The ABC of Erections – A Little Dicktionary
Almost all you might want to know in a few hundred words
The penis has evolved over many millennia to enable boys to piss over five bar gates standing up.
There is evidence for other useful purposes.
The male front-of-house player, along with its essential bit parts, is an elegant solution to a knotty anatomical problem – how to deposit two disparate fluids in the right place at the right time through one tube – in no particular order. Needless to say, this astonishingly sophisticated mechanism remains a mystery to most owners: they are guaranteed to be seriously discombobulated when this major miracle develops any glitch or quirk.
Only girls have the single purpose embryological variant devised solely for their personal pleasure – but they can also pay a “penalty”.
Arousal is where it all begins – in the head. Fast imaging techniques make it possible to watch what happens. Sensory input from the environment (commonly known as tits-and-bum) stimulates five distinct areas of the brain which translate the information received into action – in this case impulses down the autonomic (“automatic”) nerve pathways into the penis. These impulses induce the arteries and spongy tissue to dilate allowing a nine-fold increase in blood supply, causing lengthening and stiffness of the elastic tubes. We are hard-wired for this and have no conscious control over our reactions.
Blood supply to the penis is critically important. Inflow needs to be at least 13ml/minute to maintain a retained volume in the tubes (corpora cavernosa) of 120ml – enough to keep an average woody for 15 minutes – if ejaculation does not intervene. If there is insufficient arousal, there is inadequate dilatation of the arteries and the hydraulics fail. Arteries themselves can be unresponsive to the nerve impulses through damage caused by cholesterol and the inflammatory chemicals produced by obesity. If you have erection problems – “erectile dysfunction” (ED) – do tell your doctor.
Common causes of ED also include excessive alcohol intake, smoking, a surprising number of medicines (always check the data sheet or look at the internet), surgical damage to the nerves controlling erections (as in prostate operations), lack of testosterone, anxiety (especially performance related), chronic stress, a poor relationship, chronic depression, high blood pressure, obesity, recreational drugs, nerve diseases and spinal cord damage – and that list is not exhaustive! The fitter you are, the better your sexual performance is the message.
It also helps if we smell good, and do our best to look good!
Diet and ED are directly associated as found in the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Men who eat plenty of whole grains and fruit and vegetables, and avoid too much red meat and processed foods are less likely to suffer from ED. Diabetes, weight, blood pressure and blood fats all need to be controlled as well as possible without medicines – they all have side effects – including ED!
74% of men and 64% of women in the UK are overweight. 25% of men are obese: all will have a low testosterone. Conversely, low T predicts obesity – and Type 2 diabetes – and resultant ED.
The intra-abdominal (visceral) fat of obesity produces many noxious chemicals including the inflammatory cytokines: these damage arteries, causing constriction – hence the ED and coronary heart disease associated with the “beer belly”. An enzyme contained in the fat (aromatase) therefore increases, causing over-production of oestrogen, the female hormone, which negates the effect of T, and gives rise to gynaecomastia – “moobs”, and a low libido. Low T reduces insulin sensitivity – a major cause of Type 2 diabetes, chronic illness and early death.
Fat is fatal.
Embarrassed men are commonplace, and they avoid seeking professional help for their ED, preferring to consult the internet and buy pills from dodgy web sites. Around 75% of these “erection” pills purchased with or without a prescription are counterfeit and can be dangerous, or at the very least ineffective. Doctors should be told about ED – they are usually sympathetic.
Fear of failure is always a feature of ED: the more failures, the worse ED becomes – do you remember Pavlov and his dogs from school biology? The only answer for this used to be counselling, but, of course, no amount of talking can overcome the physical causes of ED. Usually today, a proper diagnosis followed by appropriate treatment can be totally effective. Some ED sufferers find sensate focus therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helpful, but always take medical advice first.
Google for information on ED by all means, but stick to medical sites and legitimate internet pharmacies regulated and registered by the General Pharmaceutical Council – look for the logo on the site and click on it to confirm. You will always need a doctor’s prescription for any ED treatment to be dispensed.
