Why are we so upset when we see the penis or the testicles of a human male, even though the reproductive members in question might be in a piece of artwork? Author and illustrator questions the western culture's prudery regarding the sight of the male genitalia.
By Michael A. McGrath
In every language around the world, there is a word for the male reproductive organ, which we call the penis. ?????. Tembo. Ki?i cinsiyy?t orqan?. Im-keng. Kalc'h. Utin. Pidyn. Π?ος. Bod. ?????. ??. Peniso. Pene. Suguti. Zakil. Siitin. Zipfa. Allu. Peni. Zipfe. Schwanz, etc., etc., etc. The British sometimes call them “dangly bits,” an obvious throwback to the Victorian era.
On the male body, the penis is about one head lower than the navel. Underneath the penis is a sac, called the scrotum, and inside the scrotum are two ovular organs called the testes or testicles. These small oval-shaped organs produce the sperm necessary for human reproduction. Most of us would admit that the function of said organs, including the penis, is quite a marvelous thing. However, the process of reproduction isn’t the subject of this article. I want to focus on the simple fact that we, as a purportedly “civilized” society, are scared to death of the male genitals! We are phallophobic in nature.
To us Westerners (Americans in particular), the male genitalia are the representation of a bloodletting sword or knife or a reprehensible act of violence perpetrated on women. To us, they symbolize everything perverse and disgusting about the male gender. Through our misdirected symbology and misrepresentation, we have grown to fear the male reproductive organs.
When we study history and various cultures down through the pages of time, however, we see quite the opposite: our ancient ancestors celebrated human sexuality, both the male and the female, as something wonderful, beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of.
One of the earliest known sculptural representation of the female form, known as the Venus of Willendorf, clearly depicts a robust female likeness, carved out of stone and small enough to fit into a man’s pocket. The earliest known representations of a masculine nature include the phallic pillars of Ireland and Great Britain, many of which leave little to the imagination as to what their makers were thinking at the time of their inception.
This isn’t the case, as far as we are concerned. In American culture, the nude female form is much more likely to be classified as a “piece of art” than the nude male. It’s perfectly acceptable to see the breasts and vaginal cleft of a woman as the subject of a piece of artwork, but when the penis and testicles of a man are revealed or exposed, in art, this (strangely enough) somehow transforms the artwork in question into something we deem pornographic.
Exposure to the male genitals is said (by some) to cause permanent psychological damage in adults and children.
Today, I saw the film, “Watchmen,” a movie that was released in 2009, based on the graphic novel series by the same name. In this film, one of the characters (called Dr. Manhattan) is completely naked in more than one scene. And, yes, folks, everyone can see his modest penis and testicles. They aren’t anything scary or perverse in the least. Dr. Manhattan’s character, in the film, was (at the beginning of the movie) a flesh and blood human male who was transformed into a being of brilliant blue energy through a fluke research accident. In the transformative process, though, he didn’t lose his gender identity, including his penis or testicles. In spite of the non-spectacular nature of Dr. Manhattan’s modest genitalia, people everywhere have been complaining about it. Some even said that the filmmakers did a “disservice” to the original character in the graphic novel by making Dr. Manhattan’s penis “too large.”
As a professional illustrator and fine artist, I have to say that I thought the artists who created the film version of Dr. Manhattan did a remarkably tasteful job of making this character’s gender members so non-threatening. It seems strange that no one of note complained about Malin Akerman (who plays Laurie Juspeczyk and the Silk Spectre II) showing her nipples and breasts in a graphic sex scene in the film.
So, what is my point? My point is that, as of 2008, there were 102 males for every 100 females worldwide. That means there were approximately 3,442,850,573 men to the approximately 3,386,509,865 females recorded in the census figures.1 We don’t freak out when it comes to breasts and nipples of these more than 3 billion women, but we come completely unglued when it comes to the genitals of over 3 billion men! This is simply reverse sexism at its worst!
Let’s have a short biology and history lesson, my friends. Some of these facts might shock and surprise you.
Fact: Without the penises and testicles of the masculine gender, the human race would simply cease to exist. This wonderfully creative gift that we possess, as men, is half of the procreative picture in human reproduction.
