The Penis: A Feat of Brilliant Engineering

Blog #153

The penis, when functioning properly, is a proud soldier, a term used when I was a urology resident at University of Pennsylvania and rotating through pediatric urology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Numerous penile reconstructive procedures were performed at CHOP for congenital birth defects that caused the penis to have a disfiguring curvature and an abnormally located urethral opening. The term “proud soldier” was used in the context of the excellent results after repair. I admire that nickname—it signifies a warrior, peacekeeper, man-at-arms, standing tall at attention, saluting, noble, confident and majestic.

Who Knew? A sect of wandering, ascetic Hindu holy men of India known as the Sadhu believe that God dwells in the penis.

Who Knew? “Wood in the womb.” Male fetuses have erections in utero as demonstrated by prenatal ultrasounds. Maybe that “kicking” that brings a smile of baby-pride to pregnant mom’s face is not really kicking at all!

Men have a special bond with their most curious appendage—arguably their most precious accessory—which truly is a remarkably versatile organ that adapts to the environment as the situation demands. When we don’t need it, it remains flaccid, out-of-sight, concealed and low in profile. However, on demand, our cooperative friend will readily rise to the occasion and assume the gravity-defying role of proud soldier. There are not many other organs in the body that demonstrate such a great versatility in terms of the physical changes between “inactive” and “active” states.

Who Knew?

Q. What organ in the body when stimulated will increase its size fourfold?

A. If you were thinking the penis, you are going to be very disappointed, but wouldn’t that be nice! The correct answer is the pupil of the eye, which will dilate from 2 millimeters in diameter in bright light to 8 millimeters in dark, as governed by the iris.

The penis is an organ of convenience. Like a good friend, it is always there for us—at arm’s length away—and provides us with the luxury of being able to empty our bladders with laser-like precision in the standing position when the need arises. I think it is fair to say that most women are quite envious of our capacity for such a directed urinary stream, which proves to be a very handy benefit that allows us to remain a healthy distance away from the toilet in the circumstance of unpleasant public bathrooms. It also enables us to duck behind a tree and readily empty our bladders on a golf course or on the side of a highway—al fresco style—when there is no bathroom available.

Who Knew? Hypospadias is a medical condition in which the urethra does not open at the appropriate place at the tip of the penis, but can open anywhere on the undersurface of the penis. In its most severe form, it can open on the perineum, the area between the scrotum and anus. This condition causes us to lose our competitive gender advantage of “directed” urinating. The good news is that pediatric urologists can repair hypospadias such that the urethral opening is repositioned at its normal location.

The penis is an amazingly multifunctional structure—no less so than a Swiss army knife—with an impressive ability to multi-task, having an array of functions, including urinary, sexual and reproductive. Eric Gill, the British sculptor, articulated the multi-tasking function of the penis with the following statement: “The water tap that could turn into a pillar of fire.” The penis wears many “hats” that can be summarized by the four P’s. It permits us to pee with a directed urinary stream. When erect, it enables vaginal penetration and sexual intercourse. Ejaculation deposits semen in the vagina, with the passage of genetic material and ultimately, the perpetuation of the species.

What an astonishingly clever biological design in which sexual enjoyment is linked with the act of reproduction. We think we’re pursuing pleasure, but what we are actually getting is reproduction— nature’s ultimate bait and switch scheme that ensures perpetuation of the species. If sex were not such a pleasurable act, there would be little incentive to have it. In this regard, it is much like eating—under the guise of pleasure and satisfying hunger, we are actually fueling ourselves with nutrition that ensures nature’s endpoint of perpetuation of the individual.

Who Knew?  “Penile Couture.” Men from the Ketengban tribe in the highlands of New Guinea, who are otherwise naked, wear decorative sheaths on their penis called “phallocarps.” They are made from a variety of different materials, often in vibrant colors, and vary in ornamentation and size, being similar in many respects to our neckties.


The aforementioned is largely excerpted from my new book: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; available in e-book (Kindle, iBooks, Nook) and coming soon in paperback.

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