Breaking the cultural context about a man’s vulnerability
with Shana James
Vulnerability in men can lead to isolation, depression and suicide. In fact, the suicide rate in men is four times more than women, and suicide is the seventh leading cause of death in men.
Why are men afraid to share their vulnerability? And what can they do about it so they will feel empowered to lead a life of connection, openness and honesty? As young boys, males are taught not to shed tears because it is a sign of weakness. It is unmanly and unattractive, they’ve been told. It’s time to break this cultural context! During a Smart Sex, Smart Love podcast, Love and Leadership Coach Shana James, talks about how men can create more balance in their life so they will feel free to share their vulnerability and feel less isolated and alone. She explores male vulnerability as a strength in men, not a weakness. Men need to feel safe to explore and express their vulnerability, she asserts, but we’ve created a world that won’t allow this to happen. Listen to Shana’s podcast with Dr. Joe Kort on how men can begin to share their vulnerability and feel confident and powerful for expressing their feelings.
JOE KORT 0:04
Welcome to Smart sex smart love. We’re talking about sex goes beyond the taboo and talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. today’s podcast title is vulnerability, sex and suicide. My guest today is love and leadership coach Shana James. For the past 20 years Shana has coached more than 1000 people to find love, rekindle Spark, step into leadership, grow businesses, increase their impact, and become more personally inspired and fulfilled. Shana has a master’s degree in psychology, disk di C, di sc, and PQ certifications. Hopefully you’ll tell us what those are, and his 15 years facilitating workshops on authenticity and communication. She has also started multiple businesses and helped hundreds of entrepreneurs start their own her deep and spiritual practice, add support for stuck spots in your career, love and sex life and sole purpose. She loves working with people who are sensitive and seek a deeper understanding of life and love. Welcome, Shana.
Shana James 1:09
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
JOE KORT 1:11
Yeah. So nice to meet you. I’m so looking forward. I mean, it’s such a strange juxtaposition of vulnerability, sex and suicide. I
Shana James 1:19
was like, No, I know, I even said maybe that’s too much. But you know, the, the reality is that they really, you know, there is an overlap there. And I tend to love you know, I tend to love the overlaps, right? Like I talk about how sales and sex are there, there are a lot of overlaps, right, the bedroom in the boardroom. And when you really think about men, I work a lot with men. And so when men are unhappy, or when couples aren’t having sexual satisfaction, you know, men tend to be very isolated and alone and not getting support and it can lead to depression, it can lead to suicide. So, right the the crisis that I’m seeing right now is that as relationships are breaking down, and people are having less sex or less connected sex, you know, the inner sense of life is good, and I’m okay decreases. And the suicide rate for men is unfortunately extremely high right now.
JOE KORT 2:24
What is What are the statistics for suicide among men?
Shana James 2:27
God the last, I mean, the last I was reading suicide rates for men are four times higher than women, but I don’t know the exact percentages. It’s different in different places in the world. I know Australia has a pretty high rate of suicide for men, and they believe the US does as well. So it’s just you know, it’s, it’s sad to, to look at and to see, okay, how can all of us men, women, people of all genders, right, what needs to happen to create some more balance and so that people don’t feel people of all genders? I don’t feel as isolated and alone. And yeah, stuck in that sense of? I don’t know. You know, I don’t know what will have me feel good. And I feel afraid to say it right. There’s this shame around not being not feeling good. Not doing good enough. And then then the isolation.
JOE KORT 3:22
Yeah, you know, I should really know those statistics about men because I my work is on male sexuality. And yeah, and I do know about vulnerability, I always talk about how we teach little boys to turn their backs on vulnerability. Right, so that they can join the fray of patriarchy and boyhood and friend, and then when they become men, people shame them, like what’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you rollerball and we forget that we taught them?
