14 Dec Book Report: “Penis Power” by Dr. Dudley Danoff
Dr. Danoff gets so many points just for sticking with that title.
I want to start this out by saying that I don’t know anyone who shouldn’t read this book or who wouldn’t benefit from seeing and learning some of the information that Dr. Danoff has to offer here. Danoff is clearly at the top of his game with a resume and client history to match. That said, this is a book that seems primarily targeted at middle age+ heterosexual white people who have sex in the missionary position or not at all. And it’s tough to see past that POV sometimes.
It’s entirely possible that my personal sexual adventures over the last 14 years (give or take), combined with some of my career choices, have left me more than moderately jaded when it comes to what’s “regular” or “normal” for other people. It’s also possible that this book isn’t entirely intended for someone like me: primarily homosexual, under 30, and solosexually fascinated (Danoff has an entire passage delineating masturbation as an “only in case of emergency” activity).
The man it’s really meant for is described in detail in this book in the numerous case studies that Dr. Danoff outlines in each chapter. These studies offered an interesting look into the minds of some of the men who might be or who have been clients of mine and that was endlessly fascinating to me as a sort of field guide for a more unspoken, discreet, bottom-shelf, brown paper bag type of sexuality. Growing up the way I did, comfortable with my body and borderline-obsessed with my penis and all penii around me, it isn’t always simple for me to understand men who have had different experiences. Especially men of a certain age who haven’t lead particularly sexual lives up until now but have decided to change that, and find themselves left without the knowhow or the confidence (what Dr. Danoff would refer to as the titular Penis Power) to make totally effective changes.
Penis Power is a kind of catchall term as presented here, used to describe general potency, moods and attitudes, and sexual ‘personalities’ (a cute profiling tool used to varying degrees of success in the book). A far more interesting term that comes up only a few times through the book is “Penis Awareness.” While I think Penis Power is certainly something to consider at any age, more holistically beneficial might be the idea of developing an awareness of and fostering an understanding of your genitals and how they relate to your self esteem, sexual function/satisfaction, and how you believe others understand them. Most especially when it comes to younger men who might not realize until much later in life how significantly their awareness of their penis has shaped their very lives. Or how a lack of awareness has left them feeling unsatisfied and confused about sexuality and what sexual satisfaction really means.
The weak points in this book are mostly due to Dr. Danoff’s white, heteronormative understanding of sexuality, sexual safety, and sex work in particular. Danoff still very much presents a “fear HIV at all costs” attitude, even going so far as to discourage any kind of anal sex, ever, just in case. With the advent of PrEP and safety measures that include condoms, testing, serosorting, and ‘discourse before intercourse,’ the statistical bolstering of this attitude about anal sex has been severely deflated and will likely continue to be reduced as time goes by. That obviously ins’t to say that HIV/AIDS isn’t still a major health crisis affecting everyone today, but that telling people to avoid casual sex because you’re going to be “sleeping with every partner that person has ever had!” is an unrealistic and unhealthy (and anachronistic) way of teaching people about safely.
The book makes a light effort at the beginning too, to excuse the all-female pronouns when describing sexual partners or situations, but it is quickly glossed over and the rest of the work proceeds to explain penises specifically as they relate to vaginas and the women (mainly wives) who own those vaginas (there is also some really borderline offensive and entirely-too-frequent language about the “nagging” and “complaining” that wives do, and the way women are “asking” to be “looked at” by dressing up or fixing their hair. I don’t have enough time to outline why that’s problematic, and I’m comfortable filing that alongside Dr. Danoff’s similarly antiquated understanding of how people really have sex in this day and age). Obviously that’s not a super helpful way to address this information to someone who isn’t married to a woman or prefers the company of other penises. Luckily though, much of the information is easily adaptable to individual situations (gay/straight/bi/or otherwise) with a little bit of imagination and mental pronoun replacement.
Probably the most difficult passage in the book was the Penis Personality profile outlining the worst Penis Personality of all: the sexworker! This quote makes my face warm to read:
The Professional Penis Personality
The Professional Penis Personality is the prostitute and the gigolo, unhealthy but interesting. The man who has the Professional Penis Personality is confident in his sexuality. This confidence extends to a dangerous level. He knows how to exert his power. This type of lifestyle usually leads to a never-ending string of bad relationships, both professionally and personal. The Professional Penis Personality creates an unhealthy connection to sex in particular and to love in general. With all of the health hazards of reckless sexual intercourse, these individuals put themselves and their partners at great risk. Selling one’s sex can cause permanent damage to both the psychological and emotional health of the person who chooses this unfortunate path.
He actually goes on this way for another whole paragraph, but I don’t really feel like typing out additional sentences with the intellectual and academic veracity of the “stop masturbating or you’ll go blind” variety.
Again: Dr. Danoff is white and wealthy and heterosexual, with an understanding of escorts/sex workers that seems entirely relegated to movies like American Giggolo and various and sundry episodes of Law and Order. The reality is that this outline of the Professional Penis Personality is Dr. Danoff’s alone and there is nothing about sexwork (escorting/porn/otherwise) that causes people to become despicable human beings who lack moral fortitude and are to be “avoided at all costs.” That’s a naive and narrow-minded way to understand sexuality. Not to mention an entirely unscientific one, supported by few scattered facts.
In fact, naivety might be the best explanation for the doctor’s attitude in general; scientifically and medically very well educated and informed, but naive when it comes to how people apply that education and information to their real lives. His heart and many of his ideas about accepting who and what you are are in the right place, but his worldview is broadcasting from the 1950s, which makes it all very hard to swallow.
All in all, the information and suggestions contained in Penis Power are well worth the cost and the time investments. My complaints are isolated and don’t outweigh the idea that men simply MUST become more familiar with their penises and how they work (and how they relate to every aspect of their existence) and the stepping stones toward that awareness that Dr. Danoff offers. It’s an occasionally clever and easy read that offers a kind of validation that few men would say they receive with any regularity in their lives. A kind of “it’s cool – we’re all thinking about it all the time, too,” for the mature gentleman.
If you’ve read Penis Power (or even if you just have questions or thoughts about the book or the concept) I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a comment or shoot me an email.
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