A Mind of It's Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, blowjob, Book Review, Christopher Hitchens, circumcision, fellare, Hitch-22, Houen Matsuri, John Harvey Kellogg, Joseph Cohen, Keith Haring, Kouri, Masturbation, Penis, Prince Albert, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, The Penis Book, The Penis Poem, Willie Nelson
The average human sperm travels at the speed of about 1 to 4 millimeters per minute, but the average distance of ejaculate has been clocked around 25 miles per hour. While this may seem excessive, if you remember the first part of that fact, and take into equation that sperm have to swim well over two to three inches to reach the fallopian tubes where fertilization actually takes place, and realize that sperm can live inside of a human vagina for close to two weeks, the force of that jettison may make a lot more sense. Despite the fact that the penis looks like Natural Selection’s punchline, it’s actually an impressive feat of engineering that looks like your great-uncle Joe when you squint your eyes together. You’re picturing it now aren’t you? Aren’t you?
I don’t hide the fact that human sexuality is an interest of mine, and so when you’re on Amazon at three in the morning and have had a few beers and you buy a book called The Penis Book, it’s best to have a better story than I bought it while I was drunk at three in the morning. I really wasn’t, I just thought it sounded funny, it was more like three in the afternoon and I was sober. I was.
The Penis Book is not just a list of boring, or not boring depending on what your perspective is, facts about the physiology of the penis. Joseph Cohen piles into the small tome, 105 pages in all, a brief cultural perspective of people’s reactions and understanding of penises around the world.
The reader is greeted by a picture of a handsome naked man laughing and is then taken to a page where average penis length is shared. It should be noted that if you’re a grower rather than a shower you’re in for a treat, but if you’re carrying a mule’s trouser monster in your pants…well good for you. From there the reader learns the state of Queer/Straight penises and why they are currently breathing sighs of relief. From this the reader learns various facts about testicles. Did you know that left testicles hang lower in 85% of the male population, this is to prevent collision with the other testicle and cause problems. Did you also know about something called Montana’s Original Testicle Festival? Mountain Oysters are served to willing patrons who dare devour such a treat…do you really need me to explain? Perhaps this will interest you, do you know where the term “testify” comes from? In biblical times men would grab their boys and swear their oaths. Have I blown you mind yet?
Speaking of bad puns, fellatio comes from a Latin word fellare which means “to suck.” The Greeks called blowjobs “Playing the flute” while Kama Sutra referred to it as “sucking a mango.”
Now that you mention sucking, you should Google a guy by the name of Keith Haring. You may recognize his work if you watched Sesame Street in the late eighties early nineties. He did regular animation for the show, and also painted a fascinating mural for the bathroom of the Lesbian and Gay Community Service center in New York in 1989. Even if you’re not a fan of the mural you may enjoy the man’s humanoids and dogs. They’re super cute.
But the dick jokes have just begun so let’s move onto whether we should circumcise people. Now if you’re Jewish or Arabic this really isn’t a question for you, you’re going to be circumcised. It’s just part of the deal, literally, however if you’re neither one of these in America today you’ll probably get circumcised because in the early 1920s John Harvey Kellogg the maker of Kellog’s Cereal believed that removing the foreskin would cure people of masturbation. His ad campaign worked so well that people continue the practice to this day despite the fact it has no real medical benefit for those of us living in this age of Dove and Old Spice, and other arguments include the fact that in some cases the removal of the foreskin removes or destroys many important nerve endings which make sex, well, better, or at least more enjoyable. This is an issue I can become passionate about really quickly so I might want to jump onto a Prince Albert.
Wait…that came out wrong-.
If you don’t know what a Prince Albert is it’s when they pierce the penis with a metal rod. Sometimes this action is foregone and instead of a bolt through the penis a ring at the glans or “head” of the penis is substituted. Now that you’ve woken up after fainting from reading of this travesty , the pain is supposedly not that bad, and some women have testified to the fact that they enjoy extra stimulation from the piercings. Though you should probably avoid tongue piercings as this has been proven to increase the chance of you losing most of your teeth.
Now speaking of what women like, after explaining what they would do if they had a penis themselves, one woman says she would go camping so she could pee anywhere in the woods she wanted to, the subject turns to whether women like dillys long or short. The answer of course if dependent on woman to woman, but the fact that the first two inches of the inside of a human vagina possesses most of the nerve endings attests to the fact it’s better to be short and fat than long and skinny.
Not long after this Cohen discusses a festival in north Japan known as Houen Matsuri, a phallus oriented festival. I’m not kidding. Men carry a large 900 pound carved phallus through the streets while women carry smaller erect penises. The entire festival is designed to ensure fertility to the land and a bountiful harvest.
