So what does
your penis mean to you?
Back in the late 1980's, a psychiatrist
named John Bancroft became alarmed that impotence was often being treated without
reference to a man's psychological issues.
He observed that treatments such as the
implantation of inflatable implants in the corpora cavernosa, penile injections, and surgery to increase blood
flow, all obscure the real issues that can be the cause of impotence - in other
words, the psychological factors in the relationship that a man has with his
Bancroft wrote a paper entitled "Man and His
Penis - A Relationship Under Threat?" in which he said: "The size of a
penis is as much a function of psychological processes as it is anatomy.
Often erection endows a situation with a
sexuality the owner may not have recognized or be prepared to acknowledge.
And how often does the penis resolutely refuse to support its owner
in a sexual endeavor, as if to say, 'you have no business doing this - count me
out of it'?" The lack of male
initiation rites may be responsible for the mad obsession with penis size
which seems to be our modern day measure of a man...
The point being that the penis does not lie. And this relationship, this indicator, of a man's
intent is important, for doctors may ignore the man and treat the penis as if it
existed in isolation.
Losing potency has been described as like losing
a part of one's mind, and, as I know myself, having been through an unpleasant
episode of diminished sexual potency in my late thirties at a time of life
crisis, it certainly can seem that way.
The experience really did feel like a part of my
mind had gone: like someone had reached inside and removed something essential
to my male identity.
Imagine how you would feel if you knew that your
manhood was not going to swell and stand before you as it always had: if you
knew that there would be no admiring glances from your sexual partners for your
erect penis, no worship for the hard member that signifies your male potency.
Nowadays a man is not measured by his ability to
fight a war, to defend his family, to build a home - at least, not in our
culture: instead, his penis's ability to get hard and do its duty has become a
substitute symbol of his masculinity.
Impotence robs a man of his
self-respect, his goodwill, his humor, his amiability, and makes him a grumpy ,
who feels powerless and unmanly. This "phallocentrism", some say, is a
learned behavior, not something innate to the male psyche.
Yet feeling the
pleasure of an erection again after they had been rare is an experience that
seemed so fundamental to my sense of my own masculinity that I would question
how that idea fits with male experience. Acid reflux certainly did not help me
to enjoy good sex! Being ill, or at least not in the best of health, in this way
was very disempowering sexually.
Many men do not have adequate knowledge of female
psychology. There are certain behaviors - behaviors, not, not psychical
characteristics like the size of a man's penis - which turn women on. Confidence
and masculine strength are high on the agenda here. .
In any event, those who proclaim the idea say
that the relationship between the male ego and the penis is a male-centered
sexual script written by society and reinforced by the first sexual act most
males encounter - masturbation.
Masturbation, they say, proclaims the male's
sexual independence, focuses male sexual desire in the penis, and makes a man's
capacity for erection the most important part of his masculinity and control.
But are they confusing cause and effect?
Many mothers and fathers would observe that their male children seem to have
been born with their penises in their hands, and that masturbation might
therefore be the result of the male condition, not the cause of it.
The author David M Friedman, in his
book A Mind Of Its Own: A Cultural History Of The Penis, makes the
observation that the availability of chemical agents of erection such as Viagra
have changed the relationship between a man and his penis.
With the ability to get
erect on demand, man is now very much in control of his penis, rather than the other
way round, as it has been for centuries.
He suggests we do not yet know the consequences
of this shift in the balance of power, this separation
of organ and mind, this medicalization of the penis as an item to be treated in
its own right, separate from the man attached to it.
But one thing is sure: it is going to reinforce
men's image of themselves. A friend, newly divorced, not having had sex for two
years, appealed to me after meeting a new woman who was crazy about him. "Help,"
he said, "I can't keep it up. I can't keep up with her. I can't do it three
times a night."
I recommended some Viagra and within days
received a grateful phone call. "You certainly saved me," he said, though what
from he didn't offer and I didn't ask: shame, a sense of not being manly enough
to service a woman's demands, the inability to have a hard-on ready whenever
this attractive woman wanted it? Who, I wondered, was separating the penis from
the man in that situation?