6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work

We talked to two people -- Chloe and Carl -- who suffered from rare genital disorders. Each had a ridiculous and frightening tale of trying to get help in a society that would really have preferred they change the subject.
6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work

It seems ridiculous to say any sexual topic is one that "nobody likes to talk about" when our society seems to talk about nothing but sex. We created an entire Internet solely for doing that (well, not so much talking about it as for watching it). But the truth is that we love talking about the fun parts of sex. When it comes to any kind of disease or dysfunction, bringing it up in casual conversation is like uttering Voldemort's name. Nobody wants to admit they're at anything less than their sexual peak, even when the conversation is with a freaking medical professional.

We talked to two people -- Chloe and Carl -- who suffered from rare genital disorders. Each had a ridiculous and frightening tale of trying to get help in a society that would really have preferred they change the subject.

Sexual Disorders Might Be All In Your Head

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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"Vaginismus" isn't a bacterial infection of the vagina or a vulva-themed supervillain -- it's a mysterious condition that causes a woman's vagina to involuntarily slam shut for seemingly no reason. She commands VAJ 9000 to open the pod bay doors, it responds that it's afraid it can't do that, and if she tries it anyway, it goes about as well as it did for Dave. It's the sort of thing that can severely mess up a woman's life, and we'll bet you've never heard of it before now.

Chloe certainly hadn't. Because countless young adult novels and impatient dudes have told them so, many women think sex is supposed to hurt at first. Chloe was no different -- or so she thought. Even after multiple experiences were thoroughly un-awesome, she chalked it up to her sexual inexperience. Maybe this was simply what sex was like for women -- could 40,000 hack standup comedians be wrong? "It wasn't until after a couple of partners that I realized it was a problem," Chloe says. "So I did the thing you're not supposed to do and I went on WebMD, and all the symptoms matched up."

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Of course, it being WebMD, she also self-diagnosed malaria, mad cow disease, and feline leukemia.

Then she did the thing you are supposed to do and went to her local sexual health clinic, where she was properly diagnosed. Don't mess with your babymakers on the advice of WebMD, kids. He's probably not even a real doctor.

The weird thing about vaginismus is that it's often entirely psychological. It's basically a reflex, like what happens when you poke yourself in the eye. "It's disappointing because I really do like sex!" Chloe says. It's like your mind is at war with your body, but more accurately and more confusingly, like your mind is at war with your mind. "Even masturbating is difficult because that's still a form of penetration," she says, "So my shower head gets a lot of use."

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

"Do you have those pulsing shower heads? I need it for ..."
"I've owned a hardware store for 30 years. I know damn well what it's for."

For many people, the cause is a physical trauma like childbirth or a traumatic sexual experience, but for others, there's no discernible cause at all. You just wake up one day and find your fun zone out of business. The tragedy doesn't end there, because ironically, "worrying that nothing's going to go in makes it worse," Chloe says. Trying to power through also makes it worse, because the pain reinforces your anxiety, which reinforces the pain. God, what about doing nothing? Yep, that also makes it worse.

And, like many junk-related disorders ...

Nobody Talks About Female Sexual Dysfunction

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Chloe is quick to note that in our culture, "erectile dysfunction is a bit of a joke." Everyone knows what Viagra is and we have entire Urban Dictionaries full of slang terms for boner malfunctions -- we're all very concerned about dicks working properly. But people don't even think about female sexual dysfunction. "I told my mom the night before I started treatment, and she didn't really understand," she says. "I can talk to her about anything, but she couldn't wrap her head around it." Even when it came to finding a doctor, she says, "It was very hard to find a good one, because even many gynecologists don't know very much about this." Cracked.com readers: Now more vagiknowledgable than most vaginologists.

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Feel free to update your resume accordingly.

And then there's the obvious impact it had on her relationships -- specifically, a long life spent getting to know that shower head. "I've had partners, but I've never had a relationship," she says. "I'm a solitary person anyway, but this has stunted my relationship growth." For one thing, it's an awkward subject to broach with a potential partner. "When do you bring it up?" she wonders. "Never, except when you're about to get physical ... The first question is always, 'Can we try it from a different position?' Second question: 'Can we try it, you know ... the other way?'"

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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In case any potential suitors were wondering, the answer is no, but some enthusiastic under-the-desk time is still on the table. Wait, we just confused ourselves.

Still, we live in a heteronormative society, bless us and keep us. Penis-in-vagina is the apex of straight sex for many people, and sometimes you really want a good porking the way the Lord intended. Fortunately, there is treatment. Unfortunately ...