Shana James 3:48
Yeah, yeah, in my TEDx talk, I did a TEDx talk called what 1000 Men’s tears reveal about the crisis between men and women. And one of the examples was where someone shamed my kid who was in kindergarten, you know, walking down the hall in school crying and this woman just walked by and said no tears some you know, random person, like not even knowing what my kid was crying about. And I was like, what’s that? Lets you know well, I said I fortunately did not punch her but I wanted to and I you know, immediately said to my kid tears are fine tears are okay, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to hurt about things and, you know, bringing vulnerability into sex. And the the podcast is about sex. It’s like, a lot of men come to me and women to thinking, I shouldn’t admit that. either. I don’t know what I’m doing. Or I’m not sure if I’m satisfying you or sex doesn’t feel good to me. And if we don’t talk about it, and we don’t say anything, whether it’s before, during or after, right, those are great times to talk about it the setting up a sexual experience or sometime not in the bedroom. There’s in the midst of it, which can be the hardest moment And then I really talked about the debrief, right. You know, if you talk about what went well, what did we love about that experience? And what would we want different, then we’re not as isolated and alone and going off into our own silos feeling like, well, it’s hopeless, it’s never going to get better, I’m never gonna get what I want. And you know that that has a huge impact on somebody’s life. And this isn’t just sex, right? I was gonna say like, it expands into intimacy and connection and affection and all of that, but sexually very concrete way to look at it.
JOE KORT 5:31
But now, um, tell me, because you’re talking about vulnerability having to do with the high rate of suicide around sex, I guess. So. What? How do you make that connection? Right?
Shana James 5:40
I mean, it I don’t think it has to do with sex, but sex is part of it, right? So it’s not like, just vulnerability around sex leads to suicide, but vulnerability in general, where when people don’t feel like they can be vulnerable, or they can say, what their needs are, what their fears are, then again, that leads to what we’ve been talking about this sense of isolation, the sense of nobody’s on my side, nobody knows me, nobody understands me. And so I find that sex is a very concrete way to see what’s happening in all other aspects of life as well, right? Because you can see, oh, this physical act didn’t go well. Or then you know, we broke down, then we stopped talking to each other. Right. Whereas in some of the other aspects of life, whether it’s, you know, connection, affection, or even work career route, you know, colleague, relationships, family relationships, it’s a little less specific, right? It’s a little less concrete.
JOE KORT 6:42
Yes, yeah. I do know that. Because I work with mostly heterosexual couples, people don’t think that because I’m gay, and a lot of my writings are gay. And yet I do 75%. I work with men and their their female partners. And the biggest issue is when he’s watching porn, or erotica, and she catches him, and he cannot explain to her why he’s watching it. It’s not about her that it’s separate from her. It’s in addition to her. And so then that would be thankfully that brings them into the office. I don’t know about the couples that don’t, right, they can’t talk openly. The men don’t have the words. Have you seen this?
Shana James 7:17
Yeah, practice? Definitely, I’ve definitely seen this. And I tend to work with a lot of men, a lot of men come to me sometimes with their partners, but sometimes alone, talking about their relationship and whether it’s going to work or how you know why it’s breaking down. And then and then often men who are single, who wants to be in relationship, and it hasn’t worked in the past. So I do often see that men don’t have words. And as a woman who tends to also work with a lot of heterosexual men, because I am a woman in that way. And I get to play the role of the woman. And so I help them practice getting the words out of their mouths, right? And so if there’s a moment where it’s like, we hit a pocket of shame, or fear, or sadness, or whatever it may be, we get to slow it down and say, Okay, what’s really going on there? And why, you know, what, why do you judge yourself for this? Or what are the words that you would actually use to express how this fills a desire for you? It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about her, or what would you want to have in the in the dynamic between the two of you, you know, maybe it’s not about cutting out porn completely. But it might be about less porn, more of something in this dynamic in your relationship. And if you’re scared to ask for it, or you don’t have the words, then let’s practice and explore what that would be.
JOE KORT 8:40
Yeah, no, I like that a lot. You put in your work is about vulnerability being sexy. Can you talk about that?
