Men are built to penetrate, not only anatomically, but also emotionally and energetically.
Not too long ago, I was putting my five-year-old son to bed. We were indulging in the practice of finding creative ways to express our enormous love for each other. I told him I loved him so much my heart was going to explode. He took that in, grinned, and in a moment of inspired one-upmanship said, “I love you so much, my heart is going to explode right into your mouth so you can swallow it.”
On another occasion, in a genuine burst of affection, he said, “Open up your love hole, Mom, and let me fill it up.” Terrified by the loss of innocence I might detect, I asked nervously, “Where exactly is my love hole?” To which he matter-of-factly (and to my great relief) replied, “Your heart!”
My son’s expressions of love and affection are devoid of sexual meaning for him. He has no idea about such things, but the energy behind his words got me thinking. I often observe my son moving through the world with ferocious enthusiasm—on the soccer field, on his scooter, the way he hurls his whole body at me when he wants a hug.
It’s beyond how he thinks or acts; it’s who he is. And it’s how he loves.
Neuroscience tells us that that a small almond-shaped structure, deep in our anterior temporal lobe, called theamygdala, plays a big role in our emotional reactions and emotional memories. It is widely accepted that women have smaller and more efficient amygdalas, which enables them to have more emotional memories and engage in what scientists call “ruminative thinking.” There are other gender-based differences in our brains. The right and left hemispheres are connected by tissue called corpus callosum, and men have less of it. Women spend more time acting and speaking from both sides of their brains. Men think and act more linearly, leaving emotion and intuition out of the equation.
According to Simon Baron-Cohen, Cambridge University Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, “The male brain is programmed to systemize, while the female brain is taught to empathize.” Perhaps the most obvious difference in the brains of men and women happens in the womb. A female brain in utero is bathed in estrogen; a male brain in testosterone.
Largely in an effort to understand the nature, causes, and prevalence of autism, Baron-Cohen conducted multiple studies looking at the amount of testosterone a baby is exposed to in the womb and then followed them through their infancy and early childhood, evaluating their capacity for human connection. About testosterone, he says, “The more you have of this special substance, the more your brain is tuned into systems and the less your brain is tuned into emotional relationships.”
When I described my heart exploding with love for my young son, the vision was that a warm effervescent blanket would unfurl from my chest and wrap him, contain him and ultimately taking him in. While men are driven to penetrate, as women, it is our nature to want to be filled up by something other than ourselves. The outward expression of this is the way we nurture—whether it’s our children, our lovers, or the world in general. We invite people into our warm embrace.
The passive version of this expression is our desire to be taken, to be penetrated. As women, we hold so much. Most of us have a complex matrix of things and people to take care of—responsibilities. And in the hierarchy of needs, we usually put ourselves last. At the end of the day, we long for a lover to take us away, to force us to let go, to bring us beyond reason—to fuck us senseless.
In the tradition of Tantra, the Divine feminine quality is Shakti—fluid energy, manifestation, and change. The Divine masculine is Shiva, or pure consciousness—the solid, unlimited, unchanging observer. Shiva has no desire, he is the blank screen onto which Shakti projects her desires in full Technicolor drama. When a man and woman come together in alignment with this paradigm, it can be a powerful way to connect not only to each other, but also to explore ourselves and own nature as an expression of this universal principle. Our longing to be fucked senseless is rooted in the desire for Shiva to penetrate the maelstrom of our own dynamic energy and propel us into another state of consciousness—an argument could be made here for the benefits of having “mind-blowing” sex.
The trouble with all this penetration is what happens when it’s not happening.
For a woman, there is a feeling of completeness when a man is inside of her (or a baby, for that matter). She walks around with a hole in her physical body (her vagina, her womb), but also in her subtle body, in her heart.
The question is: How do we cultivate a healthy emptiness?
It is easy to confuse the absence of something as a loss, the space as a vacuum. It is tempting to try to sate the hunger as if we are starving, while we resort to filling ourselves up by eating, smothering our children, or engaging in co-dependent relationships. Ironically, the more we try to fill ourselves up, the lonelier we feel.
In her song, Down to You, Joni Mitchell declares, “Everything comes and goes, marked by lovers and styles of clothes. Things that you held high and told yourself were true, lost or changing as the days come down to you.” Allowing the flow of life, of lovers, and of love requires some willingness to tolerate discomfort, but far less than the suffering that results from trying to fight it or to clinging to things past their point of completion.
Holding our internal space is a muscle that can be developed over time. Resisting the urge to fill ourselves up with something other than ourselves give us room to connect with ourselves, to recognize our own voices, to feel our own desires. Relaxing into our inner space affords us the awareness of choice. It is a powerful place to feel sovereignty over who and what we choose to let in and out.
As Joni suggests, it all comes down to us.
When we learn to feel complete in our natural emptiness, to embrace the potentiality in the space, we begin to align with the natural cycles of life, birth, death and rebirth, in a way that makes sense of our true nature, as vessels, of life and love.