Treatment Can Sound Like a Weird Fetish

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Because the condition is often psychological in nature, treatment will usually involve some lengthy sessions on the couch. "It's a lot of talking and resolving conflict with yourself," Chloe says. Where it gets a little weird is where you find out that the couch isn't the only thing you're going to be sitting on.

If you've ever worn contact lenses, you probably failed miserably at first, but over time, you trained your reflexes to accept having shit shoved in your eye. It's the same principle, but instead of using your finger, which clearly hasn't been working so far, you're using a series of "smooth, penis-shaped cones of different sizes" to slowly talk your vagina into receiving larger and larger objects.

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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At least someone finally found a use for nesting dolls.

"Dilation therapy," as it's coyly called, is somewhat controversial. Some experts believe that it's useless for solving a psychological problem, and honestly, it sounds like it could introduce some new ones. For something that sounds like a prank, though, it has a remarkably high success rate. When combined with other therapies, it completely solves the problem 93 percent of the time. Not bad for sitting around on the world's most pathetic set of dildos.

A foray into the micropenis fetish scene might be uncomfortable on a number of levels, but at least it's not likely to scar you in an actual blood-spattering sense, rather than a mental one.

The same can't be said for the man that we spoke to ...


Treacherous Penises Can Stick Shut

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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First, a little anatomy for those with not quite as much experience with dicks as you'd like. The big bulbous head at the end of the penis is the "glans." When boys are born, they all have a foreskin wrapped around the head like a turtleneck, connected to the shaft by a band called the frenulum. Some parents chop the foreskin off, but if they don't, the boy grows up able to happily slide the foreskin and expose the glans to the world -- unless, like Carl, they're one of the one percent or so with phimosis, which means the foreskin's too tight to glide back.

Sounds like no big deal, right?

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Rhetorical medical questions are never a good sign.

WARNING: This is about to get gross and terrifying.

Doctors saw something up when he was a kid, but his Dad merely asked him once, "Is everything okay down there?" Carl said yes, and that was it. Like Chloe, he had to figure everything else out on his own. For instance, he picked up that boys are supposed to pull the foreskin back to clean the glans, but he couldn't, so he improvised. In unknowing solidarity with frustrated sisters in spirit, he'd grab a removable shower head. "I would place a water jet into the hole and fill it up like a balloon," he says. During the day, the foreskin would also sometimes bundle up and stick shut, and when he yanked it out to pee, it would then swell up with urine like a balloon and then pop open, spraying piss everywhere.

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Wearing galoshes to pee should never be a necessary lifehack.

So Carl grew up with uncomfortable hygiene issues and a dong that always smelled like car park hobo pee. But then he turned to the penis's other famous function, and things got worse. When an uncut penis slips into the nearest vagina, the foreskin's supposed to slide back. Carl's couldn't. But it yanked as far back as it could go, stretching to the point of severe pain. This gave him the unique agony of feeling his too-small orifice forcibly penetrated by his own penis. Condoms didn't help or hold the skin in place. In fact, somehow due to his bunched-up skin, condoms kept breaking. So yeah, sex was bad. And while it's possible to get by without sex, Carl's own relationship suffered hard.

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Sadly, it wasn't the only thing for Carl that did either.

Doctors he consulted proved useless, preoccupied once again with our old friend erectile dysfunction. "The doctors assumed I was young male saying I couldn't get an erection," says Carl. By now, he was able to retract his foreskin while flaccid but not while hard, so the doctors saw the skin slide back and concluded he couldn't possibly have phimosis. "At the time," he says, "I remember thinking, 'Please don't make me get an erection.'" They didn't, but he now wishes they had. Then they'd have diagnosed him right off, instead of making him tear himself up with his own experiments.

The Horror Starts When You Try to Fix It Yourself

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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To tame his stubborn foreskin, Carl turned to stretching, a practice that the Internet swears is legit. He got hard, and then kept pulling the foreskin as far as it could go, gradually loosening it.

Do not do this.

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
Jeremy Woodhouse./Blend Images/Getty Images

Also don't Google Image search it.

Microscopic tears ripped Carl's foreskin, which made sex more painful than ever (and pushed that relationship even further onto the rocks). Later, however, he found a real doctor who prescribed him an effective steroid cream. Over the course of two years, the foreskin's opening grew from the size of a fingernail till it could go halfway down the head. But this was too gradual for his girlfriend, who dumped him. That was it. Within a week, Carl got himself snipped.

