In praise of the badly-named ‘penile raphe’

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Language is important, and words matter. I’ll assume you’re with me this far, because you’re reading a sex blog rather than looking at naughty pictures on one of those other websites I’ve heard about. Words are fucking sexy. They can also be truly appallingly inadequate, and nowhere is this more clear than when trying to describe something hot only to find you have none of the right tools to do it properly. Today I would like your help in renaming one of the sexiest parts of human anatomy: the penile raphe. What exactly is the penile raphe? Allow me to explain.

On the underside of someone’s dick, there is a ridge. It runs from just under the head, down the shaft, and apparently it keeps going beyond the balls too, whereupon its name changes confusingly to become the ‘perineal raphe.’ We can ignore the perineal raphe for now, it’s the penile raphe I’m interested in. The thick line of flesh that runs down the shaft. The bit that rests neatly against the first knuckle of your fingers when you grip it while you’re having a wank.

And I am interested because it’s a phenomenally sexy thing, for which we don’t yet seem to have a suitably sexy word.

I have recently, for no reason I can explain other than ‘I am a pervert’, become obsessed with this particular bit of anatomy. When I watch my other half having a wank, one of the things that draws my eye is the prominence of this… dick ridge. I mentioned it in Wednesday’s blog about sucking him hard, and I notice the prominence of his penile raphe as a distinguishing factor in ‘bit of a hard-on’ and ‘erection so solid you could fuck through walls with it.’

And so it is sexy.

Penile raphe = dick ridge?

Yet it is called the ‘penile raphe’, and that is a rubbish, medical term. People who have had surgery on their genitals are likely to hear that phrase and shudder. People who haven’t had surgery, been to medical school, or spent an enthusiastic half-hour browsing Wikipedia pages on sexual anatomy are unlikely to recognise what it even is. Yet the obvious substitute ‘dick ridge’ has its own problems.

  1. ‘Dick ridge’ sounds like a London tube station: “This train is calling at all stations to Cockfosters via Dickridge.”
  2. There is another important ridge on the dick, which is equally sexy in its own way – the ridge that runs around the head of the cock. This does have a word – ‘coronal ridge’ – which is similarly unsexy, and with the added bonus that it is also confusing. When I asked Twitter for sexy words for the penile raphe earlier this week, many people heard ‘ridge’ and thought I meant this bit. It’s all far too confusing.

This is important to me. Not, like, ‘let’s put a stop to all erotic writing until we’ve come up with a good word’ important, but important nonetheless. It’s hard to talk about the sexiness of a thing if you have no decent slang with which to label it.

Bell ends, balls and banjo strings

My junk has fairly neat words that you can use to label it. Not just the medical (vulva, vagina, labia, clitoris), but simpler, sexier words that you can use when you’re not in the doctor’s office: cunt, pussy, lips, clit.

Compare that to his junk, where the medical jargon (penile raphe, coronal ridge, frenulum) has either no substitute or a semi-humorous label that’s straight out of the back of my year 9 biology class: banjo string, bell end, etcetera. Maybe this is why some people struggle to see that dicks can be sexy and not just funny.

At a push, words like ‘head’ work, but they need to be worked more carefully into a sentence. Compare and contrast this short paragraph from a Literotica story:

“She placed her hand on the shaft and started to stroke him slowly watching in amazement as his cock grew before her very eyes. She licked up and down the shaft, sucked on his big heavy balls and sucked on his bell end like she was sucking a lollipop.”

There are a couple of fairly obvious clangers in there. If you’re me you might have winced at the second ‘shaft’, and then swiftly forgiven the author because… well because really what better word is there for it than ‘shaft’? You may also have stumbled over ‘big heavy balls’ – though that might just be my own quirk: I’ve never found the weight of balls to be a particularly sexy thing, though I’d potentially highlight things like ‘taut’ or ‘tight’ or ‘aching’ if I wanted to emphasise just how powerfully this guy would jizz when the suck job ends.

But the greatest of all these clangers is, surely, ‘bell end.’ Bell end. It sits there in the middle of that sentence, just daring you to giggle like a fourteen-year-old at the back of a sex ed lesson. It would be like throwing the word ‘boobies’ into the middle of a section on foreplay. Or replacing the word ‘cunt’ with something less plosive and powerful.

Take this paragraph, slightly reworded from a dirty story I wrote a while ago:

“Again, the same sequence. Each detail pulses with raw, bright colour – to help her focus, perhaps. The sound of his moans in the back of his throat as she pulled her knickers to one side. The tremble of his hand as he reached out to squeeze her. He whispered reluctant words but his hands were eager – thrusting, squeezing, pushing deep into the folds of her hoo-ha as she dripped lust down the back of her thighs.”

Can you guess which word I changed there? Of course you can.

