I once dated a guy who put his hand around my neck while we were having sex.
Not in an attempt to cause me harm, but because – as he later revealed – he'd seen it performed in porn, and assumed I'd be into it.
What was most striking about this encounter, was the fact he didn't ask me if I'd like it first, because he was afraid of looking inept. It's a sentiment I hear again and again from male readers – that they don't talk to their partners in the bedroom because they've been taught men should instinctively know what they're doing and be largely unemotional.
The pressure for men to perform this kind of stoicism is something Boys & Sex author Peggy Orenstein observed when she travelled around the US, speaking to young men about their lives.
"By midway through kindergarten – that's age 5 or 6 – they've learned from their peers to knock that stuff off, at least in public: to disconnect from feelings, shun intimacy, and become hierarchical in their behaviour," Orenstein writes.
"The lifelong physical and mental health consequences of that gender performance are ingrained as early as 10. By 14, boys become convinced that other guys will 'lose respect' for them if they talk about problems."
More often than not, this makes intimacy a near-impossible act for men. One of the most commonly cited grievances I hear from other women when discussing their male partners is, "He never talks to me".
And this isn't merely anecdotal. Emotional apathy is so tightly woven into the code of manhood, it's been crystallised in meme culture. The image of the tiresome wife rattling on about her day's woes, juxtaposed with a brutish male archetype sitting beneath a thought bubble depicting a motorbike, is one we're all familiar with. The implicit meaning being, all she ever wants to do is talk, and he'd rather escape – preferably via a 1000cc engine.
These stereotypes embody the bizarre but pervasive notion masculinity and intimacy can't coexist; that men must always be preoccupied with power, thereby rendering discussion of feelings tedious and unnecessary.
It's no coincidence common vernacular for sex among young men includes terms like "nailed", "railed", "pumped" and "smashed"; something Orenstein remarked seemed befitting of having "just visited a construction site, not like they engaged in an act of intimacy," in an interview with NPR last year.
We teach men sex is a power exchange, then find ourselves gobsmacked that reports of sexual harassment and assault continue to skyrocket in an era where we've invested so much energy into making consent hip.
But focusing on what "yes" looks like and ignoring the reasons so many men don't ask for it in the first place misses the point entirely. As long as we condition boys to perform their maleness by shunning vulnerability, discussion of the mechanics of consent will be largely redundant.
And there's a lot to be said for dismantling our cultural ideals around masculinity. Studies suggest men who eschew masculine norms are actually less likely to engage in sexual harassment and acts of physical and verbal violence. And conversely, men who do prescribe to gender norms are far less likely to seek help for mental health concerns. This is despite the fact they make up more than three quarters of deaths by suicide.
This isn't to say there's anything inherently wrong with being masculine or even stoic – rather, it's our ideas around what being a "real man" should look like that are problematic.
When we raise boys to believe conforming to an ever-narrowing standard is the only path to manhood, we do them a disservice – not just for their future relationships with women, but for the relationships they ultimately carve out with themselves.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.