So Your Dick Isn’t Perpetually Hard.

And seriously, that’s okay. This isn’t a trap. Male sexuality is a complex, personal and individual thing; why do we keep—implicitly, explicitly and profoundly counterproductively—pretending otherwise? Turn on the telly, or the pages of Cosmo, and it’s constantly reinforced that girls are complicated, intricate labyrinths, and boys are a well-lit corridor, always geared to go. (In this metaphor feel free to consider the minotaur a benevolent creature of multiple orgasms.)
Not that I wanna speak for bros on this matter. Instead, let’s just recognise that people who aren’t jerks are far more interested in whether everyone is having fun than if your private is standing to attention. Yes, the two often go hand in hand. But sometimes, just because you’re a dude and you’ve got an enthusiastically consenting adult playtime buddy doesn’t mean you’re DTF and can everyone just be chill about that please.

Post-big-break up I was living with a friend while he housesat his awesome mum’s place. It was fantastic, despite being full of terrifying Indonesian puppets my supposed friend didn’t warn me about. There was a gorgeous back deck for chatting and working our way through my smokes. He taught me a more efficient (and what I have since been told is the normal) way to cut onions. It was a very harmonious arrangement. One particular night after I hadn’t been back to the house in a bit, I opened the gate to find him watering the garden. When asked what I’d been up to, I replied ‘having sex’. And then: ‘I’d forgotten hetero-sex could be like that.’
‘Like what?’
‘I dunno, just different. More mixed up, y’know. Mixed like those bags of lollies, not mixed-up as in confused or confusing.’ And then my friend gave me an ‘oh duh’ look and then I’m pretty sure we had a beer and ordered pizza.

It was a strange thing to be reminded of, really, because no kidding sex with different male partners is going to be different. In the seven years I’ve been doing this whole intercourse thing that has always been the case; the ‘thank you Captain Obvious’ reaction was justified.
Since starting out, but this year in particular, I’ve found my feet as a poly, sex-positive girl so the summer of lurve hasn’t needed to end. It’s tricky to convey credibility in this area without sounding braggadocious, but however unscientific my encounters with bartenders, backpackers, boys from house parties and outta town (along with the occasional ex) are, it’s been enough to burst the bubble that guys are always up (get it) for casual sex. However, the myth persists both publicly, and to an extent privately; after a while of fooling around it always seems to be expected that we were now going to Have The Sex. Like ‘real’, heteronormative, the-apparent-point-of-it-all, penis-in-vagina sexy sex.
While generally a fan of this type of fucking, it is a ludicrously simplistic conceptualisation of Sex with a capital S. It also by necessity requires guys to get, and remain, hard. No pressure! Just, y’know, regardless of where you’re at emotionally, mentally, what work has been like, whether you’re actually feeling safe—all of which are separate from whether you wanna have the Sex—if we can’t do this one activity it’s all on you and is it because I’m not pretty? If we’ve gotten this far, that seems unlikely you’re repulsed by my physicality. And even if it is a matter of not feelin’ the spark, come the fuck on, that is also fine. Chemistry, both in science and in between the sheets, is a complex business.
One of the sexiest things a guy has said to yours truly is, ‘sometimes it takes me a long time to get going. Maybe won’t even happen tonight at all’. This admission wasn’t something that got in the way of much playtime. In fact, it was even better because yay communication. The expectation had been lifted from both of us. We didn’t have to do anything unless it felt good; there was no single activity that got to arbitrarily mark the You Have Now Had Sex point.

Unfortunately for everyone, the way we currently talk about our sex lives often downplays paths to pleasure and intimacy that are pretty excellent, but do not involve an erect penis entering an orifice. It’s not that we’re all acting like the most uncreative pornstars ever behind closed doors. More that—persistently—any fucking that fails to achieve The Sex status doesn’t get as much airtime. It is also super prone to third party and internal trivilisation à la ‘oh, so you didn’t really then’ or, as Cher states in Clueless, ‘After [the freeway] Dionne’s virginity went from technical to nonexistent’. The latter is funny because it’s acknowledging the construct. Namely, the dominant narratives that backhandedly condense sex to a singular, heteronormative act; narratives that reduce women to being essentially emotional, and men as essentially physical when it comes to bonking. These attitudes are the true bonerkillers of our time. Even the idea of foreplay as something guys do to girls so we will be happier bedpartners directly feeds into this. The playtime becomes a means to an end, instead of a back-arching activity in its own right.

And surprise, surprise: these outdated understandings of sex have more insidious consequences. Generally speaking, even among friends, cis hetero guys seem to opt for a punch-line approach if their erection doesn’t feature. This is especially awful if the reason was they didn’t feel safe or totally into what was happening. Jokes about guys getting kicked out of bed because they couldn’t get it up, or belittled for not being alpha enough are seriously all kinds of squick. If the genders were reversed a girl would reasonably expect her friends to rally behind her, profaning profusely about such jerktastic behaviour. A man in the same scenario is implicitly encouraged to frame the experience as funny, if they want to talk about it at all. It’s an unsettling example of how a patriarchal culture restricts and represses both genders. Of course this systemic bullshit doesn’t oppress men in the same ways, or to the same extent. But as people who do more in their bedroom than sleep, they are still disadvantaged directly as a result of this warped allocation of privilege.

