The Sexually Integrated Man

Ace coach for men Shana James interviewed me for one of her “Man Alive” podcasts a few years ago. That interview, along with interviews with several other industry experts, became the basis for her recent book, Power and Pleasure: A Man’s Guide to Becoming a Confident and Satisfied Lover and Leader.

Here’s the transcript for that chapter.

Shana James:
Jim Benson created The Sexually Integrated Man model. I appreciate how it highlights where men can get stuck in the realms of power, sex and relating, which causes them to not have the relationships, sex lives or the sense of power and confidence they want. I’m excited to get into it and wondering how you came to create it.

Jim Benson:
First, I want to say that we use models to describe reality. Some people use astrology or the enneagram. Others use an elemental model, like the five elements or four elements. Some people use a masculine or feminine model.

I’ve used all of those at one point or another, but I want to say that models are poor masters. If they help you understand your reality and be more compassionate with yourself and others, then great. Use them, but don’t let it run the show.

Shana:
That’s a great way to start. Use a model to help you understand yourself, but don’t feel like you need to be a slave to a model.

Jim:
Exactly. This particular model came about after a workshop I led with Robert Glover, who is the author of No More Mr. Nice Guy. Robert’s awesome. I was privileged to co-create a workshop called The Sexually Integrated Man with him about 10 years ago. It was a great treat to work with him. He talks about the two ends of the spectrum in his work.

There’s the bully or jerk on one end and then there’s the nice guy on the other end. After that event, I started thinking about other archetypes that might fit on that spectrum. There were two others that came up.

One is the strategizer guy and the other is the flow boy or the puer. Including those aspects in the archetypes seems to round out the picture.

So rather than a spectrum, I designed a four-sided pyramid. Each of those aspects is a side of that pyramid. As you evolve each aspect, for instance, as your strategizer trusts more in life and does not try to control it with his mind, he can take steps up the pyramid and become more integrated.

It’s this idea that you become more whole as a sexual creature as you’re able to become more aware of these aspects and grow them.

Shana:
It’s interesting to think about that. We are animals and sexual creatures and there are common archetypes — the bully, the strategizer, the nice guy and the puer. Sex is often a way to get a concrete picture of what’s happening in our life and our interactions. I can see that this would be really useful for all areas of life.

Jim:
Exactly. Sex is a microcosm for the rest of your life. And what happens in the bedroom holds true in the boardroom a lot of times. Often when you make changes or shifts in your sex life it will ripple through the rest of your life.

I presented this model at a recent workshop. I was in front of the group and I was using myself as an example, writing my percentages for each of these archetypes. There were guys in the back of the room, my staff, some of whom have known me for 20 years.

So I’m writing my percentages: Bully, 10%. Strategizer, 30%. Flow boy, 30%…. The guys in the back of the room start saying, “No, no, no! Flow boy: 40% or 50%.” They’re yelling at me from the back of the room. It was cracking me up because I thought “Do I really know myself?”

It’s so helpful having guys you know give you feedback. This is why I’ve been leading men’s groups for 20 years, because there’s something so valuable about people really knowing you and telling you about yourself in ways you just can’t see — your blind spots.

I was thinking, “Oh no, I’ve moved beyond flow boy.” And they said, “Nah, man. Flow boy: 40% minimum!”

Shana:
That is funny, and powerful to have that reflection. How does flow boy show up in your life? What does he do or choose?

Jim:
For me, it’s a lack of desire for any responsibility. I want to be free of constraint. But I was just raised in a way where my rebellion, the way I pushed back against my culture and my family, was to not take on any responsibility, or take it on minimally. I’ll get back to the evolution of those aspects in just a minute.

There are other people, of course, who do the total opposite. They’re completely responsible and take on a ton. They’re very grounded and they are about 10% flow boy, or even less. They could really use some more of that archetype. They could use the part that lets them cut loose and transcend. I’ll describe what each of those are.

The goal isn’t to be balanced in all four archetypes across the board — 25% of each. That’s not where you’re headed because we all have our different orientations in our own bodies and we’re shaped by our environment. But it’s helpful to know where you stand so you can adjust.

