Ladies: If there's ever been anything about men you've wanted to know but were afraid to ask, or wanted a male viewpoint on a certain relationship niggle you're going through, drop an email to us at todger dot talk at googlemail dot com. Every week, we shall pick one out and answer it to the best of our capabilities.
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This week's question...
Anon and On Writes: have a problem that you and your readers could hopefully help me with. It is regarding why you men react the way they do when confronted with something just a little bit delicate/negative/serious.
The thing is, I was abused by an adult for a number of years in my early teens. It is not something that I feel affects me too much now, and I am sure I have dealt with it well (although there are a tiny number of things I am not comfortable with sexually - for example I cannot dress up in certain sexy outfits, which I am fine with). As you can imagine, it is not something I readily divulge to any passing stranger, but if I am in a relationship I feel could go somewhere I have told the person I am dating about it - both as explanation of my slight sexual inhibitions and because I feel that if I don’t I am lying by omission. I’m not telling them to invoke pity or even understanding; it’s just that I think I should.
The problem is this, all four of the men I have told have either demanded to know the name and address of my abuser so they can avenge me and then act like a hero, or have shrunk away from me, refusing to have sex, treating me like a child. I understand that it cannot be an easy thing to hear, but why confront it with either masculine stupidity or plain fear? I guess what I want to know is how to broach the subject without provoking the need to 'avenge' or 'protect' me - Or should I say nothing at all? I’ve been with my current boyfriend for six months without telling him and I really like him. I don’t want to ruin it by doing the wrong thing. Please help!
Sam says: Basically, as you have discovered, being confronted with a woman who has been sexually abused brings up some pretty basic and raw emotions in men, when we struggle with our emotions at the best of times.
This kind of binary response does make a strange sort of sense. The more macho men are clearly going for the revenge option; making it clear that they will protect you, a very basic instinct for a man, since for millions of years he played the role of the hunter and sometimes the warrior. It’s pretty much genetically programmed into us to want to bash someone who threatens our mate, even it if was from the past.
On the other end of the scale, you have the more sensitive man, who has a bit more control over the aggressive-monkey part of his personality. What he fears is that he is that if he treats you wrong, he is going to turn into some sort of sexual abuser himself. It’s a bit like discovering someone is blind; you want to immediately massively overcompensate by stopping them getting run over when they are crossing the road, when they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves. You invariably become ridiculously patronising and massively over-compensate.
Everyone keeps secrets to various degrees. Do you tell your partner that your last boyfriend’s penis was actually larger than theirs? No, there are certain things you keep quiet about because it would be just too much of a minefield.
I suggest this – despite being a far more serious thing, obviously - is a similar case. Clearly most men just really can’t handle it, so since it doesn’t really seem to actually affect your current life that much, let sleeping dogs lie. Dredging up the bad stuff in the past generally just makes everyone unhappy. The past is over. All we have is now and the future to look forward to.
‘Mr Sex’ says: For the first time ever, I’m disagreeing with Sam. Talking about deciding to put the lid on past traumas or not is a moot point, as far as I can see; things like this tend to come out one way or another, either by accident or design, through having The Talk or it all pouring out one night after too many shandies. Even sleeping dogs wake up, have a bit of a stretch, and then bite you on the arse.
Sam’s dead right when he talks about the standard male reactions to something like this; both of them are reflex-actions, and both of them, although well-meaning, are not conducive to a decent relationship. Yes, the revenge reaction is natural; if someone ever did that to any friend of mine, let alone someone I was in a relationship with, I’d want to pull a Bronson on their arse. Shit, I wanted to kill everyone who my first girlfriend had been with, regardless of the fact that she consented with them. The problem with that is every hero needs a victim, and it’s obvious that you have absolutely no intention of playing that role.
The sensitive reaction is similarly well-meaning but ultimately defeatist. You can try to understand, but, unless you’ve gone through something similar (because it’s not a gender-specific trauma), you don’t, really. An ex of mine told me early on in the relationship that she had been raped, and although she had overcome it, I started treating her with kid gloves, thinking “well, I’d better not be too spontaneous, or dominating, then”.
(The upside of all this is that as men get older, they become more accepting of their partner’s pasts, whether that involves a ridiculously active sex life, kids with other people, or personal traumas. It will get better, trust me)
So, I think that if you’re really into this bloke, and he feels likewise, you should have The Talk with him, but in your own time and on your own terms – and only you will know when that is. For one, you’ve already demonstrated to him that you’re capable of an active sex life and you’ve already pointed out to him what you like to do. For two, because if you don’t and it eventually comes out, it’s going to do his head in even more than it would if he told him, because even the most sympathetic, understanding man will still have a nagging feeling in his brain that will scream “But why didn’t she tell me in the first place?”.
If the relationship cools because you didn’t want to carry a monkey the size of a wardrobe on your back for the duration of your relationship, well, he wasn’t right for you in the first place. And there are plenty of men out there who are.
Men of Todger Talk: advice, please…