As the sixth graders noisily filed out of the library, I uncrumpled the index card and smoothed it over against my thigh.
The boy who had dropped it into the anonymous question box in my sex education class told me that he felt very strongly about it and wanted me to read it right away – anonymity be damned.
I passed the card over to my co-facilitator, a smile forming across my lips. “This one is endearing,” I said.
The card read: Why do boys’ penises grow when they see a cute girl?
What a vitally important question to know the answer to! It’s so imperative for us to understand our own bodies and why they react the way that they do.
Reading the question, I remembered – suddenly, joltingly – how confusing it is when your body does things that you don’t understand and can’t ask about.
Whispers from the mainstream media, pornography, friends, and locker room walls sell lies, telling us what we want to hear, convincing us of untruths.
It’s like a game of Telephone, but what’s at stake is our understanding of ourselves and our relationships.
And that’s a dangerous game.
So here’s the truth – about penises.
MYTH #1: The average penis is about eight inches long.
DEBUNKED: The average penis is 5-6 inches erect.
According to studies cited by The Kinsey Institute, the average penis length is 5-6 inches erect, although earlier studies suggest the average to start at three inches and end at seven. Quite a range – proving that almost everyone falls under the category of Average.
Penises start out at 1-4 inches flaccid, and during arousal, become erect. Erections, of course, to answer my student’s question, are caused by vascular congestion in the penis, resulting from the engorgement of blood vessels in the erectile tissue, bringing the penis to its oft-quoted erectile length.
And the average circumference? 4-6 inches.
As if pornography’s misrepresentations aren’t enough to make guys think that their penises have to be huge, another issue is how phallic-centric our society (uh—and most societies) is: Penises aren’t just a body part; they’re symbolic.
And a big penis, we think, goes along with other “manly” qualities like strength and power.
In my younger days, I had happened into a sex toy shop that sold a dildo called The Destroyer. (First, let that sink in. Then, imagine it.)
I remember clenching my thighs as my jaw dropped. Turns out – as I’ve learned from both academia and experience – penises aren’t that large. Thank God.
MYTH #2: Ejaculation happens in gallons.
DEBUNKED: The average ejaculation contains approximately one teaspoon of fluid.
That’s it. One teaspoon. I use more cream than that in my morning tea.
But that shit is effective. Each teaspoon can contain 200-500 million sperm, averaging out at about 280 million per ejaculation, and it only takes one to conceive.
In pornography, they actually create fake semen in order to demonstrate their own version of special effects. They use recipes to produce vast quantities of the stuff, and you can even find some on the Internet.
You know, just in case you ever need a gallon of fake semen.
(And speaking of semen recipes, as a side note, I discovered recently that you can apparently use semen to cook. No, seriously.)
And while we’re covering the scoop on sperm: The human male ejaculates an average distance of 7-10 inches – not across the room, although the world record stands at 18 feet – at an average speed of 31 mph.
That’s faster than some jaguars. Whoa.
MYTH #3: It should take about an hour to reach orgasm.
DEBUNKED: Three to seven minutes, actually.
Of constant thrusting, that is.
Obviously, pornography is shot in takes, so it’s easy to splice the action together to make it look like one continuous flow.
And generally, when people quote (read: bloat about) how long they can last, they’re not taking into consideration that you’re supposed to time yourself thrusting constantly – not how long it takes to start, stop, start, stop, start, st—ahh.
Premature ejaculation, on the other hand, is defined by lasting one minute or less, although some researchers say that anything under two-and-a-half minutes is premature.
For more information on premature ejaculation and how to improve it, check out this awesome resource.
MYTH #4: Pretty much everyone is having hetero anal sex.
DEBUNKED: Less than half of the American population is.
Although that number is on the rise.
According to the CDC, in 1992, 26% of men and 20% of women self-reported having had heterosexual anal sex, but those numbers increased to 40% and 35%, respectively, by 2005.
It’s suggested that due to the nature of the question (and the social shame associated with sexual activity, let alone anal sex) that the actual numbers might be higher.
But here’s something interesting to consider: why in the hell did the numbers nearly double in that timeframe? Is it because of changing political climates? The slow destigmatization of sexuality in our culture?
Because what else was on the rise in the thirteen years between 1992 and 2005? Access to pornography.
Some research suggests that frequent viewing of pornography warps the way we think about real-life sex (well, duh). In this case, people are more likely to believe that their (literal and figurative) neighbors are having anal sex because it’s become so mainstream in pornography. Same with threesomes.
But the truth is: Not as many people are doing it as you might think.
MYTH #5: Most men have had a ton of partners.
DEBUNKED: Men report an average of 6-8 female sexual partners in their lifetime.
Given, The Kinsey Institute is quoting data of 30-44 year old men, so it’s possible that younger men are having more sex, and it’s also possible that these fellas will have more partners before the end of their lives.
But we’re still a long way away from the 20+ that people seem to think men average.
But although 56% of men have had five or more partners, an entire one-fifth of American men have only had one sexual partner in their lifetime.
So, in short: It varies!
Want more information on our sexual bodies and why and how they do the things they do? Check out the What’s Happening to My Body? book series by Madaras. Sure, they’re technically written for children-turned-almost-teenagers that are going through puberty, but the books – which are split into “For Boys” and “For Girls” – serve as a great foundation if you want to start there.
Looking for something a little more grown-up? The Guide to Getting It On by Joannides is not only hugely comprehensive, it’s really witty, too. With chapters covering everything from anatomy and physiology to positions and sexual situations, it’s the only guide you’ll ever need – and an amazing resource.
And hey, the next time someone tries to sell you a locker room myth as truth, call them out on it.
It’s the ultimate Teachable Moment.
Melissa A Fabello is the Editor at Everyday Feminism. She’s a feminist blogger and vlogger, as well as an online peer sex educator, based out of Philadelphia. Along with Everyday Feminism, Melissa also currently works with Miss Representation, Adios Barbie, and Laci Green’s Sex+ community. She is a second-year graduate student, working on an M.Ed. in Human Sexuality. She can be reached on Twitter @fyeahmfabello. Read her articles here and book her for speaking engagements here.