How to Do It

I Have an Issue With My Penis No Other Man Has Ever Experienced

I feel so weird and alone. Is there any hope?

A man holds his hands over his groin area; neon eggplants make a wallpaper behind him.
Photo illustration by Slate Photo by Staras/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

I have an interesting problem that I have never known anyone else to have. I grew up with a burning embarrassment of having a penis. I grew up in a family of women. My mother has four sisters, and all of them had mostly girls. My mom’s father was horrid, and he left my grandmother to raise all five girls alone. All these women in the family ended up having troubles themselves with men, and while I was growing up, all I heard was how bad men were. Now, I wanted them all to love me, but I quickly grew to understand that because I was male, I was not in the favored group. And I overheard them many times talk about how bad penises were. They did nothing but cause harm to women.

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Without too many guys in the family (and the fact I was a budding gay kid), I didn’t get along with the few there were, and so I got this unhealthy obsession with the idea that if I didn’t have a penis, all my female relatives would really love me and include me. So as I entered my teen years, I was super embarrassed for anyone to know I had a penis, even the doctor. I felt I would never be able to have sex, because who would want to with this horrible thing I had? It’s not that I wanted to be female. I never felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body, only shame that I had something that just hurts women. It rapes women; it causes men to think only with their dicks, and on and on. TV and movies were no help, as in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you only saw naked women. Men’s genitals were always hidden, just proving to me how shameful they were and that no one wanted to see them. Of course, sex overrode my fears as I became an adult, but the shame never left me, and I was never very good in bed because of it. I have talked to male therapists about it, but they just look at me funny. (I just cannot bring myself to talk with any woman, because of that fear of having something they hate—I know in my head that women don’t hate them, but tell that to my psyche.) I would love to know if any other man has ever felt this way, and what I can do to get over these feelings?

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—Penis Shame

Dear Penis Shame,

I tend to believe that there is nothing new under the sun. If it’s within the realm of human possibility, it’s already been done or at least thought of. It’s much easier to assume this than it is to prove a negative. That said, there is scant reporting of exactly what you describe. Penis shame is most typically associated with negative feelings over size, while hating one’s penis is sometimes a symptom of gender dysphoria. Larry David’s early standup in the ‘70s included a relevant bit, per his recollection in a 2015 New York Times interview (the old joke went: “I hate my penis. My penis has no friends. Sometimes I’ll just stare at it at night. It just sits there, so depressed.”). In fact, the notion of someone hating their penis is so fundamentally absurd to people that it’s been played for laughs elsewhere (see: Chris Evans shouting it in a spoof trailer of a “dark” Dennis the Menace reboot that aired on Live with Jimmy Kimmel in 2017).

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I forwarded your question to Dr. Ronald Levant, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Akron. In the ‘90s, Levant specifically focused his practice on men, and much of his research has been on that segment of the population (his most recent book, The Tough Standard: The Hard Truths About Masculinity and Violence, was released in 2020). He told me via Zoom that in his 45 years as a psychologist, he’s never heard of the specific symptom that you describe. Levant, though, believes that what you present is a result of trauma brought on by your upbringing that made you deeply ashamed of your maleness.

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“The good news is this is something that could be treated with psychotherapy,” Levant said. As options, he suggested exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy and said both are evidence-based treatments for trauma. You mentioned therapists in your letter, but if you haven’t been treated for trauma or undergone either of those suggested methods, you may want to ask about them. (It may be worth talking to a therapist with a specific concentration in treating trauma.) “This man does not have to continue to suffer,” Levant told me.

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Levant and I also discussed his work around men’s psychology, specifically a theory he developed of male emotional inexpressiveness which he coined as “normative male alexithymia.” Alexithymia literally means without words for emotions, and it’s common in men as a result of socialization, Levant says. I mention this because if men are socialized not to express emotions, then it’s possible that part of the reason why your condition seems so rare is because men who have felt this way may not have had the vocabulary to express it (or interest in doing so). It is unlikely that you’re the first or alone here.

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Dear How to Do It,

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I’m a man, and I’ve been with my partner for almost three years now, and we have a daughter of six months. I truly love both of them so much, but inside me is this raging sex-craving demon that wants to have sex with other people. I’ve been trying to keep it at bay, but I feel like it’s impossible. I know if I tell my partner about this, it’ll devastate her, and the last thing I want to do is hurt her in any way. Writing this makes me feel that it’s obviously taboo thinking, but that’s me, and it’s nothing new. It’s been with me forever. How can I manage this?

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—Possessed

Dear Possessed,

While I do think a conversation is in order, now is not the time. Your wife just had a baby, so it’s best to wait before dropping an earth-shattering revelation. But I do think that at some point when life has settled down and can be about more than just the baby (in six months or maybe a year), you should talk about this. You say disclosure will devastate her, but won’t nondisclosure devastate you? And if your cravings should guide your mood or behavior (resulting in cheating, for example), the results could blindside her. If one of you has to be devastated, at least both of you should be aware of the underlying cause.

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Alternately, look into sublimation, which essentially means converting your unused sexual energy to something constructive—Freud believed this was a cornerstone of civilization. I don’t buy everything Freud was selling, but there is probably something to this insofar as living a life of hedonism doesn’t tend to get much done except oneself. Beware, though, that this is much easier said than done. It’s all well and good to say “create!” but that can be difficult when you’re horny to the point of distraction. So, try taking up a hobby or investigate an interest, but don’t be surprised if it fails to relieve you in the way that sex can.