For me there are often times when I would avoid a confrontation because my bully is the lowest number. By challenging myself, I get clear on what I do in confrontations. I really have to step it up, so calling on my bully, I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I want to call in the power of that archetype.

Then I can stand up and say, “Hey, that’s not okay what you just did.” I can be forceful or intense. It’s been a long, slow climb for me to come from around zero percent to around five or even up to 10%.


Shana:

Part of what I love about this is that in some models you’re one or the other. You have to choose. You can be other things, but you’re mainly one thing. It sounds like you’re saying men have different percentages of each of these.

None of these are all bad. The bully actually has in it some assertion or power, an ability to communicate and set boundaries. There are good qualities in each of these as well!

Jim:
Yes. I’ll describe each of them so we have a context for what we’re talking about.

With the bully, AKA the macho jerk, if we filter this through the lens of power, what the bully imagines is powerful is a statement like, “Only my needs are important.” Or, “She’s an object for my pleasure.” Or, “The more money and traditional power I have the better.” There’s a certain sadistic aspect to the bully.

Shana:
I imagine it might be hard for men to admit having this part. As you’re reading this, check in to see if you relate, or if you can see some of this in yourself.

Jim:
As I describe them, if you hear something that grates on you or rubs you the wrong way, you’re reacting in one of two ways. Either “I promised myself I would never be that,” or “That sounds really close to home and I don’t want to hear anything about that.”

I’ll get to the positive shadow a little later, after I go through this list of the real shadow, the negative aspects of these archetypes.

The strategizer guy, at least in terms of his power, is “knowledge is power.” If I can get the technique that will make her come three times and scream my name with pleasure, that’s what I’m after.

He can be a know-it-all. His defense is to withdraw. He’ll withdraw into his head because it’s safe there in this world he’s built in his head. At his worst you could say he gets frozen in the bedroom, frozen in performance anxiety. He doesn’t know what to do or what to say.

Shana:
He thinks, “I don’t have the knowledge. I don’t have the right thing to do.”

Jim:
Yes, he wants the formula and gets blocked if he does’t know it.
The flow boy, our number three guy, is the pleasure seeker. He’s just living for the moment.

Shana:
This is the one you said you have a lot of!

Jim:
Yes. I’m inserting myself as I talk about it. He’s hesitant to take on responsibility. I have a friend who’s super puer. We laugh about this. He says he’s not even good with houseplants. There’s no way he’d even have a fish or a pet.

The flow boy will dissociate. He’ll leave his body. He’s definitely not into having kids because they’re a competition for his own inner child. He’s a kind of dissociated bliss seeker at his worst.

The last archetype is the nice guy, beautifully outlined by Dr. Glover. Other names for this archetype are doormat, wimp and victim. His main defense is collapsing, which totally damages his own integrity.

When you’re collapsed and there’s no one there holding you, you’re not even holding yourself. It’s an integrity killer. He’s going to be super afraid of risk.

Robert talks about victim pukes. It’ll all build up inside of him until all of the sudden he pukes it out: “It’s your fault. I hate this.” He’s not actually able to say what’s happening for him as it’s happening, so it all builds up.

It becomes resentment and then it comes out in a victim puke. He’s the opposite end of the spectrum of the sadist. He is more of the masochistic style.

Shana:
These are the four archetypes of this pyramid. It is interesting to hear you speak about all of them. And again, we’ve only covered the dark parts not the positive aspects. I think it’s great to take a moment to consider: Which parts of these do I recognize in myself?

Jim:
Yes. Write down some percentages.

There are things each of these types can do to become more sexually integrated. There are some universal principles each can use, and there are specific ones to each archetype. I’ll speak to each archetype, giving men something they can do to feel empowered. Then we can also discuss the positive shadows, the gifts, from each of these.

One of the main universal skills to becoming more sexually integrated is mindfulness.

Track yourself and become aware of the habits of the different archetypes, or the ones that seem to be most active in certain situations. Once you realize a habit, you can take a pause. Consider: “Here’s where I would do that thing. Let’s check in for a moment. Is that the best thing for me to do here?”

