answer. I’ve been reluctant to take on personal issues on this blog because I’m a theologian, not a counselor. On the other hand, some body and sexual issues are raised in areas in which I have some expertise, such as biblical or theological interpretations, social history, cultural analysis, and a lifetime of experience. So I guess there are a number of issues I could comment on. Moreover, when I took the required pastoral counseling course in seminary some 50 years ago we were told that pastors should know enough to know when to refer difficult cases (unless he or she has done advanced work in pastoral counseling). I guess there’s no reason I couldn’t do that online.
I have several other blog posts dedicated to giving brief answers on specific topics. So I will offer this post to give brief answers to questions related to male body and sexual issues that are within my competence to answer. I will post questions and answers in the chronological 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 readers may, as always, respond to my answers with their comments.
Content: Issues Addressed
To Ejaculate or Not to Ejaculate; That is the Question
Shower Modesty, Selfies, and Cameras
Cuddling with your straight apartment mate
Suffering from a low libido
Is it morally okay for a single gay Christian to use sex toys?
Erection on Massage Table
Young Man Desires Older Men
Sex With Family Nearby
To Ejaculate or Not to Ejaculate; That is the Question
August 2, 2020
Question: I’ve been reading online about the benefits of frequent masturbation, since I do it a lot. There are studies that suggest that frequent masturbation (21+ days per month) can reduce the risk of prostate cancer. But there are also articles that claim that by masturbating frequently you actually lower your sexual energy. Do you know about these conflicting claims and do you have any words of wisdom about them?
Answer: I am aware of the major study about the relationship of ejaculation to prostate cancer, and I know of Chinese/Tibetan/Indian ideas about the value of semen retention. I am not an authority on either, although I have an interest in both. I am a colon cancer survivor since 2006 and the causes of cancer, especially in the lower part of the body, became matters of interest to me. I am also a yogi and have studied Indian yoga philosophy, Tibetan Tantra’s interest in the body’s energy (prana), and related theories of the body’s energy in Taoism (chi).
The major study is reported in an article by Michael Leitzmann and colleagues in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004, titled “Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer.” The data has since been analyzed in other journal articles. Leitzman et al. reported on a study of over 29,000 male health professional’s health over a period of 18 years. The data collected included the question of frequency of ejaculation. Several thousand reported incidents of prostrate cancer at the end of the study. By comparing the frequency of ejaculation all the men in the study had reported, it was concluded that high ejaculation frequency was associated with a lower incidence of prostate cancer. Averaged across a lifetime, those men with higher frequency of ejaculation (21 or more times per month) lowered by 33% the risk of developing prostate cancer. Those with a lower frequency of ejaculation (4 to 7 times per month) lowered the risk by 11%.
The correlation between frequency of ejaculation and prostate cancer should concern men, especially older men. Incidents of prostrate cancer usually occur in older men, and older men generally are decreasing ejaculations.
Several issues with this study should be noted. It does not distinguish between types of ejaculation (masturbation, sexual intercourse). Also, the subjects self-reported. A problem with many self-report studies is that subjects are asked to remember things that occurred over a period of years. Also, the study of health professionals was a select group (cohort) who might be more concerned about leading a healthy life than the average man.
The problem with cancer is that it’s hard to pinpoint the cause. We all have cancer cells in the body. What factors cause them to metastasize? In my family my father had rectal cancer, a sister had breast cancer, my brother had pelvic cancer, and I had colon cancer. In my case it looks like genes were a major cause. Genetics can also be associated with prostate cancer. Life style choices (e.g. alcohol, smoking, diet, drugs) and quality of environment can also be contributing factors to various cancers.
The exact percentages may vary in online discussions of this report, but the bottom line is that frequent ejaculation is associated with less risk of prostate cancer. Why that is the case remains a matter of speculation. But frequent ejaculation is no guarantee of not getting prostrate cancer, nor is infrequent ejaculation a guarantee of getting prostate cancer, since cancer can be caused by various factors.
And now about Asian practices of semen retention.
Why practice semen retention? For most ordinary people, especially in practical-minded Taoism, it was to have better sex! As strange as it may sound, semen retention improves your sex life. One of the common issues men have is pre-mature ejaculation in intercourse. Sexual gratification usually takes longer for a woman to achieve. If a man is able to maintain sexual arousal for as long as he desires, it not only allows the woman to reach climax, it heightens the climaxes for both when they come together. There are techniques that can be learned to do this. In medieval Tantra they were esoteric. In Taoism they are more ordinary. But they still take practice.
As you might fast before a big meal in order to enjoy the meal better, so if you can retain your sexual energy for at least several days before having sex, and then hold back orgasm while in coitus until you sense that your partner is coming, you will both have better sex.
It is commonly known among athletes and martial artists that avoiding sex, including masturbation, before a competition or game gives you more energy for the event since expelling the sexual energy results in a depletion of strength, fortitude, and concentration.
