#4: Viagra and Other Potions

Could the messaging in penis product marketing be an indicator for gender dynamic in different cultures?

I’ve been thinking a lot about phalluses lately – as in the physical penis, as well as the symbolic phallus because: 1) it’s a concept I’m exploring as part of my dissertation and 2) growing up, I’ve often felt my lack of a penis. 

We’ve come to see the phallus as a symbol of power because as Mari Ruti writes in Penis Envy and Other Bad Feelings, we live in “a society that rewards the possessor of the penis with obvious political, economic, and cultural benefits”. Although gender hierarchy may not be as pronounced in Southeast Asia, the communities I grew up in were Chinese (mostly patriarchal) and Western (Christian)-influenced (patriarchal). When I was younger, on days when I was especially angsty, my brother – who at the time was studying psychology and sociology – would say, “You have penis envy.” 

I did, and I probably still do. But Ruti argues that penis envy is not limited to women. “No one – not even the guy with the biggest dick – can fully live up to the ideals of phallic power,” she writes. So on top of penis envy, I suspect that most men also deal with “other bad feelings” that stem from this expectation that they are meant to be powerful or have some kind of authority. 

It’s not surprising then, that people turn to penis drugs ie. Viagra. I’ve been reading journal articles on Viagra and some of the interviews with men made me feel a mix of curiosity and melancholy. 

Sex with drugs and potions

Based on the medical definition, sex consists of four phases that William Masters and Victoria Johnson called “the human sexual response cycle” ie. excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. 

For some reason, we humans have decided that in order to have successful sex, an erect penis (or something phallic) needs to penetrate something else. (We’ll have to talk about orgasms and other gaps some other time as that’s probably a whole other article.) 

So men who are unable to do this suddenly feel like their masculinity and manhood are at stake. In one of the interviews in a research paper I read, one of these men, who had prostate cancer, refused a potentially life-saving surgery because he didn’t want to risk impotency. “I think sex is just keeping me alive,” he said. 

One woman, when expressing her thoughts on how men with erectile dysfunctions might feel said, “What worse thing could overcome you? I think that takes away their feeling of being completely male.” 

How saddening that something like that could result in some kind of identity loss, and how did it come to be this way?  

What I’ve noticed with Viagra is that the messaging is always male-focused. It’s a drug that’s meant to fix how men feel about themselves. It’s meant to help men improve their sex lives. It’s a way for them to attempt to command the phallus. But I’ve seen something different when it comes to folk remedies for penis enlargement and “performance”. I like to call them potions.

Hang Padu: A penis potion to satisfy your wife

Padu is a Malay word that could mean “solid” or “full”. (It’s used to describe both penises and breasts.) Hang was a name associated with a group of famous warriors in Malaysia, but it can also mean “you” in colloquial Malay. 

Hang Padu is one of the “penis health” product brands being sold in Malaysia. Most of these are marketed on Instagram and Whatsapp, and are also sold on popular marketplace platforms like Shopee and Lazada (these are more widely used in Malaysia, instead of Amazon). 

I first came across these products on a female Malay influencer’s Instagram profile. Her IGTV video started with her giving a bottle of penis oil to her male cousin and telling him that he needs it. Then she turns to her husband and in Malay, says that it will help him last longer, make his penis harder and longer, and also that it will make him ejaculate more. 

So right off the bat, I thought, “Wow, these men are okay with a woman telling them that they need to up their sex game.” It didn’t seem like something that hurt their “male ego”. 

I began to look for more of these products. I found a coffee that claims to help men last longer in bed. In the start of the short film promoting this coffee brand, a woman beats up her husband because he can only “last two seconds”. 

I found Instagram Story videos of men simulating oral sex – tongue out, pretending to lick deeply. It had nothing to do with penetrative sex but was somehow being used to market a penis health product. 

I wondered if many of these marketing messages were targeted at women, and not men. I also wondered if men were buying these products not to bolster their egos, but more to satisfy their partners. What does that say about the gender dynamic in Malaysia? 

PS. These penis oils are usually made from plant or animal products. Many of the penis oils (minyak) are called “minyak belacak” so I googled to find out what belacak is. It’s a mudskipper! My reaction: OMG WTF

References:

Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human sexual response. Boston: Little, Brown.

Potts, A., Grace, V., Gavey, N., & Vares, T. (2004). “Viagra stories”: challenging ‘erectile dysfunction.’ Social Science & Medicine, 59(3), 489–499. 

Ruti, M. (2018). Penis envy and other bad feelings: the emotional costs of everyday life. New York: Columbia University Press. 


Lulz-iness in Malaysian news:

122 officers to catch one transgender person. The Selangor Islamic Religious Department mobilised over 100 officers to “hunt down” Nur Sajat. Apparently they couldn’t even explain why they needed so many officers. 

Reading / Watching:

Empires of Dirt: How the British Empire Exported Homophobia. I’ve been reading a lot about postcolonialism (for a class I’m auditing) and this was a nice intersection.

Men (2014). Laura Kipnis’ writing is always fun to read, even more so when it’s on a subject that fascinates me. 

Musang Berjanggut (1959). I’m watching this on 2X today. It’s an old P. Ramlee movie which someone told me had “proto BDSM scenes”. Consent in the movie is iffy, but in spite of the lack of nudity, some of the scenes are basically BDSM porn. 

Penis Envy and Other Bad Feelings (2018). I read this a while ago, but I’ve been going through bits of it again.  


The Sex Beat was initially a podcast that I started in 2016 to experiment with the audio format. It’s what kick-started my fascination for this topic and inspired me to research it for my MRes.

This newsletter is an experiment, a way for me to document my study experience and share content that may not make it into my dissertation. I’m always open to suggestions on how I can make this newsletter better – just hit reply and let me know!

If someone forwarded this to you and you enjoyed reading, go ahead and subscribe.