Is Sex Physically Vulnerable to Men?

by | Apr 28, 2020 | Libido | 34 comments

How Men Experience Sex

We know that sex is vulnerable to women. But is it vulnerable to men, too?

I received this reader question recently which I found really insightful. She asks,

Reader Question

​I am currently going through the book, “Rethinking Sexuality” by Dr Julie Slattery. She quotes Timothy Keller from a sermon called Love and Lust in regards to sexual intimacy being a celebration of the covenant promise. Part of the quote reads “In marriage when you’re having sex, you’re really saying, “I belong completely and exclusively to you and I’m acting it out… I’m giving you my body as a token of how I’ve given you my life. I’m opening to you physically as a token of the fact that I’ve opened to you in every other way” “

I agree with everything I have read in the book so far. However, I am still struggling with wrapping my head around the above quote from a husband’s point of view. Maybe you can help me process this in my head? I do not see how a man “gives” his body to us, nor how he “opens” physically to us. I asked my husband if he was able to explain it. If there was ANY part of our sex that caused him to have to be vulnerable to me (except the possibility of me saying no)? He could only explain it from a mental or emotional way. The act of physical intimacy feels SO vulnerable to me, as I am the one offering and opening up to him. I don’t see any “risk” from his end. I am not fighting the intimacy, just trying to figure out from the husband’s side, the risk. I hope that question makes sense? Any input?

Great question! I wrote last year on the theology of the penis and the theology of the clitoris, and what our genitalia tell us about what God intended for sex, and for the relationship between the sexes.

But this takes it even further. So let me try to answer her question.

Yes, sex is vulnerable for a woman in a way that it never can be for a man.

Women are literally being entered, and with that is the potential for pain. There’s the potential that it will be rough, which can hurt. Because men also tend to be physically bigger, there’s the potential for a lot of discomfort of different types as well. For sex to work well, he has to care for her in a way that she doesn’t necessarily have to care for him. While it’s quite easy to hurt a man in his genitalia, this doesn’t tend to happen during sex. So the act of intercourse itself is far more physically vulnerable to women than it is to men.

That’s why sex often means slightly different things to men than it does to women, and why together, those meanings create real intimacy.

When a man makes love, he’s essentially asking “do you accept me?”

And the answer isn’t just in whether or not she’s willing to “let” him have intercourse with her. The answer lies in whether she actually wants to, and in whether she enjoys it. I know that’s a difficult one for lower-drive women, because we think, “seriously, not only do I have to do it, but I have to work myself up and love it, too, even when I’m not in the mood?” But that’s what he’s wondering. Are you doing it out of duty, or do you really desire him? 

When a woman makes love, what she’s essentially asking is, “are you trustworthy?”

She needs to know that he will care for her, that he will care about her, that he wants HER and not just her body. Before she opens up to him, she needs to know that she is special to him.

That’s why I said in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex that, in general, men make love to feel loved, whereas women need to feel loved. And that’s why we often approach sex differently. It’s not even about libido only, either. It’s actually what sex represents.

Together, it works. He’s motivated to help her feel safe, and she’s motivated to help him be affectionate.

God made sex to be AWESOME!

It’s supposed to be great physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Feel like something’s missing?

Sometimes this dynamic, though, can cause friction and unhealthy sexual patterns.

For instance, I had a woman comment this recently, on an older post:

My husband has always had a healthy sexual appetite, but I have NEVER been able to keep up. This is the one thing we have always fought about. He wants it in some form every day and is unapologetic about it. I have tried to express many times that I need more intimacy to want more sex. He gets angry and said I’m the one that sends mixed signals, when in actuallity, I’m the one that has to initiate it every night. But if I don’t, we don’t have sex, and then he gets mad. I’m so freaking confused and feel like I’m not being heard at all.

I have heard from so many marriages where the husband has the higher drive, but he simultaneously will not initiate sex. He demands that she does, and gets upset if she doesn’t.

Sometimes this is because a guy has turned off his sex drive after being rejected so much, and so simply waits for her to start. But other times, like in this reader’s case, they are having sex frequently, but he only enjoys it when she starts it. He doesn’t want to get emotionally vulnerable; he wants her to do the emotional work of sex while he gets the physical benefits. This won’t help her feel emotionally safe, and is a really bad dynamic.

For some guys, it’s a protective mechanism. But for others it’s because he’s being selfish and doesn’t want to do the work of wooing her. He is expecting her to do everything, and if she doesn’t, she’s being selfish. In a marriage, BOTH parties need to initiate, or else sex will feel like one person is doing all the work.