In non-western medical traditions such as Indian Ayurveda, Chinese or Tibetan medicine, it is widely believed that retention of semen is a source of health, strength, vitality, and general well-being. We can know in our own bodies the drain of energy that is felt after orgasm. We often have sex in bed at night precisely so we can fall asleep afterward. If it was an intense sex session we are spent. Orgasm depletes enormous energy from the endocrine and nervous systems, leaving the body weak and lethargic until the energies are gradually created again. The ancient Chinese had this all figured out. I recommend The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity: A Modern Practical Guide to the Ancient Way by Daniel P. Reid (New York: Touchstone, 1989), Part II: The Tao of Sex, especially Chapter 7: Ejaculation Control (pp. 254-72).
Ancient Greek physicians and philosopher such as Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Galen, and Aristotle were horrified by the waste of semen. In their view semen should be retained for procreation. As philosophers, they were also concerned about how the saved energy in the body should be used in a productive life. This was all before Christianity came along and embraced similar ideas, although unfortunately Catholicism enforced them as moral law rather than as wisdom for life.
Bottom line on this: holding the charge until you’re ready to fire will produce better results.
How do you balance these two conclusions in actual practice? You can masturbation all you want. But if you expect to have sex on a certain day, abstain for a couple of days before doing it. If you have sexual intercourse almost daily, observe a day off at least once or twice a week to replenish the body’s energy.
July 25, 2020 (revised August 1, 2020)
Question: Pardon this female interloper in your male advice column, but my question about the male body is: why do we have to see so much of it? With the first warmth of spring men are removing their shirts. The shirts don’t go back on until the first frost. I’m okay with shirtless boys, although generally not much past age 18. Young men who work out might be okay. But it seems that men are getting bolder about being shirtless in public and many of them do not improve the landscape by showing their bare bulging bellies. Why do they do it? Where do you think it’s appropriate for men to be shirtless? Where is it inappropriate? Thanks for your reflections on this.
Answer: Questions by women are welcome. This question raises a general issue about male shirtlessness in an otherwise clothed society. Let’s grant at the outset that many women don’t appreciate seeing men going around shirtless, except maybe on the beach or at the pool. And let’s also recognize that there are many men who don’t want to be shirtless in public, except maybe on the beach or at a pool.
I would also note that having your skin exposed to the sun is healthy for both men and women. There’s a tug-of-war between dermatologists who warn against getting skin cancer from too much exposure to the sun and health experts who recommend a few minutes of exposure of the skin every day in the sun. Many of us can’t spend our days at the beach or hanging out at an outdoor pool, but men can remove their shirts and walk or run or ride a bike in the sun, getting exercise along with their daily dose of vitamin D, especially in the climate zones in which direct sunlight lasts only a few months. Because of ordinances against female toplessness, women can just remove their shirts. But many women jog or power walk wearing short shorts and an athletic halter.
Actually, most men don’t appear shirtless in public venues other than the gthe beach or a pool. I wouldn’t attribute it only to male shyness, although there is that. But it’s also a matter of conforming to social norms. It’s a social norm that you can walk shirtless on the beach, but not down Main Street. That doesn’t mean it’s illegal to walk around town shirtless, just that it’s not considered socially acceptable.
So my question is: where does our questioner see an increase in men being shirtless? She raises this issue at a time when many of the usual outdoor venues where men remove their shirts, such as amusement parks, county fairs, music festivals, and ball parks, are closed due to COVID-19.
I can’t ask our questioner where she sees an increase of shirtlessness, so I can only offer my own observations. As I began getting outside to walk and ride my bike (shirtless), I began to see a few other men walking, riding, and running shirtless in parks and along trails. Not hordes of shirtless men, but it seemed like there were a few more than I’ve seen before. I wondered if many of them (like me) had been cooped up during the pandemic and were just celebrating the freedom of being out and about in the spring sun, breathing fresh air without the fear of being infected by the novel coronavirus. One day I was pleased to see three generations of shirtless cyclists riding together, what appeared to be a grandfather, father, and teen age son. (Boys today are not as shirtless outdoors as they were when I was a boy in the 1950s.)
Even though shirtless men are everywhere, I gave our female questioner the benefit of the doubt that maybe displays of male shirtlessness are actually increasing in places where that’s not usually been seen. A search of the internet produced a New York Times article of July 31, 2013 that discussed how many men are, in fact, appearing shirtless on the streets and sidewalks of the New York City. (The article was written during a heatwave.) The Times article attributed this fad to movie actor Orlando Bloom, who had been seen pushing his child in a baby stroller while shirtless on the streets of New York. Was NYC becoming like LA? I have personally seen shirtless bikers and skateboarders on the streets of NYC when visiting there. Some may have been bike messengers. These shirtless guys all seemed in a hurry in get somewhere, like most New Yorkers.
Shirtlessness has been a part of male work history. In social history, men who have engaged in hard labor on land and sea have usually worked shirtless. In ancient and traditional societies working men usually wore no more than a loin cloth. Admittedly, this was in warmer climates like the Mediterranean world or tropical places. But it’s also the case that men sweat a lot and moistened shirts become a drag and uncomfortable. Shirtless workmen are all around us, especially in the building trades — carpenters, bricklayers, roofers, etc. We might expect to see men working shirtless on farms, plowing the fields, harvesting vegetables, mowing hay. By the same token, it’s okay for suburban homeowners to be out in their yards mowing their lawns, trimming bushes, and digging up weeds while shirtless.
