A quick note re: Polarity among cis heterosexuals vs. genderqueer individuals
Before we get into it, I want to offer some context for how I'm framing the ideas and concerns in this article.
This is primarily about polarity dynamics within cis heterosexual couples, because these seem to be the couples most at risk of being confused and hurt by them.
It's been my observation that individuals within the queer community generally give a lot more consideration to the distinctions between their anatomy and their gender, and are more practiced at both knowing themselves and expressing themselves outside the "men must be masculine" and "women must be feminine" prescriptions that define heteronormativity.
(For more on this, check out this post: "3 Lessons I Learned About Masculine and Feminine Energy from Talking to Queer People")
Queer individuals are also more practiced at identifying and rejecting assumptions about bodies, genders, roles, and preferences within their relationships.
Straight people... not so much. Being straight doesn't preclude anyone from developing these skills of course, and there are cis straight people who are also bending and breaking their prescribed gender norms. It's just less common, especially for the ones who feel very little friction between their anatomical sex and socialized gender expectations, to ask questions about how these things could feel misaligned.
This is why the belief that "masculine and feminine energetics are the key to hot and healthy heterosexual relationships" can backfire quite quickly within heterosexual couples.
And, admittedly... it also has its place, when you know how to avoid the traps.
Masculine-Feminine Polarity Teachings: The Basics
In case this is a new concept for you, the basic idea is that masculine and feminine energies are opposite, and because opposites attract, the sexual spark between two people will be stronger in proportion to how much each of them embodies masculine or feminine energy.
It works like magnetic poles: only a magnet with a positive charge and a magnet with a negative charge will be drawn to each other. Two magnets with the same charge will be repelled by each other.
A uber-masculine man and a super-feminine woman will have the hottest sexual spark between them, whereas a masculine man with a masculine woman, or a feminine woman with a feminine man, will barely have any fizzle at all.
While the nuances of what is meant by "masculine" or "feminine" energy varies quite a lot between teachers, this breakdown from Tony Robbins' website provides some definitions that seem widely accepted:
What is Masculine Polarity?
The energy that drives masculine polarity is focused and directive. Masculine energies are most fulfilled when they have a purpose and are working toward a goal. They have a strong physical presence and are centered and unwavering. They are good decision-makers and love a challenge, and while they can seem unemotional, they want to be appreciated for their skills and contributions.
Masculine polarity can become depolarized when they are required to take on the role of caretaker in the relationship or if their partner questions their direction (whether because they are lost while driving or are flailing with direction in life). Someone with masculine energy won’t feel a sexual tie to their partner if they feel overly criticized, controlled or that their partner is closed off to them.
What is Feminine Polarity?
Feminine polarity seeks emotional fulfillment and connection. This energy is open and full of energy, oftentimes nurturing, other times more free-spirited. It is all about emotion for the feminine partner – giving and receiving love, making connections and appreciating the beauty of life.
For a person with feminine polarity, if they feel unseen, feel unsafe or feel that they’re not understood, then there will be no sexual attraction for their masculine partner. Similarly, if a feminine person is criticized for looking run down or worn out, this makes them feel less radiant and unloved, and they will start to shut down.
If you rolled your eyes while reading that, I get it.
If it really resonated with you, I get that too.
There's a primal resonance with the opposites attract aspect of it. And yet, when it comes to usefully applying it in modern relationships, taking polarity dynamics too seriously can easily fuck things up.
What Polarity Gets Right
Opposites do attract. That's true.
Even though having similar values and lifestyles can be very important factors in long-term compatibility, primal attraction tends to be driven by energetic differences.
People often are most attracted to those who have qualities that they wish they had. Shy people swoon over the folks who are the life of every party. Someone with a hyper-intellectual job, always in their own head, will probably be attracted to someone who does something more embodied or creative for a living.
And this is a good thing! It's just a sign that we are seeking balance in our lives and within ourselves.
So in that regard, this polarity stuff makes a lot of sense.
And on a larger philosophical level, polarity reminds us that things are best appreciated in contrast to their opposite. It always feels best to be dry after you've been in the pouring rain. A full stomach feels best when it was preceded by real hunger. You can't have light without dark. There's no concept of "day" if night does not exist.
As far as men acting hyper-masculine and women acting hyper-feminine in order to spark hotter sexual chemistry....
... polarity can be effective, yes.
I'm not arguing that it isn't hot, or that it can't be effective.
There's a reason why 50 Shades of Grey was such a hit - Christian Grey checked a lot of the boxes for strong masculine energy and Anastasia Steele fit into the feminine archetype very well.
But as hot as it can be, there are some serious downsides to making "polarity" the defining philosophy of your relationship.
Where Polarity Fucks Us Up
I always hesitate to yuck anyone's yum, and if polarity stuff is your jam and it works really well for you and your partner, then please continue to do what lights you up and feels right for you.