Heart disease often co-exists with ED. The coronary arteries are similar in bore to the cavernosal arteries supplying the penis, and both can be equally affected by cholesterol plaque formation causing blockages. If you have ED you must seek medical advice and be adequately investigated. ED is a mere inconvenience compared to the possible results of coronary heart disease.
Impotence is used as another word for ED, but can be construed as an inability to ejaculate. The erection mechanism is entirely different from the ejaculatory mechanism – they can operate independently, one without the other. Both are vulnerable to interference from antidepressant medication (especially SSRI’s – Prozac-type drugs): this can affect the ease with which it is possible to achieve an erection, but most certainly will delay ejaculation, occasionally preventing ejaculation entirely. Priligy (dapoxetine) is one of this group of drugs, marketed specifically for the treatment of premature or early ejaculation.
Juju abounds in spurious treatments for ED. Some of it is potentially lethal such as Spanish fly, an ancient aphrodisiac derived from the wing cases of a beautiful emerald-green beetle. The active ingredient is cantharidin which is as poisonous as strychnine, and works through irritation of the genito-urinary tract causing reflexive engorgement. In 1970, next door to the Odeon cinema at Marble Arch, the first Ann Summers shop, the first “sex shop”, briefly sold Spanish fly. It remains readily available in North Africa. Other less harmful but unproven preparations contain ginseng, yohimbe, gingko, horny goat weed and often unspecified ingredients which could interact with prescribed medications. Please do note that herbal pharmacies are not regulated. Do not take “herbal Viagra”.
Kinsey, Alfred Charles, an American biologist and self-proclaimed “sexologist” founded the Institute for Sex Research in 1947, and famously published his monumental “Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male” provoking huge controversy as the very mention of sex was taboo at the time. His “Reports” were best sellers – outperforming “Gone with the Wind” – but it is doubtful that anybody has read them from cover to cover – they are not exactly bodice-rippers – in fact dry as dust. Although his research methodology was questionable and he appeared to have had a personal agenda, he was a respectable academic in America, and undoubtedly paved the way for the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Libido, the desire to have sex, is men’s most powerful urge (62% of Catholic priests admit to sexual activity versus 42% of nuns). Without this instinct, mammals would be extinct – as well as many other species. Human male libido peaks in the teens in response to the testosterone surge of adolescence. There is wide variability between individuals – you might have noticed – from total indifference to wild obsession. As testosterone production subsides as from age 30, so libido gradually decreases with age. This biological differentiation, along with shifting societal strictures, continually modifies the perception of a behavioural norm. Powerful subjective opinions further skew the public viewpoint on our vital proclivity.
Sex still embarrasses the British.
Myths in population-hungry ancient societies gave the penis inordinate standing in the ubiquitous state sponsored cults focused on fertility anxiety. The erect phallus was also venerated for its power to protect against evil, and to promote political and social stability: Roman governments protected and subsidised public brothels. Ancient European civilisations regarded an overly large penis as risibly vulgar, epitomising the archetypal village idiot. Anthropologists postulate that early homo sapiens had a bone in it – why not? Gorillas and chimpanzees still do. It could be that the occasional Bushman of the Kalahari (our earliest extant exemplar) still has an os penis or baculum.
Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) – the night-time erection – occurs up to five times, the last being the “morning glory”. Blood pressure falls during sleep; NPT ensures that the penis remains well oxygenated, protecting against damage to its sensitive tissues. Testosterone levels decline with age and NPT becomes less obvious. The “wet dreams” of adolescence are physiological – the dream bit is a response – not the other way round. Females have nocturnal clitoral tumescence.
