Why did you write VoiceMale?
I'm a journalist and my first instinct is to
break a good story when I see one. And this
– marriage from the men’s perspective – is
one of the great, largely untold stories
of our time.
I have a personal interest, of course, in that I’ve been married for 18 years myself. But the spark that really ignited me came about four years ago, after my first book, FatherLoss, came out. I had given a talk to a group of men at a church sanctuary. In the question-and-answer period afterward, the men in the room just started flowing about their marriages. I remember one talked about how his wife didn’t understand his way of communicating. Another mentioned that his sex life had deteriorated since the children were born. Another man noted that the more housework he did, the more sex he had.
I remember asking these guys: Why don't you tell these stories out there in the real world? And the answer came back: No one’s asked.
As a journalist, that was my cue.
Starting with a couple of the men in that room, in fact, I launched the research for VoiceMale. I ended up sitting down in the dens, kitchens, back yards, offices of 70 men, and asking every question I could imagine. These men were of every ethnic, economic and age class, married from a couple of weeks to 72 years. I also commissioned a scientific survey through a university to ask a nationally representative sample of 300 men some of these same questions.
VoiceMale is not necessarily the whole truth, but it’s men’s truth.
What did you find?
I found that there are a lot of stereotypes about men – myths really – that just aren’t true. And they’re the big ones. The three that stand out for me are:
Men are commitment-phobic.
Men are only interested in one thing: sex.
You can’t change a man, so don’t even try.
All three of these, according to my research, are inaccurate stereotypes. And I think that ultimately, they serve to condition both men and women – husbands and wives – to expect the worst in men. That’s why I’m interested in challenging, in taking on, these myths.
Tell me about men not being commitment-phobic.
I understand the perception that men are commitment-phobic because men are slower than women to decide that they want to marry.
But this perception doesn’t square with two basic facts. First, more than 90 percent of men will marry in their lifetimes, and 85 percent of the time, it will be the men who do the asking. From what I heard from men, the delay in deciding to marry comes not because men are commitment-phobic but because they’re intensely committed. When men make a commitment, they want it to be for good. So they do what they’ve been trained to do for most of their lives: They analyze the situation very carefully before making big decisions.
What did you find that makes you challenge the idea that men only care about sex?
Again, this perception has some grounding in reality. Men have more testosterone than women, so, biologically, we tend to have stronger sex drives. You probably know that one of the treatments for low sex drive, in both women and men, is a shot of testosterone. So, it was no surprise that in the VoiceMale Survey, about 80 percent of husbands told me that they wanted sex more often than their wives did.
But once I dug a little deeper, I found that it wasn’t as simple as he makes a move and she fends him off, he chases her around the house and she runs for her life. In my in-depth conversations with husbands, I found that, clearly, when it comes to sex with their wives, men are willing to wait it out, work it out, and, if necessary, do without.
There was barely a husband I spoke with who hadn’t gone through weeks and even months without sex at some time in his marriage. But these men rarely strayed. Rather, as men are wont to do, they tried to solve the problem. They wanted the marriage to work, even if the sex didn’t turn out to be the fantasy they imagined.
It’s kind of ironic that women often complain that men won’t talk about their relationship. Because when it comes to sex, men say it’s women who have trouble talking. I remember one middle-aged man from Atlanta who told me that he tried everything to get a conversation going with his wife about sex - he brought home books, movies, magazines, anything to open the door. He wanted to know what would turn on his wife, what would make sex as satisfying and desirable for her as it was for him. But she couldn’t or wouldn’t go there.
And you say that it’s a myth that you can’t change a man?
Absolutely. According to my survey, 60 percent of men said they had been changed by their wives. And more fascinating: More than 90 percent of these men said the changes had been for the better.
In most cases, it’s not a matter of whether you can change a man, but how. I deal with that in-depth in the book.
Any other myths about men that you don’t buy?
There's a belief that if you want to know how a man will treat his wife, look at how he treats his mother. But my survey showed that it's a man's relationship with his father, not his mother, that matters most. A man learns from his father how to be a husband. Men treat their wives as their fathers treated their mothers.
You studied the link between housework and sex. What did you find?
That, indeed, the two are linked. While we’ve been hearing this anecdotally, this is the first time to my knowledge that it has been statistically verified. Specifically, what I found was this: The happier a woman is with the division of housework in the family, the happier her husband is in his sex life. Indeed, the happier she is with his housework, the more sex she has with her husband. And this comes from the men themselves.
One man told me that when he wants to increase the chances of romance with he brings her flowers, chocolates, or promises her a dinner out. When he wants to be sure of having sex, he cleans up the garage.
What else does your book address?
The book answers a number of other questions that both women and men are curious about, including:
What do men look for in a wife?
In which stage of marriage are men most (and least) happy?
What are the top sources of disagreement in men’s marriages?
Why do men have affairs?
Are most men happily married?
Do men have a different style of relating than women do?
gives us fresh research, new thinking, and surprising conclusions to the
question "What do men really want?" This is a book that will challenge gender
--Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of