Shana James 8:47
Yeah. Well, I think a lot of people think that vulnerability kills passion. And a lot of men come to me thinking, well, if I’m vulnerable, then I’m going to seem weak, or I’m going to seem small, or I’m going to seem boyish. But again, in my TEDx talk, I talk about the difference between a vulnerability dump, right, where it’s like a little bit of like a hot potato, like, I can’t handle this, I got to get rid of this. I don’t like this discomfort. Can you take it? Can you fix it? Versus a sense of, okay, I am a strong and powerful human being. And there’s something I’m feeling vulnerable about right now. And to be able to say that right, we have to love ourselves enough that we, you know, we have to work through the shame if there’s something we feel ashamed about, then we do that kind of dump, or we say it apologetically, or we say it defensively, or we don’t say it at all. And so again, a lot of times I end up working with people on that self love, what would it take to have compassion for yourself? What would it take to make that desire or that frustration or about something that isn’t working well? would it take to make that right? And so then you can come to a conversation and vulnerability, I believe vulnerability, and I’ve experienced this many times where it can be really sexy. My partner even said to me the other day, wow, you just said that really vulnerable thing. And somehow it was really hot. You know, somehow I felt way more connected to you. And I got turned on, as opposed to you were over there distance not telling me what was going on. It was, you know, very confusing and separate. So, I think about conversations about what do we actually want? You know, what do we want in our romantic life? What do we want in our partnership, those conversations, when you actually start to feel the pleasure of the desires versus shame about desires, they get more playful, they get more exciting, they get more edgy, and they get more sexy?
JOE KORT 10:54
Yeah. And that’s the promise of helping people begin those sexual health conversations. Yeah, and have erotic compassion for one another. That’s what I call it.
Shana James 11:02
Love that erotic compassion. That’s amazing.
JOE KORT 11:05
Yeah, I think it’s really important. But I also find that when I asked straight couples a call the mixed sex couples, too, because not always, you know, they could be bisexual.
I asked them, you know, so what about masturbation? And they’re like, We never talk about that. I’m like, why don’t you talk about, you know, like, gay male and lesbian couples talk about it.
Shana James 11:24
I know, heterosexual couples really got the the shaft somehow not in the good way. Right. It’s like, I don’t know. I don’t know why. I don’t know why. But that would be a great topic for another time is why why do you know gay couples, lesbian couples? Why do people of mixed genders talk or, or, you know, sexual desires preferences? Like, somehow they got outside of the box of yes, we’re not allowed to talk about this, maybe because it’s just not, you know, the information, which is bad information is not passed down. And so you’re kind of finding your own way. Whereas in heterosexual relationships, we just take what’s there, assuming Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to be. But it’s part of my friends such shit information that then most of us are, you know, up the creek?
JOE KORT 12:11
No, no, is it they can’t talk about masturbation. And it’s really hard to get them talking about just what I want to run. What I like, yeah. Have you been you know about those websites where people can go on and put in what they like, and then the partner puts in what they like, and it only spits out what they like, together? No, that sounds great. I know. So if you said something that the partner didn’t want, didn’t like, then they never know about it until you decide to tell?
Shana James 12:37
Uh huh, that sounds amazing. I like that. I mean, right, because it is really vulnerable. It’s interesting how, you know, even for me, I found in my, with my history, being joyful, can be vulnerable, which might sound crazy. But you know, having joy and being excited, in my family system wasn’t really the way that it worked. And so, for me, if I get really joyful or excited about something, I can feel like, this is okay, I might be left or abandoned, you know, even though it’s in some ways, it’s like, well, of course, Joy is great. And joy is contagious. And if you’re joyful, then maybe your partner would feel more joyful. But we all have these very twisted, you know, histories, where we get wounded when we’re young. And so desires, especially I find for most of my clients are very vulnerable to share, if you don’t know if someone’s going to say, yes, you know, or if they’re going to like it, too. And what I often work with people on is, okay, even if someone else doesn’t like your desire, it may not be a match for desires, but that doesn’t make it bad or wrong.
JOE KORT 13:43
Right, right. And you know, a lot of what happens is, people could be either partner, I have a disgust response. And then if I have a disgust response, I find you disgusting. And then people from being vulnerable, who wants to feel that way? No, nobody
Shana James 13:55
wants to be received with discus, right. So then we have to work with, Okay, how are you receiving? Or then if I’m working with a man, especially who’s coming to me without his partner? I have to work with him on All right, what happens when you get that disgust response? How do you still maintain your own self worth and sense of, you know, goodness, in the face of someone else’s disgust?
