When my husband and I went to Iceland, the first place we visited was a penis museum. I was okay with seeing preserved phalluses of whales, polar bears and reindeer, but it was hard to get past people shrieking in disgust or snapping selfies while pretending to lick the exhibits. Worse yet were the guys who boasted things like, “That moose has nothing on me.” I sighed, wondering if men would ever stop obsessing over the inches in our pants.
Unlike the other patrons, my husband quietly observed each display with his hands neatly folded behind his back. I moved past the animals in favor of photos of naked men on the wall. To my surprise, I recognized one of the models.
I was stunned. Who goes to a penis museum in Iceland with his husband and finds a picture of a man he’d slept with?
While it was his foot-long penis that many people desired, it was this guy’s face, handsomely round like a grown-up cherub, that drew me to him nearly 20 years ago.
We’d met in a gay chatroom. It was in the days before instant hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff, and looking for action with a dial-up modem was a much slower burn that could take all night. And nothing soured my libido like a spotty internet connection. After an hour, I received a private message. The conversation basically went like, “Hi, you’re cute. Let’s hook up. Oh, and I’m really well endowed.”
“Sounds nice,” I replied, wishing I could be more provocative. At 22, I was shy and not very experienced, so my flirty was far from sexy.
“I’d like to come over and show you in person,” he announced.
I wasn’t a size queen, but I was curious to see his record-breaking rod.
“How soon?” I asked, forgetting that my conservative Catholic parents were in the other room. Thankfully, he offered his place.
My 90-minute trek, via a bus and two trains, didn’t quash my nerves. I shook, but he was inviting, friendly and sweet. We talked for a bit before undressing. I rambled about my job writing marketing copy for an accounting firm and bored even myself. He enjoyed the notoriety that came with being so well hung, but really wanted to be an actor. Like a serious actor, not porn, to be clear. I made a bad joke about wanting him to be my first taste of celebrity. He took off his pants, and I stared. A lot. I couldn’t help myself. As I was just over 5 feet tall, his penis was like one-fifth the size of my entire body. I had no idea what to do with something so big.
“Don’t worry, we’ll just go slow,” he said, to my relief. Yet I remained nervous and felt like I wasn’t pleasing him. We mostly kissed and fondled — stuff I could handle. He remained a gentleman throughout. After we were done, I hurried to get dressed and leave.
“Let’s go to a movie sometime,” he suggested. I was surprised he wanted to see me again and excited because I’d never gone on a date with a guy. I imagined us holding hands while watching “Brokeback Mountain” and fantasized about all the other outings that would follow. I called and sent a few emails, but we never saw each other again.
I lingered by his photo, reminiscing on the joys and the mistakes of my younger days. I wouldn’t call it regrets, but I began the slippery slope of imagining my life with this man who was not my husband. I never wanted to cheat on him, but having these thoughts ― and feeling inexplicably giddy to see that cherub face again ― sure made me feel like I’d broken my word. I trembled with uncertainty. Was I carrying unresolved feelings? Was I unhappy in my marriage and didn’t realize it?
When I met my husband on OkCupid, I was 36 and still hadn’t found love.
“What was your longest relationship?” he asked on our first date.
“If I went to bed with a guy and he stayed for breakfast,” I responded. Sadly, that didn’t even occur very often.
I was grateful to now have a special someone. Yet we moved fast — living together in less than a year and getting married shortly after — that I often second-guessed my every move. Feeling stressed, I wondered if I should clue my husband into my thoughts. I didn’t like bringing up my past, but my sex life had never stared me in the face like this in all of its glory.
My attention turned back to the photo. I thought about what would happen if I contacted the guy again. But what would I even say? “Hey, it’s been 20 years, but I saw your photo in an Icelandic Phallic Museum. Want to get coffee?”
Then, I looked across the room at my husband smiling so inquisitively as he flipped through a book on the anatomy of trolls. It was the same look he had when I fell in love with him. We were on a roller coaster and I screamed my head off while he focused on figuring out the physics. Thinking of this memory, and many others, I snapped out of my paranoia. I loved him, our marriage was fine, everyone has a past, now let’s get out of this museum before I have a nervous breakdown.
As we toured the rest of Iceland, spotting rainbows and waterfalls and even those ever-elusive auroras, all felt right, dare I say perfect. Until I made the mistake of checking my email, only to find a LinkedIn request from ― who else ― the man with the hall-of-fame phallus. He still had the same cherub face. But what in the name of Bjork was the universe now trying to tell me?
I accepted his request but denied myself the opportunity to message him. I realized that being with my husband taught me that the human heart is the most important organ of all. And in terms of size, my love for him could house a museum all of its own.
Mark Jason Williams is an award-winning playwright who writes essays and travel stories for The Washington Post, Thrillist, and Out Magazine. He is currently working on an essay collection.