Historically men have not only been semi-nude in public, they have also been fully nude. In ancient Greece and in the Greco-Roman world, if men were exercising in the field or the gymnasium they did so nude. Athletes competed nude in the Olympic Games. Down through the centuries if men wanted to swim they removed all their clothing, even if women were around. In early Victorian times men still stripped naked to go swimming in the sea. Women wore bathing costumes. But by the end of the 19th century on public beaches men also had to wear swimming “suits” (i.e. tops and bottoms) where women were present. Believe it or not, in America it came to be considered indecent for men to expose their nipples in public until around 1930, when nipples of popular male actors began to appear on the silver screen. Ninety years later it’s still considered indecent in many places for women to expose their nipples, even when breastfeeding. We Americans remain “Victorians” in many ways when it comes to displaying the body in public.
As to why men bare their chests, I was tempted to answer: because they can. And if they can, many will. This is something of a male privilege, and I’m sorry women can’t go topless if they want to. (This prohibition in city ordinances has been challenged in some cities.) It’s been argued that women’s breasts can be sexually arousing and therefore should be considered one of the “private parts” of the body that should be covered in public in a way that men’s chests aren’t (although some women would dispute that).
One event that gives men and women “permission” to be totally nude in public is the annual World Naked Bike Ride that takes place in many cities around the world as a protest against automobiles and consumption of fossil fuels that are polluting the atmosphere. The riders are freeing their bodies from social norms to demonstrate for freeing the environment from human pollution.
I would say that exposing one’s body in public gives one a sense of freedom. By this I don’t mean only free from the constrictions caused by shirts in some physical activities, but free to connect with nature itself outdoors (feeling the sun and wind on one’s naked body), freedom to express self-confidence in public (knowing that people are likely to look at you if you are showing skin), and freedom to bond with other men (men more readily shed their shirts if other men do so — unfortunately all too often in party situations where they have been drinking and have lowered inhibitions).
This summer we’ve seen photos of shirtless men participating in Black Lives Matter protests demanding freedom from racist police overreactions (like kneeling on black men’s necks). Removing shirts in a protest march is an assertion of personal freedom in the act of calling for freedom from oppression, for example, from police.
So where do I think it is appropriate for men to be shirtless in public? And where do I think it might it be inappropriate? Generally, I think anywhere outdoors is appropriate. Anywhere indoors is probably inappropriate. But common sense must prevail both outdoors and in. I think urban bike messengers can deliver their packets while riding shirtless, but should have a shirt to throw on before they enter an office building. You expect men to wear bathing suits on the beach and even on the boardwalks and around the marinas, but signs posted on shops and indoor restaurants even along the boardwalks and marinas say, “no shirt, no service.”
I think shirtlessness is appropriate in any physical activity. Indoor gyms and yoga studios might request shirts on, in which case you have to abide by the policy. But I still think it’s appropriate to work out and practice yoga shirtless even though the management says otherwise. Some women don’t like sweaty men on the next treadmill or yoga mat. But if you sweat, you keep a towel handy. It is certainly appropriate, in my view, for athletes, both youth and adults, to work out shirtless indoors or outdoors. Runners almost always run shirtless.
There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about body shame. It applies to men as well as to women. And there’s also been a lot of shaming of older men for being shirtless in public, which could be implied in the statement included in this question about “young men who work out might be okay.” Older men? Maybe not for this questioner, and others like her. Who wants to see sagging muscles and wrinkled skin and expanded waists! What do these old guys (like me) think they’re doing? Are we trying to relive our boyhood back in the 1950s and 60s when boys were shirtless in gym class and when playing outdoors and riding their bikes in the “good ole summertime”?
If senior men want to exercise and get vitamin D the natural way in the sun and experience a sense of liberation, God bless them! Let them be examples of vitality to shy young men and boys. We need not be ashamed of our bodies, and fortunately there are plenty of places and situations in which we can demonstrate that. We need not be ashamed of our bodies, and fortunately there are plenty of places and situations in which we can demonstrate that.
Shower Modesty, Selfies and Cameras
July 21, 2020
It seems that men’s locker rooms are becoming more “private” (I haven’t been in a women’s, so I wouldn’t know about the layout.) At my gym, partitions have been installed in what used to be an open shower area. Gyms I’ve used while traveling seem to have gone in this direction, also. This seems very strange considering so many people are now sending nude pictures of themselves or posting them online. Why the dichotomy?
Answer: Yes, I guess gyms are providing partitioned shower stalls today. I haven’t been to the YMCA I used to be a member of in several years. But during the time I went regularly to the gym and used the showers, they began to add partitioned stalls on the opposite side of what remained of the “gang showers.”