JOE KORT 14:20
Yeah, right. Right. So a lot of guys, what they’ll do is if she finds, let’s say, his point, this is a typical scenario, my office, yeah, finds his porn, she’s mortified. She’s comparing herself, you want that then over me, and that’s not true. And he doesn’t have the words for it, whatever. So then he says, I promise I will never do this again, because he doesn’t want to hurt her. I clean my, you know, computer, I wipe my harddrive whatever. And then he does it again. He does it again. And then the next time it’s not about the porn anymore. It’s about the lie, and the lie, to trust and I always tell straight men do not make this promise. Because what you’re saying is and really helping couples understand auto erotic, a separate sex lies from each other that justifies yourself should be added to your relationship. What do you
Shana James 15:02
have? I completely agree. And I like that term auto erotic because I’m actually teaching a class. I think this week, I was gonna say next week, I think it’s this week on what to do with your sexual desires, what to do with your desire for sex when you’re not having it? Yes, you’re a group of men. And one of them is right, that sense of auto erotic Did you call it right? Or this, you know that right? That you can have a sex life with yourself, it’s not all dependent on your partner. And of course, we want to get you having a great sex life with your partner. But if you’re feeling like, there’s no other option, or there’s no other way to satisfy yourself, then you get really stuck in that situation.
JOE KORT 15:42
Right? And so how do you teach them this kind of vulnerability? Do you have steps? Or what how do you what do you do?
Shana James 15:49
It’s a great question. I mean, I do have some contexts, you know, some ways for men, I often work with men right now, which is why I keep saying men, but it could be people of any gender, you know, to bring up a vulnerable conversation and to to one of the important pieces that I find is context, you know that as you’re starting to have a conversation, when you tell someone why you want to have this conversation, it takes the stories and the fears and the the wounding, you know that oh, my gosh, this thing is gonna happen to me again, out of their mind and replaces it with a sense of why you want to have this conversation. So if I say to you, wow, honey, I’m having a desire to try this new thing sexually. What often happens with the receiving person is, you don’t like our sex life, I’m not good enough. There’s someone else hotter, you know, we’re watching porn, all the things. Whereas if I say to you, you know, I’ve been feeling this desire to know you and your body more completely, or I’ve been feeling this, you know, desire to have a kind of sex with you that I don’t know if we’ve ever had, but I want to feel closer to you through it. If I set the context of why I’m bringing up this topic, then the vulnerability tends to go better. So I do have things like that, that I work with people on. And then ultimately, like I said, Before, I think it’s when we you and I help people to love themselves, which is such a broad concept. But what I mean by that is to really know I am good, my desires are good, I don’t have to apologize or defend anything, I can have an open hearted conversation without collapsing or falling into despair or self hatred. You know, that to me is the the source of vulnerability, being able to be shared, and then actually creating more connection.
JOE KORT 17:46
I like what you just said we call it in psychotherapy is and you know, this is differentiation, right? Different doesn’t make you bad or wrong, or what makes me different doesn’t make me bad or wrong. Yes. Yeah. But when there’s sexual desire, oh, go ahead. No, no, either. We’ll just when there’s sexual interests that differ, or there’s desire discrepancy, or those kinds of things, that’s like heavy, heavy stuff. And like you, that’s why I love this work you do and the vulnerability gets even higher.
Shana James 18:12
Yeah. Right. And if you can’t, if you’ve been trained, that you’re not supposed to talk about it, or if you’ve never been trained about how to talk about it in a way that goes well, and then you have an experience where you try to bring it up and someone’s disgusted with you, or someone shames you or makes you wrong in any way, then what are you going to do? Right? Likely, you’re going to say, forget it. I’m not going to do that. Again, that was not a very fun experience and carry that forward into your relationships.
