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There Really Isn’t Any Bad News for People Who Like to Masturbate

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by Martha Kempner

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Masturbation is such an under-appreciated form of sexual activity. It has been blamed in urban legends for everything from hairy palms to lack of productivity, and has a reputation of being reserved for those who can’t find anyone else to have sex with them. But that’s just not true. Most people masturbate. It feels good. It carries no risk of pregnancy or disease. It can take as much or as little time as you have. And it’s relaxing. So why have media outlets warned readers that they might be doing it too much or the wrong way?

Recently, in a December 15 article titled “We’ve Got Bad News for People Who Love Masturbating,” Maxim’s Ali Drucker tells readers: “If you or someone you love frequently enjoys doing the five-finger shuffle, there’s a study that suggests they might face negative effects over time.” The article actually points to three pieces of “research” that seem to suggest masturbation isn’t as good as other forms of sexual behavior, that one can become addicted to it, and that the “grip of death” can make men incapable of experiencing pleasure any other way.

Well, RH Reality Check has good news—these conclusions are largely based on junk science and misunderstandings.

masturbationThe first study Drucker cites, originally published in Biological Psychology, is called, “The post-orgasmic prolactin increase following intercourse is greater than following masturbation and suggests greater satiety.” Prolactin is a hormone that is released by the pituitary gland. Its main function is to stimulate milk production when a woman is lactating, but it also plays a role in the sexual response cycle. According to the study, which was first published about ten years ago, prolactin is released after orgasm as a way to counteract the dopamine released during arousal. Some scientists believe that the more satisfying the experience is, the more prolactin levels will go up afterward.

For this study, Stuart Brody and his colleagues compared data showing prolactin levels after penile-vaginal sex to those after masturbation and found that levels after intercourse were 400 percent higher than after masturbation. They interpreted this to mean that intercourse is more physiologically satisfying than masturbation.

On the surface, this conclusion isn’t surprising. Many people don’t view masturbation as the same as a shared experience with a partner. It doesn’t tend to produce the same physical or psychological feelings. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun and satisfying way to spend a few minutes (or hours, if you’re ambitious or bored).Masturbate-a-Thon_Logo

When I read the study, I did not interpret it to say that intercourse was better than masturbation, just that our biological reactions to different sexual behaviors were different. I had never read anything by Professor Brody before and reached out to him, assuming that people were overstating his results and that he did not mean to discourage masturbation. I thought, what sex researcher would ever want to discourage masturbation?

However, he replied, “Instead of any fresh quotes, I attach my review paper on the evidence regarding health differences between different sexual behaviors.” He sent me a different article, a literature review in which he says in no uncertain terms that penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) is the best kind of sex and that “sexual medicine, sex education, sex therapy, and sex research should disseminate details of the health benefits of specifically PVI.”

masturbating womanAs a sex educator, I can’t imagine telling anyone that penile-vaginal sex is inherently better. For one thing, not everyone is in a couple, and not all couples have a penis and a vagina between them. And even for cisgender heterosexual couples, PVI is only one of countless potentially pleasurable behaviors. Moreover, many women find it less satisfying and less likely to end in orgasm than behaviors that incorporate clitoral stimulation.

But Brody not only thinks it’s the best form of sex—he thinks we sometimes do it wrong. He writes that “PVI might have been modified from its pure form, such as condom use or clitoral masturbation during PVI.” He also explains that Czech women who were vaginally orgasmic were more likely than their peers who didn’t have orgasms through PVI to have been taught during childhood that the vagina is “an important zone for inducing female orgasm,” concluding that “sex education should begin to be honest” about sexual behaviors.

I thought we’d moved on from the idea that we should all be having heterosexual, penile-vaginal sex in its “pure form” (missionary position?) and that women who couldn’t orgasm this way were both bad at sex and shit out of luck.

