The Washington Monument. A Fender Stratocaster. AK-47s. Neckties. Codpiece bayonets. Reminders of the penis are everywhere, from Victorian novels to skylines to fruit bowls. According to Freud, you either have a penis or you want one. If you drive a Ferrari, or smoke a Presidente cigar, you probably have one, but it’s just not enough. The ancient Greeks honored penises with enormous effigies. The Romans manufactured phallic figurines to ward off the evil. There is some evidence that every world religion originated in penis worship, based on the belief that the phallus created all mankind. Our Penis, who art in heaven, is the pulsing heart, the locus, the apex, the alpha and omega of a man’s manliest masculine manhood. Amen.
Not just any penis, but a really big, hard penis. Society mythologizes the penis as a symbol of sexual potency and prowess. A bigger bulge means better sex because the ultimate female fantasy is a 20-minute pounding by a 10-inch man stick. Actually, penetration (the penis part of the sex thing) is least likely to give sexual pleasure to women. Masters and Johnson, in their famous 1957 study, found that the “lowest intensity” female sexual response “was achieved during coition.” Only three out of 10 women can orgasm from intercourse. The vagina is also finite. A four-inch penis will fill it completely. The vagina can lengthen to fit your needs, but it doesn’t fill its own needs by doing so.
If not from women, then why the obsession? Men. Men love penises. Big penises. Men made the penis god. Men pick absurdly well-endowed actors to perform in pornos, which are then watched by other men. The height of a woman’s sexual pleasure doesn’t usually come from being impaled or plundered or plowed, although the man-made penis myth tells us it is. Porn stars, who are pummeled by foot-longs, often fake their ecstatic throes. The men who direct them tell them to. But women aren’t the only ones deceived by the man-made penis myth, so are the man-made penis myth-makers: men.
80 percent of men wish they had a bigger penis. Yes, I got this factoid from a penis-enhancement-product Web site. But if the true statistic nears this number, that signifies a pervasive male body complex. While girls glance through magazines and pray for a size two, boys watch porn clips and long for a size eight. Some have capitalized on this common insecurity, filling inboxes with ads for pills and pumps that promise inches, hotter girlfriends and better lives. When researchers tested out a few of these herbal remedies they found E. coli, lead and fecal contamination present. Over-enthusiastic penis-pumping, Wikipedia says, can lead to unseemly blood blisters. 5,000 men a year (this number is growing) also opt for penis-enlargement surgery, though it doesn’t increase the length of the penis when erect and may result in infection, deformation or loss of sensation.
The other male measure of manliness, besides length, is longevity. Men have imposed upon themselves the unrealistic expectation of hard, fast and long-lasting penis action. One in 10 men suffer from erectile dysfunction, and 10 to 20 percent of these cases are the result of performance anxiety. (This percentage grows the younger you are.) Men often express their fear that partners will silently judge and mentally measure them. That’s a lot of unnecessary pressure for one organ. Historically, women have been unable to express their own sexual desires and, instead, men projected their fantasies onto the opposite sex. If fertility, creativity and life itself are all wrapped up in a man’s genitals, then of course, men imagined, women must be desperate to fill their void with hard and holy manhood. Women may make passing comments about a man’s dimensions or duration, but not because these things are necessarily important. It’s because we’ve been told they are by TV, by Cosmo and by men.
Men often prefer more inexperienced women who are less capable of these imagined bedroom comparisons. The same logic explains the peculiar and violent male fantasy of being a girl’s first. Female experience is undesirable because it is feared, and the sexual double standard is affirmed. The pressure incubated in groups of men can also produce a competitive machismo and a violent sexual vocabulary of conquest. Boys pound, bang, bone, slay, slam and score girls. Even “I fucked her” suggests force that’s borderline brutal and transforms the woman into a passive receptacle. This language dehumanizes women and, as such, creates a culture conducive to sexual violence.
It makes little difference to women whether your guitar is a Fender or your gun’s a Kalashnikov. Most women would prefer, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, “a more diffuse and tender sensuality that involves the whole body and a polymorphous tenderness.” Polymorphous tenderness sounds a lot less stressful. You don’t need pumps or drugs or surgery to improve your polymorphous tenderness. But instead of tenderness, so many women get tenderized. Thanks, patriarchy, for thoroughly deceiving men and women alike. The cult of the penis is a construct, a lie, a dangerous and destructive myth. The phallus may be God, but didn’t you hear? God is dead. Thank god.
Claire Gordon is a sophomore in Saybrook College.