JOE KORT 18:39
Right. Right. So um, what else about your work? Should we know that we haven’t touched on yet?
Shana James 18:45
What else? Mmm hmm. Good question. A big question. I don’t know. I think again, I really love the range of I’ve I’ve had many experiences in my life in different relationship styles and different sexual styles and you know, from Tantra, and kink and BDSM and open relationships and all kinds of things. So I just have a very accepting way. And that when people come to me, you know, things don’t surprise me and I find I have a I guess you could call it a kink in a way of like, I love helping people understand how a wide range of experiences and differences can actually come together in a really beautiful creative art artful way, right? That like you said, we can use our differences if one person is really into you know, a kind of connection affection or sex that’s very gentle and loving and another person wants something you know, harder and faster, like helping I love helping people bridge those gaps and have those conversations. And again, sometimes it’s in the bedroom and sometimes it’s about quality time or emotional connection or, you know, I’m actually where On a book called Honest sex, and what I find in there is that honesty is ultimately the foundation of passion. And without that, you know, like it hardly I hardly ever actually work on sex with my clients. So we hardly ever talk about the sexual act, because we’re talking about everything around sex that actually creates passion and those conversations and the emotional connections and again, our, you know, back to our relationship with ourselves. So yeah, those are some of the things that I’m passionate about.
JOE KORT 20:33
Well, I like to teach people and you probably already know this too, about erotic orientation, right? We have a sexual orientation to whom we’re attracted. But the Radek orientation has all of our turnouts, all the positions, we like all the role plays all the power exchange, and those are the horrible places that people don’t go. And then even if they do go there, then it’s vulnerable to say, I get off on this, I experienced pleasure from this that might be against our morals against the law against, you know, in our heads that I might want to roleplay, consensually with you, but wouldn’t be weird, you know, like that those are really hard conversations for couples, aren’t they?
Shana James 21:07
Yes, they are. And I love that you talk about that. And I love that you have that distinction, right? That is not just sexual attraction, there’s erotic attraction. And, you know, because it’s not much talked about, often couples come together without knowing that about each other. And that can create, you know, that can wreak some havoc down the road when it’s like, oh, I didn’t know. And I think it can get harder and harder, the longer you’re with someone to talk about things because it’s like, oh, well, if I didn’t say that five years ago, I’m gonna say it now. And then my partner is gonna be shocked, or my partner might leave me because they don’t like that. So I really encourage people, even if it’s been a lot, whether it’s whether it’s been a new relationship, or whether it’s been a long time, to find ways to have those conversations. And if you get stuck, right, come to someone like us, so that you can really get clear, oh, this is, this is what I’m ashamed of. This is what I want. This is how I want to, you know, talk about this. This is what would actually go over better without any forcing or, you know, pushing someone into something. But again, we go back to vulnerability, how do I share from my own strength and sense of self as well as vulnerability and compassion for myself and the other person?
JOE KORT 22:22
Well, your work sounds so good, and I knew it would be and we when we looked you up and found you were like, we have to have her on. Say, where can people find you Shana?
Shana James 22:33
Now my website is Shana James coaching, calm and it’s Shana as sh a NA. And if you add the what does it backslash, and then TEDx. You can see my TED talk, what 1000 Men’s tears reveal about the crisis between men and women. And I also have some guides and support there for both men and women. And you know, I feel called to say this, like you said, I tend to work with couples who are heterosexual but any gender you can you can get any of the guides for any gender, because, you know, there’s a lot of things a lot of people who listen to the podcast find, oh, I love learning. I’m a woman, but I love learning what men are learning and I’m, you know, whatever gender you can mix and match. So pick what works for you.
JOE KORT 23:17
Awesome. Thank you so much. And I hope people will go to your TED talk, go to your website, find your work. I do want to thank you for being here and joining me on smart sex smart love. And you can hear more of my podcasts at Smart sex smart love.com. And also follow me on Twitter, tik, Tok, Instagram and Facebook. And you can go to Dr. Joe court. Well, actually, it’s Joe court.com. And all my handles are at Dr. Joe court. Thank you for joining us. We’ll see you next time.