The penis and masculinity

What of the penis in our modern era as a symbol of masculinity and male power?

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 penis.

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 , irritable creature 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?

Main pages on this site

Worried About Your Size? Think you don't measure up? Get the real deal on size here. (Home page)
Penis Size and Sex 
Find out how your size can affect sex.
All there is to know about your most precious asset.
Got A Penile Problem?
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Other pages of penile information

Erection, orgasm, ejaculation problems
Penile difference
Male sexuality and the penis
Genital modification
Rolfing the pelvis and penile area