Why don’t straight men talk to each other about dating?

Paul Mescal and Joe Alwyn possibly talking about their recent break-ups. Who can say...

Girls love dissecting the ins-and-outs of each other's sex lives. Men? Not so much. Brit Dawson investigates the heady mix of toxic masculinity, bottled up vulnerability and general awkwardness that led us here.

Bechdel test be damned; the girlies love talking about men, usually with one another. And there’s nothing wrong with that – after all, it takes a specific type of intimacy to talk deeply about romance, one that often forms the bedrock of ride-or-die female friendships.

I, for example, know nearly every detail of my friends’ dating lives. They exist in my texts, Insta DMs and voice notes. We’ve called each other to debrief immediately after dates; we’ve crafted scorned messages together to send to ghosters. One of them recently read their sexts out loud to me in the pub like an erotic audiobook. When I lived in a house with three other single girls, we’d crawl into each other’s beds in the morning after a hook-up and, like teenagers at a sleepover, go through the details with a fine-tooth comb. We’d cackle at the insanity of some of the stories – usually told with hungover pizzazz – swoon over the sweetness of others, and soothe each other when things went wrong.

Of course, it’s hardly news that women (and queer people) are especially open with one another about their dating lives – for better or worse, we’ve all seen Sex and the City. I cherish these moments and can’t imagine my friendships without them. It always makes me a little sad, then, that many of my straight male friends seem to avoid the topic with one another as if it were some kind of carnal plague.

Case in point: when my boyfriend comes home from hanging out with a friend who I know has been on a date recently, I always ask how it went, to which he usually replies, with a nonchalant shrug, I dunno, didn’t ask”. On the occasions he has enquired, he doesn’t tend to ask follow-up questions, meaning his knowledge on the topic remains scarce.

And it’s not just my boyfriend. TikTok is awash with disgruntled girlfriends complaining about the same thing. One recent viral video saw someone describe the trait as her boyfriend’s beige flag”, after he didn’t ask his best mate why he and his girlfriend broke up.

Obviously, the kind of conversation you’d have with someone about this topic depends on how close the two of you are, how comfortable you are discussing it, and the setting or context of your meeting. But why do straight men in particular seem to be so awkward or simply unbothered about discussing their dating and sex lives with each other?

A similar debate erupted on Twitter back in January, when everyone was wondering where all the straight male sex and relationships writers are. The consensus, it seemed, was that a) straight men writing about their sexual escapades would likely come across as braggy, vulgar and undignified”, and b) straight men aren’t all that interested in reading about other straight men’s romantic lives.

Women talking about sex is transgressive, because their sexuality and pleasure has historically been repressed, whereas if men talk about sex, they’re just adhering to the prescriptions of patriarchy”

Whether they want to read about it or not, a lot of straight men are interested in talking about their dating lives and often do so with women, as well as their queer and gender non-conforming pals. But there’s a clear power imbalance in heterosexual relationships. Women talking about sex is transgressive, because their sexuality and pleasure has historically been repressed, whereas if men talk about sex, they’re just adhering to the prescriptions of patriarchy.

Having spoken to my own friends about this, some of them feel it would be inappropriate to go into detail about the romantic or sexual things they get up to on dates because of said patriarchal playing field. Two straight dudes talking explicitly about sex with women? It could feel icky, like objectifying locker room chat – something many progressive guys would prefer to steer clear of. I’d never go into detail about any sex I’ve had,” my pseudonymous friend Sam tells me. In basically all instances, that would feel weird and like I was sharing something overly personal.” Although, he adds, he probably would allude to whether or not we had sex” during a conversation about dating.

There’s a possibility that, to avoid coming across as overly laddy”, some straight men just don’t talk about romance at all. But I think that’s too simplistic and, to be honest, a bit men’s rights‑y. It’s perfectly possible for straight men to talk about dating and sex without objectifying women (though the power imbalance might make some conversations feel crude), as long as they understand the ways in which societal structures impact sex and dating, and examine their own roles within that.

When I put the question to Reddit’s r/​AskMenAdvice, another possible explanation came up: toxic masculinity. Men, at a rudimentary base level, see each other as competitors, and you don’t tend to spill your guts to a competitor,” one guy replied. Another wrote: My male friends don’t consider it manly to be talking about intimate things, so I don’t bother. They’re more interested in my body count.”

For Sam, there’s also the feeling that some male friends are just prying for graphic details, by way of enforcing macho stereotypes about sex. In the past, I’ve had male friends who were very interested in talking about dates I went on, but in a way that made me feel uncomfortable,” he says. One friend I’ve always avoided talking to about dating because I noticed that whenever I went on a date, he’d ask if it led to sex, and if I said that it hadn’t, he’d act like that was really weird.”

Men are socialised to reject vulnerability and bottle up their emotions, which, as we know, is bad for them – and for us”

Similarly, there seems to be a fear among some men of coming across as sexually inadequate, whether they’re sharing a positive or negative dating experience. Despite the bullshit we hear about locker room talk, men are very private about their sexual life,” one Redditor tells me. My theory is that men are expected to be competent in sex, so sharing your [supposed] sexual prowess can potentially expose your lack of competence.”

There’s a flip side to this, too. 27-year-old Darren from London, who’s in a long-term relationship, says he does ask his close friends about dating, but with some of them it’s kinda to sense check that they aren’t being terrible and turning into fuck boys”.

It’s a bit of a generalisation, but Darren isn’t the only straight guy I talked to who discusses dating with his straight guy mates. When I cornered any straight man in the pub who’d listen, there was, I’d estimate, a 70:30 split in those who do talk, er, dirty with friends and those who don’t. And, for all my pontificating, there may be one very simple reason for this: men are socialised to reject vulnerability and bottle up their emotions, which, as we know, is bad for them – and for us. And, probably, it’s also bad for everyone’s sex lives.

Among the men I spoke to, this was the most common reason for steering clear of the topic. A friend of mine said it would be awkward” to ask for any details about a date, and that he’d find talking about romance a bit cringey and embarrassing”. My men on Reddit largely agreed, though many of them said that, while they wouldn’t bring it up, they would listen and offer advice if their friend wanted to talk.

According to one user: The exact details of the date aren’t our business.” Another said he’d feel invasive asking about stuff like that”. One guy claimed he often [doesn’t] even know their relationship status”. Several people pointed out that it stems from the difference in how men and women bond and spend time together: women tend to talk, whereas men take part in activities.

This patriarchy-enforced reluctance to talk about their sex lives and romantic experiences not only robs men of the chance to reap the rewards of this tenderness in their friendships, but also serves to dampen their sexual worlds. My friends and I have learned so many valuable things about sex and relationships from each other’s trial-and-error experiences; we’ve encouraged one another to experiment, take risks, get checked. Some friendships have even been forged on bad dating experiences.

So, straight men, if you’re reading this: ask your mates about their love lives. Talk to them about that embarrassing thing they said on a date, share your relationship wisdom, ask them about their sexual fantasies. It’ll feel nice after, promise.

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