I am impressed with the fact that men, the same men who are reluctant to have any fears or vulnerabilities, are all but obsessed with one persistent insecurity: their sexual potency. Normal men seem to be just this side of having a body dysmorphic disorder about their penis size and experience performance anxiety that is crippling enough to make them take ED drugs when they don’t need them.
A recent NYTimes.com article (1/25/15) reported the data on men’s Google searches which found that men make more Google searches about their penises than about any other body part, more than about their lungs, liver, feet , ears, nose, throat and brain combined. The article reports:
“Men make more searches asking how to make their penises bigger than how to tune a guitar, make an omelet or change a tire….Men’s top Googled question related to how their body or mind changed as they aged was whether their penis got smaller.”
And with regard to the obsession with getting and keeping an erection, an L.A. Times article about ED drugs reported:
“More men in their 20s to 40s are seeking the prescription pills as a kind of insurance that anxiety won’t overpower desire. Even men who haven’t doubted their sexual abilities hope the medications might “take them to some new higher level of sexual prowess,” says Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, a urologic surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston” (I have discussed the marketing, use and misuse of ED drugs in a prior post as well).
The ideal of hyper-potency
Somehow I don’t think this penile obsession has to do with propagating the species. It may be that against the existing backdrop of a patriarchal world in which men are supposed to be powerful and in which the phallus has long been the symbol for that power, we now have an increasingly “pornified” culture which idealizes and exaggerates everything to do with sexuality. This makes for performance anxiety on steroids, as it were.
I think this ideal of never losing an erection is harmful in a number of ways.
- It sexually objectifies men. According to the American Psychological Association people are sexualized in an unhealthy way when
“A person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior to the exclusion of other characteristics”
“Self-objectification involves adopting a third-person perspective on the physical self and constantly assessing one’s own body in an effort to conform to the culture’s standards of attractiveness”.
- The focus on performance and penis size takes the man away from being fully present in sex. This means that the man will be less aware and in touch with what he is feeling about his partner or about the experience. It drives a wedge between two people.
- The focus on sexual stamina perpetuates the myth that power is strength. Real strength involves the ability to be vulnerable and open with who you are.
- Potency-as-power perpetuates the patriarchal arousal template (which we all have) that somehow power is what is sexual. It keeps men stuck with the sexual scenario of one person dominating another. This may be what is present in nature but then again so are malaria, polio, natural disasters, and a lot of things we don’t embrace.
Going limp should be seen as a normal part of life, something that can happen for a good reason or for no particular reason. It may be that the man is feeling something which he needs to be able to say. If mind and body are connected, then a bodily function like having an erection will react to mental and emotional states. And men are allowed to have those states and to express their emotions. A man who is never allowed to go limp is a man who is not allowed to be a real person.