If there were a roll call for the founding fathers of sex myths for men, a couple of no-brainers would surely make the list: porn legend John Holmes, whose yule-log-size penis still casts a shadow over anxiety-prone males. Ditto NBA-great Wilt Chamberlain, whose claim of having slept with 20,000 women makes Don Juan look monastic.
And then there's purveyor-of-sex-myths Walt Disney.
Sitting in high school biology, listening to the teacher drone on about genetics, I snapped to attention when she used male pattern baldness as an example of a dominant trait. My heart started pounding with fear - with bald men on both sides of my mother's family as far as the eye could see, I was doomed to have a chrome dome.
I remained anguished about the prospect of being bald for the next 20 years as my hairline retreated and my hair steadily thinned. Bald men seemed disfigured to me. I felt...
"I think Walt Disney creates a lot of mythology," says Seth Prosterman, PhD, a clinical sexologist and licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in San Francisco. "In Disney movies, people fall in love and walk into the sunset, and you get this myth that intimacy is a given once you fall in love, and sexuality is natural and follows that."
In reality, says Prosterman, "Sex is something that we learn throughout a lifetime."
If sexuality is a continuing education, a lot of us are scrambling to make up course credits. And in a realm that's clouded by ego, myth and advertising that preys on anxieties, getting the facts about sex can be difficult. What is the average size of the male penis? How long do most men last during intercourse? Can men have multiple orgasms? Does the G-spot exist, and if so, how do I find it?
(Need to talk to the guys about something? Check out the Men's Health: Man-to-Man message board for straight talk.)
Penis Size: The Hard Facts
"Drastically enlarge the penis length and width to sizes previously thought impossible!" reads a website for the Penis Enlargement Patch. (One envisions a lab-coated mad scientist pouring chemicals on his own penis, then shouting "Eureka!" and phoning the Guinness Book.) Almost anyone with an email account has been deluged by spam for such miracle-growth patches and pills, and the endurance of sex myths may explain the pervasiveness of such ads.
"We equate masculinity and power with penis size," says Ira Sharlip, MD, clinical professor of urology at the University of California at San Francisco and president of the International Society for Sexual Medicine. "Of course, there's really no relationship." Still, Sharlip says, "all" of his patients want to increase their penis size.