By Mitch Tepper
When I heard this year’s Sex Wheels & Relationships issue would include a feature on men and body image, I chimed in and said the story would not be complete without at least a few words on penis image. Men are taught from the time we’re boys that being a man depends on our ability to perform sexually. So losing genital function due to disability is a major blow to our masculine identities. How we feel about our most private parts has a lot to do with how we feel about ourselves as loveable and capable sexual beings and our overall confidence level and feelings of self-worth. How do we recover? By talking to each other about our most private parts.
Hence, on Nov. 20 I posted a topic on penis image on the newmobility.com discussion board. I asked questions like: Is your penis a source of pride? A saving grace? The only thing below your waist that still stands up? Or do you envy the penis of your past? Do you wish you had more size, better function, function like you had before?
Interestingly, the first responders were women. They opened with humor and a half-serious suggestion of a photo contest. KimberleyB even went so far as to post a photo of herself with a huge stuffed penis between her legs. “I like my penis. It is my friend,” she said, a pointy witch hat on her head.
The men held back for a while, and at first responded with homophobic humor — “I tend to avoid guys who ask so many questions about my penis,” wrote SteveGIMP.
Jeffh55 was the first man to post seriously about his own experience, and he wrote about how the post-injury medicalization of our genitals can affect how we feel as sexual beings: “… all the icky stuff that body part has endured from butchers describing themselves as urologists added to the unfortunate circumstances that led me to unwelcome weight gain and, perhaps, many years where said member wasn’t used for its primary purpose. This reduced [me from] having a smile like the man in the ‘male enhancement’ commercials to a mere shade of my former self,” he wrote.
But Jeffh55 successfully kick-started his sex life with the help of a kind lady with small hands who helped boost his ego, “I am just happy that Mr. Happy functions fairly well without ED drugs, but I prefer administering a hit of Levitra — it’s a confidence thing.”
Not everyone on the message board had reached that level of confidence. On Nov. 25 Wheelyguy started a topic called “From the Waist Down,” asking how he can cope with impotence now that he’s a para. The men of newmobility.com came through for him.
“You have gone right to the meat of the problem, Wheelyguy,” wrote Maurice, who said sexual performance trumps all other losses. “For me and many others, not walking or climbing trees doesn’t matter as much. … How do I deal with it? As best as I friggin’ can! Just doing the best I can is enough for me, whether she gets off and is satisfied is her business. A lot of communication, intimacy, foreplay, oral work, humor and spontaneity has helped me after I did some soul searching.”
Jeffh55 shared that he and his wife divorced in part because his wife couldn’t get used to his new body, “so I just moved to my own bedroom and lived celibate for more years than I care to go into. Now that I’ve been out there, dated, slept with, had relationships [and] frank sexual discussions with women … I don’t care to dwell upon what once was … I concentrate on what I can do, and I haven’t had one complaint.”
Kan5a5 finally asked his wife how much she missed “normal” sex — did she prefer penetration or oral before, how often she really wanted/needed sex before, how often she wants it now, and so on. “The answers to those questions, in my case, were very comforting,” he wrote.
Wheelyguy followed the advice of his fellow posters and talked with his wife. He wrote back, “THANX ALL. Ya’ll really got me thinking and, more importantly, got me FEELING for the first time in ages. Helped me work through some of my crud. Also my beloved and I have been talking and touching more. There’s much laughter in the house this week. Thanx again all.”
It’s not easy coming to terms with our disabled bodies and having to redefine ourselves sexually. And our penises need not define us as whole people. It’s perfectly normal for me to look in a mirror and say, “I wish I didn’t have my quad belly.” But if I say, “I’m going to avoid getting into bed because I’m afraid I look fat,” that’s not a healthy place to be. The same is true when reflecting on our penis image. It is OK to mourn our losses, but we don’t want to stay there. We need to move on with life.