Sex Is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays

By Leonore Tiefer | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The new scholarship on men occasionally makes reference to the unbridgeable gap between the real and vulnerable penis and the mystical, all-powerful phallus (e.g., Metcalf and Humphries, 1985). Modern technology seems determined to bridge that gap or at least to keep hope alive that a perfectable biology is just around the corner. The complex ritual and devices attached to the penis in the examining room by white-coated technicians transform sexuality as they reduce it to neurology and blood flow. The spotlight directed on "the erection" within current medical practices isolates and diminishes the man even as it offers succor for his insecurity and loss of self- esteem.

Men may enter the system innocently looking to understand the cause of a change in their bodily and sexual experience; the options they are given for understanding and coping shape an ever more phallocentric experience. Their partners and any ideas or feelings these partners might have are usually irrelevant to the process (the protocol at the department where I work is unusual in this respect). Erections are presented as understandable and manipulable in and of themselves, unhooked from person or script or relationship. A discourse of vascular processes--blood flow, trapping mechanisms, venous outflow--takes over. Patient education literature teaches that organic factors account for erection problems, and patients may be led further and further into diagnostic tests to locate specific deficiencies. Since specific causes are usually not identifiable, some generalization ("your blood pressure medication," "some hardening of the arteries") is offered and a medical treatment recommended. Because the remedies do create rigid penile erections, the patient is understandably convinced that the biological rhetoric was correct.

Women occupy an essential place in the discourse (the need for vaginal "penetration" is the justification for the entire enterprise), but women are only present in terms of universalized vaginal needs; their actual desires and opinions are (conveniently) invisible, suppressed, neglected, denied.

It is not clear how one might slow or reverse this trend. Basic research continues to focus on the cellular and neurochemical operations of the penis, ensuring a future of more organic "defects." The new men's movement to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no end in sight to the medicalization of men's sexuality or to the phallocentrism it perpetuates.

-167-

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