There’s no question that younger men and adolescent boys are more concerned for their personal modesty than we were in my youth, when swimming at the Y and in high school was nude, along with nude showers, and the coach or teacher watching to make sure that you soaped down all over your body. Today the high school boys seldom take showers after gym class. Young men at the Ys shower in their bathing suits and do a “towel dance” to change into and out of it, so that none of their “private parts” can be seen. They simply have no experience of being naked with other guys and therefore aren’t comfortable with it. One of the issues men have in locker rooms and showers is penis size. Most men think their penis is too small. So they try to avoid having it seen. (There’s been a study of this.)
Another issue younger men are concerned about is gay men hanging around in a locker room or shower and coming on to them. Gay men do spend a lot of time at the gym. Having someone eyeball you and come onto you has been known to happen. But it would seem that men should be able to just say “no” if they don’t want to get into anything. Personally, I’ve never found this to be a problem. Only once in a steam room in which I was sitting on my towel rather than having it wrapped around my waste, a naked guy moved over from his bench to mine and sat next to me. (We were the only two persons in the steam room.) I got up and moved to another seat. He got the idea.
You mention that a lot of young men take nude selfies and post them online or send them to a friend via text messaging. But this is exactly one of the problems with being nude in the showers or locker rooms. Everyone has iphones and people are always taking them out to look at their messages. They’re also always taking photos. A lot of men don’t take nude pictures of themselves and they don’t want to be “captured” by someone else’s phone camera. But take a look at this selfie that someone snapped in a locker room and posted online.
Who knows why he is taking a selfie of his naked body. Maybe he wants to see how he is shaping up after a workout. Maybe he wants to send it to his girl friend or boy friend. But you see the guy reflected in the mirror who is sitting on the bench with a towel? He has been “captured” in this naked guy’s selfie and ended up on the internet, which is where I found this image. He could have been standing up naked. There’s the problem of men being naked today in the showers and locker rooms. It certainly has to be factored into why there is more concern for privacy in gym locker rooms and showers than there used to be. I personally was casual about nudity in this setting when I went to the gym at the YMCA because that’s how it was when I was a high school youth swimming and showering naked in the Y. I’m comfortable being naked around other men. But today if I’m not careful I could unintentionally end up on the worldwide web being seen in my altogether.
There’s also the issue of surveillance cameras in the lockers rooms and showers. A lot of thefts in gyms take place in locker rooms. Cameras would help to discourage that. But in most states it is illegal to place cameras in places that are commonly regarded as private areas where people might be in a state of undress. In some states, however, it is legal for the management to install such security cameras if a sign is prominently posted calling attention to it. But there’s also been the problem of staff personnel or patrons installing their own hidden cameras. This is definitely illegal and even criminal. But photos from hidden cameras often end up on the internet, like this one.
There is a solution to all of these problems. Gyms and spas should have staff persons circulating in the showers, sauna, steam room, and locker room areas and calling out misbehavior when they see it. In the Korean Spa that I have gone to, staff are permanently placed in the locker room and occasionally they walk through the adjacent pool and steam room areas. Cameras are not allowed in these areas. You can go into the common areas to talk on your phone or take photos. Intimate and sexual behavior is also prohibited because it is a family facility in which fathers and sons can enjoy being nude together (and mothers and girls in the women’s area). If you are caught disregarding the rules, you can be ejected from the premises.
These issues make it difficult for men and boys to be showering together nude like in the old days. It’s too bad. Being naked together gives you a great feeling of male camaraderie. I don’t regret my youthful experiences at all. It made me comfortable in my skin. But unfortunately we will see less and less of this kind of male nakedness unless these issues are addressed and young men begin to experience the feeling of freedom that comes from being able to walk around confidently naked with other men.
July 17, 2020
I’m curious: Why are men so into “manscaping” right now? I remember going through puberty and getting pubes as a sign I’m becoming a man, and couldn’t wait to show it off at the YMCA like I belonged with the other men there.
Frank answers: I had to look up “manscaping.” Once I did the concept became immediately clear to me. It’s about trimming hair growth on the male body just as landscaping is about cutting grass and trimming bushes.
It’s necessary to cut hair because men are hairy beasts. Our facial hair in particular would keep on growing and we’d be tripping over our beards. How hair is cut has depended on cultural style. Back in ancient history Greek men, who engaged in philosophizing, allowed their head hair and beards to grow to moderate lengths. It was a sign that a boy was maturing into manhood when he could grow a beard. Roman men, who received military training to run a world empire, kept their hair short and their faces smooth, perhaps to prevent being grabbed by the hair in combat. Roman men invented daily shaving of beards. Did Greek and Roman men shave any other body hair? Figures on Greek urns and Greek and Roman statues portray men with manicured pubic hair and hairless torsos. Undoubtedly wrestlers shaved their bodies when oiling them. Greek athletes, who competed nude, may also have shaved body hair.