Colleagues in the field told me that many of them ignore Brody’s studies because he makes wild inferences based on soft science and, as implied by his research, is wedded to the idea that for sex to have the most benefits it needs to include PVI.

Nicole Prause, a researcher who has written critiques of Brody’s work, told me via email that, “His work almost exclusively uses data from other researchers, not his own, meaning the design is never really appropriate for the claim he is actually trying to make.” She went on to say that Brody’s studies on orgasm are often based on self-report, which is notoriously unreliable. Although the study Maxim cites was based on blood tests, “He has never once verified the presence of orgasm using a simple physiological measure designed for that purpose: anal EMG. Many women are thought not to be able to reliably distinguish their orgasm, so his purely self-report research is strongly suspect. If this is his area of focus, he should be studying it better than everyone else,” she concluded.female_masturbate.jpg

But Brody’s research on prolactin isn’t the only questionable science that Maxim relies on for its cautionary tale on masturbation. The article goes on to discuss the role of oxytocin and dopamine and points out that there’s less oxytocin released during masturbation. This is probably true—oxytocin is known as a bonding hormone and is triggered by contact with other people, so it’s not surprising that it’s not released when you’re orgasming alone. The Maxim article, however, argues that if the brain is flooded with dopamine (a neurochemical) during masturbation without the “warm, complacent, satisfied feeling from oxytocin,” you can build up a dopamine tolerance, or even an addiction, and get into “a vicious cycle of more masturbation.”

David Ley, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sexuality expert, explained in an email that many people describe dopamine as the “brain’s cocaine,” but this is an overly simplistic way of looking at it. It doesn’t mean we’re at risk of desensitizing our brain or getting addicted to jerking off. Ley wrote:

It appears that there are many people whose brains demonstrate lower sensitivity to dopamine and other such neurochemicals. These people tend to be “high sensation-seekers” who are jumping out of airplanes, doing extreme sports, or even engaging in lots of sex or lots of kinky sex. These behaviors aren’t caused by a development of tolerance or desensitizing, but in fact, the other way around—these behavior patterns are a symptom of the way these peoples’ brains work, and were made.

OK, dopamine isn’t cocaine and neither is masturbation: We’re not going to get addicted if we do it “too” much.

But, wait, Maxim throws one more warning at us—beware the “death grip.”

Though the article describes this as “the idea that whacking off too much will damage your dick,” the term, which was coined by sex advice columnist Dan Savage, is more about getting too accustomed to one kind of stimulation and being unable to reach orgasm without it. There is some truth to this—if you always get off using the same method, you can train your body to react to that kind of stimulation and it can be harder (though rarely impossible) to react to others. There are two solutions, neither of which involve giving up on masturbation: Retrain your body by taking some time off from that one behavior and trying some others, either by yourself or with a partner, or incorporate that behavior into whatever else you’re doing to orgasm (like clitoral masturbation during intercourse).

male_masturbationIn fairness, the Maxim article ends by acknowledging that masturbation can have benefits, but I still think it did its readers a disservice by reviewing any of this pseudoscience in the first place. As Ley said in his email, “This article, targeted towards men (because we masturbate more), is still clearly pushing an assumption that there is a ‘right kind of sex/orgasm’ and that masturbation is just a cheap (and potentially dangerous) substitute … That’s a very sexist, heteronormative, and outdated belief based on a view of sex as procreative only.”

So for a different take on it all: Sure, there might be more prolactin and oxytocin produced during intercourse than masturbation, but that does not mean that masturbation isn’t enjoyable or worthwhile. You won’t become addicted to it, but you might want to mix up how you get to orgasm or just incorporate your preferred stroke into all other sexual activity.

What you shouldn’t do is view the Maxim article—or any of the research it cites—as reasons not to stick your hands down your own pants.

Complete Article HERE!

