Love Is Not Arousal

Graham Phoenix looks at why kissing his sons helps them to grow.

“I’d argue that perhaps the only thing that garners more suspicion than a father being affectionate with his daughter, is a father being affectionate with his son!”

I read this recently from a commenter on GMP and was amazed. I wondered if I lived on the same planet as this man or whether I have ignored what people think all these years.

I am a man and I have two sons who are now in their thirties. They are perfectly normal, well-adjusted men and we hug and kiss in public. This is not some overt display of family emotion: it’s just something we do. Am I supposed to worry about this, about what people might feel? Am I supposed to feel guilty and see the finger of suspicion pointing at me?

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Last year I was working in a small church in Ireland, re-designing the lighting. I was in a design meeting with the architect and the priest (it was a Catholic church) and I found myself intrigued by some of the work that was proposed.

There was the re-design of the confessional that put a glass door in the front. There was the building of a mezzanine floor in the sacristy so the choirboys could change separately from the men and priests. I enquired about these, to be told by the priest that these were now a requirement because of the revelations about the terrible misdeeds of many Catholic priests.

The priest was quite unconcerned about the needs for these changes; he felt no personal guilt for the terrible happenings but recognized that the Church needed to feel a sense of public recognition, even guilt, for the situation. If strategic architectural changes meant the life of the Church could continue, then that was okay.

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The problem with this is that all it does is feed people’s paranoia. It does nothing to change what individuals may or may not do.

I feel the same about how I behave with my boys, and with others in my life. If I stopped showing my affectionate feelings I wouldn’t actually change anything: it would just feed people’s paranoia. If I really were a sexual predator I hardly think that I would call people’s attention to it by such public displays.

I think that we help people to come to terms with their emotions by showing them that can display them openly. Here, I am talking specifically to men.

So many men are brought up to believe that showing emotion is a feminine trait. So many men fear how public displays of emotion might be interpreted by others. Instead of hugging, men slap each other’s backs in a show of “masculine” bravado. Men shake hands with their boys, fearing sexual tension if they bring their bodies together.

I openly kiss women and hug men—no back-slapping—and I put all my emotion into it. I rarely offend people. I kiss my gay male friends without any connotations or confusion.

Where, I wonder, does the guilt come in to such innocent displays of love? It’s clear that if men have taken things too far and crossed boundaries,then they should feel guilty. If men have taken advantage of their sons or daughters, then they deserve our despising of them. But love between family and friends: should that create guilt?

Perhaps men are confused by the feelings stirred by close physical contact. Perhaps they find their daughter attractive or find they have a response to the physical power and strength in their son. That’s understandable to me. I feel the power and energy in many people I have contact with, even my sons. I recognise them as men and enjoy the physical intimacy.

But I know the difference between close, warm physical intimacy and sexuality. I know when I am sexually aroused and when I feel intensely close to someone. I know the power of sexual polarity and I respond to it.

I feel strong sexual polarity with my wife, not with my family and friends. I know the difference.

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Maybe that’s where the guilt comes in. That’s what causes the confusion: when men have not learned the difference between sexual polarity and strong emotion they get confused about what’s going on and feel guilty. Where people in general get confused about this they see things that are not there and start accusing people.

I love sex and I feel sexual emotions powerfully. I am in a relationship where I can express these emotions and thoroughly enjoy my sexual urges. How would I be if I didn’t have this?

Are men, as they are often presumed to be, just sexual predators who will prey on anyone they meet, including sons and daughters? Do men need to fill their sexual urges somehow? Are men incapable of controlling themselves?

For me the answer is “no,” to all of these questions. Sex is a powerful drive in men, but it can be controlled. There is no reason why men need to fear what they are going to do. Self-control does, however, require strength and maturity. It requires men to feel strong in themselves and proud of themselves as men.

I think this is achieved through emotional strength and authenticity. So I openly hug and kiss my sons so they can express their emotions and feel strong in the process. If I succumbed to feeling guilty and drew back, I would create in my sons the very guilt that makes people draw back.

In the end it’s a generational issue. If, as men, we show our emotions we clear the air and allow future generations to be open and authentic. They will no longer need to feel guilt.

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