In all honesty my favorite page beholds a young man spilling a foamy beverage over his pelvis and beside it in a circle is 73 different expressions for masturbation. I’ll list a few and see if you recognize any of them: Shaking hands with the governor, Squease the cream from the flesh twinkee, Wax your Jackson, Tickle the Elmo (too soon?), Yank your cranks, Beat off, Boppin the Bologna, Calling down for more mayo, five knuckle Olympics, making the bald guy puke (gross), Oiling the pogo stick, One handed clapping, Polish the chrome dome, Hone your bone, Cracking the fat, The sticky page rhumba, and of course the straight forward self love.
Finally this short wonderful book ends with a picture of a baby poking its head out from under a blanket and there’s a final thought to the reader:
Many believe the penis was created for just one purpose. To bring life into the world. Some might disagree. But who can argue with the results? (104-105).
Now if you’ve stayed with me this far you probably possess either a sense of humor or else a morbid curiosity to discover that I’m some kind of sex pervert. Fine you got me, I like dick jokes. Even if you do not have a penis yourself you probably know someone who does and one of those people should at least be your dad. My Dad being a former Rugby player it didn’t long before I was entrusted with my first dick jokes and these in turn lead to other discoveries that showed me that human imagination, when it came to our genitals, promised nothing but opportunities for comedic brilliance.
Christopher Hitchens is a man I often revere here in these pages, and the first book of his that I read, his memoir Hitch-22, contained a small passage that has always promised a good time. He describes a game he played after dinner with Salman Rushdie while hiding the man during the time of the fatwah:
You may think it absurd of pathetic, for example, to see what happens when you subtract the word “heart” from any well-known title or saying and then substitute the word “dick.” Some of the results are in fact mildly funny (“I left my dick in San Francisco,” “Bury my dick at Wounded Knee,” “Dick of Darkness,” “The Dick of the Matter,” and so forth), and others can occur to one at absurd moments (“Dickbreak hotel,” “The Sacred Dick,” “The Dick and Stomach of a King,” “The Dick has its Reasons,” “The Dick is a Lonely Hunter”) where they even threaten to be apposite. (264-265).
Naturally when I read this I was on the floor, and so I brought the activity to my best friend and the two of us would take this game and apply it to various books we had read in high school. Some, as Hitchens put it, were pathetically juvenile however many held a little charm and actual apposite nature when you look back:
The Lord of the Dicks, The Big Dick, For Whom the Dick Tolls, The Old Man and the Dick, The Great Dicksby, A Tale of Two Dicks, The Catcher in the Dick, The Dick Jar, Animal Dicks, The Once and Future Dick, The Tale Tell Dick, The Black Dick, A Midsummer Night’s Dick, Romeo and Dick, The Taming of the Dick, Of Dicks and Men, The Hollow Dicks, The Portrait of the Dick as a Young Pecker . *See Below for Translation*
There was just a lovely exercise in the subversion, and saying these out loud, and trying to find the right titles was an actual exercise. Single word titles like Beloved, 1984, or Anthem left us stumped. How do you make them into Dick jokes? And so the exercise required extra imagination, which really wasn’t difficult given the fact both of us were teenage boys. Dicks had to be placed at the end of such titles so Beloved became Beloved Dicks, 1984 became 1,984 Dicks, and Anthem became A Holy Writ Set to Melodic Serenade of Beloved Gentlemen Scientists Wangs…yeah that one was a hard sell.
What was the point of this game? What good did it serve criticizing the classic works of literature by turning them into immature penis jokes? The answer of course is found in the second question.
The second Austin Powers movie taught Americans and the world, that there are many different names for the penis whether it be willie, johnson, one-eyed-monster, pecker, prick, woody, private, flesh-pickle, the little bald man in your trousers, but the one word and only word that mattered escaped everyone’s lips. The rocket ship looked like a penis. As it turns out if you try and use the word penis many people will flinch because in the United States there is a double standard about sexuality. People want it, but will not allow themselves to have it. The same situation occurs when you try to write or talk about it. It’s perfectly acceptable to educate people about sex, but you have to soften your language less you become boring or crude. The Penis Book casts this fear to the wind and provides its reader nothing but the term in order to dismantle the aura that seems to surround the penis.
