Weirdly Specific Penis Facts You (Probably) Didn't Know: coagulating cum, Herbalife, 4-hour erections, and more

I'm not sure why I thought The Penis Book would be super serious.

The Penis Book by Aaron Spitz, MD with an eggplant on the cover amid cucumbers and zucchini

There were no few­er than 11 nick­names for the penis and 26 puns in the intro­duc­tion alone, including:

  • “I already have a firm grip on that mat­ter, but in writ­ing this book, I probed even deeper.”
  • “We look at how much of what's adver­tised is snake oil, and how much is real­ly snake.”
  • “This sticky sub­ject is tack­led taste­ful­ly. But that's not the whole wad.”

Dr. Aaron Spitz made it fit.

While the sub­ject mat­ter is seri­ous at times — dis­cussing top­ics like car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, body image (i.e., “Does size mat­ter?”), and per­for­mance anx­i­ety — The Penis Book felt like just shoot­ing the shit with a friend who knows a lot about the penis from, yes, own­ing one, but also study­ing and treat­ing many.

On the flip side, the intro­duc­tion of Dian Hanson's Little Big Penis book was more pro­found than I expect­ed. Is the rest of it “just” extra-​hung pho­tog­ra­phy? Totally. And what woman on dat­ing apps hasn't been asked, “Want to see my 12-​inch penis?” and at least been curi­ous just what a 12-​inch penis looks like? (Ah, just me? Okay.) But the anti-​obscenity laws this book dis­cuss­es still feel all too real in the cur­rent cul­tur­al climate.

There's room for the sil­ly, the sala­cious, and the somber regard­ing these weird­ly spe­cif­ic penis facts. Our first com­ing attrac­tion is cum.

Semen contains enzymes for coagulation and liquefication

Ever notice that there's a time delay after inter­course for semen to drip out, and it's not quite the vis­cos­i­ty it was when it came in? There's a rea­son for that: semen actu­al­ly gels and liquefies!

Sperm makes between 2 to 10% of semen by vol­ume; most of the rest is flu­id from the sem­i­nal vesi­cles and prostate.

Just one set of ingre­di­ents in the cock­tail are semenogelin pro­teins — which do exact­ly what the name says: they coag­u­late the semen, meant to keep sperm inside the vagi­na after inter­course. A sci­en­tist thought, “semen gelling,” and that was that. It has a con­ve­nient abbre­vi­a­tion: SEMGs.

Then, a sig­nal­ing cas­cade involv­ing zinc and kallikreins from the prostate cleaves the SEMGs — let­ting the sperm free to swim 15–30 min­utes later.

“Now, the lit­tle guys may not always get to [inject DNA into an egg],” wrote Dr. Spitz, “But they don't have to know. Let them dream.”

Further reading:
Nutrition label of a semen load, with text highlighted saying that, yes, semen does contain protein, but so does snot in Aaron Spitz, MD's The Penis Book
Yes, it's [rel­a­tive­ly] high in pro­tein, but so is your snot.

H. Lynn Womack was convicted of obscenity, claimed insanity, sued the post office, and won

This sec­tion of The Little Big Penis Book's intro­duc­tion sound­ed wilder to me as I reread it. Let's break it down because there's so much to unpack here.

Herman Lynn Womack was con­vict­ed of obscen­i­ty under the Comstock Act of 1873, which made it ille­gal to send “obscene, lewd, or las­civ­i­ous” mate­ri­als through the USPS. The offend­ing mate­r­i­al? Bare man butts in MANual, what Wikipedia calls a “Chicago physique art publication.”

(Side note: today I learned that “beef­cake” is the mas­cu­line equiv­a­lent of vin­tage “cheese­cake” pin-​up models.)

Homosexuality was con­sid­ered a men­tal ill­ness back then, so Womack, with his psy­chol­o­gy degree, manip­u­lat­ed doc­tors at a fed­er­al psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal and stayed there for 18 months, “where he con­tin­ued to run his mag­a­zines from a pri­vate room and plot his attack on the postal ser­vice,” wrote Dian Hanson in The Little Big Penis Book.

He appealed his con­vic­tion to the Supreme Court and ulti­mate­ly won. The Supreme Court case MANual Enterprises, Inc. vs. Day set a prece­dent: a male nude "can­not fair­ly be regard­ed as more objec­tion­able than many por­tray­als of the female nude that soci­ety tolerates.”

