Mr. Happy lives!
A friend once told me that he named his penis Willie because he didn’t want a stranger making most of his decisions.
David M. Friedman’s amazing new book raises my friend’s joke about who controls whom to an art form. A Mind of Its Own, A Cultural History of the Penis is a captivating reconstruction of man’s relationship with his defining organ and the impact that the penis has had on ideology, religion and politics throughout history. (Note: this book is not for sensitive individuals of either sex. Descriptions of castration techniques, anti-masturbation devices, penile extension methods and the specifics of mating hyenas abound.)
A Mind of Its Own moves from ancient, lust-filled phallocentric cultures to the dawn of Christianity and the birth of pee-pee persecution, highlighting significant paradigmatic shifts with impressive scholarship spiked with finely understated humor.
To begin with, the book flirts with the notion that circumcision in early pagan cultures may have been a fertility ritual designed to emulate perpetual erection. But where early Greek culture considered the phallus a divine instrument capable of transferring knowledge and male virtue, early Christian culture instituted fear and loathing, redefining the penis as the conduit of original sin and establishing a new model—that of man’s alienation from his defining organ. As a result of Adam’s disobedience in Eden, man would no longer control the impulses of his penis—which is invariably and inescapably in conflict with God’s will.
The cultural history continues with the introduction of Freud’s Oedipal model of man’s estrangement from his generative organ. Fear of castration—combined with lust for the mother figure—invariably and inescapably lead men to guilt, impotence and homicidal instincts toward the father. Just when God’s cultural influence was waning, Freud sustained paranoia about the penis by insisting it is impossible to reconcile “sexual instinct to the demands of civilization.”
By the 1970s, assorted behavioral scientist and anti-Freudian feminists who “felt neither castrated nor envious, but … condescended to and lied to” would spend nearly a decade trying unsuccessfully to prove a causal relationship between testosterone and aggression, insisting that anyone with a penis is a potential rapist. “It was not an easy time to own a penis,” observes Friedman.
However, by the 1980s, the “diseased phallic imperative” (a variation on the theme that men are born to be bad) was no longer a relevant issue in the scientific community. “If testosterone is poison, there are a lot of men who are immune,” writes Friedman. Researchers then began to examine size and survival of the fittest, suggesting “that every man alive is descended from countless generations of well-hung, fast spurting men.” Incredibly, the discovery that erections are not sustained by mysterious vascular valves, but almost entirely dependent on a fill-rate regulated by relaxation of smooth muscle fiber, was not made until 1982.
As psychological assumptions give way to physiological assumptions about the penis, the 1990s give birth to today’s erection industry. According to Friedman, the industry was conceived by pharmaceutical manufacturers and naively instituted by urologists. There are no standard diagnostic criteria for a Viagra prescription. Men: for the sake of those who love you, please think with your big heads on this one.
A lavish mosaic of historical facts and empirical data infused with an energetic lust for life, A Mind of Its Own is the perfect New Year’s gift for “anyone who has a penis, or knows someone else who does.”