Steel and glass phalluses that pierce the sky; long sleek penis extensions that tear up the road; men are experts in building aggressive symbols of fertility. But they're rank amateurs when it comes to symbolizing, let alone dealing with, infertility. Which is odd when you consider that half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70 (the ones that sit atop the skyscrapers and drive the flash cars) will suffer from it in their lifetime.
Thanks to the common myth that men generally think with, endlessly practice on and go to any lengths to penetrate third parties with their penises, it's assumed that men know how to operate the things on demand. If only that were true. Ask any honest man and he'll admit that the performance anxiety is always real and occasionally overwhelming.
Here's how it happens; during foreplay, a faint voice in your head reminds you that droop is possible. It could be that you're tired or nervous or drunk or actually not very enamoured with the person in front of you. But sex is supposed to be fun so you ignore it. Except you can't because the voice is now reminding you how humiliating it would be to fail on two cornerstones of so-called masculinity (being virility and control) while naked and emotional and staring into another persons eyes. Now it's becoming an actuality. You can feel the blood rush north from your crotch to you face as your cheeks start to burn with shame. Dear God its shrinking. You know she knows and that only makes it worse. Awkward, dogged resolve ensues for several very long minutes until you admit defeat and withdraw. You feel powerless at the exact moment that you want to be in control. Now the only bigger problem than your crashing self-esteem is what to say as an excuse. Conciliatory words of support from her ('Its OK, give me a hug', 'We'll try again soon', 'I had a nice time anyway') only rubs more salt in the wound.
Erectile dysfunction becomes the officious ticket inspector that stubbornly marches into the carriage every time you're train's about to enter the tunnel. And the more you think about it, the more likely he's going to turn up on your next journey. Ticket please!
Like so many issues surrounding the apparently tough but actually very fragile male ego, talking about the problem is the most effective but least attractive option. "Oh high Dave, do you fancy a pint? I suffered a crushing blow to my ego last night and my world is collapsing and I really need a shoulder to cry on". No. Doesn't happen.
Men are not automated sex machines. Under pressure to behave like one, and with apparently no one to talk to, it's tempting to pop a Global Pharma-sponsored solution, which is easier than ever now that cheap generic Viagra is about to flood the market. But men would do themselves a massive favour if they accepted that investment in fantasy comes at the expense of reality. And by that I mean porn. There's a growing body of evidence that connects on-demand porn with impotence in medically fit men, even under 21. The endless array of Internet porn raises expectations beyond anything that can realistically be achieved in real life, and desinsitises men to the point where they can't perform the very role that they so want to fulfill. And do get me started on the casual violence you see in most clips.
Taking refuge from loneliness and frustration in three-minute porn clips turns into a negative cycle of addiction; the thing you do to relieve misery becomes the source of the misery. You can watch pretty much every sexual act imaginable on the Internet but the one thing you most definitely won't see is a man drooping on the job.
In the spirit of openness and understanding, I'll close this column with a story of my own. And fellow Real Men are welcome to do more sharing in the comments below.
When I was in my late teens, I found myself in the bedroom of a beautiful woman whom I'd fancied for years. We were playing out the first act and moving on to the big scene, when I caught sight of something on her wall. It was a huge poster of Prince, naked from the waist up, all muscular and flamboyant and sexually confident - all the things I was very much not. And it scared the lead out of my pencil. She was very understanding but I was out the door before she could say make a conciliatory cup of tea. To both our credit, we tried again a few days later. Same thing again. So damaging was the experience that the Ticket Inspector paid regular visits for the remainder of my so-called sexual prime. I got over it eventually, but the fear never goes away. And I probably won't listen to 'When Doves Cry' ever again.
Next Week: counting your lucky stars that there's no Page 3 for women.