This isn’t about personal preference – I know some people would rather a ‘pussy’ than a ‘cunt’, and others regularly chastise me for writing ‘ass’ where they’d say ‘arse’ (I’m British, but I have my reasons for doing this, though I don’t always apply them consistently). That’s one of the joys and the perils of erotic writing – that you could construct the most beautiful scenario, describe it in the most cunt-moistening detail, then destroy someone’s arousal because you slipped in just the wrong word. Like ‘moistening’, for instance, which I know will have made many of you flinch.

But although we all have preferences when it comes to language, I’d hope most of us can agree that we need a better word for the penile raphe than ‘penile raphe.’ When I threw this to Twitter I got everything from ‘dick bevel’ (which I quite like) to ‘quill’ (literary!) and ‘sausage seam’ (begone, foul devil). Suggestions in the comments, if you have any.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the sexiness of a prominent/neatly-defined penile raphe, I’m going to have to continue doing what I was doing before: pointing at it, drooling, and saying ‘unnghhot.’


  • Kitty says:

    If we have the banjo string, maybe that’s the bass string?

  • Thanks for letting me know it has a name. I guess everything has, never thought about it.

  • The quiet one says:

    Shaft spine, penis pillar, fucker pucker.. Dick bevel wins I think..

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    How are you supposed to pronounce ‘raphe’, anyway?

    Since I discovered the word ‘frenulum’, I’ve always thought it would be a good name for a psychobilly/bluegrass-metal band. (Someone has almost certainly done this already.)

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    Also: there’s got to be a sexier name for pubic hair than ‘pubes’ or ‘minge’, both of which sound kind of gross. I guess it’s not something many people are turned on by…

    • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

      I know some people talk about their ‘lady garden’, but to me that sounds insufferably twee.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Yes, would LOVE a better word for this! Thatch? ‘Bush’ isn’t great. I guess I’d go with ‘hair’ instinctively, but then I am not squeamish about the idea of hair generally – I think pubic hair can be phenomenally sexy (especially if it’s that line of hair on someone’s stomach that points down into the top of the pants). Given today’s trends towards less and less pubic hair, maybe older erotica has some sexier words for it back when shaving everything wasn’t considered a sexy default.

  • MikeX says:

    It’s not easy to name a part of the body that has no name, like ‘the back of the knee’, what is that called? But a writer needs to both describe and name if that’s what is called for.
    How about ‘knob-ridge’? This might get confused with that little curl on the edge of the ‘bell end’, but if a bit o description goes with it, ie: my tongue followed his knob-ridge all the way down, from the tip to his balls’, it might work?

  • s says:

    You inspired me to go on a half-hour Wikipedia browsing. On the page for ‘Perineal raphe’ I found this interesting part: ‘It has been argued that the “rib” in the biblical story of Adam and Eve is actually a mistranslation of a Biblical Hebrew euphemism for baculum (penis bone), and that its removal from Adam in the Book of Genesis is a creation narrative to explain its absence in humans, as well as the presence of the raphe– as a resultant ‘scar’.’

    That makes the Penile raphe the ‘devine line’ (or the ‘godly ridge’). :)

  • Sweetgirl says:

    I loved this…. So many things have clinical descriptors which are massive passion killers… Cunnilingus is one that kills it for me; and yet I don’t mind fillatio… (Putting aside the actual acts for a moment which I love receiving and giving respectively)

    I’d probably describe this raphe as the “hard line” or “vertical ridge” in a sentence as “she followed the hard line on his cock with her tongue, from his balls til she reached the peak. She swirled the tip and felt him twitch as she applied pressure where the line and peak intersected. The funulum she thought much better than its real name … The frenulum… She licked again.. he twitched, definitely the funulum. Again she followed the vertical ridge this time from tip to base.”

  • River says:

    The raphe is literally the seam or line running along the bottom of the cock. The bulge is actually what lies underneath: the tube through which urine and semen are expelled, the urethra. How about this. “I knew he was close. I felt the tension in his body and his sac had pulled his balls up tight against the root of his cock. His cock grew harder and bigger in my mouth and hand as I continued to jack his shaft while sucking the head. I felt the muscle above his balls seize and quickly took my hand away so I could watch in the mirror on the wall to my side as I continued to tongue his cockhead. I watched in fascination as his cum canal bulged rhythmically, his strong ejaculation filling and refilling it as he quenched my thirst with a mouthful of his virile creamy nectar.”

    Too cute? Too flowery? Honestly, in erotica that I write I usually just call it the “cock tube”. Maybe I’ll convert to “cum canal” depending on the mood of the story. As for what to call the “raphe” where it runs behind his balls to his asshole(arsehole if you like), that’s easy. It’s his G spot. Rub it, tickle it, lick it, whatever. Most males will lose control and come/ejaculate quickly and urgently.

  • Hank says:

    I’m very late to this party, but I’ve always liked “cock keel”. Not particularly hot or sexy, but it seems to be a description people understand pretty easily.

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