And sometimes, of course, the guy is the lower-drive spouse, and the woman can feel rejected. Then other dynamics are at play.

But in answer to the reader’s question, sex is more physically vulnerable to women, but it is also very emotionally vulnerable to men, in ways that perhaps women don’t understand. It’s certainly emotionally vulnerable to us, too, as we long to feel loved and not just objectified, but men also want to know that they are accepted and loved, too.

Do Men Feel Vulnerable During Sex the Way Women Do? How Men experience sex

So that’s my theory about how sex works. What do you think? Is sex vulnerable to men and women differently? And what role do different libidos play? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. April

    I have not had sex. I’m a Virgin but I do believe that sex is mutual knowing of each other emotionally, physically mentally and spiritually that’s why it makes you vulnerable to each other and brings a intimate connection that is very strong. Men and women will both experience in having sex. God created it to be a mutual pleasure for both to enjoy.

  2. R

    I don’t think sex is physically vulnerable for men.
    Vulnerable in other ways, yes, but physically? No.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know, so it was a bit of an odd quote from that book. I think it’s one of those things we just say, “Sex is vulnerable!”, but we don’t think about it actually.

      • Sue

        That makes sense to me, I can see this in my own marriage. I have told my husband how it makes me feel when he gets grumpy when I say no (I have had some issues with uti’s over the years), and he has gotten better at accepting (even when I’m not having issues).
        But I feel challenged to read your article about enthusiasm. Thanks for a great article, Sheila!

  3. Anony

    Sex is something emotional but I wonder if we men always get it. At times im more aware of my emotions and I’m really aware that it is an emotional thing.
    And at other times I’m just really really horny. I wonder if that is bad, that I don’t always think about the emotional part when I’m just “horny”.
    For example the lasts months have felt kind of “meh” in general. Not bad but not the best either. With kids and jobs and everything else it easily happen.
    But the other day we finally could have a date and things have been better and today I don’t know what has come over me but I feel so much desire. I am so… well horny and all I want is her. She is not in the mood so nothing will happen ( why does she have to walk around in underwear and look so sexy 😩) but I can’t say that I thought about the emotional part until I read this post. And thinking about it I guess there is something emotional about it all but I wasn’t aware of it. I think this can be very common for many men. We need to maybe think about what we are really feeling.
    When it comes to initiating that’s really difficult as a man sometimes. The initiating part can be so difficult when you get rejected. I have learned that I can only show her that I am available. There isn’t anything I can really do to get her in the mood. If she is not in the mood it doesn’t matter if I lift a mountain. If she is in the mood I don’t have to do a thing and she still wants to have sex.
    So it’s better to show that I am availablewhich is basically all the time. But when she does initiate and makes me feel desired that really touched my heart.
    Also one thing that makes sex emotional is when my wife decides to do something that is out of her comfort zone. That really means much to me on a very emotional level. It feels so special because she is doing something sexual just for me. Not anyone else but for me. She is ready to try something new for me. And that touch’s my heart in a way I think she doesn’t get.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think you’re echoing what a lot of men feel!
      I think women also often don’t realize that our libidos are often (not always) responsive. We may not feel “in the mood” initially, but if we get in the right frame of mind and jump in, arousal can kick in. It’s okay to initiate even if you’re not in the mood, because with the right attitude, once you start touching, arousal does often kick in. But because we don’t know this about ourselves, we often shy away from sex unless we’re aroused first, which often doesn’t happen. I talk about this in the first module of my Boost Your Libido course, too!

    • Anonymous

      It’s nice to read something like this from a men’s perspective and knowing that there are good guys out there.

  4. Doug Hoyle

    When I tead the quote from the book, it really doesn’t imply physical vulnerability the way the reader seemed to interpret it.
    Yes, it does describe “giving my body” and that notion seems to be a feminine concept, but I really wonder of it really is. I don’t want to share TMI, and it certainly hasn’t happened as often as the alternative, but my wife has told me from tome to time that “she wanted me inside her”. In those rare cases, I might have been stimulating her manually or orally, and been perfectly content with that. Now clearly I am not a woman, but it would seem clear from the request that that she was specifically asking for my body. That seems to fit what the author of the book was describing. While the terminology he used “I’m opening to you physically” seems to imply the woman recieving the man, I really think within the context of the entire quote, what I understood the message to be l, was “I’m giving myself to you physically”. In that context, it can apply to both man and woman.

