The Doomsday Erection


The penis. The size of a child’s forearm, it rises to immediate attention whenever required, penetrating long and deep until wave after wave of orgasm rushes over the beloved. It’s the ultimate love machine, and nothing can stop it.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. Our cultural notion of what the penis is supposed to look like and do isn’t too far off from my first paragraph. The ideal penis is huge, hard and induces countless orgasms. I call it the Doomsday Erection, because it’s way bigger than necessary, and for at least 70% of women and an unknown but far greater number of men, you will have to fuck until Doomsday to get that effect.

In Impotence, A Cultural History [book review by Rob Hardy] Angus McLaren tracks impotence as a cultural phenomenon through Western history, and as you read, Impotencyit becomes clear that the virile man has always been the stuff of legend, not reality. The ordinary penis has never conformed to the cultural expectations, regardless of what those expectations were.

The Greeks, for example, preferred small, thin penises and considered the large ones we prize so highly now to be funny, but every penis was to be ready to penetrate anything at any time, male or female, whether the object was willing or not. A man did not sexually please, he dominated, and penetration was how he proved it.

Christianity embraced a whole new and constantly evolving set of male neuroses. A man still had to be able to perform, but only under certain circumstances, as simple lust was considered a disease. A man was expected to consummate his marriage—unless he and his bride agreed before the wedding to remain celibate, which was considered the nobler path. A man certainly had to impregnate his bride if requested, and might be asked to return her dowry if he failed. Mostly, he was expected to exercise self-control in all things sexual, making his penis do whatever the Church said it should.

Modern standards are more along the lines of porn star dimensions and performance, but the concept of the penis as a trained spaniel appears to be universally human. It’s also universally unachievable. Regardless of the ideal, every age has reams written by men and women about the penis’s refusal to behave.

Enter modern pharmaceuticals. While men throughout history have sought advice from every doctor, healer and magician available, Viagra and similar drugs are the first truly effective approaches to penis obedience training.

They are correspondingly popular. Manufactured ostensibly as remedies for the physical side effects of aging, erectile dysfunction drugs are so lightly prescribed that they might as well be sold over the counter. They aren’t a cheap fix, either. Online Viagra can run over $30/tablet. That’s an awful lot to pay for a stiffie but as McLaren points out, there’s a parallel in the female world. How much more, after all, for a new pair of breasts?

And how relevant are large breasts for any kind of biological function? They’re not better at feeding babies. They’re not more sensitive. They’re not even universally attractive, because while some men think the bigger the better, others consider more than a handful a waste. As far as work-place advantages are concerned, few women work in industries where breast size is so closely scrutinized that surgical tampering will make a difference.

Does pharmaceutical tampering with the penis have any advantages? Well, again, the question is to whom? Not always to the men’s partners, certainly. That’s been known ever since Viagra hit the market.

As far as who has a physiological problem best treated with Viagra, that’s an interesting question, too. “Erectile dysfunction” can mean anything from a complete inability to achieve erection to a few incidents of stage fright, essentially any occasion of a penis failing to get erect in any situation and for any reason.

Even premature ejaculation, that most dreaded scourge in a time when endurance is prized, doesn’t have clear parameters, and a study by the University of Köln in Germany found that men who complained of premature ejaculation usually had a trigger time of a mere thirty seconds less than those who considered themselves normal. Other studies have found greater variation, but when you look at the numbers, one thing becomes clear. Premature ejaculation, like erectile dysfunction, is whatever a man says it is.

Disorders of penile function are frequently diagnosed based on personal reports, with few objective guidelines to compare them to or even any clear consensus on what those guidelines might mean. What we work with now is so vague that every man is going to have something going on with his penis at some point in his life for which he could probably get medical treatment. Meanwhile, the normal penis, with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, is considered inadequate.

So what is the penis for anyway? Besides peeing, I mean?

Reproduction? The penis can do that, but it goes in and out of fashion as a primary function. While various cultures have been obsessed with it, modern men expend considerable energy and cash trying to limit it, and what is arguably the most frequent non-urinary use of it, masturbation, has no reproductive function at all.

Orgasms? Great for men, iffy for women. Penises are fun to play with and take cuddling to the next level like nothing else, but they can only guarantee orgasms for men. However, they do a great job of that. Messing around with a penis can result in some marvelous neurochemical fun.

