For the past few months, I've been talking to men about their penises. White men, black men, gay men, old men, youngsters, transgender men, singletons, and fathers. I spoke to a bus driver, a monk, a jock, a hooker, a nursing home resident and a web designer. I've heard stories about impotence, triumph, betrayal, revenge, cock-blocking, and botched circumcision. There were tales of embarrassment, sagas of doubt, and chronicles of nagging performance pressure: the number one complaint of men the world over in spite of Cialis and marital aids.
My reason for assembling these penis stories is personal and professional. On the personal front, I have always been fascinated by how men identify with our equipment, and how disproportionately critical this penis-attachment can be in a man's life. The professional purpose of this survey has been to create (with actor-playwright, James Lecesne) a theatrical piece for V-Men, the male arm of V-Day, Eve Ensler's organization for ending violence against women and girls. We thought it would be enlightening to record the travails of the male genitalia, the love-hate relationship of men and their bipolar members. We hoped to answer a quiver of pointed questions. What does our manhood have to do with Manhood? How do men really feel about their bodies? Were hung men likely to have more courage, confidence, risk-taking nerve? Did the mini-dicked suffer the torments of hell with Napoleonic bitterness, as well as the sheer embarrassment of lovers wondering, Where's the beef? Or was penile comparison oversung as a socio-psychological factor? We wanted to hear how men treated their organs. Was the penis a pet, a toy, or a weapon, an adversary or a comrade in arms? Was erectile dysfunction the end of the world or, in fact, a door to the pace di sensi -- the peace of the senses rumored to be the gateway to inner peace for celibates?
Here are some of the things we've heard:
"It's hard for me to think about my penis cause most of the time I'm thinking with it."
"Men who don't turn into rapists are like alcoholics who figure out how not to drink."
"When it comes to the pecker, less is not more. Whoever said, 'It ain't the meat, it's the motion" was lying or on excellent drugs."
"I only feel as big as my penis. My cock is a metaphor for my psyche. My self-worth comes from being virile. If I lost my bone, I would open a vein."
"Penis envy is a more a male problem than a female one. Most women don't want to have dicks. They just want dicks to have a brain."
"I would never circumcise my son. It's genital mutilation. We lose 60% of our sexual sensitivity when the foreskin is cut off. For what? I lost mine but I will never do that my child."
"My wife laughs when I lose my erection. It is the only time that I could become physically violent toward her. Her vagina has pathos. My prick is just comedy."
"The Germans says, When the penis gets hard, the brain goes soft. That is my experience."
"My faithful servant. My trusty steed. I wouldn't go anywhere without him."
"As a men's studies professor, half of my career has been spent defending this half-foot of gristle from the ignominy of feminist scorn, defending the notion of the good male, rescuing our image from DSK, Herman Cain, and the rest of the scoundrels in the news.
"Being well-endowed definitely cuts both ways. I never know if chicks like me for myself or my attributes. In high school, I was very popular. They called me Kong.
"Prostate cancer changed my life. I make love in a totally different way. Now, instead of shooting off I shoot IN. It's weird but it still feels good."
The biggest revelation is how eager men are to talk about their private parts and unzip their own ambivalence. Being male, all agreed, is a mixed blessing with serious down sides and hidden costs, nearly-unmeetable expectations, pressures to be (and stay) on top, and perform -- always, always perform -- at the drop of a hint or a frilly panty. Listen to what happened to one Hispanic newlywed on his wedding night:
"My wife was a virgin when we got married. I did not know this till our wedding night. Even though we agreed not to mess around before the honeymoon, I always assumed she had some experience. It turns out that I was wrong.
"So we get into bed and start messing around. When she sees my dick, she starts cracking up. She tells me it's crooked. I tell her it's not crooked, it's curved, and there's nothing abnormal about a curved penis. Doctors call it Bent Nail Syndrome. My wife refuses to touch it. She tells me I have to get it fixed.
"We end up fighting the night of our wedding. She calls my penis damaged goods. I tell her I was born this way and no woman I've dated has ever complained. I ended up sleeping on the couch. She wanted to see a therapist -- a woman, of course -- who asked me why I had kept such an important secret from my fiancée. I told her I didn't think it mattered. Did I ask to inspect her privates before we said 'I do'? I told the shrink that it made me wonder if my wife really loved me at all.
"The shrink called that a manipulative question. She told my wife she would have to "Make do." How do you think that made me feel? Finally, she agreed to have sex with me but she wouldn't go near it otherwise. I was so pissed off that I had an affair. Now, I'm cheating on her and hating myself, but I also feel kind of ... justified. If she hadn't made me feel like a freak, I wouldn't be seeing another woman. I had to keep my self-respect. You probably think I'm a total jerk."
I did not think that he was a jerk. I thought that he was a confused soul like so many of the men we've talked to, struggling to feel happy in their own skins. I thought of Achilles and his heel, and how hard it is to feel compassion for men in a patriarchal world. Mostly, though, I thought about sex and how easy it is to forget that we're human while focusing on our animal parts. That's what we're talking to men about next. Stay tuned.