Author: Kaira van Wijk for Self Studies
Men naturally just want more sex than women – not quite, argues therapist Matthijs Kruk whose program Mind Your Sex, book and podcast Lust als Last (when lust becomes a burden) gives you a whole new refreshing perspective. His decade-long experience and research shows that we can keep ourselves caged by these kinds of outdated ideas around sexuality and the sexes. We talk about sex and power, the influence of dating apps on our relationships, why the younger generation (teens, early twenty-somethings) are having less sex, how to get porn right and why it’s about time we get more sex-positive. ‘It should be just as much a daily topic of conversation as our overall health.’
True or false, men find sex more important than women?
‘I find it’s more of a myth that men desire sex more. There are some biological differences, but that has more to do with social constructs around gender than actual contrasts between how men and women perceive sex. I’m committed to equalize those stereotypes. Men think about sex, women think about sex, and then there are many individuals within these groups. Individuals with a dissimilar sexual background, a safe, avoidant, or anxious attachment style, a specific position in the family they grew up in, not to mention personal fascinations, preferences, tastes. Those are more culturally influenced than affected by which chromosomes a person is born with.’
Yet you work (mostly) with men?
‘There are more men than women who seek professional help for “sex addiction” (a term I don’t like to use, but we’ll get to that later). I think this is because of the “double sexual standard” so women might have issues too but they’re too afraid to out themselves. Roughly speaking, I do think there are slightly more men with a so-called sex addiction, but it’s not like women are averse to these effects. Men also grow out to be “men” because of said social constructs. In The Netherlands there’s just been a huge #MeToo-scandal and what I’m hearing is: boys will be boys. That’s terribly conservative in my opinion. Because of this way of thinking people who identify as men will keep up this type of behaviour. This is something I want to help undo.’
When does “too much sex” get problematic?
‘When there’s this massive focus on sex that distracts you from thinking of much else that matters and if you have issues getting intimate with a real-life person. This distorted sexual behavior can be “passive”: no one else is involved, it could be about porn for instance. Or it can be “active”: compulsively having affairs, webcam sex and so on.’
You don’t like the phrasing “sex addiction”. Why?
‘The word “addiction” is very stigmatising. It takes away all the power, makes a person feel helpless. Step one is to recognise there’s a problem or someone will not be inclined to change it. I want to make that process easier, and that starts with changing the terminology.
Then I also think “sex addiction” is often misused to condone certain behaviour. For instance, with men like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Tiger Woods. One has had many affairs, the other sexually abused minors and in another case, there was human trafficking involved. The label “sex addiction” almost makes it seem like it’s out of their control, as if they’re a slave to their own lust. Pardon my French, but I think that’s just bs. You are responsible for your own behaviour, and you have to keep your boundaries in check to not cross those of others.’
Oscar Wilde said: ‘Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.’ Is that so for both men and women?
‘In my research I haven’t found a woman who abused her position of power to coerce someone to have sex with her. Though women in high places, like Angela Merkel, unfortunately are still rare. That aside, something interesting happens in the brain of people who gain power. Oftentimes sex for them isn’t really about sex, but about wielding their power and confirming their top-dog position. Power works addictive in the brain. It’s been scientifically proven that men become less empathetic and more ego-driven the more powerful they become.’
You talk about sex-positivity. Why is this important?
‘The paradigm around sex is still rather negative. Think of #MeToo, sexually transgressive behaviour, social media that makes people more anxious and self-aware, STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases) that we’re being warned of from a young age. I think it’s important to shed a more positive light on sex, in society and in the media. I would like more social workers to ask about a patient’s sex life. We talk a lot about work and health, but way less about sleep and sex – especially sex. When we’re busy and stressed sex is usually the first to go out the window, even though it might help us feel better and bond with our loved one. It’s an inseparable part of our existence. Let’s not forget sex is also fun! When done in a healthy way, it’s an incredibly relaxing, mood boosting experience that allows for deep, intimate connections.’
What impact do dating apps have on our sex life?
‘At the heart of this lies: intimacy, and a lack thereof. Little side note, in the US they more commonly speak of “sex and love addiction”, which I think is more fitting. I think there’s a growing desire for intimacy and attention. You see, as humans we want to be seen. Because of social media there’s a bigger chance to be seen, but most people are getting less visible. They must go through great lengths to still be seen – and that can turn into an addiction. When we think of the uprise of sex and love addiction (since I switched to sex therapy a decade ago), we can’t ignore the impact of technology. If you’re feeling disconnected or disengaged this can be a very lonely mental state, and then dating apps (or porn for that matter) are easy escapes to overwrite those uncomfortable sensations quickly. Dating apps hold this this promise of being able to connect us with others. In reality, it leaves us with so many options that the connection is often only short (and superficially) lived.’
I heard on a podcast that because of dating apps young people are actually having less sex than the generations before them?
‘I don’t have the data here in front of me, but that’s probably true. The online world is starting to take up way more space and this results in the offline world, our reality, becoming smaller. That does something to a person’s mental development, especially if you grow up with the internet like teenagers today. It means you have an image to protect. Gen Z also doesn’t develop social skills that naturally because they’re living in a digital world. When they finally engage with a person in the real world, they are less confident and the step to having sex, to be vulnerable and intimate, becomes ginormous. When I was younger (I’m in my early forties) the average age of people having sex was around 17,1 years. We thought this number would only decrease, but now the average is 18,6. So that number went up significantly.’
Is it possible to watch porn in a healthy way?
‘Unfortunately, the lion’s share of the porn industry is extremely exploitative. I view it through the lens of “eating meat” in a world engulfed in a climate crisis. If you do want to eat meat, then consider carefully when and what you eat. I wouldn’t ever want to forbid porn; it can be pleasurable and good for you when done in the right way. Just think of porn with a female gaze, like the erotic films Swedish director Erika Lust makes. The porn at, say, Pornhub is extremely addictive because they show these overpowering, in-your-face images in rapid speed. That speed, the tech behind it, is what makes it so addictive, and thus problematic. So, I would like to call for “slow porn”, which would make it easier to enjoy without getting completely lost in it.’
How can a disturbed relationship with sex affect one’s love life?
‘In many ways. It zaps away your presence and energy from what really matters. For example, if you want to be a caring, loving father but you’re so caught up in your sexual fantasies that you’re never fully present. This eats away at someone’s self-esteem. It can also result in physical ailments. I for example see many young men in their early twenties with erection problems. This seems surprising, until you find they have been watching porn since they were twelve. When they’re finally with another girl or boy, which is a totally different dynamic, they can’t get a hard-on anymore. Since they have become dependent on only getting erected when watching porn. That’s a detrimental effect.
To solve a disturbed relationship with sex, I think it’s important to ask for professional help. I’m a proponent of the mainstream healthcare that’s usually provided. Yet in my practice, I like to add an extra step which I think is crucial. This is to reach a stage of existentialism. Meaning, to find purpose in your existence and to take responsibility for it. Because if you don’t you will eventually always fall back on things like porn and harmful sexual escapades to escape yourself.’