So we’ll just add fun to the list. Penises can be fun.

A weapon? Possible, but illegal for a reason.

McLaren provides another answer and the one I suspect is driving our search for the Doomsday Erection. Masculinity, he points out, is a test which some men must fail in order to make it meaningful. Sexual potency, regardless of how it’s defined, is one of those tests.

The range of normal male sexual function, however, is so wide as to make its use as proof of anything largely arbitrary. Small penis? Big penis? Penetrates everything? How about nothing? Or maybe it’s the duration of the penetration that counts? How do we decide?

The answer is that we don’t, not on any rational criteria anyway. From culture to culture, we judge the penis based on its ability to reflect the moral standards of the time, whether it’s indiscriminate dominance, total self-control, or anything in between. Biological structure and function have no bearing on this at all.

Unfortunately, the penis’s ability to conform has no bearing on the merit of the owner, either. It’s just pure, stupid luck that the guy with the smallish dick wasn’t born in ancient Greece. Instead of being lauded for his aesthetic grace, he’s reviled for his inability to measure up, no matter how wonderful otherwise he may be.

The man who packs ten inches and can last for hours might be seen as the ultimate stud, but he’s a phenomenon best compared to the Photoshopped beauties in fashion magazines. Only .1% of men have nine-inch penises and an equally small number can last twenty minutes on the first go-round. Odds of both traits being in the same man? Astronomically low. This does not keep men from measuring themselves, though, or from surreptitiously comparing themselves to the guy at the next urinal.

When breast augmentation surgery became accessible, people justified it on the grounds that it would boost self-esteem. It’s a routine surgery made affordable by payment plans, and the new implants are safer. Why not do it, if it provides so much psychological benefit?

The problem is that having big breasts doesn’t change anything except your breast size, which only attracts men who buy into the cultural crap about big breasts. This seems to provide the expected self-esteem boost, but what happens once the buzz wears off?

Suicide and substance abuse, if WebMD is to be believed. It takes about ten years for the effect to kick in, but once it does, it increases over time. Whatever high implants might provide is temporary. Eventually, the original problems resurface, only now you’re out a few thousand dollars and are attracting men who like you primarily for your breasts. I think I’d be suicidal, too.

By the same token, a depressed guy with a Viagra prescription is still a depressed guy, and what about the Viagra anyway? Will it give him the Doomsday Erection?

It might, which McLaren considers a problem. He believes that Viagra and similar medication may be setting back our ability or inclination to question our ideals of sexual masculinity by forcing the male body to conform.

I don’t agree with him, and here’s why. A thing is only a virtue when it’s difficult to obtain. The large-breasted ideal that women go under the knife for is losing its hold even as it becomes more accessible, in a large part because it is more accessible.

After all, who cares about big, perky boobs if every woman can have them? This leads to questions, among women at least, about what big, perky boobs really mean, and whether a man who insists on them is worth the expense and trouble. Yes, there are women who giggle with delight when Hubby buys them implants for Christmas, but it’s that very subset of the population that makes another subset go, “Hmmm.”

So what happens to the Doomdsay Erection if some variation of it is within the reach of nearly every man? The size issue hasn’t been sorted out yet, but medication is making the rest of it possible.

It brings the questions more sharply into focus, I think, because when the difference between the boys and the men is a drug that anyone can buy over the internet, how significant can our criteria be? It was one thing when a certain percentage of men would fail the test no matter what measures they used, but no one can tell when a man has popped a few pills. The Doomsday Erection means nothing when every man can buy one, and instead of men failing the test, the test itself begins to fail.

The search for the Doomsday Erection brings no joy to anyone, not even to the man who finds it. Pride, maybe, but is it fun? Is it fun to stress out over whether or not it gets hard? Is it fun to make every decision about every sexual act based on whether it will stay hard? Is it fun to work the multiplication table or contemplate baseballs scores during intercourse? Is it fun to take pills that cause headaches, or wear desensitizing condoms?

I can’t imagine that it is, and it isn’t fun for the rest of us, either. No one, male or female, enjoys having someone else’s masculinity proven on their body.

Of all the uses I can think of for the penis, this one falls slightly above weaponry but below urination, and I would strongly urge a reconsideration, if not a complete scrapping.

Ann Regentin
September 2007

© 2007 Ann Regentin. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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