Vigorous movements like #MeToo, and many other campaigns rightly confront the entitled penis. Far too many men use theirs as a weapon of fear and control, to use and discard others’ bodies female and male alike. A great many other men are just lazy, don’t bother to try to understand that their tremors, tension and twitches are no one’s business but theirs, unless an invitation is received. In other words guys, simply wait for the signal and the signal must be totally clear.
As a young female I quickly learned as a teenager to fear leaving the house. It’s lovely to be old and not so totally treated as prey. But those years os acute fear when young scarred me. My beloved says it’s amazing that women survive with functional sexuality, especially as it’s not only the real dangers, it’s all the ugly, tacky sleaze and insult everywhere. Bless him.
Besides an uncompromising position on consent, sex manners, I want to see more than those basics. I want to see sexuality taught as sacred, as beautiful, as gentle and connecting between us all. For sexuality flows everywhere as Wilhelm Reich knew long ago. It’s there in babies, between friends and colleagues, in intellectual debate, in an artist’s work, in the twinkle of the eye. Get rid of the obsessive focus on f—king, open up to sex as music, as sparkle, liveliness, the life force, and it’s in everything we do. There is no need to starve.
Good fathers teach their daughters and sons their bodies are a temple, to be treated with deep respect. Male and female both.
So where does that leave the beleaguered penis? Under attack, shrivelled away, ashamed, scared. It’s illegal to reveal it except in a private room, and no one must even see it through the window who stands in the street outside. To expose it to anyone outside family, lover, medical staff, is defined as aggressive. Very strict, totally unlike the obsession with exposing female components.
Yet this ghastly weapon, some men say it feels like a gun between the legs, this unavoidable attack machine men are given, is actually a few inches of soft, delicate flesh. Most of the time he drowses, quivering a little then back to dozing, like a quiet cat.
He is capable of devotion, perking up much more strongly, full of hope and trust, when the beloved appears. He is capable of giving generously, long sessions of dedication which build ecstasy for self, or self and lover. He will droop when his owner is unhappy, or when his beloved is unhappy. He will frantically leap about demanding attention and help if owner is stressed. That frantic urgency is mostly suppressed emotion: boys don’t cry so their tears drain down inside into the overloaded penis who must do the extra job of crying for them.
In early honeymoon I was horribly shocked to discover my beloved male had been trained to think his was ‘dirty’. That this little soft thing must be hidden away completely because it is ugly and nasty, dirty dirty, kakaa.
That came from a cold, puritanical mother dripping her bile. But for good men who do not want to do harm, at all, something like this, some degree of it, glues itself to their skin. Shame. Humiliation.
In India and SE Asia there are temples to the lingam, sculptures which devotees stroke with golden liquid ghee (butter). Some aspects of this culture is far from desirable, supporting rape and abuse. However it is possible to separate the glorious lingam, rearing up, in temples sometimes many times the size of a whole human, and not take the nasty stuff as well.
Now how to reconcile the great glory of the penis, his delicate devotions, his crucial contribution to keeping humanity going, his jokiness, his playfulness, his silkiness, his roaring strength, his shyness, his beauty and wisdom … with the doctrine of shame and dirt?
Here you go.
Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (1966) is acclaimed for her analysis of taboo, the forbidden. She explained that a thing can be wonderful, desired, and yet forbidden, too. It depends where it is.
Her example is shoes. Shoes on floor, on a shoe rack, in shop window, on a display stand, are good, proper, safe, useful, beautiful, exciting. Shoes on the dining table are wrong, ugly, painful (unless a cloth is laid and the place used temporarily to clean, then shoes removed; then it is converted from dining table to workbench).
We can apply that here. The penis in its snug trousers or under a kilt, is good, proper, safe. In its owner’s hand, a doctor or nurse’s hand he is good, proper, safe. Welcomed by a lover, touched, aroused, he is useful, beautiful, exciting. Inside his lover when she or he desires him, he can be glorious, magnificent, the divine lingam. (Inside, he may also be shy, dozy, unsure.)
It depends where it is following the anthropologist Mary Douglas.
She spoke only of objects so here we must go further to say it also depends who is there and what they want. He is a very social animal, never entitled, but can be so welcome.
Such a small, personal scrap who can rear up into a wonder to spin magnificent pleasures. Let us recognise how precious he is, complicated, but perhaps this little description helps understand his different faces.