What is sex, and how do you define it? Is your definition universal? Often, the answers to this question vary, depending on the person you're asking, what kinds of sex they have and what media representations they've been exposed to about sex and sexuality. Definitions of sex are often—and often mistakenly—based around a penis penetrating something, and that penis being erect, a certain size, and the erection lasting for hours.
I work at Self Serve, an education and health-focused sex shop in Albuquerque, and some of the most common questions I get are about penises and how they function. People come in almost every day asking if we sell pills or creams that can make their penis bigger and/or make them last longer. We don't sell such pills or creams for a few reasons:
Pills are often not regulated in any way and they typically don't deliver results they promise. They might even have negative side effects. Also, we don't want to sell a product that relies on the insecurity of people with penises. Not to mention that all of this comes back around to the idea that sex has to involve an erect penis that works 100 percent; whenever the person attached wants it to.
And, spoiler alert—that often doesn't match up with how penises actually work on a day-to-day basis. People with penises (and the rest of us) are often given lots of messages about how a penis should be, and this premise ignores the fact that lots of people have amazing, mind-blowing sex when a penis or erection isn't even involved.
Very few parts of our body work as we would like all the time. So why do we hold penises up to such a high standard? If you're going about your daily life and you get a headache or roll your ankle, you don't get angry or ashamed that your body isn't acting exactly as you hoped. Sometimes we're dehydrated. Sometimes our joints are tired from working. If people with a penis start to get nervous or upset about whether or not their penis will function "properly" during a sexual encounter, it's actually more likely that the penis will have a hard time getting hard because of the pressure (no pun intended).
When I talk to penis-owners about their struggles, some of the first questions I ask are:
"Have you tried using your hands or mouth instead?"
"What about picking out a dildo or sex toy you and your partner like, and using that together?"
Your partner will most likely be happy to have you go to town with your hands, mouth or a toy. It's also likely that if you take the pressure off your body to have or maintain an erection, it's more likely to show up or come back. Erectile health is complex, and due to lack of comprehensive sex education, most people don't know how to take care of their erections for long-term health. There are several factors that can impact erections including diet, drinking, smoking, stress, sleep, exercise, medications and more. If you had a bad day at work, your dick might not work like you want it to later on.
So, if we expand our definition of what sex is, we don't need our bodies to work exactly how we think they "should" 100 percent of the time. And taking that pressure off of ourselves and our partners means we can more fully enjoy sex, in all the forms it takes.
There's a fantastic documentary on Netflix called UnHung Hero; the story follows a man as he tries almost all the penis enhancement methods under the sun. Some of them are terrifying to watch, even if you don't have a penis. He even calls several companies that sell pills and asks them why, after taking pills for several weeks, he hasn't seen any changes in his erections. They say, flat-out, "We don't guarantee results."
While there are real things you can (and probably should) do to help increase your erectile health, one of the most effective ways, according to Dr. Steven Lamm, author of The Hardness Factor, is to increase the amount of nitrogen in your blood. One of the best ways to do this is via exercise, diet, and decreasing smoking and drinking. Dr. Lamm notes that erectile dysfunction, such as not being able to achieve or maintain an erection, is often one of the first indicators of bigger health challenges down to line.
Your dick is trying to tell you something.
It's telling you to take care of yourself, so it can take care of you and your partners. And one of the best ways to do that is by taking some pressure off. Really, what it comes down to is: Your dick is begging you to expand your definition of sex.