BDSM Bottom skills

By

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So much “how to BDSM” material is really “how to top.”  Which is understandable, up to a point. The top performs most of the obvious physical parts of the scene–they’re the one who has to know how to tie a knot or swing a flogger.  The top is likely to also be dominant, which means that they’re going to be the one in charge of planning the scene and directing it.  And the top is also expected to take more responsibility for a scene, because bottoms might be immobilized (or go off into la-la land) and need their tops to watch out for their safety.

001There’s also a certain bias in BDSM-land toward thinking tops and dominants should be the authorities and their experiences should be prioritized, because… well, partly because they’re more often men.  And partly because they’re in charge in their scenes/relationships so it’s only logical that they be in charge everywhere, even though it’s not like the community agreed to submit to them.  So the majority of kink community leaders, authors, and teachers are tops.

As a result of these factors, you can come away from a lot of kink books or conferences thinking that bottoming is… standing there.  (For advanced bottoming, you might kneel or lie down.)  It seems like a purely receptive thing.  Like a beanbag could do it, if you could teach a beanbag to moan and occasionally offer to get people drinks.

This is not the case.  Bottoming well, in a way that creates a great experience for yourself and your top, requires effort and skill.  We are not canvases for the art of BDSM; we are artists too.  Here’s some of the things I’ve learned (or am learning, or need to learn) about being on the bottom:

• Know your desires.

If you don’t know what you like, you’re not likely to get it.  I’ve talked about this so much on the blog, I don’t want to belabor the point.  Just… have some idea of why you’re bottoming in a BDSM scene instead of back at home knitting.  (Knitting fetishists please disregard.)  (That is not entirely a joke.)  Or if you don’t, at least be aware that you don’t know, and able to say “I’m experimenting right now and finding out what appeals to me.”

• Speak up for yourself.

When I first started playing, I had the idea in my head–maybe not in words, but definitely in 006feelings–that the best bottoms were the ones who were least demanding.  That for me to be an excellent bottom, I should take as much pain as I could stand and allow my top to do whatever they wanted.  I certainly noticed that I enjoyed some activities more than others, but I felt like asking for the ones I wanted would be rude or “topping from the bottom” or selfish or something.  So I just felt happy when I got things I liked, felt sad or annoyed when I got things I didn’t, and never gave any external indication of either.

Eventually I burned myself out on the stoicism thing.  I could only suppress my specific desires and limited pain tolerance for so long.  So I became a really grouchy, persnickety bottom.  No, I don’t like that.  Don’t like that either.  Yellow.  Yellow to that too.  Maybe we should just take a break.  It was frustrating, but it was actually progress–being able to say what I didn’t like without being able to say what I liked wasn’t very fun, but it beat the heck out of not being able to say either.  My tops were stuck playing “Marco Polo” with my desires, but at least they weren’t unwittingly hurting me.

And then–embarrassingly recently–I realized that asking for what you like isn’t presumptuous or un-bottomly, it’s something that a good top actually wants you to do.  Depending on the sort of scene you’re doing, they might not give you everything you like (or they might make you earn it), but they still need to know.  Otherwise they don’t know which parts are punishment and which are reward for you, and they’re not in control of the experience they’re creating for you.

• Look out for your safety.

005This is a responsibility tops and bottoms share.  It’s more the top’s, because they have more control and because they’re going to be at fault if the bottom gets hurt, but it’s an important bottom skill to be able to help the top keep you safe.  This means knowing and sharing the limitations of your body and your mind, it means using your safewords when you need to, and it means double-checking the top when they do something potentially unsafe.  Your top should notice on their own if they’re cutting off your circulation or positioning you in a way that would be disastrous if you fell, but even good tops can miss things, and it’s a good idea to also do your own safety checks.

(If you’re way off in subspace you may not be able, and then it really is the top’s responsibility alone.  But it’s a good thing to do if you can.)

• Play along.

