Beyond the Limp Penis

Presents a study by Alan Bell on sexual experiences. He believes that how sexual experiences are constructed rather than what literally happens that will determine the outcome of a particular experience for the relationship. Study; Details; Results.

By PT Staff, published January 1, 1992 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Sex as Metaphor

We've got it all wrong, says America's numero uno sex researcher. A limp penis is not a problem of mechanics. According to Alan Bell, head of what we used to call the Kinsey Institute, at Indiana University, it's a sign of trouble in the ways people are connecting-or not connecting--with those close to them.

The mechanics are secondary to the personal and interpersonal dramas that get played out in sexual exchanges. What matters more than the sex organ is the spin husbands and wives give to a sexual event, because every gesture is loaded with important issues about self, partner, and relationship. "It is how sexual experiences are construed rather than what literally happens that will determine the outcome of a particular experience for the relationship," Bell explained.

He gave 120 couples open-ended interviews and a 350item questionnaire that left no cognitive, emotional, or behavioral stone unturned. Respondents were asked about their perception of why their spouse engages in sex with them; what they attribute their sexual highs and lows to; how hopeful they were that their sexual difficulties would be remedied; the importance of sex in the relationship; and more. Much more. Among the results:

o Men and women both enjoy sex to enhance feelings of pleasure or to express and receive physical affection. But cultural admonishings about taking too much delight in their own bodies are borne more by women, who often have to be helped to overcome their inhibitions.

o Women more than men use sex to draw close to their spouses and express the love they feel.

o Gender inequality has "untoward effects" on sexual relations, more than men may realize. It makes the sex act a burden for women and deprives them of sensual pleasure.

o Men use sex to reduce physical tension more than women do, but less than women think they do, which often leads to the relationship tensions women feel.

Confidential to therapists: Ask not how to fix a limp penis, but ask a husband what he attributes it to. Bell says "it's time to move beyond Kinsey" in viewing sex in behavioral terms and to end the speculation about unconscious motives. It's time to get to hearts and minds.