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Everything You Ever Needed to Know About ‘The Chub’

There’s a surprising amount going on with that weird half-boner

The Chub: It’s hard and soft at the same time. It’s mostly useless, unless you’re an underwear model. And chances are, it was the bane of your middle school existence. That said, we’re still fascinated by the semi-on — that weird, plump, halfway state between “ready to fuck” and “ready to take a somewhat painful piss.” Here’s what we’ve uncovered about the half-awake thing under your covers.

1) It’s not really called a chub. When a man becomes sexually aroused, blood rushes to the penis and an erection occurs. But not all erections are created equal: A penis which is partly, but not fully, erect is sometimes known by its more scientific term, “partial tumescence,” which basically means “partially swollen.” The average penis needs about 130 milliliters of blood to become fully swollen, which means partial swelling only requires roughly half this amount of blood.

2) It’s something you might get hung up on. The semi-erection is also known as a “death erection.” Not because it gets you laughed at in swim class, though. No, the reason is far more sinister: It’s because it’s been observed in the corpses of men who have been executed, particularly by hanging. Disappointingly, this has less to do with victims excitedly embracing some sexy avatar of death and more to do with plain old gravity. As per this article on the subject, “When a person is hanged, the blood will accumulate in its lower part: legs and feet. If the legs are filled with blood, the blood in the waist can cause an erection; entering the penis’s erectile tissue.” The death erection also has been witnessed in other cases of traumatic death, caused not by pooling blood but by the final spasms of the nervous system — spasms that can even trigger one final, terrifying ejaculation.

3) You have little say in when you’ll get one. Because men only have limited control over their erections, successfully maintaining partial tumescence — aka a strong soft — isn’t really up to you. In most cases, at least. According to a study from the University of British Columbia, some men are able to regulate their arousal to some degree, although the study itself struggled to stop accidentally turning its subjects on: “The finding that was most surprising was that some men became more sexually aroused when they tried to regulate their sexual arousal,” Jason Winters, the study’s research head, told NBC News in 2009. “In other words, they responded more strongly (both physiologically and self-reported) during trials in which they attempted to regulate their arousal than trials during which they merely watched the stimuli.”

4) For some, a chub is as good as it gets. The most upsetting form of semi-erection is the one caused by erectile dysfunction. Because male sexual arousal is a complex process that involves myriad psychological and physiological processes (the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles and blood vessels), it’s not easy to tell which one of these problems is causing your dick to only get as far as semi-firm.

5) But hey, they can get the job done. According to UCLA Health, it’s very possible to have an orgasm with a partial erection. “Even if a man cannot have an erection or can only get or keep a partial erection, with the right sexual stimulation you can experience an orgasm. Your orgasm has little to do with your prostate gland.” And even though you can’t achieve that orgasm through intercourse (no amount of pushing will get a chub in there), here’s one alternative brought to you by AARP: “Hand massage of the penis is key to sex without intercourse. Many men over 50 often get a firm erection during solo sex but find that a partner’s strokes do not achieve the same effect. Why? Because women may not appreciate exactly how men like to be fondled. The solution? Men can show women what they want. This may feel awkward for both partners at first, but it helps the woman provide precisely what the man desires.”

6) They can be pretty imposing. If you’re a male stripper, chances are you’re more familiar with the majesty of a chub than the rest of us. Why? Because of something known as “tying off,” a ritual performed by male strippers shortly before strutting onstage. As per the Urban Dictionary definition (typos theirs): “The stripper uses a visual aid (usually a skin magazine) and his hand in order to gain an errection. When the errection is acquired and is at its fullest, he traps the blood inside it (or ‘ties off’), by placing the rubber band or cock ring, at the base of his penis. This keeps his errection full while on stage. Especially if he is prone to ‘stage fright.’” As MEL Senior Editor Nick Leftley — who has stripped on two occasions for magazine stories — can confirm, this is a real thing that was taught to him by male strippers. He claims you have to tie it so tight that it looks like it’s going to fall off, but if you do it right, you get, “an impressive-looking floppy horse cock that would do you proud in any locker room.” Good to know!