Orgasm is the pleasurable sensation that temporarily satiates the libido: it otherwise defies objective scientific definition. In females it is diffuse, virtually invisible and certainly variable – from sighs to screams, and it might not happen at all – apart from the screams perhaps. In males the orgasm is coincident with the involuntary pelvic muscular contractions of ejaculation, an unmistakeable climactic event during the powerful discharge of 1.5 to 5ml (a teaspoonful) of semen containing up to 150 million spermatozoa per ml. Unlike some other species, human females do not ovulate in response to copulation. 25% of females orgasm through stimulation of the G (Grafenberg) spot, a protean anatomical area situated, if present, around half a finger’s length within the anterior wall of the vagina: 75% respond to clitoral stimulation – the clitoris being the female remnant of the embryologically undifferentiated penile tissue.
Males usually just come – hell or high water.
Premature and early ejaculation are diagnostically distinct, but both give rise to immediate detumescence – a significant disappointment to both parties, and the cause of much self-perpetuating anxiety – which exacerbates the problem. Premature ejaculation (PE) occurs before vaginal penetration; early ejaculation before both partners are mutually satisfied. Trying to pin down an ideal “intravaginal ejaculation latency time” is slightly ridiculous as there are huge variations between individuals, in various circumstances. Enthusiastic researchers, using a stop watch technique, have demonstrated a realistic median of 5.4 minutes – for what it is worth. Kinsey was of the opinion that most men mostly ejaculated within two minutes of penetration. Getting the timing right within an established sexual relationship is a matter of sensitive negotiation and much practical experience.
Quim is an archaic vulgar term for the vulva (not the vagina, please): it has been associated with the female ejaculate. Recent research has made it clear that the profuse transparent fluid that can be “squirted” during sexual activity is a result of involuntary (or voluntary in some cultures) urination. 10% of women are said to be liable to experience it. In the 19th century it was considered to be a significant medical condition, a source of deep embarrassment and anxiety, and was frequently treated by surgery. Squirting is precipitated by vigorous stimulation of the anterior wall of the vagina in which is embedded the urethra. Today there is much confusion in the public mind between voluminous squirting and modest female ejaculation, which results in 1 to 5ml of milky fluid being secreted at orgasm by the Skene glands around the urethral opening within the vulva and by prostate – like glands in the urethra itself. Its physiological purpose is obscure.
The British Board of Film Censors and 2014 Government regulations ban the depiction of “female ejaculation” and “urolagnia” (“water sports”).
Religion in many ancient cultures – especially those of India, Egypt, Greece and Rome – considered the phallus, the erect penis, to be symbolic of fecundity and fertility. Phallic representations abounded in every home, garden and farm. The magical phallic charm, the fascinum, was carried to ward off the evil eye. The Latin word fascinum, meaning spell or witchcraft, had entered the English language by the 16th century as “fascinate”, as in “bewitch”. Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, gave him a charmed life by dipping him in the River Styx, but, as we know, she held him by a heel. The “Ladies of England” Society commissioned the bronze Achilles statue at Hyde Park Corner to celebrate the Duke of Wellington’s victories. When it was unveiled in 1822, behind his home at Apsley House, it was massively stark naked: a fig leaf was hurriedly added “to cover his shame”. Wellington, being a notorious ladies’ man, tipped his hat to it on passing by on his daily ride. The courtesan Harriette Wilson had attempted to blackmail her client, but, on this occasion, her arrow failed to hit the spot. She was told to “publish and be damned”.
Which she did, and it is still in print.
Safer sex – use a condom, silly. Today it might sound self-evident, but you could easily have forgotten Norman Fowler (Baron Fowler, 1938-) – he was the Minister of Transport who made seat belts compulsory in 1981. You might also have forgotten that in 1986, as Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (whose Junior Ministers were Edwina Currie and John Major), he orchestrated a phenomenally successful crash effort to educate the whole of the British nation about AIDS. John Hurt intoned over pervasive television ads depicting dark images of universal doom and destruction – “it is a deadly disease and there is no known cure” – “don’t die of ignorance”. Every household received a leaflet defining risky sexual practices – somebody had to explain to Granny the finer points of rimming. But this tactic was astonishingly potent, and copied, with more or less efficacy, throughout the world.