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Dear How to Do It,

Im a woman with herpes who grew up in a pretty sexual community, so it hasnt been a real problem for me. Ive always disclosed this to my partners prior to sex; Im not into one-night stands, so this has been easy to do, and so far three men have rejected me over it. Fine.
One grew up really religious, but the last two have been recent and also Im now living on the East Coast where Im finding a different overall approach to sex. The third and most recent was clearly the man of my dreams with ALL THE CHEMISTRY IN THE WORLD, and I will mourn the loss until I die. Obviously.

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But Im writing because what is bothering me, not hurt feelings of rejection, is the response from one of my usually supportive friends. Yeah, he was great about if you want to talk about it, etc. However, his comment was it would be a deal breaker for him and his friends, and he thinks thats just how it is over 30? His rationale was he had tons of anonymous sex when he was younger and didnt ever get anything, so now he couldnt see himself taking those types of risks unless it was with a person he intends to marry. In stunned silence, I let it go.

I was hoping you would have some advice for how to have a constructive conversation about how stigmatizing this attitude is if this comes up again? Or maybe Im completely wrong here, as it is a triggering subject for me? I dont think people should do things they arent comfortable with, which is why I explicitly bring this up with my potential partners. Also, this was not a choice I actually had, my boyfriend of two years was cheating on me with a woman who it sounded like actually knew she had herpes and just didnt tell him. So, hearing statements like this really reminds me why people dont disclose diseases unless called out on it, at which point it’s probably too late for all people involved.

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—Annoyed Out East

Dear Annoyed,

I think you are right, but I also think that this is not a conversation that is worth having again. Firstly, it isn’t strictly practical unless you’ve left out the detail that you want a relationship with this friend of yours. His STI-phobia has no bearing on your life if you never plan on being in a situation with him in which you might directly put him at risk for contracting herpes from you.
(This is, of course, working from his assumption that he isn’t already an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, or any other, which is probably giving his intuition more credit than it deserves.) That this vexing conversation you had with him was theoretical makes his words even crueler—without any practical application, they could only serve to make you feel bad and, yes, stigmatized. He has his right to an opinion, as well as to protect himself from pathogens; but just because the thinks something, it doesn’t mean he should say it, especially given your stated sensitivity on the matter. It’s just bad form, and not good-friend behavior.

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But I think given the futile nature of the debate, bringing it up again in the form of a correction (or worse: lecture) would only escalate the conflict. It sucks that he continued the stigma that you already have painful experience with, but given the disposition that would make him feel comfortable to do so in the first place, something tells me he’s not going to be amenable to your notes on compassion. I would do what feels natural here: Either forgive him or pull back and be less communicative. If you opt for the latter, he may notice and ask what’s wrong, in which case you can tell him. But I’d keep it pithy and based in your own reality. “My feelings were hurt when you said what you did about having a partner with herpes,” may be more intelligible than a Power Point on avoiding stigmatizing language. And here, as in any communication, it’s important to speak to be heard.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 45-year-old white gay man dating a 37-year-old Mexican guy. I mention our races because, when we play, he wants me to call him derogatory names—I can’t even bring myself to write them here. He is a very submissive bottom, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to agree to his request. I saw you had a recent column with a Black woman uncomfortable with her white partner’s sexual requests. This is kind of the opposite—it’s ME who’s uncomfortable. I REALLY like this guy, we have fun outside the bedroom and hang out, bike together, go hiking, etc. He says that this is why it would be OK to do what he’s asking because (direct quote) “I know in my heart you don’t really feel that way.” So … I really want him to get what he likes in bed, but am just not comfortable with racism, even in play. He keeps bringing it up or, sometimes, while we’re doing it, he’ll say derogatory things about himself.

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—Gringo

Dear Gringo,

Look at how not submissive this “very submissive bottom” is acting. He’s insisting you engage in behavior that makes you uncomfortable. What you aren’t—someone who freely uses derogatory terms for Mexican people—is more important to him here than what you are, someone who under no circumstances wants to use derogatory terms for Mexican people. In demanding you perform degradation of his humanity he’s … degrading your humanity. I don’t like that at all.

In a previous column, actress and BDSM expert Mollena Williams-Haas broke down the essentials of race play for us, stating in part that “it is absolutely vital that the person who is living in a body that leaves them vulnerable to racism and bigotry absolutely needs to take the lead on these scenes, ESPECIALLY if they are ‘bottoming’ (receiving) the sensation or consensual ‘abuse.’” So, in a sense, you have the right dynamic to make this kink work … but for the fact that you aren’t actually into said kink, which is actually the most essential ingredient. In order for this play to be sustainable, you have to both be into it. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up indefinitely for routine gritting of the teeth and going through the motions as you try to please your partner. That doesn’t sound like a good time to me. As much as you like this guy, if race play is as essential to his sex as he’s suggesting, you’ve found yourself in a mismatch. It’s a shame, but there is little to do besides conforming or moving on.

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— Rich

More How to Do It

I’m a mid-40s hetero man with—well, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a fetish, more of a hankering. I’m attracted to older ladies. Older as in 60s, 70s, and sometimes beyond. I’m not especially looking for an older girlfriend, more along the lines of fun and friendly banging and general foolin’ around. From what I’ve found, the usual online suspect sites (rhymes with Cinder) aren’t great places for finding willing ladies of a certain age. I am a registered nurse, and I work in a hospital, but that isn’t, ahem, a particularly good or ethical place to play pick up. I happen to live in a rural-ish area that is demographically skewed toward an older population, and I know for a fact that people tend to be horny creatures regardless of age. Any suggestions on how I can go about hooking up with the Golden Girl (or Girls) of my dreams?

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