This isn’t a simple directive but a whole set of skills that depend on how you play.  This is the physical, immediate side of bottoming, and it’s a whole lot more than standing there.  It’s positioning yourself to assist with an elaborate rope tie.  It’s being able to absorb blows.  It’s knowing when to push back, when to yield, and when to stand firm.  This really depends on what specific kinks you do, and it’s mostly stuff you have to learn “on the job.”  And it is things you have to learn.  “Standing there” looks like a no-brainer, but standing in a way that makes it easy for your top to do their job and supports you when you go wibbly and looks good and feels good?  Takes a little bit of brain.

• Give good feedback.004

In two ways.  There’s the practical feedback, the “oh yeah just like that,” the “wow, I’m really just melting away into the wall here,” and the “okay, that was the bad ow.”  And there’s the feedback that tops appreciate and get off on, the… well, actually, the first two sentences above are pretty good examples of that too.  I’m not talking about playing it up and putting on a performance, but a lot of tops really like hearing how much impact they’re having on you.  Giving them that, especially if they’ve asked for it, is good bottoming.

• Know how to cook what you eat.

I don’t think this is a requirement for everyone (well, nothing here is required, we’re all different and all learning, please don’t take this post as a list of “things bottoms must do”), but it’s something I value for myself.  I like to know how to perform all the skills that I enjoy having done to me.  I hardly ever top, but I know how to tie a rope harness and where to aim a flogger.  Having this knowledge helps me communicate better with my top, know what I can do to make their job easier, understand and process the sensations I’m receiving, and it gives me a whole lot of appreciation for how much energy my top is putting into the scene.

• Process the experience.

This is the internal work of bottoming, and I don’t know what I’m going to write in this section, because it’s… magic or neurology or something.  Also a lot of deep breathing.  This is where you take in pain, discomfort, fear, and/or humiliation, and you turn them into something wonderful for yourself.  And very often it is an effort.  It can take focus and intention to turn a spanking from “my butt hurts, ow, my butt hurts again” to “my butt hurts in a way that is giving me the most amazing pleasure.”  Or when it isn’t pleasure, “my butt hurts and I am strong and I am taking it.”  It’s almost a kind of meditation.

Everything else on this page is about bottoming.  It’s all the logistics around bottoming.  But this part?  This is bottoming.  This is why you aren’t home knitting.  And there’s nothing easy or passive about it.

•Give aftercare.

002Tops drop too.  Tops (at least a lot of them) also get into an altered state when they’re playing and they can also come down hard.  So tops might need cuddling and talking after scenes, or they might need to drink water and stretch out and cool off, or they might want to mellow out and enjoy the lingering buzz.  It’s good bottoming to be attentive to their aftercare needs as well as your own, and to check up on them a bit after the scene.

Just standing there? Bottoming in BDSM is goddamn hard work, and it deserves to be talked about.

Complete Article HERE!

Scar Tissue

First Name: Luke
Age: 38
Gender: male
Location: Australia
Hi I was born with hypospadias and had 3 operations when I was young. I have bad scarring from the operations. My question is can I get plastic surgery to get rid of scarring and to get my penis head sculptured to look more normal?

First, a quick review of what hypospadias is for those unfamiliar with the term. It’s an abnormality of the urethra in some men. It involves an unusual placed urinary meatus (piss slit). Instead of opening being at the tip of the glans (or dickhead), a hypospadic urethra opens anywhere on a (raphe) line running from the tip of the dude’s cock along the underside of the shaft to where the base.

hypospadic 2This happens when a guy’s dick does not fully develop in the womb.

This condition has levels of severity, from the hardly noticeable to very obvious. Some children are born intersexed, and have ambiguous genitalia, which requires sexual reassignment surgery. But I’ll save that discussion for another time.

Some guys, particularly those with conspicuous hypospadias can develop a complex about their appearance. This in turn, impacts on their self-image and complicates their ability to form lasting sexual/partner/marriage relationships. Severe hypospadias can also interfere with procreation. Other men, perhaps those with less conspicuous or severe hypospadias show little to no concern for the appearance of their dick and live completely normal lives. Hell, I even know a few porn stars with hypospadias.