The condom industry was side-lined by “The Pill”, but was revitalized by HIV.
Testosterone supplementation, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), has become the latest health craze in America: type in “testosterone” and millions of web pages are there. All men start to lose their T by age 30: by age 50, by rule of thumb, 50% will be aware of a deficiency. The symptoms are often amorphous, and are certainly diverse, mostly put down to the onset of ageing. Lack of T used to be called the “male menopause”, which is semantically inaccurate; the technical term now in use is “testosterone deficiency syndrome”. For reliable information, consult a good website such as The Wellman Clinic’s.
Testosterone was identified along with other sex hormones in the 1930’s – Adolf Butenandt of Nazi Germany and Leopold Ruzicka, a Croatian working in Switzerland, jointly won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1939. But it was the highly eccentric but genius American chemist Russell E. Marker, who found an easier way to produce T than its extraction from very many thousands of litres of human urine or hundreds of tons of bulls’ testicles. Being a perceptive botanist, he successfully isolated sapogenin, a cholesterol lookalike molecule (and through synthesis, diosgenin) from the Mexican wild yam. He was then three steps from manufacturing progesterone and eight steps from testosterone, both of which he achieved by 1943 – incidentally making possible the eventual development of the contraceptive pill. Having co-founded one of the world’s first great pharmaceutical companies, Syntex, he disappeared after a row with his directors, and was presumed dead: in fact he was discovered to be pursuing his passion for 18th century silversmiths.
The Mexican Government nationalised the wild yam industry (the right species of yam could not be grown elsewhere), and, in 1976, hiked up the already heavy price of diosgenin by 250%. Subsequently testosterone has been synthesised from the cheaper stigmasterol found in the soya bean.
Tack all that together, and you will appreciate how the largely nonsensical over-consumption of soya and yam products has come about: it appears that human physiology cannot metabolise testosterone or oestrogen from diosgenin or stigmasterol.
Without sufficient T you will tend to grow fat and fatigued, to have a low libido and erectile dysfunction often unresponsive to Viagra-type pills, and to die early. If you think it appropriate, it is an excellent idea to have your T level estimated, and to check it against the range for your age (do not rely on the “normal” reference range given in the laboratory result – as your doctor might).
United Nations, WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are of the opinion that “male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV acquisition by men during penile-vaginal sex”. Removal of the foreskin marked the passage from child to adult in ancient Egypt, and gave the initiated the gift of access to (as yet undiscovered) mysteries. It is more than likely that the wise doctors of antiquity recognised that venereal diseases and foreskin infections (and subsequent scarring and contraction) could be significantly averted. “Health circumcision” has had its ups and downs ever since, but remains common practice in the Jewish and Muslim faiths. In Europe and the USA, the faulty hypothesis that the uncircumcised penis could be the cause of cervical cancer created a surge of popularity in the 20th century. Earlier, circumcision was used to discourage masturbation as it was believed to stunt the growth, to lead to blindness and “a perceptible reduction of strength, of memory and even of reason”. The Chief Scout, Robert Baden-Powell, warned against masturbation in “Scouting for Boys”. In the US, Dr Alfred Kinsey started a shift against these views, opposing Dr John Harvey Kellogg’s firm beliefs and his curative recommendation of a bland, meatless diet (including his invention of the corn flake). Recent research proposes an inverse relationship with coronary heart disease and prostate cancer. Circumcision has no significant effect on erectile function.
Captain Pugwash would have been proud.
