Exploring and Understanding the Masculine and Feminine – An Introduction

By Dr. Keith Witt
February 19, 2012
iStock_000004398866XSmall-300x225 Back around 1998 Becky gave me some cassette tapes (remember cassette tapes?) of a teacher named David Deida working with people during one of his workshops. I was instantly fascinated. He had a no-nonsense approach to masculine and feminine that I hadn’t encountered before. Briefly:
  • The masculine is anchored in that part of us—deepest awareness—that never changes. The masculine resonates with pure consciousness, presence, meaning at the edge of death, and is drawn to the feminine form and energy.
  • The feminine is all that changes. The feminine resonates with love, free flowing emotion, delight in being seen as light, and is drawn to trustable masculine presence.
  • We all have both masculine and feminine aspects, but fundamentally most of us—especially in the sexual occasion—are more masculine (the leader in the dance of eroticism), or more feminine (the follower in the dance).
  • Masculine and feminine people in proximity tend to generate sparks of erotic polarity, which can turn into love affairs.
  • Relationships progress from first stage, me first, to second stage, let’s be equal and talk about everything, to third stage, let’s open in love to be our best selves, the clearest expressions of spirit on earth.
Deida’s system fit together beautifully, and I read his books, studied his tapes, went to his lectures and workshops, absorbed his work, cross validated it with other people’s material, and applied it to psychotherapy. I started finding other masculine/feminine theorist/practitioners like Regena Thomashauer, anthropologists like Helen Fisher, and developmentalist/neuroscientists like Ed Tronick and Alan Shore whose work expanded my understanding further. Clients, students, and audiences at lectures love this material—largely I think because our modern and post-modern society has minimized the huge differences between masculine and feminine in reaction the oppression of women in most of human history, and yet we all know it’s way different being a guy (usually more masculine) or a woman (usually more feminine) in almost every situation. One of the first things we become aware of as we develop a conscious self in our second year (12 to 24 months) is whether we’re a boy or a girl and what that means. A lot of psychologists in the last century thought that such learning was just social conditioning—implying that you could raise a boy like a girl or a girl like a boy and they’d just naturally completely take on the roles you taught them. No way.

It’s true, culture hugely influences how we experience and embody who we are

Some men have a more feminine sexual essence and some women a more masculine sexual essence. But there are also major genetic differences between men and women that start at conception and keep differentiating the male and female physiology, social networks, sexuality, morality, and general experience throughout life. When I train therapists, my emphasis is on them discovering and enhancing their natural healing style—always influenced to some extent by their unique balance of masculine/feminine aspects/essence. I’ve found adding the dimensions of masculine, feminine, erotic polarity, and first, second, and third stage relating makes any helping approach much more powerful. I was studying Deida’s material just about the time I was learning Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology, which had equally profound effects on my understanding of everything (Integral Theory is that mind-blowing—if you learn it, your world changes). Interestingly, I later discovered the two men had been friends for decades. My first two books—Waking Up and Sessions—explicitly applied many of their ideas to the understanding and practice of psychotherapy.

How is understanding masculine and feminine useful?

Well check out the following session with John and Karen. They came in depressed (both of them) with Karen despairing about how unappealing John had become in the last couple of years. Karen started the session with, “We don’t connect any more. John comes home and just sits in front of the T.V. I ask him how his day went, and he always says, ‘Fine.’ What does that mean?” John sighs deeply, “What do you want me to say? It’s just another day.” I decide to step in, “When’s the last time you two felt intimate?” They both look confused, and—like many couples—interpret the question sexually. Karen looks reprovingly at John and says, “We haven’t made love in months. John’s not interested.” This activates John a little bit. “What do you mean? You don’t want to.” Karen, in obvious frustration, replies, “Where do you get these ideas?” John, somewhat self-righteously, “You always say ‘no.’” Now Karen is outraged, “Always? You’ve only asked twice since I can remember, and then in the middle of the night.”  She looks over to me for validation. “Who wants to wake up at 2:00 AM and have sex?” I step in before they can accelerate any further. “First of all, Karen, you’re a more feminine person. John, you’re a more masculine person. The feminine yearns to be known and claimed by the masculine. You want him to be intimate in ways you like at times you want intimacy.” She nods as if this is the most obvious thing in the world. I continue with John. “John, the masculine does best when fully resolved, and is usually the leader in the dance of eroticism. How resolved have you been to find the right time and approach Karen in ways she likes?” John looks down, “I’m never confident with Karen.” She looks a little surprised, and I continue with John, though also indirectly talking to Karen. “The feminine likes a resolved masculine person, and especially one attuned to her. It’s yummy for a woman to be deeply known by a man, and to have him get who she is and how she wants to connect. Your lack of resolve diminishes your erotic polarity with Karen, and makes it harder for her to surrender into her feminine side and be danced by you.” I have both of their attention now. Karen is nodding vigorously, because the feminine grows best in the presence of loving praise, and I’m praising her feminine light. John is looking thoughtful because I’m challenging him to step up to know her and claim her, and the masculine grows best in the presence of loving challenge. I continue a little bit more to extend this beyond sex, because—especially to women—love, sex, intimacy, and arousal are hugely contextual and intertwined. “This is about intimacy, not just sex. Though, don’t get me wrong, sex is hugely important (guys like John need to hear this so they don’t feel ashamed thinking about sex every day). In the dance of your life, John, you’re more often the masculine partner and you, Karen, the feminine partner. The feminine craves a trustable, present partner who knows her and attunes to her needs and rhythms, adjusting to enhance her pleasure. Like bringing her a cup of tea just when she wants it, or asking her about her day and really being interested. The masculine craves feminine joy, light, pleasure, and devotion, and Karen, you haven’t felt safe or connected enough to be generous in these ways.” Both of them relax hearing this. They glance shyly at each other. Even though I’m speaking generically, this feels strangely intimate to them because it rings true and is being discussed openly. Most of us have taboos about these kinds of conversations. John finally speaks, “I want to do this, but I don’t know how.” Karen looks a little guilty. “There’s never any time for us.” I smile at them.” I can help you get better at this, so you can deepen your erotic charge and feel more delighted as man and woman with each other. But it will take some work.” John looks resolved for the first time in the session. “I’m up for it.” Karen looks at him with admiration. “Thank you John! I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

This is the power of knowing your sexual aspects and essence and developing them to create more love.

You can better relax into who you truly are in the moment, and consciously harmonize with your partner. Integral Psychology understands the world from a number of dimensions including objective/subjective, developmental lines and levels, states of consciousness, and types of people. I consider masculine/feminine aspects and essence to be so central to the human experience that they constitute an overriding typology that informs all other types—they are metatypes. For instance, in the introvert/extrovert system, more masculine introverts or extraverts are different from more feminine ones, and so on.

Who am I?

Ask yourself:
  • What is my deepest sexual essence?
  • In the sexual occasion am I more the leader, resting in deepest consciousness, wanting to possess and guide the feminine to deeper pleasure?
  • Am I more the follower, relaxing into my body and surrendering to being blissfully guided into deeper pleasure expressed through movement, breath, and sound?
  • I have both masculine and feminine aspects that show up differently throughout the day. What are they, and how do they show themselves?
Try talking about all this with your partner, and see what the conversation uncovers and reveals. Such discussions with people we love tend to create deeper intimacy and personal revelations.

Exploring and understanding the masculine and feminine is a central mission of The School of Love.


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