Let’s start with the basics – an erect penis means a man is aroused and ready to have sex, right?
Not always. The not-so-simple-truth is that being aroused and having an erection are semi-independent functions. So a man can have an erection without being aroused and can be aroused without having an erection or can be aroused and have an erection (and, obviously, not aroused without an erection). So if you have been using the presence of an erection as proof of arousal; then you have been using the wrong yardstick (yeah, it’s a YARDstick…prepare yourself for bad penis jokes).
To understand this phenomenon, let’s get a basic understanding of what an erection is, and how it happens. Penis anatomy is pretty simple. There is the head, or glans. There is a foreskin, unless it has been removed. Then the shaft, which is comprised of two lengths corpus cavernosum that run along each side of the penis, and a length of corpus spongiosum that runs along the front (bottom) of it. The urethra runs through the spongiosum and connects to the bladder and testicular system.
The parasympathetic nervous system releases nitrous oxide is released, causing the blood vessels within the cavernosum dilate. As a result of the expansion of blood vessels, the penis becomes firmer. So the concept of the penis being engorged with blood is partially correct – expanded arteries and veins carry more blood – but the penis is not, technically, “filled with blood,” in that there is no reservoir that is filled with blood. This is important to understand because anything that interferes with the dilation of blood vessels makes an erection harder to achieve (yes, that’s a pun…I warned you about dick jokes).
There’s one more thing to know about an erection – because it requires the dilation of blood vessels to get an erection, an erect penis is a relaxed penis.
Think of this: Viagra, and similar drugs, work by dilating blood vessels. This causes a temporary drop in blood pressure, along with an erection (Viagra was developed to treat high blood pressure). That’s why they all have the warning, “may cause unsafe drop in blood pressure” if they are used in conjunction with other blood pressure drugs (certain classes of drugs – nitrates, and also amlodipine, but not most beta blockers, alpha blockers, or diuretics…but listen to your doctor, not me).
I don’t know if there is a “magic number” for a man’s blood pressure that will yield an erection, but let’s say that it is 110/70, when measured AT the penis (not in the arm, as we usually do it). A guy who has a BP of 120/80 in his left arm can get to the 110/70 pretty easily through normal physiologic processes. But what if it BP is 140/90?
As it turns out, an erection is an analog condition, meaning there are an infinite number of stages between fully flaccid and fully erect. So 140/90 may get him an erection, but it isn’t as hard as it was when he was 20. Oh well – age does these things, right?
Wrong. It isn’t age. It’s the BP. If it eases up to 150/100, maybe there is no way for him to get an erection. His penile blood vessels simply can’t relax enough to counteract the tension in his arteries and veins. Maybe with Viagra he can still get hard. Maybe not.
Here’s the thing about high blood pressure…we say things like, “My blood pressure is 130/85” as if our blood pressure didn’t change constantly. Since I have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and take medication for it, I check my BP several times per day. It fluctuates by as much as fifteen points over the course of the day. Not everyone is so lucky, but I am extra-ordinarily sensitive to sodium. When I do over an hour of cardio, my BP drops (temporarily) a bit. When I get emotional, it goes up. If I do all of these things…who the hell knows? (That’s why I take it several times per day.)
Another thing that raises blood pressure is sexual arousal. How’s that for ironic? Getting aroused makes it LESS likely that a man can get an erection! ANYTHING that raises a man’s blood pressure makes it less likely he will get an erection…
So if a guy – perhaps like myself – enjoys a bit of pain before or during sex; then his body responds to that pain by raising his blood pressure…and bye-bye goes the hard-on. Even having sex can cause the blood pressure to go up (if he is active), which tends to keep the man-on-top stuff to a minimum. You see, high blood pressure can turn a man’s dick into a fuck-up (because the only way to fuck is if he’s on his back and…never mind).
One more thing – guys can feel when they are getting hard, and when the hardness is going away. So if a guy can’t get hard, and he wants to have sex, he gets upset – making his BP go up. If he gets hard and starts to have sex, his BP goes up and he starts to lose his erection, which gets him upset – and his BP goes up again. Not having an erection makes it harder to have an erection (I’ll be here all week, ladies and gentlemen…).
So now we know how easy it is to lose an erection, or never get one at all, but let’s think about how easy it is to get one…
Anything that lowers blood pressure, makes it more likely that a man will get an erection. Remember that mythical magical number? No matter why a man’s BP reaches that point, his cock stands up and looks around (with that one, squinty eye).This is why guys often get erections when they are sleeping. It has nothing to do with any kind of dream they might be having (well…SOME dreams are different than others…). Sitting on the sofa watching some boring chick flick with your girl….BOING! (Terms of Endearment doesn’t really turn him on, ladies…he just can’t help it).
So why does porn turn a guy on? Well, for one thing, he usually stops jumping around and watches it. I never said sexual attraction has nothing to do with an erection, just that it isn’t the only thing that causes one…and that a guy can be aroused as hell and not be able to get hard.
I want to highlight one thing that I did not mention as causing an erection – testosterone. Testosterone is that hormone that makes a male develop male secondary sexual characteristics. It’s very important to male anatomy. One of the things it does is help manage blood pressure by maintaining proper tension in the blood vessels. Part of the aging process is that a man’s body begins to produce lower levels of testosterone. If you have erectile issues; then get it checked. It doesn’t mean you are less of a man – it means you are doing what it takes to stay healthy. If your thyroid levels dropped, it wouldn’t be unmanly – same thing is true for other hormones, okay?
Here’s the long and short of it (or, the long and longer, of it…): If you are focusing on a dick as a tell-all about male sexuality; then you are being sadly misled. There are a lot of wonderful ways for a man to enjoy his sexuality, and that of his partner, that have nothing to do with his dick. Think of it this way – if his dick didn’t work; then how would a man know if he was aroused? What would he do if he was?
Guys, you are more than your dick, so don’t depend on it as your sole source of pleasure. Gals, he’s more than a dick, so don’t depend on it to tell you everything about him.