It can seem like all mainstream culture is ever doing is talking about penises. So why perpetuate that? But #hotgoss is all about looking at how people are talking about a particular thing, why, and if we can all do it better.
Masculinity, especially toxic masculinity, is an oft talked about subject in the Speak About It office and in the media right now. We wanted to get a little anatomical and question, analyze, and complicate something that people think is a central to this: penises and phallocentricism. Following our last episode about body positivity, we wanted to apply that same lens to penises and see if we could flip the script on how we hear people usually talking about penises.
Throughout our discussion, we found that the existing narratives and mythologies around penises, especially as they relate to masculinity and maleness, may actually do more harm than good. Penises are often used as jokes or insults, and the conversation can lean on sexist and racist tropes that serve nobody. Often, the way people talk about penises can make folks who have them feel worried that they don’t measure up in one way or another. Likewise, it can make people without them feel left out, aggressed, or even scared. Many trans-folks, with our without attached penises, feel completely erased by the current conversation.
On the whole, it seems like everybody is left in the dark about the actual science and sociology around this sexual organ. All of this can lead to a lot of stress, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and discomfort during hook-ups and everyday life.
Being the educators we are at Speak About It, we want to follow up our episode with an antidote to this. Below you'll find some useful tips for folks who have penises—whether they’re attached or not, whether they identify as men or not—so they can talk about and appreciate them in healthier, more consensual ways.
6 tips for loving your penis and loving yourself.
- You are not your dick.
We often hear penises referred to as “your manhood” or “your member,” and there’s a lot of value judgement tied into that. This can can be super reductive, and can write a very limited script for what sexuality for people with penises looks like. The idea that your identity, masculinity, worth, or otherwise is tied to your genitalia is harmful, no matter what you’ve got going on in your pants. Your value as a person and a lover should be measured in how you treat and respect others others.
- Size is not the end of the story.
In fact it’s one very small part. This “bigger is better” mentality sets up unreal expectations and can cause stress and anxiety for folks of all genders and sexes. Even recent research has fallen short in looking at the whole picture when it comes to penis size. Science Magazine reports that while most research says that women are attracted to somewhat larger penis sizes, current studies don’t really tell the whole story. While many journalists latched on to the fact that a popular study reported women liking larger penis sizes, they left out the study's strongest overall conclusions. The women surveyed responded more positively to larger penises in association with other bodily traits, and they responded best overall to shoulder to hip ratios, unrelated to penises. Likewise, most studies are done using computer models or photographs, and they’re usually pants-on surveys about ‘attractiveness’ outside of a sexual context and do very little to account for what happens in real life. Basically, the studies we found proved that the women surveyed were attracted to tall computer generated human shaped drawings with slightly broad shoulders and large-ish penises. So, good news if you’re a computer generated drawing. And totally irrelevant if you’re made of human flesh.We get it, even armed with this information, there’s still a natural urge to compare. But even our scale for comparison is off. It’s been proven that most people who identify as men overestimate what the average penis size is by almost an entire inch. And an inch makes a difference! The average length for most folks is around 5 inches; about 90% of penises are somewhere between a half an inch of this measurement. So when most folks assume that the average is actually one inch larger it is, that leaves almost everybody feeling insecure.
This obsession with size also doesn’t take into consideration the other person in a sexual interaction, and how their anatomy can or cannot accommodate or be pleasured by a penis. An average anus or vagina can accommodate a 4-6 inch penis comfortably. Larger sizes may cause pain for some folks, especially folks with cervixes. And an anus is even less flexible. That isn’t to say that folks with larger-than-average penises aren’t good lovers or can’t have good, penetrative sex. It just means, that as a society, we're obsessed with an ideal that actually might be difficult both for people who fill it or whose partners do.