In our own modern Western history we see how hair styles have changed by looking at portrait paintings and old photos. Seventeenth century men wore long hair (cavalier style) with well-trimmed goatees and curly mustaches. Eighteenth century men wore wigs and were clean-shaven. Nineteenth century men let their own hair grow longer and had beards (which grew longer as the century progressed). During World War I soldiers’ hair was cut short and beards removed to keep out lice in the barracks and trenches. This remained a military style throughout the twentieth century. When I was a boy in the 1950s we all got crew cuts. By the late 1960s our hair was falling to our shoulders. In the early 1970s the Hippie scruffy style was “in.” In the conservative 1980s our hair was impeccably trimmed and we shaved our beards. In the 1990s beards began to come back. Since the 2000s men have shaved their heads but maintained well-trimmed beards.
What about body hair? In the 1980s men began to have body hair removed from their torsos by waxing and trimming their pubic hair. Hairy men like Esau became smooth men like Jacob (Genesis 25:25). This was not just a gay thing. Swimmers began shaving all body hair (arm pits, torsos, legs, even pubic when swimmers in competition began to wear bikinis) after Australian swimmers at the 1956 Summer Olympics competed completely shaven and won gold medals. It turned out that science as well as psychology was on their side. The smoother their bodies, and the less fabric to drag, the better their scores. Even high school boys developed a ritual of shaving all body hair, including their heads, at the start of swimming season. Whether or not they shaved all their pubic hair the older boys certainly shaved any trail on the abdomen leading down to that area.
You ask why are so many men are doing manscaping today, especially in the pubic area? Answers given include: it’s hygienic by preventing bacterial accumulation and yeast infections due to the pubes close proximity to evacuation areas. It gets rid of crotch stink by reducing sweating and body odors. It’s better for oral sex (for your partners, who don’t get a mouth full of pubic hair). It feels more sexy, and a man who feels sexy is a confident man. Young men (and maybe older men too who want to feel young) need some confidence in these insecure times.
The manscaping business is growing throughout the world in major metropolitan centers on all continents. You can get a professional shaving or waxing almost anywhere. Or just a trim. Pubic hair styles are available just as head hair styles are available. Many men are happy to have chest hair, belly hair, pit hair, a well-marked trail from the navel down, and pubic hair. But a bit of trimming might be in order once in a while. Combined with a regular workout, you too could have the torso of a Greek or Roman statue. Good luck on that!
Cuddling with your straight apartment mate
July 9, 2020
Dear Frank-Answers: We’re five months into the COVID-19 sheltering in place. My apartment mate and I have been careful to wear masks when out in public and maintain social distancing. We don’t have guests in our apartment. Most of the work we do for our employers is done online. This is a long time without human contact. Both of us have dated girls. We’re both straight. I can go into my bedroom and watch porn and jerk off. But I’m longing for an actual body to cuddle with. In my college fraternity we sometimes had a pile on when horsing around and slept together in the same bed when the house had guests. I’ve been wondering about whether my apartment mate would be interested in doing some cuddling. Do you think this is appropriate. Would it be too gay?
– Boy who wants to cuddle
Dear boy who wants to cuddle: One thing many of us have grown to understand during recent months is the value of touch for humans, as for other animals. Singles people are acutely aware of the lack of human touch, I’m sure.
When “straight” men are deprived of women, like in the military or in prison, they turn to one another. Ancient Celtic warriors preferred sleeping with each other even if they had wives. They would not have thought of themselves as homosexual in the modern clinical sense, or even bi-sexual. Even “sexuality” is a modern concept. The ancient Celts, along with Greeks and Romans and Vikings, were men who married women and but also mentored boys and bonded with their comrades, sometimes bedding down with them.
In that same part of the world where ancient Celtic culture flourished a British study released a year ago March in the journal Men and Masculinities reported that 98 percent of the heterosexual men interviewed had shared a bed with another guy, and 93 percent of them had cuddled or spooned with one. The study was conducted by two researchers at Winchester and Durham Universities, sociologists Eric Anderson and Mark McCormick, who questioned 40 university athletes and reported that “in addition to cuddling, participants also engage in ‘spooning’ with their heterosexual male friends.”
Now this kind of research has its flaws. First, the sample is pretty narrow. It was self-selected among young university athletes who volunteered. Athletes are used to being around other male bodies, even being naked in locker rooms and showers, huddling and hugging one another on the sports field. Secondly, the participants self-reported so the researchers had to take their word for it. How much this reflects the general population of young men is hard to say. But it does suggest that a lot of young men, probably here in North America as well as well as in the British Isles, have occasionally hugged, cuddled, and even slept with another male.
This suggests that cuddling is not necessarily a gay thing, although gay men undoubtedly engage in it a lot. The emergence of “cuddle clubs” in the last several years that include both heterosexual and homosexual middle age men indicates that men need cuddling, just as women do. But even through male cuddling is a same-sex activity, what difference does it make? Why should gay men have all the benefits of intimate male bonding? Cuddling with a man isn’t going to make you gay if you don’t identify as gay and aren’t exclusively same-sex in your orientation.