Yup, circumcision is the ultimate phimosis cure. Your foreskin can't be too tight when you have no foreskin. Adult circumcision is reasonably common in Carl's home of Australia, where 3.8 percent of males uncircumcised at 15 voluntary get cut by the time they're 65. Some doctors in the US similarly report doing thousands of the procedures. After a little poking, Carl even found a place willing handle the whole thing in one hour -- no "prior consultation" or any of that bullshit.

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Other than sliced salami, deli service and penis surgery should be a lot less similar.

"At some times, I was worried I'd succumbed to a good sales pitch," he says. The place was a tiny clinic that also did hair plugs. Joints like that are as much about the cosmetics of a sculpted member as they are about medicine (this one, for example, buries "medical reasons for circumcision" as one item on a longer FAQ list).

There was none of the usual surgical drama. No hospital gown, no shaving. Carl just dropped his pants and hopped on the counter, like he was jonesing for an intimate tattoo. He stayed awake during the whole thing and could have even watched if he'd wanted, but he let the doctor block his view with a visor. The only pain came when the needle injected local anesthetic into the base of his penis -- after that, he felt tugs on the base without feeling anything in the penis itself. He spent the hour on his phone, playing Puzzle Bobble and texting friends who had no idea where he was. He ended up snapping a photo of his bloody penis; in hindsight, he wishes he'd taken a smiling selfie.

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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"Do I want this as my cover image, or profile pic?"

And then it was done. You can go browse other people's pics of freshly cut and stitched cocks if you like, as well as photos of detached foreskins. Carl's liberated prepuce was enormous and looked like a lobster. "I thought (this was an ego trip), 'all of that was far too tight for my penis, my penis must be huge!'" He should have taken it with him. "It would've easily made a romantic necklace or something."

He was sent home with a grim parody of the famous Viagra warning: He had to call his doctor if the penile bleeding persisted for four hours or more. And sure enough, after four hours, he was still bleeding -- a blood vessel was blocked, and the area around the frenulum had swelled up even bigger than the glans. So he rushed back to Dr. Hair Plugs for another few snips before getting ready to recover for real.

Next Comes Blood and Pain

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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A bandage covered Carl's entire penis, with a skewed opening for urine, so he had to pee through the bandage. His penis festered in a bloody, pus-covered, piss-soaked rag for the first days, during which he couldn't shower. Each step hit his dick head like a finger-snap to the balls. He tried different types of underwear. All hurt, though boxers were better. He could shower after those first days, but he had to keep the water from striking the penis directly. Occasionally, he'd lose concentration, turn to his armpits or something, and steam would hit the shrieking glans with a force like a thousand suns.

After some healing, the circumcised penis felt fine, so long as it hit nothing -- unless it went erect. Then it was abject torture. Nighttime boners are totally involuntary, so three times a night, Carl would awaken in agony and gaze in despair at his throbbing member. Waking erections are easier to battle, but still an obstacle. "It makes you realize that you can't avoid sex on media," he says. "TMZ Live might as well have been porn."

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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Like being in seventh grade all over again, but with the giggling girls replaced with searing, dick-melting agony.

The doctor's orders were to abstain from masturbation for four weeks and from sex for six. Carl heard of one man who tried masturbating after ten days; the results apparently put Carl's own agony to shame. By the end of the period, Carl did indeed masturbate as scheduled. He got some lube (a new experience -- he hadn't needed that for jacking off pre-circumcision; now "If I'm going to do it, I have to commit"). And he let loose, scoring the greatest orgasm of his life. "I feel confident I could meet another adult circumcision survivor," he says "and have the following conversation: 'That first time, ey?' *raised eyebrow, sly smile, slight head nod*."

6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work
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*Discreetly choke a rubber chicken*

Carl has a visible scar line. His frenulum area is oddly shaped, and there's a "weird lump on it that looks bad (STD bad)," a result of the initial complication. But he's all right now. He can have sex normally. He uses condoms just fine. There is no pain.

So if you or someone you love is suffering from a junk-related disorder, for the love of god, don't let the awkwardness of the subject deter you from getting help. Society's prudishness about genitals is a horrible reason to have to endure physical torture every time the lights go out. Flop out your junk and start that conversation today.

Manna discusses genitals in every imaginable condition on Twitter. Menezes tweets about genitals as well but usually in code.

For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Awful Realities of Having Size JJ Boobs in Sixth Grade and 6 Awful Lessons I Learned Transitioning from Female to Male.

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