I have a confession to make: I have a vagina. Yes, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about penis issues.
And no, my boyfriend isn’t dictating this column to me.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like most analyses of gender focus on women. This makes sense given the male dominance of our culture. Women have long been considered secondary and have had their sexuality pushed aside.
However, in my estimation, this is not an excuse to give less voice to the fact that modern American society places a lot of sexual pressure on men as well.
For guys, thinking about this stuff is relevant because, well, they’re guys. But it’s important for girls too. We all live together, and understanding sexuality and gender is a big part of understanding each other. So, without further ado, here is my personal synopsis on penis culture: The phallus is a symbol of strength and dominance that can be seen worldwide from the Washington Monument to the Eiffel Tower. It is a simple yet beautiful construction. In my experience, the same opinion is widely held concerning the penis — testicles are often mocked, but the people who I have talked to have respect for the geometry of the penis. The vagina, on the other hand, is considered — by some, not all — inherently ugly, dirty and complicated. Men may seem to have the upper hand here, but they’re put under a lot of pressure. What if his penis is particularly veiny? What if it smells from exercise? What if it has dry skin? By putting the penis on a pedestal (take that, Steve Carrell), society places a lot of pressure on men to be perfect.
The same holds true for penis length. It is often referred to coquettishly in television shows, but the underlying message is usually “size doesn’t matter (wink wink).” This puts a lot of stress on men to change something over which they have absolutely no control, despite the e-mails the campus receives.
On the flip side, since men have external genitalia they have to touch every time they urinate, they tend to be more comfortable with their bits and pieces than women are when they first begin to have sex.
That doesn’t mean they have any more control: They can have random erections in class, at parties and everywhere else. And when they’re up at the right time, that doesn’t mean they always stay up. Sometimes orgasms sort of run away with them and uh, uh, ooohh … oops! They only last a minute.
If only that were the case for women.
Perhaps the biggest positive in American sexual culture for men is the one-two punch of the handjob and the blowjob. According to my sources (thanks Mom), these two didn’t used to be very common. The concept of bases didn’t exist, so handjobs and blowjobs weren’t on the menu until sex was, too. These two acts are now prevalent to the point that it seems weird if a couple doesn’t try them.
Of course, manual and oral stimulation are now on the table for women, too. But figuring out what to do with a penis is generally less complicated than figuring out what to do with a vagina. And even if you think they’re both equally complicated, it’s fair to say that men usually have more experience handling themselves than women do, allowing them to better dictate what their partner ought to be doing.
And finally, we come to the biggest negative: Men are expected to be insatiable sexual beings. A man who says no to sex is ridiculed.
He is expected to always be ready and willing to penetrate anything that walks and is reasonably good-looking. A man who doesn’t masturbate, look at porn or hook up regularly is considered an anomaly. So what’s the kicker? For all of these things, we call men pigs. In a sense, we are forcing sex to be at the forefront of men’s minds and then ridiculing them.
To be sure, there are many other pros and cons to being a man in modern American sexual culture. So, what’s the conclusion? Are men getting the shaft? Maybe. But for my part, I don’t think looking at sexual standards as a contest between who has it worse is really productive. What’s important to realize is that there are two sides to the issue and that for every stereotype women endure, there is a counterpart affecting men.
__Maya Horowitz is the Flat Hat sex columnist. She doesn’t have penis envy.__