Viagra (sildenafil) was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 27 March 1998, and was first imported into the UK by The Wellman Clinic in May of that year. The US company Pfizer had funded the development of sildenafil in its British research laboratory at Sandwich, and it was eventually trialled in Swansea. The team was led by the chemist Dr Simon Campbell: he was knighted in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List. The furore created by Viagra astonished everybody, especially the NHS – it hurriedly put together a comprehensive array of good reasons why not to allow free prescription of the famously blue £15 tablet. Annual sales peaked in 2008 at $2 billion. There is now a significant recreational market as Viagra helps to overcome the erectile dysfunction induced by many illicit drugs. It can be fatal if used with “poppers”. Unlicensed and unregulated chemical analogues of sildenafil dangerously give numerous “herbal Viagras” their zip – do not buy them, especially if you are taking prescribed medicines. There are three licensed simulacra – Cialis (tadalafil), Levitra (vardenafil) and, the most recent, Spedra (avanafil): each has been designed to last longer, or to have less side effects, or to act faster. Personal preferences should dictate which one is used.
“It must be very hard to prove Viagra works” (joke)
Wand by Hitachi, “The Cadillac of Vibrators” – a substantial beast powered by mains electricity. Invented in 1968 as a body massager, it has become an American staple, its sales massively boosted by an appearance in a 2002 episode of “Sex and the City”. “The Magic Wand” has been voted in the US as “The No. 1 Greatest Gadget of all time”, and has been medically approved as an aide in the treatment of female anorgasmia. It is popular with males as a prostate massager – especially when attached to a lamp dimmer to achieve an infinite variability of vibration frequency. There is a lighter version called “The Fairy Wand”.
X Certificate of the British Board of film Censors (BBFC) was introduced in 1951. Its application fluctuated with political and public sensibilities. Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin” was X-rated in 1954 for “inflammatory subtitles and Bolshevik propaganda”. Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim” was X- rated in 1962. The X certificate was replaced by the 18 and R18 classifications in 1982; this was seen as de facto legalisation of the importation of pornography within the EU. The BBFC has no control over internet services, and the ease of access to on-line pornography by children remains a subject of vigorous public debate – parents generally regard it as a menace, teenagers can see it as educational. The problem is that many find non-violent , adult pornography pleasurable, and it is therefore eminently saleable. There is no academic evidence so far for “porn addiction” – it has no mention in the current edition of the psychiatrists’ bible, “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5).
Yo-Yo (Americanism) for penis – it goes up and down. A song from “Monty Python. The Meaning of Life” (1983) –
Isn’t it awfully nice to have a penis
Isn’t it frightfully good to have-it-on
It’s swell to have a stiffy
It’s divine to own a dick
From the tiniest little todger to the world’s biggest prick
So, three cheers for your Willy or John-Thomas
Hooray for your one-eyed-trouser-snake
Your piece of pork, your wife’s best friend, your passing or your cock
You can wrap it up in ribbons, you can stuff it in your sock
But don’t take it out in public or they’ll stick you in the dock, and you won’t come back
Eric Idle (1943-)
Lord Montagu was charged in 1954 for performing “gross offences”. He was imprisoned for 12 months. “Unnatural acts” were also punished by judicial birching of the bare buttocks. The backlash led to the Wolfenden Report which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality. This did not come about until 1967 – and only in England and Wales. The Order did not become law in Northern Ireland until 1982.
The latest 2015 news about penis size is reassuring for most boys. An analysis of 15,521 Middle Eastern and European men demonstrated an average erect length of 13.12cm (5.16”) and an average erect circumference of 11.6cm (4.6”): the statistical range was 11.46cm (4.5”) to 14.78cm (5.8”). Only 3% of men worldwide have a penis longer than 20cm (8”) – obviously the majority must gather in LA’s San Fernando Valley – the world’s porn capital, “The Valley”. The unbeaten record for size was set in the early 1900’s by one Dr Robert Dickinson at 13.5” (6.25” circumference). Girls do not like the XXL size – it hits on the ovaries, which is much like being kicked in the balls. Extra large boys find it difficult to maintain an adequate erection for hydrodynamic reasons – the over-endowed hydraulics do not work reliably.
Zipless fuck – as defined, “sex without emotional involvement or commitment, especially between strangers”. A quote from feminist Erica Man Jong’s multi-million best seller “Fear of Flying” (1974) –
“The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not “taking” and the woman is not “giving”. No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.”