Some parents of children with mild hypospadias seek a surgical correction to the problem. I view hypospadias.jpgthis as a highly risky means to solve a less relatively innocuous cosmetic problem. There are men who were operated on as a child who now, as adults, resent the interference. Are you one such man, Manson? You say you’ve had three surgeries. As you may know, matters are often made worse rather than better through surgery. And of course, there’s always the risk of complications, infections and the like. There are, however, more serious cases of hypospadias that demand reconstruction. If your dick issue is causing you anxiety or low self-esteem, help is available. Check out: The Hypospadias and Epispadias Association.

Back to your presenting question, Luke. Like I suggest above, just about every effort I’ve seen to surgically improve hypospadias or correct the after effects of those “improvements” have only made matters worse. That being said, my information is based in the past. Has the art of plastic surgery improved with time? Probably. But has it improved so much that it can erase the scar tissue on your cock? I simply don’t know. I suppose everything depends on the amount of scaring you have and the skill of the surgeon.

Have you consulted a plastic surgeon? That’s where I’d begin. You’ll want to be honest with them about your expectations and expect honesty from them about the likely outcome.

In the end, Luke, you may simply wish to leave well enough alone.

Good luck

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Vagina

By Nell Frizzel

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Lying across a turquoise rubber plinth, my legs in stirrups, a large blue sheet of paper draped across my pubes (for “modesty”), a doctor slowly pushes a clear plastic duck puppet up my vagina and, precisely at that moment, Total Eclipse of the Heart comes on over the radio and it’s hard not to love the genitourinary medicine, or GUM, clinic.

I mean that most sincerely: I love the GUM clinic. It is wonderful beyond orgasm that in the UK anyone can walk into a sexual health clinic—without registering with a doctor, without an appointment, without any money, without a chaperone—and get seen within a few hours at most. It brings me to the point of climax just thinking about the doctors and health professionals who dedicate their life to the nation’s ovaries, cervixes, vaginas, and wombs.

And yet, not all women are apparently so comfortable discussing their clitoral hall of fame with a doctor. According to a recent report commissioned by Ovarian Cancer Action, almost half of the women surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 said they feared “intimate examinations,” while 44 percent are too embarrassed to talk about sexual health issues with a GP. What’s more, two thirds of those women said they would be afraid to say the word “vagina” in front of their doctor. Their doctor. That is desperately, disappointingly, dangerously sad.

In 2001, I went to see a sexual health nurse called Ms. Cuthbert who kindly, patiently and sympathetically explained to me that I wasn’t pregnant—in fact could not be pregnant—I was just doing my A-Levels. The reason I was feeling sick, light-headed, and had vaginal discharge that looked like a smear of cream cheese was because I was stressed about my simultaneous equations and whether I could remember the order of British prime ministers between 1902 to 1924. My body was simply doing its best to deal with an overload of adrenaline.

Back then, my GUM clinic was in a small health center opposite a deli that would sell Czechoslovakian beer to anyone old enough to stand unaided, and a nail bar that smelled of fast food. I have never felt more grown up than when I first walked out of that building, holding a striped paper bag of free condoms and enough packets of Microgynon to give a fish tits. My blood pressure, cervix, heartrate, and emotional landscape had all been gently and unobtrusively checked over by my new friend Ms. Cuthbert. I had been given the time and space to discuss my hopes and anxieties and was ready to launch myself, legs akimbo, into a world of love and lust—all without handing over a penny, having to tell my parents, pretending that I was married or worry that I was being judged.