Likewise, our size obsession doesn’t necessarily consider how people with vulvas or other parts experience pleasure. The nerve endings in a vulva are much more concentrated in the first two or so inches of the vaginal canal. More so, nerves are hugely concentrated exteriorly in the clitoris, which makes penis size basically irrelevant when it comes to stimulation for people with vulvas. In getting caught up about penis length, we can forget that there are other factors that folks who like penetration report enjoying more, like penis girth, curve, or shape.At the end of the day, size is just one of many factors that affects how you or your partners enjoy sex. The most important factor? Asking your partner what they want, what they like, and being able to communicate your own desires.
- Question the messages you’ve heard about penises
Take a moment to think about where the messages you’ve gotten about penises are coming from and who’s writing the script. For example, stereotypes about race and penis size are most certainly not created by racial minorities, not grounded in absolute truth, and are especially hurtful for folks who fit, defy, or fall anywhere outside of said stereotypes.These stereotypes and messages are based on histories of bias and oppression, and can be exoticizing, fetishizing, or sexualizing for individuals. Look back to our Intersectionality episode when Lala said, “Why is it in porn that I can always find ‘Big Black Dick’ but there’s no ‘Average White Guy Cock’ category?” It's a good question, with an answer embedded in a deeply racist history of over sexualizing black bodies.
Apply a critical lens to things you hear or read about other penis-related topics too, like circumcision, masturbation, condoms, or other sex acts. Think about how culture, religion, education, gender, and other factors might shape your or other people’s views about these things. Ask yourself questions like, “Why should I be ashamed of masturbation?” “Who said that condoms reduce sensation?” “Why is circumcision considered ‘normal’?” Asking questions is an important part of developing healthy sexuality.
- Whether you have a penis or not, sex is not just about one organ.
As Shane said on the episode, your skin is actually your largest sexual organ. There’s so much more to hooking up than just your penis or other genitalia. Reducing sexual activity down to just how a penis feels or performs not only puts a lot of pressure on that person with a penis, but it erases the pleasure of the other folks involved. Penetration isn’t always the end game for everyone, and the common, penis-centric view of sex can be limiting for all involved. Remember, foreplay is your friend, and can often be the most fun and sexy part of hooking up. Exploring your whole body and all of your erogenous zones will not only help you enjoy sex more, but it will help you be more attuned to all the different ways your partners can experience pleasure too.It’s especially important to remember that a penis-centric narrative also leaves out folks who don’t have attached penises, folks who identify as men but don’t have penises, or folks with penises that don’t fit the norm of what we think of when we think of penises. For example, many trans-men might identify what some folks call a clitoris as their penis.
There all sorts of ways to give and get pleasure and to have sex with a strap-on or synthetic penis. Check out this great article from Autostraddle about buying your first strap-on, and this one about receiving a strap-on blow-job. Likewise, here is a great resource for trans-folks and those who love them to learn more about sexuality and sex for trans-men. This first-hand account from trans-advocate, Buck Angel, also has eye opening information about what sexual activity can look like for trans-men with and without phallices and penetration. Likewise, these are some great tips if you are hooking up with a trans-guy, most of which can be applied more broadly too!
Long story short, there is no set script for sexual activity involving penises, as long as consent is involved.
- Do your research!
Knowledge is power.The more you know about what your penis does and why, the more you can communicate your desires and boundaries to your partner. Likewise, the more you can build your knowledge and understanding of sexuality as a whole, the better you can fulfill the desires and respect the boundaries of your partners too. Our page about Healthy Sexuality is a great place to start your research.
- Find ways to celebrate your body, whether that includes a penis or not.
You can love your penis, just do it in a way that doesn’t oppress or erase others. Appreciating your body for the pleasure it can give yourself and other people is a great way to practice self love. Apply the tenets of body positivity to your relationship with your penis and with your whole body.At Speak About It, we’re pretty sure we’d all be living in a better world if all the shame, anxiety, and pressures surrounding penises went away, and if all folks took a more tender, holistic approach to loving their dicks, themselves, and each other.
Speak About It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with high schools and colleges to educate, entertain, and empower students to create positive change within their communities, advocate for and practice healthy relationship habits, and prevent sexual violence.
Copyright 2016 Speak About It, Inc. Website by Alexandra Valleau