Screenshot from American Pie

The Idealization of Young Horny Men

Something that sucks about being someone’s fantasy is that you’re destined to disappoint. And no one builds themselves up for disappointment like a young, horny man.

Our cultural portrayal of young men is interesting, because we objectify them to be — essentially — perfect pleasure receivers. We assume they are so ugly, so inexperienced, and so gross that they’re unable of giving anyone else pleasure, and that they’re so horny and undersexed that even the lightest of sexual touches will send them off into a world of inarticulable delights.

But, I’ve been there and done that (done them) and the reality is a lot more nuanced. As it always is.

Want to know something I’m super chill about now? Men losing erections. Want to know why I’m chill about it? Because when I was a teenager, fooling around with teenagers, I dealt with a lot of guys losing erections. How, you may ask, can a teenager loose his erection? In my experience, quite easily.

Something that young men often overlook in their fantasies about sex is how the presence of another will effect their sexual encounters. Young men may be really horny, but they’re also really self conscious. When they’re with a woman, in person, and she’s like looking at them, it totally freaks them out. Sometimes so much that they lose their erection. And, if it’s a teenage girl (as it often is) she probably doesn’t handle it well. When I was younger, I’d take men losing their erections to be a reflection that I was ugly, and would basically make the whole situation worse by going “Oh my god, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you hard? IS YOUR DICK BROKEN? ARE YOU NOT ATTRACTED TO ME? WHAT IS HAPPENING? JUSTIFY YOUR LACK OF ERECTION IMMEDIATELY!”

So… yeah. Even when I was a teenager, sometimes guys couldn’t get it up. But, this isn’t really a problem we associate with teenage guys, and that absolutely makes the situation worse. Teenage guys having “performance issues” probably think they’re hella fucked to be having performance issues so young. And, if they’re straight, the women they’re having performance issues with probably encourage this line of reasoning, because the other culturally available interpretation is that the woman is too ugly to get the guy hard. (Conversely, men with performance issues sometimes blame their partners for being too ugly so they don’t have to believe there’s something wrong with them.)

But men — even young horny men — lose their erections sometimes. It’s just a thing that happens. And, no one likes to talk about it, because no one wants to own up to it happening to them. But, unless my naked body is grotesque in some way I have failed to understand, I think it’s actually fairly common. However. Our lack of cultural honesty around these things leads to an unrealistic idealization of young men and pleasure.

Several of my male friends have expressed some version of “I wish I had sex/had more sex as a teenager.” One male friend, in particular, has lamented several times that he never sex as a teenager, which is actually sort of offensive because I took his virginity when he was 18. I’ve brought this up, and he’s been like you don’t count. What he said he means was, he wished he had sex when he was 16, and suuuuupa horny in high school. As I’ve teased this out, it basically comes down to the fact that his 16 year old self was WAY hornier than his 18 year old self, and he wishes he’d been able to have sex when he was really, really horny.

However, unless men experience some huge sexual crisis at 17, his 18 year old self was probably just as capable of being horny as his 16 year old self. What changed was… his 18 year old self was getting laid, and his 16 year old self wasn’t. Or, to phrase it another way, he got laid his freshman year in college and hadn’t spent 4 years lusting after the women he was surrounded by. He just met up with me, and I was all “let’s have sex!”

AND YET — even if he had had sex with those women he’d been lusting after, I suspect it may not have lived up to his expectations. A few times in my life, I’ve hooked up with guys who’d had crushes on me for years and whenever that happens it’s not substantially different from any other hookup. Except, maybe the forever-crush men I’m with are more disappointed with the mundanity of it all. Another friend of mine had sex with this girl he’d been lusting after for years, and I asked him about it, and he said “It was good! But it was kind of… normal. She was a little awkward.”

Like… yes. When a woman exists only in your head, she is a magical sex goddess, and when she exists on your dick sometimes she queefs.

However, even more disturbing to me than the idealization of potential experiences is the idealization of past experiences.

A handful of times, men I’ve had sex with years ago have been like “remember the sex we used to have? It was ah-may-zing,” and I’ve been like “I was there, it seemed fairly ordinary, perhaps even sub-par.” And, ok, one explanation is that it was amazing for him and sub-bar for me, but I also remember my partner’s reactions. I remember the lost erections, and the sex that didn’t end in either of us coming. I remember his reaction to our sex, and at the time, it seemed like pretty average sex.

