The Sexist

What the Fuck is a Peter Meter?


How a Police Department sexual-harassment complaint measures up.

When Mary Gilkey filed her sexual harassment suit against D.C. Police Department photo lab head William “Bill” Gresham, the complaint included some common sexual harassment allegations—touchy-feeliness, money for sex, pornography in the office. It also contained some unexplained terms. Among the more provocative of the complaint’s claims was the following:

“Defendant Gresham introduced what he called a ‘peter meter’ to the office.”

No legal definition is provided for this so-called “peter meter”—the phrase is simply dropped in the complaint alongside clearer lawsuit jargon like “hostile work environment” and “physical and mental anguish.”

Surely, any good photography lab would have a densitometer to measure the reflective quality of a print or light meters to measure the proper exposure of photographs. But under what circumstances, exactly, would one introduce a “peter meter”? Gresham, who picked up the phone at the photo lab, referred the “peter meter” question to department spokesperson Traci Hughes; Hughes says she can’t comment on current cases.

The definition of “peter meter” lacks consensus: Sex shops, porn magnates, even Google all offer different definitions. Below, choose from The Sexist’s best guesses.

A) It’s a novelty item. A quick survey of online gag shops reveals one “Peter Meter” offering—a condom printed with a ruler that measures penis length. “How will you measure up with the rubber that’s a ruler?” asks the condom, which charts length from four inches (“teenie weenie”) to eight (“farm animal”). The condom is specified “for novelty use only.”

Still, it’s unlikely you’ll find any such Peter Meter in your local sex shop. “It’s not something that any of my customers has ever asked for,” says an employee at Dupont fetish outfitter the Leather Rack. Employees at both D.C. locations of sex shop the Pleasure Place also weren’t clued into the meter. “I would, taking a guess, say that it’s a ruler,” said an employee at the Dupont location, after noting she’d never before seen anything like it. “Google it,” advised a Georgetown rep.

B) It’s a person. Google it I did. Urban Dictionary defines a “peter meter” as “a woman who is very sexually promiscuous.” The Web site delves deeper into the etymology of the phrase, revealing that it “[o]riginates from the idea that said woman’s vagina is like a meter for ‘peters’ (penises).” The idea here is that a woman who had a lot of sex with men would be in the position to serve as a sort-of walking folk-measuring instrument.

C) It’s a machine that tests how aroused you are. According to pieces in L.A. Weekly and Denver Westword, “peter meter” is a not-uncommon nickname used for “phallometric assessment”—a controversial test used to determine what turns sex offenders on. In the technique, images connected with illegal sexual practices are displayed—coercive sex for rapists, for example, or child molestation—to determine whether the subject has a natural attraction to the acts. It’s unlikely a machine of this type would find its way into MPD headquarters, with or without images of female police department photogs.

D) It’s a personal rating system. When Google fell short, I “Boobled.” When I ran “Peter Meter” through the adult-specific search engine, I stumbled upon the name of porn enthusiast and former Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein. Now 72 years old, Goldstein has fallen from his high-rolling days. The mag went bankrupt in 2003; Goldstein now contributes to a sex blog and is currently running for president. Goldstein claims to have introduced his own Peter Meter to the world with the magazine’s debut in 1968. Goldstein describes his Peter Meter as a “measuring tool for evaluation of porn films,” a meter which was “based on how many hard-ons it produced.” In 1972, oral-sex porn showcase Deep Throat registered a 100 percent on Goldstein’s Peter Meter. It’s conceivable that the photo lab environment alleged in Gilkey’s complaint could accommodate such a porn rating system—Gilkey’s complaint alleges Gresham displayed “pictures of nude women on beaches” and pornography “where one man had his arm up the other man’s ass.”

What, really, is the alleged peter meter?
Find the answer after the jump.
Answer: “OK, a peter meter is some kind of a meter that measures the size of the penis,” explains Ted J. Williams, Gilkey’s attorney. “The allegation is that he bought it from a sex parlor in New York,” Williams adds. So did Gresham measure up? According to Williams, “He demonstrated the manner in which it would make the measurements, but he didn’t actually take his penis out and measure it up next to the ruler.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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