Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | February 1, 2009
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The life cycle of the penis
Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor

The male anatomy includes sexual organs of which the penis is an integral part. From the time of birth, the penis plays a significant role in male identity, and its role changes during physical development and sexual expressions throughout its life cycle.

Society has become sexualised to the extent that the penis is used as a benchmark to assess sexual prowess, with explicit expressions of its form and function in music, conversations and literature.

The penis is important to a man's daily functioning as it is the external sex organ for passing urine, and it plays a huge role in copulation through ejaculation of semen. The penis transfers sperm to the woman's body during intercourse. The penis becomes erect during sexual excitement, because extra blood is pumped into its spongy tissues, resulting in enlargement and hardening, which allows penetration into the female organ.


The penis consists of three cylinder-shaped bodies of spongy tissue filled with tiny blood vessels, which run the length of the organ. Two of these bodies are parallel in the upper portion of the penis, and is a duct for the disposal of fluid waste. At the centre of the penis is a tube which carries urine from the bladder and semen from the prostate gland, called the urethra. During sexual intercourse, reflexes prevent urine from entering this duct, and alkaline solutions are produced and secreted to flush out any traces of urine from the urethra before semen is secreted.

The penis changes as it ages. A young penis in babies or grade-school boys is a sleeper. It does not do much but rest and facilitate urination. It may get hard during dreams and at other times when stimulated. As soon as a boy gets to adolescence, the one-time sleeper gets aggressive and rowdy. It gets erect very often and usually at the wrong time, leaving the young boy embarrassed as he makes efforts to keep it down.

Erection during sleep

The teenage penis is often hard and erect. It may appear that the erect penis may want an explosive orgasm every minute. The force of the ejaculation is explosive and the pressure intense. Without external stimulation, the young boy may have an erection during sleep. However, some teenage boys may have difficulty in getting an erection as a result of illnesses or injury. Strong feelings of fear, anxiety and disgust may also prevent the penis from becoming erect.

Ultimate power

The adolescent penis is at its ultimate power and needs little or no stimulation to become erect. It gets hard on its own but eventually loses that independence over time, requiring stimulation of all sorts. At young adulthood, penis reactions hardly differ from the adolescent penis. Later in this stage of male development, the penis shows some mellowing as the frequency of masturbation tends to decrease and wet dreams are less frequent. Some men in the 20 to 35 age group may notice that the penis is not as hard when erect and may require some amount of stimulation.

Midlife problems

During midlife, around age 40-45, the changes in the penis are obvious. As the saying goes, 'once a man, twice a child', the penis may again become a sleeper, requiring self-stimulation or from a partner. Even with stimulation, the penis may never get as hard as former years and erection is easily lost. Even more frustrating for an older male is regaining hardness once it is lost.

The angle of the erection is another cause for concern among older men. In younger years, the erection would point upwards but over time the erection may just stick out or may point slightly downwards. These changes are natural with ageing and should be accepted as part of life-cycle changes. The need for orgasm becomes less pronounced with the force of ejaculation being less.

X-rated movies

Ageing into the '60s, '70s and '80s brings more changes to the once-agile penis. Men admit that the penis does not get as hard as it once did, and they may have to rely heavily on mental stimulation like X-rated movies or sex magazines to get them excited enough to produce an erection. Physical arousal has to be intense and an understanding partner may have to engage in acts of sexual stimulation to get an erection going. At this stage, ejaculation takes longer and it does not happen every time. Ejaculation is less powerful with hardly any semen barely seeping out. An older man may discover that it may be days before he can get hard again, having ejaculated.

The tendency for men in this age group is to think that they are over the hill and that all is lost in finding sexual pleasure. It only takes the recognition that as the body changes, things will slow down in the same way as walking, jogging, or dancing. The same applies to sexual vitality, where a senior penis can give and take pleasure to the satisfaction of the owner and that of his partner, even at 70, 80 or 90. Partners attest to the fact that their ageing men often develop some tender, loving qualities which compensate for the declining power of the penis.

'Miracle' concoctions

Biologically, the penis never loses its capacity for pleasure regardless of age. To boost getting a hard erection, some men will seek help in the form of medication and herbal concoctions touted to perform miracles. However, these 'solutions' may cause more harm than good and should be taken under supervision of a doctor.

As with any other part of the body, the penis is a normal body appendage and should be cared in the same way as other parts. Boys and men should understand that personal hygiene of the penis is critical to the prevention of diseases. The 'head' of the penis is called the 'glans' and is normally covered with a protective, retractable skin or 'hood', which may be cut off at birth, or circumcised. It is believed that its removal lessens the risk of cancer and bacterial infections. Keen attention should be paid to cleaning the glans and the foreskin if it was not circumcised.

The penis has been idolised and popularised by the media and, as such, some men develop unrealistic expectations of what their penises can do and what they used to do in the adolescent and young adult years. However, like any other living thing, the penis has a life cycle that should be understood, and men should seek to enjoy their sex life as they age.

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