But you don’t know if your roommate is an comfortable with cuddling another guy as you seem to be. Many men have a deep-seated homophobia and resist any kind of male intimacy. You will have to approach the subject delicately. You might tell your apartment mate: “I’m feeling a need to hold a real live human body. Have you ever cuddled a guy?” That allows him to share any experiences he might have had. Tell him about your experiences with your fraternity brothers. Discuss whether either of you have had any experience of hugging or cuddling with another boy. Maybe a brother or a best friend. Did you ever sleep with a buddy? Did you sleep naked with a brother or male friend? Many of us had these kinds of experiences when we were boys. It wasn’t a sexual thing. It was just the human need for touch and bonding. If he hasn’t had any experiences like this, ask him if he would like to experiment. Nothing sexual, not being together bodily for human touch. If he doesn’t think he could do that, you’ll have to let it go. But if he’s willing to try, start small. Sit together on the sofa or lay side by side on the bed. If you both like it, spooning might be the next step. Even being bed partners for the night.
By the way, the researchers in the British study asked the men who slept with another man about waking up with a morning erection. The British lads said they just joked about it. That’s a pretty straight way of handling such a situation. In case it is a concern, just remind your roommate that nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT), as nocturnal erections are called in medical circles, is not a result of sexual arousal or having a dream relating to sex. It’s a natural occurrence as the body renews itself during sleep, including the reproductive system, and there’s no point in hiding it. The morning woodie is simply the last of a whole series of nocturnal erections that occurs as you are waking up. Good luck, best wishes, and may this coronavirus soon abate.
Suffering from a low libido
July 7, 2020
I’m a healthy young man who is spending a lot of time at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve been married a few years and my wife is still going to her job in a health-related field. She’s careful to wear a mask and maintain social-distancing. Fortunately she doesn’t deal directly with patients. I get out of our apartment to ride my bike or walk or go to a grocery store. Otherwise I spend a lot of time at home looking for things to do. There’s only so much time I can do chores or watch TV or read or be on the computer. You’d think that one of the things we could do is have a lot of sex, but it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t seem that either of us are interested. I have to confess that I’m not so interested either, so I don’t push it. But it does worry me. I’m not sure what to do about it. I came across your blog and Frank Answers Briefly About Male Body Issues. I liked your “frank answers” and thought I’d ask if you have any suggestions about a low sex drive.
Frank answers: I think your situation is not uncommon these days when normal life is at a standstill. But your “symptoms” are not only related to the pandemic situation.
First of all, men seem to think that they need to be having sex constantly or they’re not being “manly.” The reality is that our sex drive varies from one man to another and even within our own lives over time. It’s not uncommon to have a lot of sex when you first get married and then experience it tapering off as you settle into your routines of jobs and parental responsibilities.
The technical name for what you’re experiencing is “low libido.” There are many conditions that cause this. You are already describing some. Your wife is being productive out in the world and you’re not (hopefully just temporarily). That also affects your sense of self-worth as a man. Men tend to define themselves by their work. Losing a job or just being temporarily sidelined can produce depression. Depression takes a toll on our sex drive. (I experienced this when I lost a job in my late thirties. Fortunately my sex drive came back after we settled into our new situation.)
By the way, if you have been diagnosed with depression and are taking anti-depressant drugs, that medication can also contribute to the loss of libido. Check with your prescribing doctor. Viagra isn’t always the answer to a low sex-drive because it’s not an aphrodisiac. It can get blood flowing to your penis but it can’t give you passion.
Add to this the fact that we are all going through pandemic anxiety. It seemed important for you to note that your wife wears a mask and maintains safe social distancing and doesn’t interact with patients (some of whom probably have COVID-19). Then she comes home from that environment. The threat of contagion and infection comes into your domestic situation.
The constant need to be careful (like washing hands and cleaning surfaces) to avoid being infected by the coronavirus can be stressful. This too has sexual consequences. Stress triggers the production of cortisol, a hormone that functions like the body’s built-in alarm system. Cortisol causes the constriction of blood vessels, contributing to erectile dysfunction. If blood can’t flow freely into your penis it will inhibit your ability to maintain an erection to have and enjoy sex, which for a man is also anxiety-producing (we worry about our performance in bed).
Cortisol can also cause a precipitous drop in testosterone. Loss of testosterone leads to hypogonadism and that indeed causes a low libido. Normally hypogonadism is associated with aging. It can also be the result of a chronic illness like cancer. But you say that you are “a healthy young man.” You can find out whether your testosterone level is low with a simple blood test and your doctor can provide topical medication to apply to your skin. (I had this condition after chemotherapy for cancer). Or your doctor can prescribe internal medication, but any medication has side effects.
Stress is also linked to insomnia and other sleep abnormalities, which can increase the feeling of fatigue and leave you less interested in sex. How are you sleeping at night? Are there issues you are worried about that keep you awake? Is concern about your sex life actually one of those worries?
All this suggests that loss of a sex drive is seldom attributable to one cause. It’s usually a combination of factors. At the moment you indicate that neither you nor your wife is interested in sex. She could be suffering from some of the same conditions you are experiencing since being out in the world and on her job during a pandemic must certainly be stressful for her.
In the meantime, the loss of sexual desire is not the same thing as the loss of a desire for intimacy. You need each for more than sex. Even amid the anxieties of this pandemic, yo should make every effort to connect emotionally and physically. Hug and kiss. Talk and touch. By doing these things, you can forge a closer bond and may even end up strengthening your relationship. And who knows what it might lead to in bed some night. Good luck.