For example, one of my habits would be to withdraw and not say anything and then just walk away. It takes a lot for me to push into that. I’ll stay there and start by saying something like, “I don’t know what’s happening, but I’m not comfortable right now.” It’s getting something out of my mouth instead of just walking away.

Shana:
That’s so great. There is such a range. One man might think “I just need to get a word out of my mouth or say something.” For another man it’s better to keep his mouth shut and walk away.

Jim:
Another big one for me would be joking inappropriately in certain delicate situations. It may be a way to ease the tension. But really, it was a way of escaping being vulnerable in the moment. I tracked that more and more. The impulse is strong in me, given my family background.

Shana:
That’s a really great way to see it. Watch the impulse!

Jim:
Yes. As it arises, I watch it and the mindfulness in that moment helps me stop and remember not to open my mouth. For instance, my wife is the one I do this the most with. Now can tell her, “I just had a really adolescent comment come up.” Sometimes she’ll say, “Keep that to yourself.” Or she’ll say, “Oh cool. What is it?” It’s different than just having it come straight out of my mouth. That’s one of the universal skills.

The other one I would say is to stop pushing away feelings. All of the archetypes can benefit from allowing yourself to feel more of what’s happening inside of you. Many guys have a fear that if they start to feel then the flood gates will break open and they’ll crush everybody with massiveness of their feeling.

Usually that’s not true at all. It’s your fear that’s biggest. It’s the fear that’s keeping you from expressing it. That’s the actual problem.

So how can you soften and allow yourself to have the feeling, whatever it is? “I’m feeling so angry right now.” “I’m really grieving.” “I’m crying right now, I feel really sad.” “I have a weird mix of feelings. I don’t even know what it is. Hang on a second. Let me try to figure this out.” The key is to not push feelings away.

Shana:
I was thinking of some men I coach where sometimes the fear is, “I’m going to look weak” or “I’m going to overwhelm this other person.” Or, “I’ll be stuck in this forever.”

I was in a session with a man was on the verge of tears, and at some point, the tears came. About a minute or two later, he said “I feel a little better now I feel this release.” But before that, the fear was that if I opened up these floodgates, I’m going to cry for forever, and it will never stop — which isn’t the case.

Jim:
Trust that the feeling is like a wave. It’s going to crash on the shore and then it’s going to recede.

Shana:
The more we resist, actually, the more it stays.

Jim:
You dam up the ocean and then it gets ugly.

Universal skill 2a might be to allow vulnerability. Let yourself experience what it’s like to be vulnerable. Brené Brown has been such a clear voice in speaking about the power of vulnerability.

The key to that power is being able to “hold yourself” as you expose your vulnerability. You’re not collapsing and reverting to a childlike state. You’re able to stay with yourself and to be vulnerable at the same time. It opens the doorway for true intimacy and fully integrated sexuality.

Shana:
I love that you went back to sexuality, in part because there’s such a tie between vulnerability and sex that I don’t think is always apparent. It goes so much beyond sex, of course, into connection and intimacy as well.

When a man is vulnerable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman will think, “He’s weak,” and not want to have sex with him. If a man expresses vulnerability in the way you describe, his partner will start to feel closer with him.

Jim:
Another universal skill to climbing the pyramid is learning to cultivate your intuition: Listening to that inner voice so you can be alive to what’s happening in the moment. You can dance with the moment, and be in a way that you might never have, if you had tried to do it with a manual giving you step A to step B to step C.

Shana:
It’s so true. Sometimes I wish I could be more stable or want the same thing all the time. I say this a lot but I feel different based on my hormonal cycle, my mood, etc. I can’t even imagine trying to map out what I would like, consistently, all the time. The capacity to dance with the moment is so important.

Jim:
If I interviewed the guys who would be considered the best lovers in the world, a universal characteristic would be that they are intuitive. They found a way to listen to their intuition and act on it.

The last universal skill I have, although I’m sure there are more, is to know and be able to contact your deeper wants and needs.

