Penis Myths: Beyond the Long & Short of It

Extensive discussion of genitalia and sexual activity below, including brief mentions of non-consensual activity. I’ve made my best effort to stay away from gender essentialist and cissexist language, but if I’ve failed, please feel free to let me know. In that same spirit, please try to refrain from equating gender and genitalia in the comments. Additionally, this is written from an allosexual point of view and, very likely, a pansexual bias. My thanks to the friends who responded to the original version of this post on Facebook for helping me to refine and process my thoughts.

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Myths about penises are the wurst.

I would apologize for the bad, bad pun, but an apology implies regret as well as a desire to refrain from the action in future, and I am claiming no such thing. I want in on this action.

That’s three puns/plays on words so far, how many more will you catch?

In all seriousness, the way we as a culture talk about penile erections and ejaculation is harmful in two ways, one of which feeds the other. The first is your typical problem with mainstream depictions of sexuality: A narrow view of the possibilities. The second, though, is what makes it worse than some other prescriptive, norm-enforcing aspects of the societal conversations around sex. When it comes to penile function, the narrative goes mostly unchallenged, even in sex-positive and alt-sex spaces.

I’ve seen the a lot of the more feminist, sex-positive-identified types debunk the myths around penis size, for example, or the false notion that people with penises are so horny that they will never turn down sex and can never be raped. I’ve seen plenty on how a lack of vaginal lubrication doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of arousal and vice versa, the latter mostly in the context of conversations about sexual assault. I’ve yet to see much discussion on the diversity and seeming incongruity of penile response as well.

Penile ejaculation is commonly perceived as easily achievable, so easily achievable that lasting a long time during sex is seen as quite the feat and a skill worth working on. It doesn’t help that many cis men will say things like “Ooof, she looked so hot that I came right away” or “He was so good at BJs I skeeted down that throat in like three seconds”; for people who don’t have penises, this seems to both affirm the common perception and say that some combination of attraction and sexual skill leads to quick ejaculation. If the overall discourse about ejaculation is to be believed, a gentle breeze could make a penis jizz as long as its owner were strongly attracted to with whom they have having sex, while on the flip side, a skillful-enough handjob from the least attractive person in the world would lead to similar results.

Then there are the myths surrounding erections. “I have the biggest, hardest boner for That Person” is commonly understood to mean “I am incredibly attracted to That Person.” The erection-as-interest concept is so pernicious that it is used as a metaphor and across people with different genitals to mean “Me likey muchly”. For crying out loud, the subreddit for porn that appeals to women who are attracted to men is called “ladyboners” and it most definitely is not trans-women-led. The implication here is that if someone cannot maintain an erection for their partner, they’re not actually all that attracted to them.

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Penile erection and ejaculation are, of course, more complicated than that. Gender dysphoria, blood pressure (high or low), body image issues, anxiety, sexual experience level, emotional state, and masturbation habits (especially the dreaded death grip) all affect how someone’s penis works, yet represent far from a comprehensive list. Everything and anything can factor into the biological calculus that determines when an erection occurs and how long it lasts as well as how long it takes for ejaculation to occur during sexual activity, if it occurs at all.

How we treat penile response speaks to a greater societal fetish for genital response as a secret indicator of unspoken, hidden truths. It’s the same logic that leads to article titles that imply that straight cis women are all lying about their sexual orientations because their vaginas lubricate and swell in physical arousal even though they do not report being turned on. The same is applied to penises: We treat them as divining rods for the “true” self instead of as a body part. “Science says that homophobes are all secretly gay, right? Except not so much.

Genitals, like any other body part — and for many of us, more so than other body parts — don’t always do exactly as we would prefer them to do. Feet and armpits and palms sweat, voices break and crack and stutter, teeth inadvertently bite tongues, and knees pop and click. Does this somehow indicate we all quietly long to be sweaty, inarticulate, bloody-mouthed and creaky-jointed human beings? Not most of us, no.

Debunking penile response myths is especially close to my heart as a conventionally-unattractive vagina-having human who has had sex with mostly cis men. I have had to confront these issues in an intensely personal and uncomfortable way.

I went for too many sexually active years thinking that the less time that elapsed between the commencement of penile stimulation and ejaculation was an unquestionable statement on how hot and how good at sex I was. More specifically, I thought my partners weren’t that into me and that I was bad at sex because some of them took a long time to cum or didn’t cum at all during sex. I was sure that they secretly coveted more attractive partners (or at least ones with eternal endurance in terms of providing stimulation) and that they were lying to me about wanting to be with me. That they were settling for me was proven by the slow or never-occurring orgasm. Worse, I would push myself to have sex that left me sore, aching, and frustrated rather than satisfied and happy, all in pursuit of an orgasm that took too long to occur or never would occur. It took me a long time to begin overcoming feelings of unattractiveness and inadequacy so that I could enjoy sex involving a penis that didn’t cum despite my best efforts.

It has been a hard lesson to learn and requires routine maintenance to keep up, but how rewarding are the results? Actively rooting out these beliefs is easier and more fun than being worried that it’s all a horrible prank and my partner isn’t truly attracted to me because sometimes they don’t cum, don’t cum fast enough, or stay hard enough to penetrate me. Beyond that, it has opened me up to the kind of sex that has leveled me up to Stage 3 Sex Weirdo. Considering a penis that doesn’t work the way normative views think it should to be a gateway to different kinds of sex rather than a victim of sex-ending “erectile dysfunction” is truly liberating.

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Penis Myths: Beyond the Long & Short of It
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One thought on “Penis Myths: Beyond the Long & Short of It

  1. 1

    All of the cis-centric messages about how to have sex are so harmful. I didn’t even get to explore emotionally safe forms of sex until a decade after I first became sexually active.

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