Fact: Some people think the penis and scrotum are ugly and that they are some kind of “left over skin” that God slapped between the legs of the human male. On the contrary, the penis and scrotum of the male gender are jointly an amazingly wonderful marvel of creative engineering. The scrotum contains a unique muscle called the dartos tunic (or fascia). It is the only muscle of its kind within the physiology of the human species. This muscle resides under the skin of the scrotum, and isn’t attached to the testicles in any way. The dartos tunic muscle involuntarily lifts and lowers the male testes to regulate temperature of said organs, thus helping to maintain a safe environment for the production of male sperm. When the dartos contractions occur, the scrotum sort of scrunches up, thus allowing the testes to slide closer to the abdominal cavity, to maintain a warmer temperature, and obversely, when the dartos relaxes, the testes are given the opportunity to slide away from the abdominal cavity, thus lowering the temperature of the testicular environment. The tightening or the anal or pelvic muscles, such as with Kegel exercises, causes the dartos to react in the same way.
Fact: The mean (or average) male penis, when flaccid is 3.5 inches (or 8.9 centimeters). The mean (or average) male penis, when erect, is 5.1 – 5.9 inches (or 12.9 – 15 centimeters). How large a man’s penis is, when flaccid (scientifically speaking), is no indicator of the size of his penis when it is erect, and there are no links between penis size, race or between the size of a man’s foot, big toe or thumb.
Fact: Our fear of seeing the male genitals is a modern phenomenon, which has taken affect within the past 200 – 300 years. Over 99 percent of our known human existence has been lived in the nude, with all our “dangly bits” hanging out for everyone else to see! Animal skins may have come into use as garments approximately 72,000 years ago. It was normative for the common man (and woman) to work, play and live in some state of nudity or partial nudity.2 The earliest known fragments of man-made textiles, dated to around 6,000 B.C.E., were found at Çatalhöyük, in modern-day Ankara, Turkey. This is relatively recent, as compared to the length of our history.
Fact: Until the 8th Century C.E., Christians were baptized in the nude, the doctrinal reasoning being that the pre-fallen state of Adam and Ever was how the converts came out of the waters of baptism, made new in Christ, the Last Adam.3 Michel Rouche states, “The disappearance of baptism by immersion in the Carolingian era gave nudity a sexual connotation that it has previously lacked for Christians.”4
In American history, it is well-documented that John Quincy Adams, the 6th president of the United States, swam nude in the Potomac River at 5 a.m. every morning. Benjamin Franklin, a statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, used to take what he called an “air bath,” where he would “rise early almost every morning and sit in my chamber, without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing.”5
Fact: Prior the 19th Century, swimming nude was the only way to swim.
Fact: Prior to the 1960s, when the YMCA began to admit women into their organization, under the title of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), swimwear wasn’t allowed in their facility pools, for several reasons, including impracticality and the lint from swimwear clogging the pools’ filtration systems. In their opinion, there was nothing wrong or shameful about seeing other members of your gender naked.6
Fact: There are no federal laws in the United States against anyone, including men, being nude.
Fact: When Jesus Christ was crucified, he was naked and his “dangly bits” were hanging, uncovered, for every one around to see.7 8 9
Fact: Sperm travels at the rate of 200 inches per second, arriving at its intended destination (the female ovum) in about .015 seconds!
Fact: Semen is made up of fatty acids, prostaglandin and fructose, one teaspoon of which contains only 7 calories and only 2-5% sperm in the average ejaculation. This comes to a whopping 200-500 million sperm cells per ejaculate.
Fact: Smoking can reduce the size of your penis by 4/10 of an inch.
Fact: The average male orgasm lasts 6 seconds.
Fact: Circumcised foreskin can be “regrown” by pulling the penis’ shaft skin over the glans of the penis and securing it in place with surgical tape or plastic ring.
Fact: There are two “species” of human penises. One is called a “grower,” meaning that it expands and lengthens as it becomes erect. The second type of penis is called a “shower.” This is the type of penis that looks big most of the time, but when it becomes erect doesn’t increase much in size. According to Alfred Kinsey’s research, his research subjects who had shorter flaccid penises more than doubled in size when they became erect.