As it turns out, human memory is pretty bad. False memories are a common thing. One study demonstrated that you can create a false memory in a person by showing them doctored photos of events they were in. In this study, if you showed people fake photos of themselves going in a hot air balloon ride, they’d start actually remembering that they’d been in the ride (this is a phenomenon known as memory implantation.)

So, why might some guy I fucked years ago remember us as having stellar sex when I thought it was pretty average? Because he jacked off about it a bunch of times.

I remember once, I forget from where, someone describing how every time we reminisce on our pleasant memories, it’s like we’re frying them a little bit. Eventually, all our “best” memories have become so refried all that’s left is a charred husk of the original memory. Every time some guy jacks off about something I did with him, he probably modifies the memory slightly. He forgets about the queefs and the lost erections, maybe makes my boobs a little bigger, or my orgasm a little louder. Then he’s left with this super hawt memory of this thing he basically didn’t do with a person who basically isn’t me. Effectively, he’s implanted a memory in his own mind.

If you do this, and if you’re not aware of your tendency to do this, your present will always fail to live up to your past. Part of the reason teenage sex is so “good” is that we’re not remembering the actual sex. We’re remembering the refried version of it. We’re remembering things that probably didn’t really happen. Even worse, if you’re someone who has the tendency to compare your present with your past, your present will always be tainted by disappointment. Your initial sexual experiences had the benefit of having no refried memories to compete with. Often people, especially ones with strong fetishes, seem focused on recreating a particular sexual experience. However, all recreations will fail to live up to the original, because the original had no other memory to compete with. It was not subject to the disappointment of comparison. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do the things you like over and over; it’s just to say, as much as possible, you should hold each experience (even one that is similar to many others) as its own without comparing it.

The common theme between idealizing sex in the future (say, by obsessing about someone) or idealizing sex in the past is that it devalues the present. The time for “ultimate pleasure” is never now. It is always something you hope to do, or remember doing. I think, that for all our supposed “hedonism,” most of us are actually terrified of pleasure. We want to be the type of person who has experienced spectacular things, but the moment of actually experiencing them is scary. So, we doctor up some of our past memories to be spectacular, or imagine the time when we will experience such an amazing thing.

It reminds me of how I used to meditate. When I meditated, some part of me was always focused on some imaginary future. When I am enlightened, then I will experience true bliss. I think, perhaps, some of my motivation for starting meditating and desire for enlightenment was based off this belief that everyone else’s experience of the world was better than mine. I was quite depressed when I first started, always in my head, always analyzing and comparing. But, I felt like if I worked hard enough, I could earn the type of life enjoyment that seemed to come so effortlessly to everyone else.

But that imagined enlightenment, it was always in the future. I had some fictionalized feeling I was constantly craving. One day, I realized I was never going to feel that feeling. How I imagined enlightenment felt? It was just that — an imagining. And I was terribly disappointed when I realized that. I think I cried. But then, after that, what started to happen was I began to appreciate all the ordinary feelings that I was feeling all the time. Part of why I had been depressed is that I was constantly comparing how I felt to what I wanted to be feeling, and was always disappointed. That perpetual disappointment was numbing everything, and turning my world grey. Eventually, when I realized the feeling I wanted was impossible, I felt a big disappointment — almost a hopelessness. But it passed, and when perpetual disappointment wasn’t numbing my entire existence anymore, I saw just how nice an ordinary existence was.

Is a fully appreciated ordinary reality “as good” as that feeling I imagined? I can’t tell, because just by considering that question, I make my experience worse. I will never be able to evaluate that question, and that’s at the heart of the paradox. Was it the right decision to abandon the pursuit of a deeply hedonistic view of enlightenment to fully appreciate the here and now? I don’t know, I will never know, and I cannot know. But, I do know that I have no regrets.

Back to sex. I think there is this fictional feeling that we think we could have felt, or falsely remember that we did feel — but that’s not real. It’s not actually possible to feel that feeling, the same way it wasn’t possible for me to feel that imagined “enlightenment” feeling. That’s why it always remains there, intangible in our minds, constantly — but only slightly — out of reach. But, the constant striving to create that feeling dampens our experience of the sexual feelings we are able to feel. The legitimate and diverse pleasures of life are discarded, because they didn’t feel the way we thought they should. We close our mind to the unknown in favor of an imagined known because the unknown is scary.

But, the unknown contains the unimaginable. The wonderful, the things we would never even think to pursue because we didn’t know they existed. Feelings that cannot be imagined. Is it worth giving up on a fantasy to pursue all that?

I don’t know. We can never know.