03 November 2009

The lowdown on the penis

The heart may be regarded as the seat of the soul, but the penis is the autopilot - the joystick. No other part of male physique causes men as much anguish, self-doubt and pride.

The heart may be regarded as the seat of the soul, but the penis is the autopilot - the joystick, if you will. No other part of male physique causes men as much anguish, self-doubt and pride. We brag, joke and lie about it. And despite urban legends and some unsettling wide-screen skin flicks, we’re all created more or less equal.

How it works
It’s a truly wonderful piece of machinery, worthy of the same respect afforded the heart and brain for its versatility, rather than being the butt of nun-and-priest gags. If you’ve thought of it as just a flexible hose, think again. It exists to do three things:

  • To hose urine in any direction you choose;
  • To fill with blood and become engorged enough to enter a vagina;
  • To deliver its payload of sperm where it can help make a baby.

The penis is actually shaped like a wishbone, with the Y-shaped end anchored deeply and firmly within your abdomen. The ends are attached to the pubic bone. So while it seems benign when flaccid it can be steered from the hip when erect.

The three chambers
Inside the penis are three chambers, running the length of the shaft. Two sit side by side on the top and are spongy so they can accommodate the blood that’s pumped into them. The third chamber runs along the underside and accommodates the urethra, which leads from the bladder to the outside world, as well as conducting sperm.

You’re unlikely to be tested on the names of the two big chambers – they’re called corpora cavernosa – but it’s worth knowing how this part of your sex submarine floods when it’s time for action stations.

During arousal, blood gushes into the spongy chambers, filling them and pinching closed the blood vessels that drain them. Your mind will send the signal to release them. This depends entirely on what you’re feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting or even dreaming at the time.

When you climax…
When you climax, an exhilarating squirt of adrenaline races into your bloodstream. The adrenaline releases the blood vessels that drain the penis and shuts down the big arteries feeding the erection. Down periscope. Once the adrenaline has subsided and the appropriate stimulation is provided, it’s in the hunt again. This downtime varies greatly, from a few moments, to what can seem like forever.

It’s interesting too that the average man experiences five erections during a night’s sleep. This isn’t related to the content of dreams, though. It seems to be your body’s way of ensuring that oxygenated blood continues to flow through this vital area of your body. This ensures the production of prostaglandin E1 (again, you won’t be tested on this), which helps keep the penile arteries clean.

What can go wrong and how to look after it
Because it’s delicate and versatile, the potential hazards to your penis are many, but the safeguards are simple:

Be shy: take care where you put it. If you’re able to read this you’re literate and so you know about STDs, HIV and Aids. Monogamy isn’t always a fashionable word and if it’s not in your vocabulary you’d better condomise.

Don’t push it: apart from the “something-that’s-social-and-itches” hazards so vividly portrayed in those air force training films, you can hurt your member by not giving it free rein. An erection that won’t go away is called a priapism, so if you caught your todger in something mechanical and it stays hard, it’s time to get help. The problem is that oxygen-depleted blood gets trapped in the chambers we mentioned. If it stays there long enough there can be damage, Extreme cases can lead to gangrene. Banish your bashfulness, wear a big jersey and see a doctor.

Fractured sosatie: If it’s been forced the wrong way suddenly – particularly while it’s angry – your can experience what’s called a penile fracture. It’s not a fracture, because there’s no bone to break. But if the tissue in the erectile chamber tears you’ll suddenly lose your erection and the penis becomes discoloured. It’s not usually painful and it generally heals on its own, but get The Man seen to. There’s speculation that this sort of injury causes Peyronie’s disease, a condition in which the penis slants badly to the left, right or downward when erect.

Do right by it: Physical damage can include bizarre accidents like getting it caught in the cold brass zip of your Levi’s, being batted at by the cat while going for a midnight snack. The skin is also susceptible to heat and moisture, which can cause heat rash or a fungal infection. Treat it with respect, soap and water, clean underwear, and over-the-counter remedies when needed. Talcum powder before a sweaty workout can help prevent the dreaded jock itch.

Get into a pinch: Do daily kegel exercises: tense the muscles you use to stop peeing. Tense up, hold until the count of ten and release. Do that nine more times, and do three sets each day.

Stay lean: Look after it by not eating fatty foods that clog the arteries to your penis and everywhere else. Get enough exercise too. Playing with hoola hoops apparently stimulates circulation to the pelvic area. Elvis Presley is cited as evidence of this. If you don’t mind being laughed at by pimply teenagers, try it. If not, general aerobic fitness ought to do it.

Ejaculate: having sex is regarded as a primary way of keeping the whole mechanism in shape. We hate to bear these tidings, but that’s the way it is. You might want to discuss it with your partner.

Put out: forget Hollywood’s post-coital puff. Smoking clogs all your arteries with plaque and it makes the sheets stink. Use your imagination and find alternatives.

Lighten up: stress can lead to diminished libido. Get some rest, take some exercise, get some sun and you may be surprised how things perk up.

The dumbest thing you can do
To boldly go where no unprotected penis has gone. On their days off, paramedics and emergency room staff may chuckle drily about the man who attempted carnal knowledge with two belt sanders and a bottle of hand cream, and of the yarn they told the deceased’s (there was a tragic short-circuit) next of kin to spare them unnecessary embarrassment.

Get an enlargement: Unless you have a micropenis (Not the name of a grunge band from like, Seattle, but a medical condition where the erect penis measures a centimetre or less), you should not consider enlargement. There are vastly expensive procedures that inject fat from elsewhere in your body into the shaft.

Some surgeons are also willing to sever the tendons that anchor your penis to the underside of your pelvis. With this done, more of your penis can protrude from your body, increasing its length by an inch or so. They can also go badly wrong, leaving you with something that’s asymmetrical and spends Saturday evenings at home, with no company and no prospects.

Myths and misconceptions
The average penis size for white males is around 6,2 inches (16cm), so if you don't quite measure up, don't worry: penis size has relatively little to do with one's capacity to provide pleasure.

The largest medically verified penis on record is 13,5 inches (34cm) long and 6,25 inches (15,8cm) around, documented in the early twentieth century by Dr Robert Dickinson. Then there are the dubious claims of immense penis size by personalities operating within the sex industry (that’s porn actors to you and me). These claims are almost invariably false. Incidentally, if you feel you have to pursue this, you measure along the top.

Race card = hung jury: going strictly by the Kinsey data, which still remains one of the most exhaustive studies on penis size to date, the average white male has a penis measuring 15,7cm long and 9,4cm around, The average black male has a penis 16cm by 9,6cm, a difference of 0,25cm. That’s not what you'd call statistically significant.

When it came to flaccid length, however, blacks score a little better: 10,92cm long, versus 10,16cm for white males. So it may be that while blokes of African heritage appear larger in the shower at the gym, under working conditions things tend to even out.

Bizarre facts
Among land animals, African bull elephants lead the pack with their 1,8-metre penises. Whale penises, called dorks (yes, Americans do call each other by that name), are the largest in the world, the blue whale taking the honours with a member around 3 metres long. – (William Smook)



ManYour body

Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.