Is it morally okay for a single gay Christian to use sex toys?
June 15, 2020
I’ve enjoyed your blog and had a question so I thought, why not? I’ll get right to it:
Question: I am a single gay Christian man, a young adult, and am wondering what you think about using sex toys for masturbation. Part of me feels intrigued and curious about using them but another part of me feels that they are unnatural, hedonistic and indulgent. Will they be addictive and make me incapable of or less desirous of a relationship with another man or are they more harmless than I think? I am unsure how to determine whether their use is something morally/theologically sound and whether my desire for exploration in this area is something good or errs more on the side of sin.
I find it difficult to cultivate a God-honoring relationship with my sexuality when there are many loud and, in my opinion, extreme voices in the secular world and at times in the theological academy on matters of human sexuality. I am suspicious of progressive Christianity’s overly positive view of sex but also reject the Catholic Church’s rigid and harmful teachings on it (e.g. homosexuality, sex only for procreation). My uncertainty on a question like this stems from the above tension.
Thanks for reading.
Frank answers: First of all, I would say that Christianity in general should have a positive view of sex because it is part of God’s creation, which God pronounced very good. But many of our attitudes about sexual practices are socially normed and culturally conditioned, and Christians have bought into these views thinking that they are biblical. Masturbation is one of those issues. The Bible says nothing about it. “Onanism,” as it has been called, is attributed to Onan in the Book of Genesis who spilled his seed instead of impregnating his deceased brother’s wife to produce an heir for his brother according to Levirite law. He was stoned to death for it. But that’s not masturbation, it’s coitus interruptus. Nineteenth century science tried mightily to suppress childhood masturbation and attributed to it such conditions as obsessive-compulsive behavior, nearsightedness, and pimples. So much for science. Now, of course, we’re taught that it’s completely natural and a safe sexual release.
Protestantism has had a more positive view of sex than Catholicism because of its protest against enforced celibacy and emphasis on marriage and family as Christian callings. Did you know that there are Christian sex toy stores owned by evangelical Christians or that evangelical women have Christian sex toy parties? These people are not “progressive Christians,” especially when it comes to abortion or homosexuality. But Evangelicals are into promoting satisfying Christian marriages and they apparently think that sex can be enhanced with the use of sex toys. Women especially are very interested in using dildos, vibrators, rubber penises and other sex enhancement equipment. I know gay men use sex toys too, although I don’t know about straight men. Since the claim is that these devices enhance actual sex, I guess the test is if the sex is better after using them. I suppose the same could be said of masturbating with the aid of a sex toy. Is it a more powerful sensation?
I’ve never used a sex toy and don’t really have a desire to do so. The sex I’ve enjoyed has been with my wife for 40-some years. But I admit that I did my share of masturbating before I got married, and occasionally within marriage. (Married couples might engage in mutual masturbation during pregnancy and the post-partem period).
What I’ve learned about sex is that it is physical, emotional, and spiritual. Our sexual desire is a biological urge (certainly useful for procreation). It is a way of expressing intimacy with someone you love. And in the act of orgasm there is a kind of mystical union in which you lose control of yourself and become one with the other. Can some of these same attributes apply to masturbation? I think they can.
Masturbation is self-pleasuring. So one might think that using a sex toy is just an extension of that. But I wouldn’t use a device while making love with someone else. So why would I use one when making love to myself? I wouldn’t put using a device in the category of a sin. But I would say that it can’t compare with the real experience.
Using a device could be like using porn. You are focusing on the toy or the image on the screen and therefore diverting attention from your body. How much better it is to build up to orgasm by focusing exclusively on your body, touching and rubbing it all over, pleasuring yourself the way you might want someone else to pleasure you. The body has plenty of erogenous zones, not only in the genitals. Become intimate with yourself. Love your body, You might even want to anoint your body with oil, including your genitals. Rub it in. As you rub your hands all over your body, twist and turn and arch your back as you do so. Build up to ejaculation slowly so that when it comes you feel it all over your body and lose yourself in the sensations that take over your body. Then just lay there allowing your body to absorb the powerful experience you have had—and give thanks to the Lord who created you with your marvelous gift of sexuality.
Erection on Massage Table
May 29, 2020
Question: I’m a gay college student. I read your blog post about massage and I think I’d like to get one when that’s possible (wasn’t available 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. 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 (which also flows to your penis) and when you’re lying face down your penis rubs against the massage table.
Quite frankly, 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 them before and are used to dealing with them (mostly by ignoring them).
Anyway, why should a guy be worried about getting an erection. It’s a sign that things are healthy done there. You’re 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 if it happens it will add to the release of all the tension in your body. On the other hand, if none of this happens (which is likely), you can still enjoy the massage.
Speaking man to man, as one who has had a lot of experience with massage — experiencing different modalities in different countries — , you should find a male massage therapist, even a gay massage therapist. They know and love the male body. They know what they like and will give it to their clients. Male massage therapists have added strength. You don’t want just a rub down for relaxation. You want someone who does deep tissue and trigger point release. Go for it.
