This post contains candid discussion about erections and penises, as well as oversharing that borders on unconscionable. Please do not read any further if you are my mother.
I’ve been avoiding writing this post for months. “It’s not my brand!” I’ve told myself. “One of the other authors could handle it better!”
“What if someone I know in real life reads it? What if a future employer finds it?”
“What if people think I think about penises too much?”
Well, I’ve seen the need for more discussion like this. After all, years ago a YOB post like this initially proved to me that this site had something new and interesting to offer the world. It made me feel seen and understood like almost nothing I’d read before. That original post no longer exists here, and I’ve seen your emails wondering where it went and what frighteningly candid content you can instead send your friends.
To answer my own self-doubts above: I believe this post will be valuable to someone. It’s important. It’s worth it. And it’s attached to my real name, so . . . better make it good!
Here we go. Let’s talk about erections.
The first erections I remember were as a small child playing with myself in the bath and shower. I can’t have been more than six. I’d pull my scrotum up over my penis, pretending my penis had vanished and that I was a girl: “Look, dad! I’m a girl.”
My dad kept his own counsel regarding this revelation.
Eventually, a mysterious stiffness in my penis would make this motion uncomfortable, and I’d have to give it up. I once asked my dad why that happened, and he simply said if I left my penis alone it wouldn’t do that.
Fast-forward to middle school; you probably know what happens in this part of the story.
“Your body is beginning to go through a major transformation,” declares a matronly teacher you have never seen before. Her sole job seems to be driving around to different middle schools in the district, delivering a curriculum that summarizes everything a conflicted government committee has managed to agree that youngsters need to know about human sexuality, devastatingly condensed into three 40-minute lectures.
She is round, and she smiles, but she does not put up with nonsense. “This is a period of change called puberty.” (She pronounces it “poo-berty,” as if daring you to snicker.)
“You are becoming adults.” (She emphasizes the “a” in adults, like the “a” in apple.)
The ceremony instituted around imparting this information makes hearing it dreadful, like being told someone died. “It can be scary at times,” she says, “but it’s very normal.”
We receive this news with grim resignation. She won’t ever really quite say what’s so scary about poo-berty, but I already know.
Just thinking about sex — no, trying not to think about sex — is causing blood to rush to my crotch. Somehow I’ve already decided, instinctively, with burning certainty, that nobody may know what is happening down there.
I am ashamed of what my pounding heartbeats are giving rise to in my underwear, and I shift in my seat, trying to use some textbook or part of my forearm to push it down, to make the erection go away.
It doesn’t work. Trying to force it away just hurts.
Why the shame? I wonder, looking back. Where did I learn to be ashamed of an erection that truly meant nothing?
I do not know.
I grew up wearing white Hanes briefs: “tighty-whities” to those wise in the ways of the world. I wore them because my dad wore them. He wore them because he is the kind of man who shaves his face with Ivory soap and not shaving cream.
One advantage to briefs, I learned, was that spontaneous erections could be very effectively tucked downward and could usually be hidden. Yes, I know about the more comfortable upward-directed waistband tuck, but I could never make that position look natural in the mirror. And I was afraid if it was too comfortable, the erection would simply never go away.
Even as my peers all wore boxers and lambasted briefs as gay, I quietly clung to my briefs as the only way to cling to my dignity. Boxers just couldn’t do the job I needed my tighty-whities to do. And boxer briefs had not yet made it over here from Paris, or wherever new types of male underwear are invented.
But as inexorably as death, taxes, or puberty, high school gym class approached.
In middle school gym, they let you play dodgeball or do jumping jacks in your normal school clothes. In high school gym, however, they made you change into a gym uniform in the locker room — with everyone around to observe whether you’re wearing boxers (fine) or briefs (weird and probably gay).
So, I got up my nerve and asked my parents to buy me some boxers. I said I wished to give them a try. I did not wish to give them a try.
But faced with the prospect of certain humiliation, being known as a Tighty-Whitie Wearer, I chose instead the prospect of uncertain humiliation: taking my chances with boxers and risking an inconcealable boner.
Only one semester of gym was required in high school, but I learned to make due in those long months. I had a temporary respite of health class in the middle of that semester where we didn’t have to change out, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I pulled my trusty briefs out of my underwear drawer once again, if only temporarily.
I managed to get through high school without any major boner-related incidents. I even branched out to boxers again, on my own accord. But I still lived in constant wariness that an erection could strike at the most embarrassing time.
To be continued . . .
Did you experience any awkwardness, fear, or even terror surrounding erections during adolescence? Do you wrestle with uncomfortable feelings with spontaneous erections in public, or how have you seen progress in your response to erections?