Wednesday 4 March 2015

Masculinity and Penis Anxiety

"It's not what you've got, but what you do with it." That's the advice I imbibed from reading reams and reams of agony aunt columns as I was growing up. Not because I was seeking advice or reassurance mind (hung like a hoss, of course) but because men and boys fraught by their penis size were regular fixtures in Dear Deidre and the like. School, college, adult life, the banter about one's "third leg" is a not infrequent intrusion in conversation (we all have that friend who refuses to call a trip to the restroom anything other than going off to "siphon the python"). All utterly juvenile, but then so much of being and presenting as a man is.

It's interesting. There have always been some anxieties around female genitalia, but it's only a relatively recent thing that a widespread concern around shape and appearance has come to the fore. Penis anxiety, on the other hand, has always been about this. It's a real concern for some men, and as it remains a man's world that helps explain why studies establishing the average size of the male member come along fairly frequently. This recent study published in the British Journal of Urology International took tape measures to a sample of 15,000 men and found the average willy is 5.16 inches when erect, with a circumference of 4.6 inches. In its flaccid condition the figures are respectively 3.6 and 3.7 inches. Just shy of 2.3% of men are endowed with an abnormally large member (anything above 15cm) and a similar amount with the very small (under 10cm). Overall, there isn't that much variation in size from one bloke to the next. Does that make the gentleman reader feel better?

Ironically, heterosexual masculinity is obsessed with penises. And this comes in three sizes, so to speak. The first is the commonplace supposition that you can measure one's manliness by the size it comes in, and those most likely to believe this are men themselves. Imagine the boorish, be-muscled beer-watching football-swilling beast of a man, exactly the sort of bloke with the build and presence that suggests "don't mess". Yet his willy is a bit on the dinky side, below the average certainly but definitely not in the bottom two per cent. On every measure, our friend is superficially a manly man, and would be accepted as such by his social circle. Yet, undoubtedly, his penis size would likely be a source of insecurity and worry. It's as if the accoutrements of masculinity, the boozing, the build, etc. are just that. They are perceived secondarily or as compensatory behaviours making up for an essential lack. This is the measure that matters, the core of being a man. It's the chink in his armour and lives in dread of ex-lovers and friends wiggling their little fingers behind his back. It's the fear that the effete hipster, bookish-types he looks down on are not lacking where he thinks it counts.

You don't have to be a manly man to experience this anxiety, nor does one's tackle necessarily have to be lacking in the grand scheme of things. The cocks most straight men ever see are the schlongs they very, very definitely pay little attention to in the pornographic clips of their choice. Quite apart from porn being a performance staged for a camera, the faux climactic whimpering of the women nevertheless serves to affirm the cult of the cock. They gasp at the size and set about performing with it with gusto. Every blow job, hip thrust, and money shot reinforces the essential maleness of the penis as the seat of sexuality and source of (grateful) women's pleasure. The bigger it is, the greater the sense of potency, this is one of the ideological effects of porn or, rather, how porn as ideology is affected. Porn that features small dicks on the other hand is a niche fetish and is definitely out where conventional straight masculinity is concerned. Porn is supposed to be about women with whatever attributes engaging in whatever activity turns the viewer on. Going for dick-themed hetero porn makes it all about the dick and not about the female performer, which raises questions about sexuality and whether one is as heterosexual as one thinks.

It's not always about width and length though. Therein is the second obsession: other men's penises. Straight-and-narrow heterosexual masculinity absolutely fights shy of other men's willies. You should definitely avoid displaying your own. In the post-PE school showers, many a young lad learned the art of trying to keep one's todger obscured while absolutely, definitely averting one's eyes from the sausage party surrounding him. Woe betide anyone accused of espying a portion of meat-and-two-veg. Even worse was to be accused of getting a stiffy in the shower. Likewise, men's public conveniences. It doesn't matter where, the custom and practice is to either fixedly stare at the wall right in front, or making sure your aim does not go awry. Under no circumstances must one glance at what other men are doing with theirs. Through the act of omission is the importance of the penis observed. As simultaneously the seat of masculinity and sexuality, to pay attention to the heat another man's packin' must definitely, obviously betray a sexual interest thereby marking the observer out as non-straight. However, it has a double-edge. If another guy is gawping at your penis, that says something about you too. It marks you out as someone another man might find attractive, and if that's the case what sort of vibes are you giving off? Could you unknowingly be walking around town with a neon 'hello boys!' flashing above your head discernible only to gay fellas? Best keep the old man out of sight as much as possible as it can attract the wrong sort of attention.

Then there is the ultimate anxiety: dysfunction. The elision between masculinity and sexual prowess finds itself thwarted in premature ejaculation and impotence. The first betrays a lack of mastery if not stamina, of being weak, inexperienced, over-excitable. If word gets round you're crap in bed, who else would want a dive under the covers? I still remember laughing about one guy from college and another from university who respectively presented as macho soldier wannabe and womanising wideboy. When "reports" of their prowess, or lack thereof, did the gossip circuit their reputations never recovered. Most mirth was had by their fellow gentlemen, but beneath the piss-taking and bitching lurked an anxiety, a fear that the curse of the involuntary, too-brief knee trembler might strike them as well and hence put their masculinity into question. Impotence on the other hand, once the curse of the older man, a cruel injunction from nature that one's days as properly sexual man are done no longer has the finality it once commanded thanks to Viagra. As one's youth and looks slip away with age, the blue diamond pill returns functionality. Through pharmacological intervention one's maleness does not have to melt into the past. The option of remaining a man is indefinitely open, as the spectacle of middle-to-old aged sex tourists bouncing between here and Bangkok demonstrates.

The penis then fills the hegemonic masculine imagination because what it means to be a man is tied up with it. To think an organ that spends most its life dangling uselessly between the legs of half the population is imbricated with so many cultural codes, ideologies, anxieties, fears, and more is, when you think about it, totally weird and ever so slightly absurd.


Speedy said...

What may cause consternation in the locker room often leads to disappointment in the bedroom - Myra Brekenbridge.

That's what I tell myself anyway!

BCFG said...

A female friend of mine said,

"It isn't how big it is but how fast your arse moves'.

I have other pearls of wisdom like that but you will have to pay for them!

Jason Hill said...

When I was at Keele University, way back in the last millenium, a piece of graffit appeared in the Students' Union saying: "Jason has a prick the size of a knackered flea". (Back then, Jason was a very unusual name, and I was the only Jason in the university.) Someone else then added: "It's not the size thart matters, it's the skill of the user". Presumably a satisfied customer, but who knows?