Further reading:

Nobel Prize-winning pharmacologist Louis J. Ignarro collaborated with Herbalife

NO is a cru­cial com­po­nent of car­dio­vas­cu­lar (and penile) health, earn­ing the researchers who dis­cov­ered its role a Nobel Prize in 1998. It works as a sig­nal­ing mol­e­cule to help relax smooth mus­cle in blood ves­sel walls — and, in turn, increas­es blood flow and boosts the “hydraulic lines” of an erection.

Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and Stendra work with this sig­nal­ing path­way: by block­ing phos­pho­di­esterase type 5 (PDE5) from coun­ter­act­ing nitric oxide.

But how the hell did I go from read­ing about bon­er pills to MLMs? (I meant multi-​level mar­ket­ing busi­ness­es, not men lov­ing men — that would have been way more obvious!)

I Googled “1998 Nobel Prize,” which led me to Robert F. Furchgott, Louis J. Ignarro, Ferid Murad, and Salvador Moncada. “Louis Ignarro” led me to such an eloquently-​worded search sug­ges­tion: “Who won the Nobel Prize for Herbalife doctor?”

And yup, Louis Ignarro worked as a con­sul­tant for Herbalife, then was on its Scientific Advisory Board. Together, they devel­oped and pro­mot­ed Niteworks, a sup­ple­ment con­tain­ing (among oth­er com­pounds) a blend of L‑arginine and L‑citrulline for sup­port­ing NO production.

The Food and Drug Administration has not eval­u­at­ed that state­ment, and the prod­uct is not intend­ed to diag­nose, treat, cure, or pre­vent any disease.

Other sci­en­tists crit­i­cized Ignarro for not dis­clos­ing his con­nec­tion to the prod­uct in his phar­ma­col­o­gy research. He has report­ed­ly made over $15 mil­lion work­ing with Herbalife.

I'm not telling you what to think of Dr. Ignarro, but Leonid Schneider from For Better Science cer­tain­ly spoke his mind. Meanwhile, it's just fun flip­ping through a book with long sch­longs and imag­in­ing a cave­man grunt­ing, “Who won Nobel Prize for Herbalife doctor?”

Little Big Penis Book by Dian Hanson and erection corpora diagram

If your erection lasts more than 2 hours, your doctor might suggest cold medicine

Of course, we're not just talk­ing about any cold med­ica­tion. Pseudoephedrine (brand name: Sudafed) works as a vaso­con­stric­tor to reduce swelling and con­ges­tion and has the oppo­site effect of Viagra.

“By the 4th hour, [a boner]'s not so fun any­more,” wrote Dr. Spitz. “[That's] not a healthy sit­u­a­tion … because the blood is trapped in the erec­tion and, over time, the penis becomes starved for oxygen.”

When man­ag­ing pri­apism (a per­sis­tent erec­tion that lasts too long), Sudafed is just one of many poten­tial steps. Here's a sum­ma­ry of how to bring down a relent­less bon­er from mild to severe:

  1. Bust a nut (duh)
  2. Do some intense exercise
  3. Take pseu­doephedrine or a nasal phenyle­phrine nasal spray around the 2‑hour mark 
    • Don't do this step if you're already tak­ing nitroglycerine-​containing medications.
  4. Call your provider or go to urgent care for a phenyle­phrine injec­tion to the penis around the 3‑hour mark
  5. Go to the emer­gency room if it's been more than 4 hours 
    • It would be an emer­gency at this point since hav­ing an erec­tion for longer may lead to per­ma­nent complications

I pur­pose­ly dumb­ed down the sug­ges­tions because this blog post is no sub­sti­tute for med­ical atten­tion. A doc­tor can pro­vide an action plan with more nuance, includ­ing telling you if the pills or phenyle­phrine injec­tions aren't suit­able for your situation.

I'm more just fas­ci­nat­ed that, while bon­er and cli­max issues are well-​known side effects of anti­de­pres­sants, many over-​the-​counter meds can also make it hard­er to get hard:

  • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • H2 block­ers (Zantac, Pepcid)
  • NSAIDs like ibuprofen

And, of course, recre­ation­al drugs can have an effect, too. Whiskey, anyone?

The Viagra story isn't all happy endings for couples

Here's some­thing not so fun: it's an actu­al thing where Viagra can play into divorce.

