The genitals (and sexuality in general) are still taboo subjects. In an age when nude pictures on the Internet are easier to find than photographs of world leaders, and when semi-nude bodies can be seen gyrating on television on a nightly basis, the penis still remains closeted behind a curtain of prudishness.
Thanks to the candor of the women’s movement and the social importance of childbearing, men and women are relatively well informed about women’s sexuality. We know the anatomy of the female reproductive system. But when it comes to the penis and its attendant components, both sexes are plagued by ignorance.
It is only in the last few years that men and women have been compelled to face the real issues surrounding the penis and male sexuality. This change was triggered by the increase in public advertisement of male sexual enhancement products such as Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis.
Nevertheless, I am constantly amazed by how little my patients know about their own penises. Not only do they fail to understand how the penis works, they are unaware of the penis mystique. (More on this later in the article.)
Middle-aged men are constantly asking me questions that they should have been able to answer as teenagers. Not only are they underinformed, but they are misinformed. The myths I hear about the penis are mind-boggling.
Why All The Misinformation and Myths?
The only time teachers mention the penis in classrooms is in attenuated descriptions of how conception takes place. In that context, the mysterious and magnificent organ is reduced to the status of a seed-planter.
Most fathers are not much help, either. They have “the talk” only when forced to go through the obligatory facts-of-life ritual. They rush through as if they cannot wait to change the subject to baseball. These brief conversations are usually relegated to some form of the old Hill Street Blues line: “Be careful out there.” Or, my favorite: “Son, you’re playing with a loaded gun now!”
Growing boys don’t get much help from their doctors, either. Pediatricians discuss the penis with adolescents only if they observe a physical abnormality or feel obliged to warn about pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
Nowhere along the line do young men really learn the biological facts—never mind the mental and emotional connection that exists between themselves and their penis.
Sadly, the situation does not get much better with adults.
Not only are the genitals the most seldom viewed of our external organs, they are also seldom mentioned in man-to-man conversations—in a serious manner, anyway. Neither joking nor bragging leads to the dissemination of accurate information.
Doctors talk about the penis only when a patient brings it up because there is a problem. Even in the context of a general physical examination, the physician will at most take a cursory look at the genitals for signs of gross abnormalities.
In older men, they might perform the requisite examination of the prostate gland. There might be an item on a questionnaire that asks the patient if he’s having problems with his sex drive. This is usually coupled with an offer to buy Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra. This approach is hardly a suitable entry point for a beneficial discussion.
A major contributing factor to all this secrecy is our puritanical heritage. The very word “penis” still has a peculiar shock value for Americans. Often when people hear it, they giggle, blush, or avert their eyes.
As I stated in the Preface for my book, when I was considering Penis Power™ as the title for the first edition, patients who worked in the communications industry cautioned me that just having the word “penis” on the cover would be unacceptable to many booksellers. Certainly, the word perks up people’s ears and puts many men on guard, even in a doctor’s office. That is why the title of the first edition was changed to Superpotency.
In today’s world of The Vagina Monologues and Puppetry of the Penis, sexuality and its “dirty” details have become a much more comfortable topic for public discourse. My original title, Penis Power, seems more than appropriate.
A secondary reason men remain ignorant about the penis is that most physicians are undereducated in the area of men’s sexual health. Just as with every other organ, we are taught its basic anatomy and the biological details of what takes place when the penis performs its various functions.
But doctors are taught little about the concept of the penis mystique. I’ll explain more about this phenomenon in my next post.