My local sexual health clinic today is, if anything, even more wonderful. In a neighborhood as scratched, scored, and ripped apart by the twin fiends of poverty and gentrification as Hackney, the GUM clinic is the last great social leveler. It is one of our last few collective spaces. Sitting in reception, staring at the enormous pictures of sand dunes and tree canopies it is clear that, for once, we’re all in this together. The man in a blue plastic moulded chair wishing his mum a happy birthday on the phone, the two girls in perfect parallel torn jeans scrolling through WhatsApp, the guy with the Nike logo tattoo on his neck getting a glass of water for his girlfriend, the red-headed hipster in Birkenstocks reading about witchcraft in the waiting room, the mother and daughter with matching vacuum-sized plastic handbags talking about sofas, the fake flowers, Magic FM playing on the wall-mounted TV, the little kids running around trying to say hello to everyone while the rest of us desperately avoided eye contact—the whole gang was there. And that’s the point: you may be a working mum, you may be a teenager, you may be a social media intern at a digital startup, you may be a primary school teacher, you may be married, single, a sex worker, unemployed, wealthy, religious, terrified, or defiant but whatever your background, wherever you’ve come from and whoever you slept with last night, you’ll end up down at the GUM clinic.

Which is why it seems such a vulvic shame that so many women feel scared to discuss their own bodies with the person most dedicated to making sure that body is OK. “No doctor will judge you when you say you have had multiple sexual partners, or for anything that comes up in your sexual history,” Dr. Tracie Miles, the President of the National Forum of Gynecological Oncology Nurses tells me on the phone. “We don’t judge—we’re real human beings ourselves. If we hadn’t done it we probably wish we had and if we have done it then we will probably be celebrating that you have too.”

Doctors are not horrified by women who have sex. Doctors are not grossed out by vaginas. So to shy away from discussing discharge, pain after sex, bloating, a change in color, odor, itching, and bleeding not only renders the doctor patient conversation unhelpful, it also puts doctors at a disadvantage, hinders them from being able to do their job properly, saves nobody’s blushes and could result in putting you and your body at risk.

According to The Eve Appeal—a women’s cancer charity that is campaigning this September to fight the stigma around women’s health, one in five women associate gynecological cancer with promiscuity. That means one in five, somewhere in a damp and dusty corner of their minds, are worried that a doctor will open up her legs, look up at her cervix and think “well you deserve this, you slut.” Which is awful, because they won’t. They never, ever would. Not just because they’re doctors and therefore have spent several years training to view the human body with a mix of human sympathy and professional dispassion, but more importantly, because being promiscuous doesn’t give you cancer.

“There is no causal link between promiscuity and cancer,” says Dr. Miles. “The only sexually transmitted disease is the fear and embarrassment of talking about sex; that’s what can stop us going. If you go to your GP and get checked out, then you’re fine. And you don’t have to know all the anatomical words—if you talk about a wee hole, a bum hole, the hole where you put your Tampax, then that is absolutely fine too.”

Although there is some evidence of a causal link between certain gynecological cancers and High Risk Human Papilloma Virus (HRHPV), that particular virus is so common that, ‘it can be considered a normal consequence of sexual activity’ according to The Eve Appeal. Eighty percent of us will pick up some form of the HPV virus in our lifetime, even if we stick with a single, trustworthy, matching-socks-and-vest-takes-out-the-garbage-talks-to-your-mother-on-the-phone-can’t-find-your-clitoris partner your entire life. In short, HRHPV may lead to cancer, but having different sexual partners doesn’t. Of course, unprotected sex can lead to an orgy of other sexually transmitted infections, not to mention the occasional baby, but promiscuity and safe sex are not mutually exclusive. And medical professionals are unlikely to be shocked by either.

We are incredibly lucky in the UK that any woman can stroll into a sexual health clinic, throw her legs open like a cowboy and receive some of the best medical care the world has ever known. We can Wikipedia diagrams of our vaginas to learn the difference between our frenulum and prepuce (look it up, gals). We can receive free condoms any day of the (working week) from our doctor or friendly neighborhood GUM clinic. We can YouTube how to perform a self-examination, learn to spot the symptoms of STIs, read online accounts by women with various health conditions, and choose from a military-grade arsenal of different contraception methods, entirely free.