This aura is well founded. I’ve mentioned this book several times before, but in A Mind of It’s Own: A Cultural History of the Penis David Friedan discusses the cult of personality that surrounded the penis starting first with a custom in Ancient Greece:
The Greeks loathed Jewish circumcision every bit as much as they did that of the Egyptians. This presented a problem two millennia ago for socially ambitious Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, then the cultural center of the Hellenized world. If a Jew wanted to exercise in the gymnasium, the country club of Greek Society, where training was done invariably done without wearing clothes, he knew his circumcised penis would offend Greek Aesthetics. This was not because Greeks were uncomfortable with nudity—far from it. But the sight of the exposed glans was deemed unseemly by Greeks. For this reason Greeks exercised naked, but with their penises “infibulated”—a process that pulled the foreskin forward over the glans, and then tied it closed with string or clasped it shut with a circular safety pen known as a fibula. (13).
He continues this idea, explaining the symbolic meaning of the penis in Greek culture:
This reverence for the male form was embodied in the thousands of kouri, statues of nude young males, that stood throughout the Greek World. Though the penis on these sculptures was flaccid, the values projected by their hard muscular torsos were clearly ithyphallic. Other Greek statues were not as subtle. […]
These statues, which had no body parts save a head and a penis, gave shape to the Greek understanding of the penis as an idea. Greek philosophy made a distinction between form and matter. Form, which Plato also called “idea,” was active, fertile, and masculine—just like the penis. Matter was passive, non-generative, and female. Like a metal stamp into wax an idea impressed itself onto matter, giving it meaning. Nowhere was this idea more clearly expressed than in the Greek view of conception. (18-9).
This view, which lasted for some time due to hindrances in medical knowledge and enterprise, was the belief that semen contained the infant child completely, and that when a man orgasmed, his seed implanted in the woman and created the life. The mother contributed nothing to procreation, she was merely the delivery mechanism. If that doesn’t make you laugh, cringe, or roll your eyes you may be part of the larger problem I’m trying to address here with this essay.
Every man should own a copy of The Penis Book and keep it on his book shelf when he needs a laugh, and every woman needs a copy so she can remind herself what all women everywhere think all the time about penises, “It’s not THAT impressive. Jeez.” There’s so much, too much, ego wrapped up in the penis as an idea; so much so that merely saying the word penis places people on edge. There is nothing so dangerous as a wounded male ego and that in turn always reverts back to the crotch, but I don’t want this review to end on a sour note.
There’s a relationship between a man and his penis, and that in turn eventually becomes an altered relationship once he discovers sex, and it is once again altered when he brings a partner into his life. The Penis Book is an effort to understand that relationship, to mock it, to celebrate it, to study it, to puzzle at it, and ultimately help the reader assess what their own relationship to penises are. It’s designed to teach basic facts and lessons about a part of the human anatomy that, as Cohen states in the introduction, “is tinier than a Chihuahua” and “can stir up so many emotions, steamy page turners, phone sex businesses, visits to the shrink, babies, dirty jokes, sleepless nights, dreamy sighs, lies, embarrassed giggles. And so much fun.” (3). Everyone has a penis story.
Over the doors to my closet in my office is a wooden plaque that formerly belonged to my dad. It’s a simple blue cover with a picture of Willie Nelson and beneath his face is the title “The Penis Poem.” I’ve reprinted the poem here. It came into my possession after dad was cleaning out his office. He’d had it on a tack in his office for years and every time I would have to ask him a question I would read it and laugh. When he would ask me what was funny I‘d nod towards the poem and he would laugh too. Just a joke between guys. I come back again and again to this song about a Willie from a Willie, because I can never read it and not laugh.
The Penis Poem–by Willie Nelson
My nookie days are over,
My pilot light is out.
What used to be my sex appeal,
Is now my water spout.
Time was when, on its own accord,
From my trousers it would spring.
But now I’ve got a full time job,
To find the gosh darn thing.
It used to be embarrassing,
The way it would behave.
For every single morning,
It would stand and watch me shave.
Now as old age approaches,
It sure gives me the blues.
To see it hang its little head,
And watch me tie my shoes!!
The Penis Book is Available on Amazon and wherever books on sexuality are sold.
If this essay wasn’t enough Penis for you in one sitting…bad choice of words, here’s a few articles loaded with fun facts about genitals for you to peruse at your leisure.
(In order: The Lord of the Flies, The Big Sleep, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, The Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, Animal Farm, The Once and Future King, The Tale Tell Heart, The Black Cat, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Of Mice and Men, The Hollow Men, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)…see it’s kind of funny when you read it out loud.
**Writer’s Note Final**
Here is a picture of a penis. No more gags, no more visual humor. It is what it is, a piece of fat and muscle on the body of human males. If you can’t laugh at it and at the same time still be impressed by what it can accomplish then there ain’t much more I can help you with.