It can be as simple as a mantra or words you say to yourself throughout the day: “What do I want? What do I need? What do I want now? What do I need now?”

This is an especially a good antidote for the nice guys who are constantly thinking about what other people want and giving it to them as a way of securing validation, thinking that’s how they’ll like or love me.

Shana:
What’s your distinction between knowing your needs versus your deeper needs? Is there something different there?

Jim:
Well, first, if there was a structure to wants and needs, I would say needs are the strongest. The need is something that’s unique. It’s a very strong core want. Then there’s a want, a desire, a preference, and then no preference.

That’s on the scale of decreasing intensity. So there’s that model.

I would say that there are some needs that feel non-negotiable. There are other ones that I might call a need, but I’m not so sure that if I didn’t get that, I would have to leave the relationship, or would choose a different path in life.

Shana:
You’re wanting men to get in touch with the deeper need. Not just a preference or something on the surface, but to know what moves them, touches them, is deeply fulfilling and meaningful.

I’m really curious about this. What can the individual archetypes do and what are their ideas of power? What is distorted versus true power?

Jim:
Let’s start with the bully. His main task is to become more integrated and to open his heart, to feel the sadness or the grief that’s beneath that layer of anger, judgment or blaming others. That aggressive energy can often be posturing. It’s the posturing guy appearing to be in charge. Usually there’s a lot underneath that.

Shana:
I think of it as a protective layer.

Jim:
Exactly. For him a practice would be to see the child in everyone. Imagine that as you’re looking at people, you see them when they were five years old. That can help shift the bully’s perspective. It’s also important for him to learn to apologize, to make amends, to be willing to be wrong and admit it. The vulnerability piece we talked about is really good for the bully to practice.

For the strategizer: How can you relax your mind and stop making it the thing that’s running the show? That’s a lifetime practice for most strategizers because their entire sense of safety and security is built around control with the mind. What are ways to do that? Have a kid!

Shana:
As a parent, that makes me laugh.

Jim:
I know. The solution for a lot of these is have a kid. Or put yourself in a situation that’s chaotic, and don’t try to create order out of it.

Explore the practice of surrender, the practice of quieting the mind. Those are all good ideas for the strategizer.

Some people say, “That’s why I smoke pot or take some kind of drug or drink alcohol at the end of the day, because I can finally relax my mind.” Can you do that without having to use some kind of substance?

Shana:
Right. It’s interesting to hear you say the word surrender, because I imagine that could be kind seen as a more feminine quality. I believe we all have masculine and feminine so I don’t see that as a problem. But another way to think about it is to put yourself in the middle of chaos and then let go of trying to control it. Or let go of needing to actually know or understand how to make it organized, or smooth.

Jim:
Messy. There’s a messiness to life that’s natural and the strategizer is trying to avoid that.

Shana:
It’s interesting when you think about sex, too. I don’t know if messy is exactly the right word, but it is chaotic, or it can be, when there’s a lot of passion and a lot of energy. There is a chaotic quality to it.

Jim:
The program that I’m most excited and use with guys right now in the coaching work is Multi-Orgasmic Lover.

One of the key principles of that is learning to surrender because if you’re going to become multi-orgasmic, you’re not going to do that from a place of control or being in charge of what’s going to happen.

You have to find a way to open to receive first and then really, really surrender. When I talk to guys about that they say, “I don’t know about this,” but I’m just saying, it doesn’t make you less of a man to learn how to surrender. In fact, it can become incredibly empowering for you. To feel surrender gives me power. Vulnerability gives me power.

Shana:
Oh, I love this.

Jim:
Let’s talk about flow boy and what works for him. For flow boy, one practice is to make choices for long-term gain instead of short-term benefit or pleasure. That could be as simple as starting an investment account or putting money away for yourself in the future, growing a garden, something that you do over time each year. Have a kid.

Shana:
Have a kid!

Jim:
Learn to tolerate a lack of excitement or boredom, so you become more tolerant of that instead of looking for the next great or cool thing. Find pleasure in the mundane.