A third of women surveyed by The Eve Appeal said that they would feel more comfortable discussing their vaginas and wombs if the stigma around gynecological health and sex was reduced. But a large part of removing that stigma is up to us. We have to own that conversation and use it to our advantage. We need to bite the bullet and start talking about our pudenda. We have to learn to value and accept our genitals as much as any other part of our miraculous, hilarious bodies.

So come on, don’t be a cunt. Open up about your vagina.

Complete Article HERE!

Penis politics: Sex, size and stereotypes in the gay community

When it comes to penis size, gay men face a host of preconceptions about masculinity and race

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By

Recent studies have shown that actual penis size is smaller than men are claiming. According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the average male penis measures 5.6 inches when erect; the Journal of Urology puts it at a slightly smaller 5.08 inches. This is considerably smaller than previous numbers from Alfred Kinsey, Durex and the Definitive Penis study, which averaged 6.25 inches in their estimates. The difference between the two estimates: surveys like Durex’s rely on self-reporting, and men are likely to overestimate. As Tom Hickman wrote in “God’s Doodle”: “What is incontrovertible is that where men and their penises are concerned there are lies, damned lies, and self measurements.”

Just ask any gay man looking for a hook-up on Grindr. “If a guy tells you his size and you meet up, you realize he must have a different ruler,” said Noah Michelson, editor of The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section. Michelson believes that the reason men are likely to overreport their penis size is because of the “cultural currency” the gay community places on having a large penis. “I think there’s something to do with internalized homophobia or insecurities about being a man,” Michelson said. “You want to have a big dick and you want to be with a big dick. You want to be with a ‘man.’”

Michelson argued it’s not just about having a large penis; it’s what that penis signifies. “Having a big dick means that you’re ‘masculine’ and you wield a lot of power, because we assign so much power to the phallus itself,” he told me. “You’re a dominator and a conqueror.” Michelson said that this idea is largely informed by pornography, a strong force in shaping desire in the gay community; but for those who don’t fit into that “porn culture,” it leads to a feeling of being left out. “It’s totally a lottery,” Michelson explained. “And you either win it or you don’t.”

According to Jaime Woo, author of the book “Meet Grindr,” which explores how men interact on mobile hookup applications, that game can have very negative consequences for queer men who find themselves on the losing side. That’s why the size issue can seem even more fraught in the gay community than among heterosexuals. “In gay male culture, your sexual worth is very tied to your worth in the community overall,” Woo said. “We don’t have a lot of structure in place for men who aren’t sexually valuable, and they disappear into the background. Gay men have enough issues already, and this is just another way for them to feel bad about themselves, if they’re not packing eight inches under their pants.”

Woo told me that looking for sex on Grindr “makes the expectations much more heightened.” “Grindr has really distorted peoples’ understanding of what average or normal is, and the fact that people can ask if six or seven inches are too small — it’s jaw dropping,” Woo said. “You can be very picky because there is something better around the corner, someone bigger or hotter and someone more your type. It creates a very narrow band of desire.”

Huffington Post writer Zach Stafford argued that in order to hook up, we’re commodifying ourselves for sexual consumption. “On Grindr, you’re literally putting someone in a box,” Stafford explained. “The app’s layout is an actual shelf, like you would see in a grocery store.” In order to participate on the site, Stafford said that you have to learn how to market yourself by those confines. “It’s like being a book on Amazon,” Stafford told me. “You give yourself a little cover and write your summary. You make yourself a product, and when you’re selling yourself, you always go bigger.”

Stafford said our fascination with penis size is inherently tied to capitalism. “Studies have shown that people with larger penises make more money,” Stafford explained. “It’s power in our pants.” Stafford also explained that the correlation between sex and power leads to a skewed power dynamic between tops and bottoms. Research shows that bottoms have smaller penises on average, and are more likely to have penis anxiety and low self-esteem.  In an essay for the Huffington Post, Stafford called it “Top Privilege.” Stafford wrote, “In this line of thought, bottoms are seen ‘less than,’ ‘feminine’ or ‘the woman’ because they are the taker of the phallus.”