And for those of you who have felt a spidey sense around polarity teachings, who are rubbed the wrong way by it, who feel suspicious of it but you aren't quite sure why, perhaps you'll resonate with the following observations.
It reduces us to "either/or" instead of recognizing we are "both/and"
By insisting that human beings either have a masculine essence OR a feminine essence, it discourages the FULL expression of each person's humanity.
And the solution to everything becomes "amp up your masculine/feminine energy more."
While it may be true that opposites attract, and that a super masculine person may be more attracted to a hyper feminine person, the whole theory misses something really really important about what makes someone stand out and remain interesting, captivating, and attractive over the long haul:
Having both/and qualities.
Polarity teachings feel most true for people who have experienced patterns in dating where they date a particular kind of man (e.g., guys who are into sports and weightlifting, own a gun, are good with power tools and cars, insist on traditional gender roles, and show very little emotion), get tired of the macho act, and start dating a more intellectual, sensitive, progressive type.
In the first relationship, there's attraction to the macho energy... at first. And then it feels condescending and his lack of emotional availability is a barrier to going deeper in the relationship.
In the second relationship, the emotional connection and mutual respect is amazing but the primal lust/desire factor feels more elusive.
And the conclusion becomes: You have to pick. You can't find someone who is the best of both worlds: strong and rugged, AND emotionally intelligent and progressive.
But I'm here to tell you, you absolutely can.
Human beings are not caricatures. We come in all kinds of unique and amazing combinations of qualities. And if YOU are cultivating best-of-both-worlds qualities in yourself, you'll attract someone who has that as well.
You do not have to "specialize" in masculinity or femininity in order to create attraction, harmony, and passion in your partnership. In fact, the more you bring the both/and of both aspects of yourself -- strength AND softness, providing AND nurturing, serving a purpose in the world AND enjoying meaningful connection with others -- the more of a rare and sexy unicorn you will be!
It creates unnecessary pressure and expectations
Polarity teachings impact expectations for your partner, and for yourself, according to the polar energy each of you "should" be embodying, according to your own self-identified "essence" as masculine or feminine.
Instead of getting to be someone who feels free and competent to get into a results-focused, purpose-driven mode and also how to get into a present, emotionally connected mode with friends and family, there's this underlying pressure to be as much in your polarized "essence" as possible.
I really love the approach that Michaela Boehm, author of The Wild Woman's Way and host of The Michaela Boehm Podcast, takes to all this. She recognizes that both masculine and feminine energies...
...the side of us that knows how to be goal-driven and strategic, and which yearns to be appreciated for what we achieve in the world, and the side of us that knows how to be present in our bodies and receptive to beauty, pleasure, and emotions...
... are both essential to cultivate to be a healthy, functional adult in the world.
And it's fine to prefer being in one state over the other most of the time, but when the sexual spark and attraction in your relationship depends on creating as much opposing polarity as possible, then it adds a strange pressure to both of you to get unbalanced in the energies that you embody.
If you are operating under the belief that you can't be "in your feminine" if your man isn't in his masculine, then that's gonna become a whole blame spiral, isn't it? Because who has to go first, then, to take responsibility for putting themselves into their desired energetic state so the other person can be in theirs?
Each person is responsible for getting into the energetic state they want to be in.
When you notice you've been in hustle-mode (i.e., "masculine energy") too long and you're feeling exhausted by it, then you know it's time to do something to get back in your body and your pleasure, like taking a long walk, doing some yoga, or having a sing-and-dance party in the living room.
This is true for anyone -- not just women!
(Sometimes I get the impression that polarity teachers think only women need time for rest and pleasure, as though men are naturally wired to be work horses or something...)
And if I'm being told that I'll be most "magnetic" when I'm deep in my feminine energy, then it's pretty easy to start stressing out about all the ways I embody masculine energy. In fact, there are all kinds of articles out there with headlines like "Five masculine things women do that turn men off".
I could easily worry that I could be turning my partner off when I...
- Do high intensity workouts
- When I work long hours and get zoned in on something that fills me with purpose
- When I pay for things and/or make a lot of money
And I can easily start pressuring myself to be more "in my feminine" by doing things like:
- Hosting / arranging social events for us
- Doing nurturing things like taking care of animals, plants, or children
- Doing some sensuality-embodiment practice like dance or yoga
I may be misunderstanding what is meant by "masculine" or "feminine" energy with these examples but at the end of the day, I just want to do what lights me up and feels aligned for me, knowing that my partner is most turned on when I am most myself, instead of filtering my behaviors by what is more "feminine."
It ties itself to gender while insisting it isn't about gender
Honestly, I think this is the part that upsets me the most and leads to the greatest confusion.
Polarity teachers are usually conscientious enough to know that prescribing masculine energy to men and feminine energy to women will piss people off (and rightfully so).
But to continue to use the terms "masculine" and "feminine" to describe a couple different types of "essences" makes it hard for people to be honest about how much they actually resonate with these teachings.
