Ancient Ayurvedic Penis Advice
Normally this space is reserved for extremely important things, like the workings of yoga culture within late-stage capitalism, and how the holistic wisdom of Ayurveda can either conflict with or complement biomedicine. This post might seem to deviate, but don’t be fooled. It has a crucial message, especially for readers with penises:
Please stop scrubbing your genitals like you’re using steel wool to get burned kichari out of a cheap pot. The ancestors implore you. M’kay?
True story: I come out of the swimming pool today and head for the showers. There are four stalls. Three penis-bearers of different ages, builds, and ethnicities are all facing into their respective corners and going to town on their genitals with washcloths. I think one was using a loofa, for shit’s sake. Great gobs of soap were flying off everywhere.
Going to town, you say? Whatever can you mean?
I mean: legs apart, semi-squatting, teeth grit, and both hands gripping. Seeing three at the same time was felicitous: my brain turned them into curlers with their brooms. This is a Canadian reference, in honour of Briar season, which is another Canadian reference. For the uninitiated, please view at least the first few seconds of the following clip.
The sweeping is thought to melt the ice directly beneath the stone, to straighten its path in a flourish of strategic rectitude.
It’s like the three shower-guys weren’t scrubbing at three dangling penises, but at the space around an ungraspable spinning jewel of idealized manhood sliding toward the horizon of death. But I digress.
I rinse off in the available stall, pat down, and head to my locker to rub down with a little oil like a good Ayur-boy. It takes me about five minutes to finish up and dress, and when I pop out of the locker row, I kid you not, they are All. Still. Scrubbing.
I thought about grabbing some popcorn and seeing how long they’d last. But I didn’t because homophobia.
I have to say that this is not an uncommon sight. For years, I taught yoga at a number of fancy clubs attended by executive-types. I remember walking into large shower rooms during the lunchtime rush and seeing several gents of means and distinction facing the tiled wall in an anti-social pro-hygienic circle jerk of soapy shame.
I wondered if they sat through their afternoon board meetings burning and itching with dryness. Maybe there’s some kind of strange pleasure-pain in it. Maybe the corporate narcissism that’s ripping up the planet is aggravated by pricklies in the tighties.
I get it. Some people with penises can be ashamed of them. They can be objects of inadequacy and failure, unacknowledged homoeroticism, memories of abuse, or the disgusting appendages of those who may later consider transitioning. We stand beside each other at urinals and freeze up for a thousand reasons. There can be major feelings to scrub away down there.
Or it could be as simple as little boys getting really excited about making more bubbles.
There also might be a lot of boomers with penises who grew up under the git-r-done manners of ex-military fathers for whom scrubbing may have been hypervigilance against crotch rot or jungle funk or just maybe the unbearable guilt of killing people. My own dad was shown a horror film about toe fungus in his basic training for Viet Nam, and he never forgot it. He passed it down to me in a weird form of intergenerational cleanliness trauma. I had to do a lot of therapeutic work on myself to not freak out if I forgot my flipflops in the public shower.
Let us be clear. The penis and scrotum are no dirtier than any other part of a body. They host a rich microbiome of benign skin flora, fed by the sebum produced and retained in puckery folds. The glans is actually semi-mucosal, which means it should be treated as tenderly as your tongue or lips or anus. If anything, the whole penis wants more oil, and no surfactants at all. And certainly no ethyl alcohol or polyethylene microbeads, as bracing as they might feel. There is no need to exfoliate the lingam, and give fish cancer at the same time.
Being circumcised — i.e., carrying the sacralized scar of bodily shame and patriarchal subjugation — might be all the more reason to go easy on the soap. The exposed glans of the circumcised is more keratinized — i.e., dead — than the glans protected by foreskin. It needs all the natural lube it can get to maintain resilience and sensitivity. And if you have scar tissue from anything else, it’s probably best to double down on gentleness. I don’t have any data on this, but I’m willing to bet that there’s strong correlation between heavy scrubbing and sexual desensitization. Throw porn into the mix, and feeling can evaporate altogether.
Speaking of which: going a little overboard with the sudsy penile enthusiasm doesn’t scale at all against the pervasive battery of genital mods pushed on people with vaginas. If full waxing isn’t enough, you can also chemically deodorize, and maybe shell out 7K for labiaplasty: all partly if not mostly porn-driven assaults on the genital integrity, adulthood, and sexual agency of people with vaginas.
If people with penises were as visually objectified as people with vaginas, would they be going farther than mere vigourous scrubbing? Is the difference between penile scrubbing and vaginal erasure the difference between shame that enjoys the privilege of remaining private, and a commodified aesthetics of shame to be performed for others?
That pesky body politic always kills the yuks, doesn’t it?
Let’s just Ayur-say this:
Splash with warm water. Take it easy. Occasionally use a mild soap if you really think you need it. Save the loofa for your back if it gets a little zitty. Follow up with coconut oil. See in the musky tangle of pubes the happy mess of a desire that needs no purification. Rinse, but do not repeat.
oh I do love your writing and refection Matthew.
Can I just say that I noticed that you said “people with penises” and “people with vaginas” and not “men” and “women”? Thank you.