    • Trent

      This is a really interesting post and the comments have been great. I do agree that as a man I’m not physically vulnerable to my wife in the way that her body is to me.
      When she expresses that my penis is not big enough for her to feel full. That is tied to my body but is mostly an emotional and psychological vulnerability.
      Or when she comments how muscular men are very attractive (I am not muscular) again that is body related but not a physical vulnerability.
      When she has many waves of pleasure and a final orgasm and “checks out” while I finish, her body is indeed totally vulnerable to me. But I’m also emotionally vulnerable here because we aren’t connected anymore as I I try to enjoy the moment but also honor her body while she is super physically vulnerable.
      There’s a lot to think about from this post.

  5. Chris

    “Sometimes this is because a guy has turned off his sex drive after being rejected so much, and so simply waits for her to start.” Or he may have been instructed to. My wife told me “not to pester or bug her about/for sex and that she would let me know when she was in the mood.”

  6. Nick Peters

    Some guys can also be physically vulnerable too. I know I had a lot to think about the first time I ever showed myself intimately to my wife. Now though it is emotional vulnerability. A lack of sex sends the messages of, “You’re not my man. I don’t desire you. I don’t want you. You’re a disappointment. You’re not much of a man.” etc.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that really is more emotional vulnerability, but it is very real.

  7. Lindsey

    You know, it occurs to me while reading this that this *physical* vulnerability may be part of why men tend to love oral sex. Not to be too graphic, but there are teeth inside a mouth but not inside vagina. Which means that it IS physically vulnerable to a man, and he has to trust his partner.
    Maybe there’s something to that, maybe I’m off base. Who knows. Either way, great article!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s actually quite interesting, Lindsey!

  8. Erin

    I don’t think sex is particularly physically vulnerable for a man. Although if the woman lets things get heated and then backs out I think that does leave a man physically vulnerable.
    I think one way sex is vulnerable for a man is in their “performance” though. I think we have to be careful when we’re asking for things to change and be different during (or before) sex. The wrong wording or approach could make the man feel like he’s inadequate to make you happy during love making. Depending on the marriage dynamics (I’ve been married before for example and Hubby was a virgin) this could be incredibly hurtful. I think there’s a difference between ego and some fragility from their intense desire to please you.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      very true!

  9. Bethany

    Just want to add that sex makes women more vulnerable because of pregnancy as well. It is a big cost, carried exclusively by the woman, and there is a a chance of it happening almost every time (exceptions include menopause, hysterectomy. Birth control, vasectomies, and getting tubes tied can all fail). A good man must also care for his wife through the consequences of sex.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true! Absolutely.

  10. Greg

    I’ve never made love I’ve only ever had sex. I’ve never felt vulnerable in any way, shape or form with my wife or partners before her.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Greg. But perhaps, as we were talking about on another thread, that’s because of your porn use? I hope you start seeing how much you have lost by using porn, and that you may start the journey towards freedom.

      • Greg

        I see what you’re saying but if I never had it I won’t know what I’m missing and I accept that.

        • Natalie

          That was kinda my train of thought concerning my thoughts on sex before I’d ever experienced an orgasm. If I didn’t know what I was missing, was it really that bad? And the answer is yes, yes it is! Orgasming with my husband and all the chemicals that go along with it makes sex so much more intimate! The same is true of being emotionally vulnerable during sex.
          I think a lot of what you’re experiencing is probably due to not only the habits you’ve formed over the years, but also having your emotional vulnerability beaten out of you by your family or culture. That was at least my experience concerning my openness to sex and sexuality and sensuality and allowing myself to go into that headspace because of my good girl Christian upbringing. That became my norm/default and I’m still working on breaking from it and embracing something healthier. Habits and old ways of thinking are hard, hard things to change! But it is possible.

          • Greg

            Thanks Natalie, I know my problem stems from me putting up a wall with everybody I know including my wife. So if I keep a safe distance I can’t be vulnerable.

        • Elissa

          Man, that’s like saying I’ve only ever had a hotdog, so why bother trying a steak? I don’t know what I’m missing!
          I wish you could know, and I wish your wife could know, too.

      • Douglas

        I’m curious as to why you immediately jump onto porn as the cause, instead of porn just being another symptom of a seperate, deeper, underlying cause.
        Seriously, if a woman made the exact same statement about not allowing themselves to be vulnerable, you would not have made that jump. You would have wondered about the possibility of abuse, or childhood, or any number of other possibilities.
        Porn is a great evil, there is no denying that. There are plenty of others out there that better explain a lack of vulnerability. Not allowing yourself to be vulnerable is almost always a sign of having been wounded by another person in the past. That applies to men and women EQUALLY.