But it’s not just an issue of money and gender. Race also plays a large part in how gay men read each others’ bodies, especially for black and Asian men, stereotyped at the ends of the size spectrum. Stafford, who is multiracial, said that men will often approach him in bars to ask about his penis, expecting him to conform to the stereotype. “It creates an enormous amount of pressure for black men,” Stafford stated. “Black men are only seen as a tool — a tool of building and a tool of fucking. They’re reduced to a big penis.” In his case, Stafford said men often fall into two camps: “Either white people look at me as a black man with a big dick, or they see me and fetishize me — they want to dominate me.”

Jay Borchert has had the exact opposite experience. A doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, Borchert (who is white) has frequently dated men of color, causing his romantic experiences to be reduced to a fetish. “People make remarks that I must be in it for the dick,” Borchert told me. “Why can’t I be looking for ass? Why can’t I be looking for mouth? Why can’t I be looking for a person?” People sometimes assume that Borchert adopts the “bottom” role in his sexual relationships, which isn’t the case. Borchert sighed, “It was really frustrating because there’s more to dating and relationships than penis.”

Due to his ethnicity, Thought Catalog writer John Tao has also found himself being put in a box in the bedroom. “Because I’m Asian, I’m automatically categorized as being a bottom,” Tao said. “There’s a perception that I wouldn’t want to top.” Because of this, Tao said that’s the role he’s most often performed in sexual relationships. “All of these people think I’m a bottom, so I’ll just be a bottom,” Mr. Tao explained, “You have to be careful because we internalize these stereotypes about ourselves. Your gay Asian friend might identify as a total bottom, but that could be years of societal expectations.”

Justin Huang, who blogs about his experiences being gay and Chinese at I Am Yellow Peril, agreed that the baggage around penis size can be particularly harmful for Asian-American men. In school, Huang’s friends would often tease him about what they assumed was the size of his penis, which was difficult when coming to terms with his sexual identity. “For a long time, I thought I had a small penis,” Huang explained. “It’s amazing what your brain can train you to see. I didn’t have a lot of respect for my penis. Gay men are emasculated already, so when you’re gay and Asian, you feel doubly emasculated.”

Huang told me that when you’re Asian, you’re expected to perform the stereotype, meaning that guys are very curious to see what’s inside your pants. “I’ve been in straight bars using the bathroom where a guy will lean over and look at my dick, just to see if what they say is true,” Huang said. But Jaime Woo argued that the same isn’t true for white men, whose penis size isn’t policed in the same way. “White men are considered the sexual default, so you’re allowed to have some variability,” Woo said. “White men get to be anything and everything, and there’s no presumption there. So for white men, a big dick is a bonus.”

Huang also argued that these stereotypes are a symptom of our lack of sex education and lack of knowledge about our bodies. “We’re told to hide our penises,” Huang said. “It’s a form of sexual oppression we don’t talk about. You see boobs everywhere. You don’t see penises anywhere, not even HBO. It’s something that’s scandalous and cloaked.” Because of the shame surrounding invisibility, men often place too much emphasis on something so small. “When I think about the guys I’ve been with, I don’t remember the penises,” Huang said. “I remember the boy. A penis doesn’t smile. A penis doesn’t look into your eyes. A penis can’t wrap its arms around you.”

Instead of holding out for an unrealistic fantasy, Justin Huang believes gay men should start embracing each other for exactly who they are. “Gay men need to stop expecting each other to be porn stars,” Huang said. “If you dump a guy just because of his penis size, you are an asshole. So if you love your man, tell him that you like his penis. After all, when you’re dating a guy, you’re dating two people: You’re dating him and you’re dating his penis. We need to start valuing and appreciating both of them.”
 
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