Fact: The average male orgasm lasts 6 seconds.
Fact: Much of male sexual arousal occurs in the sympathetic nervous system. This is where the penis grows and shrinks of its own accord, and usually without your permission. As my father-in-law says, “In cold weather or cold water, ALL men are created equal!” This means that the penis is a barometer for the sympathetic nervous system. Stress can deflate an erection as quickly as a cold shower.
Fact: Because the penis is attached to the pubic bone, it is basically shaped like a boomerang.
Fact: Men can suffer a thing called a “penile fracture,” where, for one reason or another (which can include over-thrusting during intercourse), the penis breaks. This break is accompanied by an audible “pop,” excruciating pain and the penis turns black and blue. What should you do, if this happens? Have someone take you to the emergency room immediately!
Fact: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 15% of all males over the age of 15 are circumcised, with the United States having the highest number of males circumcised for non-religious reasons.
Fact: The longest human penis on record is 13 inches in length. The smallest penis on record is 5/8 of an inch.
Fact: The ejaculate of man equates to between 1-2 teaspoons, and will expend 14 gallons during the course of his life.
Fact: A man will ejaculate approximately 7,200 times in his life, 2,000 of which will be through masturbation. After ejaculation, it can take between 2 minutes and 2 weeks for him to be able to perform in like manner.
Fact: Men are more easily aroused first thing in the morning and during the autumn/fall months.
Fact: While asleep, we men have approximately 9 erections. While awake, we average around 11 erections per day.
Fact: The scents from pumpkin pie, chocolate, licorice, lavender and doughnuts increase blood flow to the penis.
Fact: Erotic messages from the skin to the brain travel at 156 miles per hour.
Fact: It takes 2.5 months for sperm to develop to maturity in the testes.
So, with all of this incredible information about the male genitalia, why are we afraid of seeing see them? What is so God-awful about them? Seriously, folks, what is the problem?
For what it’s worth, the genitals of both men and woman are equally pulchritudinous. And they ought to be thought of and treated as such. It has never been proven that anyone has gone blind upon seeing the genitals of the human male. Nor has it been proven that anyone has been “psychologically damaged” by the sight of the male reproductive organs. If anything, persons who haven’t ever seen them before might be adversely affected in some manner (more shocked than damaged), but the sight of said organs has never destroyed a person’s life, in any way.
I believe that we, as purportedly “civilized” human beings, should rethink our opinion of the male reproductive organs. Even from a scientific standpoint, if need be. Let’s face it. Most males have them. A vast majority of them function properly. They can’t be all bad, if the first thing parents look for when they see the photos of pregnant woman’s ultrasound is whether the baby has a penis or not. If we aren’t damaged in the viewing of the photo of the penis of a prenatal infant, how would we be damaged by the sight of an adult male’s genitals?
These organs are crucial to our survival as a species, function in a manner that sometimes takes your breath away, and are members of the male body that would fascinate those who would stop for one minute and think about what a wonderful gift we have been given. They really aren’t just “dangly bits.” They are works of art that ought to be seen and celebrated in an honorable fashion. We might actually be the better for it, don’t you think?
1 World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, UN Statistics Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
2 Arney, Kat, "Head Lice Key to Clothing History", BBC News, 29 September 2003.
3 St. Paul, Holy Bible, New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15:45.
4Rouche, Michel, "Private Life Conquers State and Society," in A History of Private Life, Volume 1, Paul Veyne, Editor, Harvard University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-674-39974-9.
5 Letter written by Benjamin Franklin to Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg, a French Physician, somewhere between 1706 and 1777.
6 Tate, Cassandra (2001-03-14). "Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) of Greater Seattle -- Part 3: Readjustment, 1930-1980". HistoryLink.org. Retrieved 2007-03-25.
7 William D. Edwards, MD; Wesley J. Gabel, MDiv; Floyd E. Hosmer, MS, AMI, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.”
8 Cahleen Shrier, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biology and Chemistry, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA, “The Science of the Crucifixion.”
9 Keith Maxwell, MD (Orthopedic Surgeon), “The Crucifixion.”