Especially for straight people, most women are going to want to identify as feminine, and most men are going to want to identify as masculine, and I think polarity teachers know this and leverage our insecurities about it.
It becomes one of those philosophies that, if you challenge it, you'll be met with assumptions about the quality of your own romantic relationship...
...like if I talk about how my husband appreciates it when I pay for things, and how I love how he's the social event planner in our relationship, people might assume we lack polarity, or that one of us is lying about appreciating those qualities in each other.
And I NEVER see polarity teachers holding up an example of a masculine woman and a feminine man as a success story of sexual polarity in action (even though they would, theoretically, have just as much spark as a masculine man and a feminine woman would, right?)
I wonder if playing with the idea of complementary energies in relationships would be a lot more interesting and fun if they weren't given gendered labels, if the presumed pressure to be one or the other (based on gender) would be lifted from the experience.
I bet it would.
The Same Basic Qualities are Universally Attractive
The thing is, the stuff that defines a healthy "masculine" or a healthy "feminine" energy in polarity applies to everyone, universally.
It is far more supportive to the health of a relationship for each person to focus on establishing a strong, healthy balance of these yin-yang forces within ourselves as individuals...
...not blaming a lack of attraction on the respective masculinity or femininity of their partner.
The other side of this is that the "feminine" qualities women don't like in men are just generally unattractive human qualities that aren't really a reflection of what's feminine at all. Same with the qualities men don't like in "masculine" women.
When I see polarity teachers posting about how repellent "masculine women" are to men, and how repellent "feminine men" are to women, I do not see masculine women or feminine men being described.
I see "feminine" men being described as weak and indecisive.
If those qualities were actually feminine, wouldn't a masculine man be attracted to weakness and indecisiveness in a woman...? (I should hope not)
Similarly, I see masculine women being described as untrusting, controlling, and guarded.
If these were actually "masculine" qualities, you'd think a feminine woman would love a man who is untrusting, controlling, and guarded, no?
But obviously, that's not true.
Being weak, indecisive, untrusting controlling, and guarded are unattractive qualities across the board, regardless of polarity.
When the healthy masculine is expressed in a woman, men (even very masculine men) tend to LOVE IT. For example:
- She leads by initiating sex
- She shows strength by hiking with him through the mountains carrying a heavy backpack (my husband in particular gets very turned on by this)
- She holds space for him to feel his full emotions without shaming him for having them.
And a man with a healthy feminine side is also incredibly attractive to most women. This type of man is:
- Embodied: He is able to be present to the sensations of his body and to his pleasure
- Adaptable: He is adaptable, able to go-with-the-flow so changes to the plan don't become a stress fest
- Able to give care: Contrary to the man who feels emasculated by taking on the role of caretaker in the relationship (as Tony Robbins suggested masculine men are), a man with a healthy feminine aspect can be a phenomenal caregiver, whether that manifests as making chicken noodle soup for his partner who is sick with a cold, to feeding the baby in the middle of the night, to walking and training the dog, to administering medication to an elderly parent-in-law. Being able to take care of people signals a depth of love, responsibility, and competency, and it is damn attractive.
These are all attractive qualities, across the board, regardless of gender:
- Being able to hold space for someone else
- Being embodied / present
- Willing and ability to take care of someone
- Emotional intelligence
- Listening skills
- Clarity around one's desires
- Communicating well
- Doing what you say you're going to do
- Sexual aliveness
And look, every polarity teacher is going to have a slightly different spin of what they even mean by what's "feminine" and what's "masculine," so I won't be surprised if someone tells me I've got it all wrong here.
The main point is this:
All humans contain multitudes, and it is unhelpful to push a narrative that attraction wanes in a relationship because you not playing your prescribed gender roles exaggeratedly enough.
That said... the exaggerated polar energies thing isn't entirely useless....
Embracing What Works & Leaving the Rest
My approach to polarity -- the way it proves useful to my own life and relationship -- is to treat it like a kink.
Very similar to dominance and submission play, masculine-feminine polarity is about embodying a particular, exaggerated set of qualities in order to turn each other on and set a "scene" for an exciting sexual interaction to occur.
Any other approaches to polarity are just attempts to prescribe personality qualities to men and women in the form of masculine and feminine "essence," when the reality is that every individual human contains a unique and fluid combination of personal aspects that are both soft and hard, sturdy and vulnerable, confident and insecure, prone to giving and prone to receiving.
We contain all the opposites, all the multitudes.
And the only sustainable way to keep attraction alive over the long term is to encourage yourself and your partner to be their full-spectrum selves.
I don't need my partner to be hyper-masculine to be attracted to him. I need him to be HIM. Fully. Honestly.
And he doesn't need me to be super-feminine to be magnetized to me. He needs me to be ME. Completely. Bravely.
...polarity kink play sure is fun sometimes 😉