When there are more men than women at a workshop, could we celebrate this and stop seeing it as a problem or a thing that needs to be managed?
It’s true that when men outnumber women this can create particular difficulties because of gender conventions. Many men are uneasy about intimate connection with other men, and are hanging out for intimacy of various sorts with women. So some men won’t take part in exercises with another man, or feel they haven’t gotten value from a workshop overall if there’s “not enough women”.
And some women are uneasy with too much male energy all together. So they may struggle to be really present, or maybe just won’t attend in the first place if they suspect there’s a majority of men.
These things really do happen, and I’m not dismissing them.
And we can also take another view.
It is awesome, and wonderful, that so many of us men these days are wanting to move away from the exploitive bits of the sex industry, and away from familiar dissatisfying patterns in sexual relating, and moving towards conscious sexuality in all its forms. And when we make this move towards conscious intimacy we face a particular set of issues from our socialisation into standard masculinity. One is our training that other men are dangerous and not safe to be intimate with. Another is that only women can meet our intimacy needs.
Many of us have deep desperations around intimacy and around touch. It’s still rare for men to feel deeply heard. It’s rare that men get enough affectionate touch in our lives. And because of our training it’s even more rare that we receive these gifts from other men.
Most of us are also deeply desperate around sex. We all know the story that men’s sexuality is “icky”: “slugs and snails and puppy dog’s tails”. It often seems to us that women “own” sexuality, they have the valid sexuality, the valuable sexuality, the juicy sexuality – and they’ve got a whole heap of other goodies to go with it.
With all this stuff running – in us and in society, it’s totally understandable that when we want to learn more about sex, and about our own sexuality, we immediately think of women. But in many ways this automatic linking of ‘intimacy’ with ‘women’ just continues core parts of the standard masculinity conditioning. Sure, most of us are heterosexual, so we get turned on by women and not by men. But there’s an incredibly valuable thing from connecting intimately with men: men can validate us in ways that women can’t. And bringing our sexuality present in the company of other men can teach us to own our own sexuality in a totally new way, because we don’t get that external bounce off a woman’s sexuality.
Many women in the last 40 years have learned the deep richness of exploring their own sexuality in company with other women. From these events have arisen the powerful ways in which women can now collectively validate and celebrate their vaginas, their menstruation, their orgasms, their fantasy life, their own individual sexual expression, and to celebrate collective female sexual energy at large.
There’s a huge opportunity for men to come together and learn to connect intimately with other men, to celebrate our own individual sexuality, and to celebrate collective male sexual energy. Conscious sexuality workshops offer an already-existing venue for us to do this. We can see “more men than women” as a chance to explore connecting with other men, to see what that’s like, to see what it brings up and what it allows.
We can see it also as a chance, for the workshop duration, to form “men’s community” – a space in which men share with other men our experiences of gender and what it’s like to face the ‘male’ thing. All this can go on within the existing structure of a workshop. All we need to do is hold an awareness that, when we are sharing or working together, part of our own personal process is also shared by the other men in the room because of that gender thing.
Workshop leaders can play a very constructive role here. First, the involvement of so many men is an opportunity to affirm the men present, and to appreciate the large-scale change among men that motivates them to be present. Second, at the workshop opening, acknowledge the presence of a majority of men, frame this as an opportunity for the men, and affirm that men can learn much about intimacy and sexuality through working with other men. It’s very valuable to give men language to describe their current situation, and to give men permission to be with their fears and explore them. You can help enormously through this framing of your workshop.
Third, when setting up pair-work processes, validate and allow space for men’s fears about intimacy with other men, and support the men to be present to those fears and work with them as an important and integral part of the process. Fourth, in sharings, be alert to when men share about changes in their edges around connecting with other men, and affirm this is valuable work since it helps change the norms of masculinity for all the men there.
For a whole heap of reasons it’s pretty hard at the moment to celebrate men around intimacy and sexuality. Please, conscious sexuality community, let’s see if we can turn this around.