An Open Letter To People With Penises

While the primary focus of this letter is people with penises, other people may find some of these ideas interesting or helpful.

To all of the people who have a penis (a bio-cock) and who enjoy using it with other people:

Greetings! I’m writing to you because I’d like to tell you about some of the things that I’ve been thinking about with respect to sex and penises. These aren’t things that are said very often in mainstream US culture.

Most importantly: You are not your penis.

That is, your worth as a person is in no way related to the size, shape, or performance of your penis. I want to tell you this explicitly because in my culture, people with penises receive a lot of messages that attach their worth to the things their penis can do. This is complete bullshit.

You have a mind, you have emotions, and you have ideas. The things that you do — the things that you create, the relationships that you build, the ways you use your time — those are what make you an interesting individual. It does not hinge on getting your genitals to do tricks.

I will even go so far as to say that you don’t have to define yourself as a lover, or as a sexual being, by the performance of your penis. It’s pretty common in our culture for people with penises to define their sexual ability in terms of the size of their penis, how hard it is, or how long it can stay hard when they use it. This is a choice. You don’t have to be so focused on your penis! There are other ways to think about your sexuality and pleasure.

Mainstream culture tends to focus on penis-in-vagina intercourse as the gold standard for what “sex” is.1 You can tell because generally when people say “sex,” most people assume they mean penis-in-vagina — if they mean something else, they have to start adding other adjectives, like “oral” or “anal.”2 Mainstream pornography, in particular, idealizes the image of the long, hard penis, and vaginal intercourse that lasts for a really long time.3

That whole paradigm is just one way to think about sex. You can choose to buy into that…or you can throw it out.

Me? I’ve thrown it out. I agree with Dr. Marty Klein, who defines sex as “the exchange of erotic energy.”4

This is a fantastic way to think about sex, and you’ll notice that his definition is missing a few things that people associate with sex. There’s no emphasis on genitals or genital performance. There’s no emphasis on orgasms. These things can be a part of sex, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all. When two (or more) consenting adults decide what kind of activities generate erotic energy for them, and they start having fun doing those activities: that is a recipe for awesome sex.

This means that you can have fun, delicious sex in a lot more ways than just penis-in-vagina (or even penis-in-anus) intercourse. All that stuff that most people lump in as “foreplay”— like it doesn’t really count as sex? Like it’s just “the stuff you do before sex”? You can savor those activities, you can focus on them, and you can enjoy them as sexual experiences. And that’s just the beginning! You can use toys on your partner. Your partner can use toys on you. You can masturbate while your partner tells you a sexy story. You can role-play in a chat room. And on and on.

Maybe sometimes you don’t orgasm. Maybe sometimes your partner doesn’t orgasm. The number of orgasms you have is less important overall because you’re enjoying yourselves together.

Of course you can use your penis and have fun with it! But when you’re focused on erotic energy and not specific acts, it doesn’t matter so much how hard your penis is and for how long. You and your partner (or partners) can find many different ways of building up erotic energy and playing together. You can let go, relax, and experience pleasure.

But…What if the only kind of sex you really want involves putting your penis inside someone else? What if your idea of the perfect sexual encounter involves ejaculating inside your partner’s vagina (or anus)?

You have the right to define your own wants and needs. I’m not going to tell you that what you want is wrong or that you should want something else instead.

All I can do is try to show you that there are many ways to think about what sex is. That there are many ways to be a good lover.  I know you’re probably not going to be convinced by a few paragraphs, but I hope that you will take some time to think about what sex is to you and what you want to get out of it.

You are not your penis.  “Sex” does not have to mean one activity or even a few activities. You can choose to transform sex into a vast world to explore!

Best,
Kristen

Update, 5/24: Rephrased the introduction based on ShaxAjax’s comment on http://www.reddit.com/r/SexPositive/comments/1ex2e5/an_open_letter_to_people_with_penises/ .

  1. This definition is actually pretty harmful, as described in this essay.
  2. This relates to the power of the “unmarked marker,” an unspoken norm.
  3. For more myths of pornography, check out Make Love Not Porn.
  4. I highly recommend his book, Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, and How to Get It.

Comments

An Open Letter To People With Penises — 8 Comments

  1. I would note that if all things were equal, and you could un-do all of our evolutionary drives, we could probably unshackle ourselves from our irrational attitudes about PIV sex. The reality is that as wonderful and pleasurable as sex is, the reason that it is, is because it we have been conditioned to it for purely evolutionary reasons, in order to ensure that we pass on our DNA to the next generation. Most of the things you are pointing out, even the focus on penis length – which would have made having sex with an idealized mother-figure such as the Woman of Willendorf much easier and more successful than someone with a smaller penis – are things that probably *don’t* make a damn bit of of sense from a modern “sex for pleasure” perspective… but the lizard brain is a hard nut to crack.

    While I definitely embrace the idea of encouraging us all to get past our tired old ideas when it comes to sex and embrace new paradigms… but we also need to accept the fact that underestimating the power of those crypto-Darwinian urges is about as kind as instructing someone to run through a room full of rakes and then suggesting after the fact that they probably should have learned to levitate first.

