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?

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  • Talking about erections experienced among males peers was the first post I read in YOB. I miss Kevin Frye’s texts (I hope he’s okay!), because revisiting such situations, no matter how “spicy” they are, is helpful in ordem to our personal growth. I’m glad you are bringing the topic up again. Thank you very much, Ryan!

  • At the risk of creating excessive penis hilarity (a term Freud would envy), I would recommend Eric Idle’s “The Penis Song” Eric was a writer for the Monty Python show as well as their movies. If it is determined to be too much information for the younger audience here, then I will except an agreed upon period of banishment. The point of the song is that it’s really great to have a penis (even though it might some times embarrass you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPkzkV1icWY

  • I really appreciate your vulnerability. These stories are really important, and it’s courageous to share them. “He wore them because he is the kind of man who shaves his face with Ivory soap and not shaving cream.” We have the same dad, lmao. I used to wear boxers over my briefs so no one would know.

  • I think it was *when* I switched to boxers that I became more aware of my erections. I remember wishing desperately to switch back to briefs but also wanted to fit in with the other boys (nowadays I actually prefer briefs, but that’s unrelated to erections). There was one day in 5th grade during P.E. that I remember getting an erection while doing jumping jacks while we were all in a circle. I was filled with so much shame and fear that everyone could see and would try to be in constant jumping-jack motion in order for it to go unnoticed.

    It is weird that we feel ashamed around it though. Because in college I remember my buddies would always joke about similar stories. If it happened to all of us, why were we all so embarrassed?

  • I’m just going to hop aboard the vulnerability train with hopefully a bit of insight. My experience was much the same except for a few key factors: 1) sex ed was taught my our male teachers one of whom emphasized our child producing capabilities especially indicating that myself and another student were already showing signs of facial hair (I was shooketh). 2) I rotated through all of the possible underwear options with similar questions, but I was blessed with the introduction of compression shorts which were the go-to for swimming, sweat pants, and exercising. 3) I was blessed to be in 7th grade football.

    Let me explain. I was totally out of my depth in football, but I knew I wanted to play. I didn’t understand the game, I’m not naturally athletic or aggressive, and I was already aware of my weirdness around other boys. Yet, I waltzed into the locker room (full of nervous energy) but relying on the confidence with which my mother had expected me to shower at the school because I would be a nasty little boy and her van didn’t need that treatment. So, I cautiously watched the upper classmen and learned to follow the unwritten rules. It wasn’t always easy, but I quickly realized that a) everyone else was nervous; b) everyone’s body looked weird in some way; and c) people will watch your back if you watch theirs.

    What I mean by that is that the same male camaraderie that is often talked about and longed for in this community is the social mechanism that I cloaked myself in. I saw everything boyos. I knew that meant they saw everything which meant we all had mutually assured destruction. Some guys were aggressive as a defense, some were skittish, but the worst were the timid guys who would cut someone down to try to impress the aggressive guys. The only way to avoid that was to be the guy that everyone felt safe around. I learned to always offer to share my resources (towel, soap, lunch, etc), respect people’s choices implicitly (shower/don’t shower, underwear choices, or towel/no towel), and importantly to be vulnerable enough to ask questions or point out the ridiculousness of this tension with a few trusted pals. “Seeing isn’t the same as looking right?” “I mean…yeah.” – real convo had multiple times.

    Sorry for the novel, but this is near and dear to me because I truly believe one of the most important things young men need to be taught is that what is unfortunate about poo-berty is that the lack of control over its outcome. Anyone else get their porn trauma from trying to know if they were “normal”? Knowing we can’t control our height, voice, body hair, and other aspects of the human form should forge a social contract not to mock a brother for them. Secondly, young men should be encouraged that what is coming upon them as they become A-dults is the opportunity to define what kind of men they will be. You can control your body odor, style choices, fitness, morals, and useful skills and these are the things that will truly matter for your success in employment, friendship, and romantic relationships. Reducing our worth to the uncontrollable physical aspects of our body will only lead down a spiral of false fulfillment.

    Where did we get that shame about our first erections? We got it from the innate sense of loss of control that puberty brought on us as well as the new sense that new areas of social competition were opening up. Those are terrifying thoughts that still haunt me to this day. Yet, I am convinced that they do not need to be. Do we need a “free the erection” campaign. Methinks not. But we do need boys to look out for each other, and role models to train up young men to trust that their Creator made them for a purpose which awaits their discovery.

  • This… is beautiful; a real high fantasy set in the Hogwardian world of high-school. You funny kid, you funny.

    Since we’re on the topic… I’m gonna share a story cuz… where else am I ever gonna share this story? HAH.

    One time I was in a theater production that ran for a very long time. I was playing Lazarus and act 2 would begin with me in a skin tight white onesie (accurately made to look like grave wrappings) being called to life by Jesus and walking out of the tomb to the shock and awe of the rest of the 70 person cast… and the TWO THOUSAND people in the audience. So before intermission I would often walk up to my tomb and take a short nap in the little dark space before the curtain went up; it was the only place I could really get alone time and quiet. It was a well-cherished ritual of mine that I did every day. I was so warm, so relaxed… my tight wrappings hugged me so tenderly… soon enough there was a very noticeable protrusion lifting the one grave wrapping that covered my crotchal area from the bare elastic underneath it. DONG, I heard the bell tolling the beginning of act two. I heard the actor playing Jesus talking about how he was gonna raise me from the dead. Martha was crying. ‘I would think one would have some serious morning wood in this situation actualy’ I thought to myself in nihilistic despair as the moment drew closer. I began to pray fervently to the Lord telling him “This would be too far. I would die for you… this would be too far.” And praise be the Father of Lights the grave robber left me and all was well and I stepped out to a crowd with the Normal amount of scheduled shock. They never would have suspected why there were tears in my eyes as I hugged Jesus.

    Thank you for indulging me Ryan, this was good for me. xD

  • Boxers are better for your nuts and there will come a day you will envy a stiff breeze let alone a boner. On poets I recommend Paul Laurence Dunbar: https://poets.org/poet/paul-laurence-dunbar I suggest you look for ” I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. He wrote the poem not Maya Angelou she just loved it and you’ll see why, Lawrence’s We All Wear the Mask is wonderful as well.

  • Hey Ryan, it’s Mac again. Yes, this subject DOES need to be discussed with other guys. Did I experience any awkwardness, fear, or even terror surrounding erections during adolescence?
    Yes I did! Sadly, it could have been avoided if I just didn’t feel compelled to play high school football my sophomore year. By 7th grade, puberty was already underway and I began to notice pubic hair coming in down below. But at that time, the blood or male hormones weren’t raging yet for the erections. That all changed when I joined the football team. We had a cramped locker room for the team and even tighter shower 🚿 facilities. Wasn’t large enough where everyone could shower at once. Plus these were communal showers. No partitions or shower curtains. Everyone saw everyone else. Unfortunately during a couple of shower visits I ended up with an erection both times and underneath I was incredibly embarrassed. Consciously, I just wanted it to go away, but my subconscience and my anxiety over being naked and vulnerable like I was overrode my male anatomy. After the second time, I just avoided the showers altogether. I was in fear that the upper classmen would see this a sign of being gay and try to sexually assault me. This came to mind due to the scene where Corey Haim’s title character in the movie “Lucas” is physically (and in my opinion, sexually) assaulted by the older, larger and malicious football players in the team locker room. I just didn’t want to take any chances then. Fortunately, my naked anxiety/fear subsided over the years as I started to use the shower facilities more and more as an older male. I came to realize that no one at this point is out to “get me.” It was just all in my head. So, yes I have seen progress in my response to erections.

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