Erections = desire
‘If a man wants to have sex he must have an erection’ is something we hear variations of a lot in all forms of media, but it offers a very limiting idea of men’s role in sex (or any person with a penis) and it also confuses arousal with desire. This puts extra pressure on men to see their role as being about performance which denies them the opportunity to explore the many ways they can have enjoyable sex (and still be a ‘man’ in bed). The focus on erections is also always on the penis, yet the clitoris also gets erect in a very similar (but not as visible) way.
There is a big pressure on men to have erections because there is a focus on sex as having to involve penetration (see Only penis-in-vagina sex is proper sex). This can create tremendous anxiety for men who feel like they can’t perform sex in the way that they are expected to. Ironically this pressure is often the reason that some men find it difficult to have an erection when they want to (see Orgasm is the goal of all sexual activity).
When we refer to erections in this way we are also confusing desire with arousal. Sometimes men may desire sex more than they desire anything else in the world yet still they aren’t able to be as erect as they want. Yet men often wake up in the morning desiring nothing more than to pee but have a very inconvenient and very very hard penis. Desire and arousal don’t always arrive at the same time and there are no buttons we can press (or magic wands we can wave) to make this so, not even viagra.
So if we expand our idea about what ‘counts’ as sex (kissing, stroking, whispering, rubbing, massaging, sexting, masturbating) we can also expand on what body parts count as potential sex organs (fingers, hand, thigh, wrist, neck, tongue, ear). This makes it true to say that men don’t have to have an erection in order to have really pleasurable sex. Furthermore if they are freed from the idea that desire = erect penis, they may be able to have much more pleasurable sex.
It would also be good to hear more about the erectile tissue of the clitoris filling with blood inside the vulva, the role it plays in arousal and how this interplays with (but is not the same as) desire for many women too.