While it's not the root cause, Viagra may exac­er­bate the following:

  • Husbands focus­ing on inter­course and skimp­ing on oth­er sex acts, par­tic­u­lar­ly those involv­ing direct cli­toral stimulation
  • Mismatched libidos if he wants sex more than she does
  • Infidelity in marriage
  • Pressure and coer­cion when he doesn't want to “waste” a pill
  • Lifestyle changes relat­ed to “midlife cri­sis” or “emp­ty nest syndrome.”

And we don't typ­i­cal­ly hear about women's side of the sto­ry. Viagra is fan­tas­tic for men and res­ur­rects pas­sion for some cou­ples, but some women find their plea­sure depri­or­i­tized for his sake.

“Many women com­plain that their plea­sure is not pri­ori­tised,” she told me. “It is all about ‘look what I've got!’ They feel: ‘Wait a minute. Where am I in all this? Is it just my lover and his penis and I come third?'”

—‘Foreplay just van­ished’: 25 years on, how Viagra changed sex for old­er women for­ev­er by Kate Lister, Ph.D. via i news UK.

I don't often play into the stereo­type of women being ret­i­cent or pas­sive to sex, con­sid­er­ing I'm a libidi­nous lady and wor­ry more about a part­ner not “keep­ing up” with me. However, I'm only 29 years old and sin­gle (as of the day this post was writ­ten), and we're talk­ing about middle-​aged het­ero cou­ples where one par­ty is arti­fi­cial­ly aug­ment­ed by mod­ern medicine.

Sometimes, the man is expe­ri­enc­ing a sex­u­al renais­sance after the woman has gone through menopause. On the flip side, it's not unheard of for women to have affairs with old­er men who oth­er­wise would have been impo­tent before.

Further reading
Aaron Spitz, MD Big Penis Book chapter 8: Cult of Penisality

Let's wrap it up: male fertility, penile health, and beyond

A stranger might raise an eye­brow and tell me, “You know too much about the penis,” but it's hard for me to imag­ine such a thing as know­ing too much.

If it weren't for fas­ci­na­tion with the cock's cor­po­ra, we wouldn't have:

If I took any­thing away from The Penis Book, it's that the cul­tur­al nar­ra­tive of “penis­es are sim­ple, and vagi­nas are com­pli­cat­ed” hurts every­one. Sexual shame and stig­ma hurt everyone.

It is also clear that these themes are shaped by wider soci­etal dis­cours­es which present men as (unprob­lem­at­i­cal­ly) fer­tile, unin­vest­ed in par­ent­hood, and sto­ic in their approach to emo­tion­al dis­tress. Such norms also ensure that repro­duc­tion con­tin­ues to be pre­sent­ed as a 'women's issue’ which bur­dens women and mar­gin­alis­es men [in the con­text of repro­duc­tive medicine].

The social con­struc­tion of male infer­til­i­ty: a qual­i­ta­tive ques­tion­naire study of men with a male fac­tor infer­til­i­ty diag­no­sis by Esmée Hanna and Brendan Gough in Sociology of Health & Illness

Much like The Penis Book, this post quick­ly went from sil­ly to serious.

So if you own a penis, I'll leave you with this: take care of your­self euphemisti­cal­ly and lit­er­al­ly. Penile health is linked to car­dio­vas­cu­lar health is linked to men­tal health is linked to full-​body health.

And when some­one with a penis starts hav­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar issues, erec­tile dys­func­tion is one of the first warn­ing signs (if not the only one) of an impend­ing heart attack or obstruc­tive sleep apnea (which can also lead to a heart attack).

Please, please, please set ego aside for a doctor's vis­it that might save your life. Yes, I want my read­ers to have a good time, but I also wish you a good time for a long time.


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3 Responses

  1. Fascinating read, as always. Have added this to my TBR pile.

  2. Trix says:

    Thom Fitzgerald’s doc­u­men­tary BEEFCAKE is one of my favorites. It’s about pho­tog­ra­ph­er Bob Mizer and his Athletic Model Guild, the rise and fall of physique pic­to­r­i­al mag­a­zines, and the cen­sor­ship and obscen­i­ty charges that fol­lowed. (There are inter­views with a lot of the pho­tog­ra­phers and mod­els, and I like that Fitzgerald most­ly cast real guys he saw for the re-​enactments. It doesn’t skimp on the full-​frontal, either. The DVD is worth seek­ing out for archival extras fea­tur­ing some of Mizer’s films. Dian Hanson did a whole Mizer book for Taschen that also has a DVD of his films in it, but his lat­er work wasn’t as much fun to me.)

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