        • Connor Lindenbach

          You are totally right that there can be other underlying problems that contribute to the porn use and the inability to be emotionally vulnerable.
          That being said, if a female who had already opened up about a problem with porn use made that same statement, we still would absolutely jump first to porn. The research indicates that porn by itself can be a big contributor to problematic attitudes toward sex. It warps expectations of what normal healthy sex looks like. Control and domination are common themes in porn that foster a selfish mindset in sex. It’s hard to be vulnerable when you are focused on getting what you want out of the exchange. In fact, the content of so much porn is degrading or abusive towards the women in it that I would think regular porn use would make it even harder for women to let themselves be emotionally vulnerable during sex than for men.
          There may be factors at play in Greg’s case, but we don’t know about them. We do know about the porn use, so that is why we start there.
          Does that make sense?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Doug, Greg has made repeated posts about his porn use on other threads.

    • Doug Hoyle

      I can easily relate to what you said about not being vulnerable. Over the course of 20 years, I shut my heart down tight so it wouldn’t be vulnerable.
      It doesn’t have to be that way and it really shouldn’t, but it depends on you more than it depends on circumstances. Intimacy, by its very definition, requires vulnerability, whichbis just another way of saying you can get hurt.
      Just speaking out here is practicing vulnerability in a small way, but that’s not a small thing. It is a step in the “right” direction.
      Trust me, I get it, and I am not saying it is easy. My coumselor tells me regularly that it is something I have to practice with small things before I can ever manage the big ones. Keep practicing.

  11. Melissa W

    Personally I think sex is very physically vulnerable for a man. Yes, in a different way from a woman but still vulnerable. He isn’t being entered but he is entrusting a very sensitive and important part of his body to be engulfed by another person’s body. There are all kinds of things that could cause pain from friction from not enough lubrication to penile fractures. More than once I have timed a movement wrong and thought I had for sure broken him. And of course the testicles are very sensitive and during sex they are very exposed. I have kneed my husband’s sensitive areas more than once during a position change, etc. Also, as another commenter mentioned oral sex is a whole other side of physical vulnerability that men have. Again, in an engulfing sense as opposed to a being entered sense but a man is very physically vulnerable during oral sex. So, from my perspective men are physically vulnerable during sex just in a different way than women are.

    • Ruth

      Thank you!! These are my thoughts exactly; I was having a conversation with a guy about how men aren’t physically vulnerable during sex (i.e. they don’t risk pain), and my response to him was “Wow, I didn’t realize your genitals were indestructible. The more you know!”

  12. Natalie

    Great article. I’d say it’s spot on.
    I think sex can be physically vulnerable for men, but perhaps not in the same way it’s physically vulnerable for women. They’re not taking their wife into their body like their wife is with them. But sex does definitely still put the man in a physically vulnerable position. That’s just how it goes when one exposes their genitals, male or female. After all, their “family jewels” are the most sensitive part of their bodies. And it is possible to get injured during sex. That happened to us last year. My husband says it was due to me trying new ways to move my hips during sex so I could find something that felt good for me too (I seriously doubt it though, because it was SO not vigorous moving at all!), but he got Peyronie’s thanks to having just regular penetrative, PIV sex! Thankfully it healed, and looks and feels for him exactly like it did before. But still, that taught me something new about the male body: that penises aren’t as strong and sturdy as many men think or lead us women to believe. 😉 They can definitely get injured during sex, thus making sex a possible physically vulnerable experience for them too.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! Don’t ever, ever try anything where HER weight is being supported at all by HIS penis (that’s why standing positions can be dangerous!) And she should always watch how she wrenches around. Just don’t ever wrench it!

  13. Doug Hoyle

    “When a man makes love, he’s essentially asking “do you accept me?”
    When a woman makes love, she’s essentially asking is, “are you trustworthy?””
    I don’t know if it is me, or if others can relate, but that statement seems an oversimplification at best, and maybe just false (again, only for me and based on my background). It may be that those people or relationships tend to be this way, but I have talked to enough people and heard enough testimonies that tell me it is not so simple.
    Some that come to mind are those who have been netrayed in some manner, whether man or woman, tend to lean towards the trust side of things. Those who have dealt with childhood abandonment might lean towards the acceptance side. An easy example that comes to mind are a few women who have told me that they struggled with promiscuity in high school or college, seeking acceptance and affirmation. The other side of the coin might be those men who have essentially silenced their libido because of refusal. Is that because they are not accepted or that they no longer trust.
    I would guess that everyone is a mix of both, and might even shift towards one or the other depending on their circumstance.

    • Ruth

      I totally agree! These things are rarely a dichotomy; in my personal experience, I definitely relate to the trust side of things as a woman, but I also know plenty of women who would put more personal emphasis on acceptance in this regard.


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