Shana:
That’s a powerful one. I can see that someone who’s used to wanting the next best thing thinking, “Why on Earth would I want to embrace boredom?” When my kid comes to me and says, “I’m bored,” I think it can be a good thing.

Jim:
Totally. If we look at it from a sexual lens, flow boy is always looking for the newest, greatest, hottest thing. Whether it’s a cool sex position from the Kama Sutra he’s never tried, to thinking his partner is not giving him the spark anymore so he’ll go find a new one.

That’s the most superficial version of it. What is it like to stay the course and find out what happens when you do go long-term, when you do stick something out? What is it in you that requires that part to move on? Get curious.

Shana:
That is so powerful, especially in a long-term relationship. It could be great to bring in a new position or a new spark, but there’s also the subtlety of just touching someone you’ve known in a more intimate way. You can put your hand on your partner and actually feel for a couple of minutes. Or look into their eyes. All the things we skip for the hotter spark.

Jim:
Yes, exactly. Then for the nice guy, his pathway to integration involves setting clear boundaries, standing up for himself, being willing to tolerate disappointing others. This one is really important. A lot of guys I coach who are coming from the nice guy frame will say, “I hate disappointing others.” “I didn’t want to disappoint my wife,” or “I didn’t want to tell her this because I didn’t want to disappoint her.” If you can tolerate disappointing others, you’ve just taken a huge step forward.

Also, take full responsibility for your life, one hundred percent responsibility for your life. Nice guys can also practice talking louder, taking up more space, and hitting things.

Shana:
Hit things. Not people. Things!

Jim:
Of course it’s important to understand your wants and needs, just like we talked about earlier. Stay with the mantra: “What are my wants? What are my needs?”

Shana:
These are so powerful and clear. Check to see what your percentage is and take on a practice, even just one practice, for the archetype that is your highest percentage. I could see this making a huge difference for men.

Jim:
I want men to know there’s a gift of the wound. Each of us is one of those archetypes because of a particular wounding. I’ll tell you the gift of each wound and then we can talk about what it’s like as you climb higher up the pyramid.

The bully’s positive shadow is we would call the lovingly dominant ravisher. The strategizer’s positive shadow would be the thoughtful problem-solver. The flow boy’s positive shadow is to be a huge pleasure conductor. The nice guy’s positive shadow is the heartfelt attuned guy with healthy boundaries. That’s what’s possible for each of those aspects.

Shana:
What is it like as men climb up the sides of the pyramid toward the top?

Jim:
What I notice is that as you take steps up, you stop looking at people as differing from you. We all get more and more the same as we get higher up the pyramid, in a good way. We all become more and more integrated. We start to have the same language, or we become more focused on the similarities than the differences.

Shana:
What becomes possible when that happens?

Jim:
Lovemaking goes to a whole new level. Actually, life goes to a whole new level.

In terms of being in the bedroom, you become more of the man you can be. Women respond to that. Your partners will respond because they feel parts of you, that have been dormant, come alive. If you  have that 20% bully inside of you and now you’re cultivating it out in this positive way they may think “Oh my God, I love when that part comes out!”

Or instead of bullying all the time, you’re stopping for a moment realizing, “I think I feel sad right now.” And your partner may say “Oh my God. He said he felt sad. He’s never said that before,” and her heart cracks open because you’re now integrating those parts that you have not owned or allowed in yourself.

Shana:
I love imagining that. And how you may be dominatingly ravishing and then a tender, emotional part comes in. Then there’s a deeper connection that gets to happen. More pleasure comes from there!

Jim:
The Multi-Orgasmic Lover is the program I love taking guys through. I do one-on-one coaching with them through that program and that helps guys transform their sex lives from feeling like they don’t last long enough, or they’re flatlining in bed, or other bedroom issues that guys have.

It creates radical change for them because they learn attune to themselves, their own bodies and their own aliveness, rather than externalizing it and having it be about the woman.

Shana:
Beautiful. Thank you for doing this work. Thank you for doing it in the sexual realm and I know how far-reaching the impact is to every aspect of a man’s life.

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