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God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis by Thomas Hickman

June 23, 2017

A body part that can “be seen as something the Creator doodled in an idle moment,” as Tom Hickman puts it.

Penises are manifest in skyscrapers, depicted in art and loom large in literature. They pop up on the walls of schoolyards across the world, and on the walls of temples both modern and ancient. The Greeks and Japanese rendered them on statues that stood at street corners. Hindus worship the lingam in temples across the land. Even the cross on which Jesus was hung is considered by some to be a representation of male genitalia.

Yet the penis has also been shamed into hiding through the ages. One night in 415BC, Athens’s street-corner statues were dismembered en masse. Stone penises were still causing anxiety in the late 20th century, when the Victoria and Albert Museum in London pulled out of storage a stone figleaf in case a member of the royal family wanted to see its 18-foot (5.5-metre) replica of Michelangelo’s “David”. Nothing, save the vagina, which is neither as easy nor as childishly satisfying to scrawl on a wall, manages to be so sacred and so profane at once. This paradox makes it an object of fascination. Tom Hickman, a Sussex-based writer and journalist, tells the story of its ups and downs with enthusiasm and a mostly straight face in “God’s Doodle”, a biography of what the dust jacket calls man’s “most precious ornament”.

Mr Hickman examines his subject from various angles: its physical attributes, its role in society, its vulnerabilities and the “violent mechanics” of its fundamental purpose. Referring to sources that range from parliamentary records to Howard Stern, Mr Hickman goes, like so many men have gone before, where the penis takes him, and in the process answers a number of questions. Did Shylock want to castrate Antonio in “The Merchant of Venice”? Possibly. Is ingesting semen harmful? Quite the opposite. Mr Hickman claims it could protect against breast cancer. (In fact, an urban myth.) Where does Viagra get its name? Through the fusion of “virility” and “Niagara”, as in the falls.

Divided into four broad subject areas, Hickman surveys penis size (“Few males when grown to man’s estate free themselves entirely from some preoccupation with penis size”); phallic culture (“genital oath-taking” in ancient Greece and Rome); fear of castration (15th-century treatments for gonorrhea ranged “from washing the genitals in vinegar to plunging the penis into a freshly killed chicken”); and the biology and physics of penile activity (the hypothalamus causes men to sexually scrutinize all women they see). Along the way, Hickman provides a brief history of sexual lingo, including the early Anglo-Saxon sard and the 16th-century shag (“Shakespeare favoured the variant shog”), and offers praise for the sexual prowess of 17th-century castrati (“losing testicles does not mean losing the ability to get erections and even to ejaculate”).

Some of the book is funny. Other bits make you want to cross your legs.

However, religion is heavily invested – amulets, creation myths and Shiva’s lingam. Then there is man’s (sic) dominion).

And this was a surprise: 1 Chron 29: 24 And all the sons likewise of David submitted themselves unto Solomon — Hebrew, gave, or put the hand under Solomon, that is, owned him for their king, and themselves for his subjects, and bound themselves by oath to be true to him, which they possibly did, according to the ancient ceremonial (submitted themselves—Hebrew, “put their hands under Solomon,” according to the custom still practised in the East of putting a hand under the king’s extended hand and kissing the back of it –  doesn’t hack it; Genesis 24:2 does: One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh.)

Kinsey found the average fellow is 6.2 inches, Masters and Johnson measured them slightly smaller again, and modern men, according to a 2002 Durex survey, are suspiciously better endowed than all generations before them. Hickman explains this mystery as “lies, damned lies, and self-measurements.”

But like anything, it’s all relative. The human penis, Hickman explains, “is four times bigger than biologically necessary.” Twice as large as chimpanzees, with whom we share 98 per cent of our DNA, possibly evolved to satisfy the human female’s preference for face-to-face sex and other creative sexual positions. But maybe not, Hickman adds, as the humbly endowed bonobo does it swinging from trees.

There are no pictures(!)

Quotations:

“long, short, thin, stumpy, straight, bulbous … swerved left or right or up or down, circumcised or not, smooth or as wrinkled as a Shar-Pei pup,

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a penis will do some of his thinking with it,”

Sophocles said that to have a penis is to be “chained to a madman;”

Leonardo da Vinci noted that “it remains obstinate and follows its own course.”

Playwright Joe Orton: “A man is nothing more than a life support for his penis.”

Salvador Dali, cursed with something “small, pitiful and soft.”

Woody Allen disagreed with Freud by insisting men too – especially the famously neurotic director himself – suffer from penis envy. Enrique Iglesias half-joked he wanted to launch a line of extra-small condoms

Enjoying the opposite problem, however, is crooner Frank Sinatra – so large, allegedly, that he required custom-made underpants – and comedian Milton Berle. “What a shame,” Betty Grable purred, “it’s never the handsome ones.”

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