    (My $.02)

    • I appreciate the comment!

      My understanding is that there is very little scientific basis for most explanations of what humans do, or ought to do, based on how humans did or didn’t evolve (i.e., http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-04/your-paleofads-are-paleo-bs). Evolutionary psychology like this just doesn’t have much hard science behind it, so I personally find these kinds of arguments unconvincing.

      That said, I certainly recognize that it isn’t easy to change our thoughts about what sex is! As a starting point, I’m happy just showing people that there are many ways of thinking about what it means to have sex or to be a good lover.

  2. I like this perspective on bio-cocks! I hope though that you end up setting a precedent with your work in terms of people building their own. If an engineer builds their own genitals, maybe then it’s *not* crazy to have a bit more identity wrapped up in them. I remember getting really excited in ROTJ to learn that jedi don’t get light sabers from the light saber factory–they build them themselves. And if we accept that a craftsperson/engineer CAN build their own genitals, what other ones can we build that are not modeled on biological ones?

  3. I am fascinated with the “line” between sexuality and life. Touching on the evolutionary focus I would argue that everything we have ever done collectively or alone has been driven by our underlying need to shag. Having recently read and listened to your most enlightened perspectives on this subject the thoughts that come to mind are that there is in fact no line and that a more advanced interpretation would be that every behavior has some quantity of eroticism. Below some self defined limit we don’t feel motivated to perpetuate continued interaction (person in line at store). Above self imposed limit and we are sweaty palmed chest poundingly prickly addicted to that nectar spilling forth regardless of form as long as it is our life long cultivated focus of desire.

  4. Hello, That was an interesting letter. Was your urge to write this fueled by a vast majority of men who think the people on “Jersey Shore” or “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” are good role models?

    I can’t speak for the majority of people with a penis but I can say that I haven’t let my penis define who I am i.e. I know I am not my penis.

    I’d also like to say that to be fair you should’ve also said that a person who has a vagina or a (bio-vagina) you aren’t your vagina. Wait, that might not be a good idea.

    Most transgendered people may not think their penis or vagina defines them as individuals but not having the genitalia you think you should have matters a lot to them (I know I asked my sister). Which in some way is sad to me. While I accept any and all as they are it isnt about us or how society perceives them its how they perceive themselves. In order for them to feel like they belong they have to endure so very much (but if it makes them happy I am all for it!) so they can feel like they “fit in”.

    So, I think that sometimes its okay to define yourself by your genitalia.

    However, I do agree that sex isn’t or at least shouldn’t be all about penetration and orgasm. I’ve had great sex where I didn’t have an orgasm on many occasions. As well as kink sessions where I orgasmed strictly from “other” types of stimulus.

    To summarize, what I gathered from your letter was that you wanted to tell people that have a penis (bio-cock) to be sexually adventurous. Got it!

    • Hi! I appreciate the comment. :)

      So, yeah — I think I may need to go back and rewrite this piece at some point. What I’m trying to say is, when having sexy playtimes, it’s probably best not to focus entirely on getting your genitals to do tricks. Between my observations of pop culture and my interactions with cisgender guys, it seemed like a thing that might be worth saying explicitly.

      I’m certainly not saying that genitals can’t be important to one’s identity as a person! I think you raise a great point there.

      When you’re going to play with someone…cut your genitals some slack and be willing to look at a wide variety of options. That’s all I’m saying. :)

  5. It’s pretty profound how much the penis affects one’s self image. I was fortunate enough to be born in the US, but unfortunate enough to have been subjected to genital mutilation. I know foregen is working on it, but it’s all been very upsetting at times having to live like this. That’s not even going into the issues regarding size and performance.

    I always found it odd how oral and digital/manual were seen as lesser forms of sex though. They’ve always been my favorites for reasons I never fully understood. The intensity is so much greater with them to me. I guess that’s still rather phallocentric, but I don’t think men are as wired for sex as much as women are when it comes to the erogenous zones or head space. Of course that could be cultural considering how some 70% of nerves are routinely permanently lost without so much as a single afterthought for the victims wellbeing, and the conflicting message of the widespread demonization of all male sexuality while at the same time sending out the message that a man’s worth is derived from his virility and sexual conquests.

    Seperating the orgasm from sex is a very interesting exercise though. I’ve experimented with chastity and orgasm denial on both ends and it’s fascinating how the distinction between sexual and non sexual becomes almost non existent. Using a woman as a just a sexual outlet, with no regard for her pleasure and actually going to lengths to ensure she does not orgasm is interesting to experience for myself as well as observe her reaction. On the other side a constant state of arousal with no relief gives everything an erotic charge. It’s actually difficult to put to words. I can’t say I’d want to do it again but as an experience it really served to open my eyes to how sexuality is used and seen, as well as how pervasive it is in life and how crucial it is to one’s sense of personhood.

    • Thanks for reading and for taking the time to share your experience! Yeah, it’s frustrating to me that some forms of sex do seem to be seen as “lesser.” I definitely agree that people of all genders are sent very sex-negative, conflicting messages about their bodies and sexualities.

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