From here to eternity, or even paternity.

From here to eternity, or even paternity.

The internet is exploding with discussions of the ‘Penis Dunking’ or ‘Penis Beaker’ post on parenting site Mumsnet. It began when Mumsnet user, Sara Crewe, posted this question: “We have a dedicated post-sex clean-up area on the bedside table. A box of tissues, a small bin, and a beaker of clean water for temporary cleaning/dunking while the bathroom is occupied by me.Apparently our penis beaker is strange and not the done thing. Does everyone else just lay there in a sticky post coital glow until morning? Really?”

A scan of the 41 pages of comments that follow (before the thread was locked) is an interesting insight into our reactions to sexual self-disclosure. There weren’t many that related to Crewe’s situation though some offered to meet her on the same level, “we just use tissues and go to the toilet.” The rest revealed (or concealed) various shades of both fascination and discomfort.

There were the “I don’t mean to be rude” (but I am going to judge you) comments: “EEEWW”, “strange”, “beyond disgusting” and “feeling squeamish now.” Then there were hinge-less criticisms that Crewe must hog the bathroom and much speculation on the fate of the ‘spunk water’ afterwards (including concern expressed if the couple own a cat).

Some took other’s comments personally if their partner didn’t wash after sex, others took it personally if they did: “it’s only a bit of fanny juice, it’s not battery acid”. There were also the competitive “my lover is more considerate than your lover” comments and those that cast aspersions on the couple’s relationship, to which Crewe felt the need to defend herself:

I don't think he wants to spring off the bed but doesn't want to sit there sticky, so I dash off to pee while he does his temporary clean. I am sure at least one other person will come along and say they do something like this, I am sure”, she says hopefully.

Nobody does. Crewe despairs: “I really thought if I was going to find anyone who agreed with me it would be on Mumsnet. Sigh.” But she doesn’t give up, “I refuse to believe not one other person cleans up while still in bed. Maybe not a beaker but a bowl? Baby wipes?” 

The story, and the media flurry that followed, is an interesting lesson in how taboo discussing sex and sharing experiences still is. One news outlet described it as a “bizarre post-sex cleaning ritual”, which makes me imagine grass skirts and painted faces.

Each of these responses reveal how comfortable we are with our own sexual habits and how comfortable we are hearing others’. We lack the opportunities to discuss or to read about our sex lives, and therefore the confidence to be candid about them so we still get quite shocked or titillated when we hear something novel. The post opened the floodgates up to a whole lot of other comparisons too: how often? How big? Which positions? Is popping candy good for oral?

Most of us desperately want to know if we’re normal and if what we do in the bedroom is normal and it’s rare that we get such an opportunity to compare notes. The spontaneous, anonymous nature of online sharing helps to side-step self-consciousness and make the desire for intimate sharing even more seductive.

For some it will mean a sense of security to discover that they’re more normal than they’d expected, some will prop up sexual self-esteem by putting others down. For many, sex comes with shame attached and shining a light on the subject teases it out of the shadows and brings some relief. Most expressed gratitude for the entertaining, open discussion which has crossed social media platforms and made it into the International media. It must have broken a record for quick merchandising turn-around: there’s a Penis Beaker Dunking and Clean Up Kit currently listed on ebay.

But there was little respite for Crewe, “this is the last time I use MN to validate myself. You're a bunch of dirty berties” she joked, until finally she got the one comment she hoped she would: “my partner uses a pint glass - with tepid water”.

We get hung up on normal as if we can equate normal with happy. But as long as we’re happy or content with our sex life, water temperature and all, we don't need to worry about what normal is.