P. S. St. Augustine’s Erection
I can’t resist adding this story from The Confessions of Saint Augustine. This North African who later became the bishop of Hippo and one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church, went to the public baths with his father when he was sixteen. These facilities, built throughout the vast Roman Empire, combined a gymnasium for exercise, pools of various temperature for bathing, and massage with perfumed oil, and the day was spent being nude. You removed your clothes when you arrived and put on clean clothes when you departed. Augustine wrote in this autobiographical work (actually addressed to God): “The brambles of lust grew high above my head and there was no one to root them out, certainly not my father. One day at the public baths he saw the signs of active virility coming to life in me and this was enough to make him relish the thought of having grandchildren. He was happy to tell my mother about it…” (Book II, 3).
Young Augustine admits that his hormones were raging (“the brambles of lust grew high above my head’) and that his father associated what Augustine called “signs of active virility coming to life in me” with procreation. Young Augustine was clearly having an erection in the public baths. His father saw it and happily reported it to his mother. And the future saint wrote about it to tell God and everyone who has read his book over the last 16 centuries. Having an erection in front of your massage therapist in private? Nothing to be ashamed of.
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’s. 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 fantasized about a man at my gym who is probably about sixty the last time I jerked off. 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, passing on the skills and wisdom young men needed to play a mature role in their society. Male mentoring processes included sexual initiation and social education. In ancient Greece and in the Celtic culture, among others, mentors provided youth with sexual experiences as well as with hunting, warrior, political, social, and religious skills. It was expected in these societies 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.
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. And young men have their vitality to offer older men.
Of course, as Western society became more Christian 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.
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. Your priest and soccer coach would not want to be charged with sexual abuse of minors. 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). It is a practice not available to us in our society and culture.
Do you wonder whether you’re gay because you’re attracted to men, even though older men? Your masturbation fantasy wasn’t a woman you previously had sex with but a mature male you met at your gym. Are your sexual attractions and fantasies exclusively same-sex with older men? What do you feel toward the women you dated and had sex with?
You’ll have to discern in yourself where your attractions and desires lie. 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, and maybe for more than the sex. Right now your sexuality seems confused. It will take having more life experiences to sort it out.
May 22, 2020
Question: You mention in your article on nakedness and modesty your boyhood experience of sleeping naked and that you’ve continued to do it. 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 your body cooler. A study conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that keeping yourself cool while you sleep speeds the body’s metabolism by producing brown fat that burns calories. You can actually lose a bit of weight by sleeping naked.
The body’s self-repair mechanism during sleep works more effectively in a cooler environment. If you’re getting too cold during the night, just add a blanket rather than putting on pajamas. And don’t sleep in your briefs. Your penis and scrotum get no airing out that way. Tighty whities and Calvin Kleins constrict circulation and your balls can get twisted up in loose boxers. The skin breathes better and cardiovascular circulation is increased without the constrictions of bed clothing or underwear.
You may notice more erections during the night or in the morning when you’re waking up because without the constriction of pjs or underwear your penis has more space in which to expand. We usually have several erections during the night. The “morning woodie” is just the last of them before you wake up. Erections are a sign that the nerves and blood supply to the penis are healthy. The body is renewing the reproductive organs.
I take it that you’ve been married for a while and haven’t slept nude 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 doesn’t feel comfortable doing that, it should be okay with you. You sleep naked and let your partner wear pajamas or a nightie. If the two of you are moved to have sex in bed during the night, removing your partner’s pjs can add to the eroticism of the moment. You might both fall asleep after sex and then both of you are cuddling naked.
In any event, spouses 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: You didn’t say what the family situation is so I can only answer with several scenarios. 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. Probably most parents have had the experience of beginning a romantic session when suddenly the bedroom door opens and a little person is standing there with some complaint or request. The more difficult situation is when an older child, like a teen, bursts in, sees what’s going on, and is totally embarrassed by it. This may require some conversation with the teen at a later time.
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. It might call for quiet sex using a different position. For example, if the bed is squeaky, try having sex on the floor using some well placed pillows.
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—not with the teachers of that mentality sleeping in the next room. This is an issue the couple will have to come to terms with, maybe with the realization that they wouldn’t be in bed wondering about having sex if their parents had not done the same thing to bring them into the world.
Could an unmarried couple bring a partner home 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 tense 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 need to give adult children some leeway on this.
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. Embodiment has to do with taking into your body the experiences of life, social norms, cultural expressions, etc. These can be positive or negative.
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. He did not have a negative view of the body (soma) but of what flesh (sarx) desires that makes our bodies “a body of death” (Romans 7:25) from which Christ delivers us in the resurrection of the body.
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. For a discussion of Victorian prudery see Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction (New York: Vintage Books, 1990). For a study on ancient Christian attitudes toward sex see 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 as superior Christian callings.
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 Bessel 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 who can help you become more attuned to what you have embodied from your life experiences.
I would suggest that you practice a positive 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. Perhaps get naked in nature, meditate and feel yourself being at one with the natural world. 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.