Wherever you sit on the spectrum, people are goddamn complicated and fluid, nuanced and flawed, with our bad and good angles in bed and beyond to boot. We’re all a puzzle before the business of trying to fit together with one another even begins. So if we could stop placing all this emphasis on one stiff (or otherwise) piece in particular I would really appreciate that and can promise increased long-term happiness for all.

Kat Muscat is the editor of Voiceworks Magazine.

18 Comments

  • Billy Budd says:

    Dear Kat,

    Please write more. Write all the things, I beg of you.

    Respect,
    Your newest-but-no-less-enthusiastic fan.

  • Angela says:

    This one makes me miss ‘Sex and the City’

  • Very very insightful and i resonate with this a lot, being a guy who needs time to get comfortable and feel safe with my partner before i can really be dtf. i’ve had a few embarrassing situations with this.

  • Dani Dányi says:

    big up (haha) this is spot on, plus very well written too imho. in fact i admit to having looked up the word “squick” tho it is kinda obvious, so thanx for that too 🙂

  • Hanna says:

    Coming out as bi this was one of the most fun talks I had with a (female) friend of mine. Precisely this. 😀 Sadly guys are still so terribly bashful about this…

  • nichole j says:

    This is spectacular!

  • Cath says:

    Fantastic article.

  • Tz2001 says:

    Other than the the appearance of the standard feminist non-sequiter and oversimplification that goes 1) Identify problem, 2) Blame “patriarchy”, this is a really important article about certain societal perceptions of sexuality across genders but your causal link to patriarchy is way off.

    I think it’s important to understand how this situation arose, instead of casually throwing blame at a concept as abstract as “patriarchy”, lets analyse a little of the psychology and biology behind it. Back to basics, sex evolved for reproduction. Sex exists for a purpose, a purpose which is very important to society. Without it we wouldn’t be here to discuss it. Biologically, if the guy doesn’t cum, he’s going to fail to reproduce. It’s not hard to see how this psychologically, even instinctively ends up at “sex should feature penetration and ejaculation” and the “failure” from “failure to reproduce” gets applied more generally to sex. Is it an outdated view in an intelligent society? Yes, of course. But it’s not hard to see how the view developed.

    And it’s certainly not an issue which arises out of patriarchy or “privilege”, it’s an issue of underpinning biology. With the same biology and a totalitarian matriarchal society, the resulting psychology would be the same (Arguably worse, as the oppressed gender, not being able to provide a reproduction role in society would be psychologically devastating). Failure to ejaculate/penetrate => Failed sexual encounter. Even in an truly equal society, which developed equal rights at the dawn of humanity, the psychology here would develop the same way.
    The problem you identified is an important one, and something we as a society need to deal with. However, “patriarchal culture” has little impact on this issue and trying to fix it by wrongly identifying the source of the problem isn’t going to help.

    However, your suggested fix is a large step to resolving the issue: stop sex being a taboo and encourage more open and serious discussion about it in general.

  • tdotmo says:

    This was such a comfort to read. Not going into too much detail, I’ve been really engaging my sexuality in recent months in exciting and scary ways. This has been hard (no pun intended) to say the least because, like you stated in your essay, the patriarchal culture doesn’t really allow men to explore/engage their sexuality in frank, open, honest terms even when it’s going down. My dick isn’t the most accurate barometer of attraction. This made me think back to when I was 14 or 15, a pencil would drop and I would get hard! It wasn’t like I was attracted to the floor or the pencil! We are physical being who are all wired in fun, frustrating, awesome, peculiar ways! Also, I don’t think this a gay/straight issue either. EVERYTHING tells you it’s pretty much up or down. We enforce it among each other. We shame when we share. Don’t get me started if you’re a BLACK male. That can be a whole ‘nother mind fuck.

    I say all this to say, your essay has really made something that has been murky for me crystal clear.

    Thank you for the insight.

  • Kelsey says:

    This is fantastic and so very, very true.

  • A-nonny-nonny says:

    I’ve been with several guys who got embarrassed or even apologized to me when they couldn’t get it up (I’m a female-bodied person, by the way). It’s always been sort of weird to me when they did so, ’cause, like, as much as I enjoy PiV sex, that isn’t what gets me off. The only person whose orgasm is (in most cases) prevented by your dick not being hard is your own. And while I would certainly like to help you with that should that ever become a possibility, you not orgasming definitely isn’t going to cause me any direct harm…

    It’s just seriously weird. I don’t understand how there are women out there who would shame a man for not being at attention all the time.

  • Billy Jean says:

    Overall I agree with this article, but wonder where the author stands on impotence as a longer term issue. Given the apparently casual-ish/poly setup, maybe it isn’t so much of a thing? I suppose it might come down to the missed potential for pleasure of the affected (ie. he with the dong)? Once I was personally affected by this in a long term kinda way. At first, everyone was all communicating and understanding but after some weeks, tears happened and then everyone was fucking sad and there flowed yet more pressure, and then bitterness about the pressure, even though for me it wasn’t all about the jack in the box and maybe it’d have been fine if we had just stopped trying to force it so much. It is the worst, being in that position, and don’t even get me started on casual sex.

    Anyhow, I feel that is a bit of a tangent. I am really just commenting because I am a creep who fancies the author a li’l. Feel I have disqualified myself heavily.

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