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A cultural history of the penis

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Early seventeenth century explorers of Africa shared one universal observation: the immense size of the black penis, although, perhaps impressed with the natural wonder of Africa, they all wildly exaggerated what they saw.

Sadly, they also used the "evidence" of their eyes to draw conclusions about the relative merits of the races - always to the disfavor of the black races.

As David M Friedman states in his book A Mind Of Its Own: A Cultural History Of The Penis, most racial thinkers based many of their important conclusions on the same criterion - the size of the African's penis.

It was, as he says, "stared at, feared (and in some cases desired), weighed, interpreted via Scripture, meditated on by anthropologists and zoologists, preserved in specimens jars, and most of all, calibrated."

And in nearly every instance, its size was deemed proof that the Negro races were inferior. 

(Such an example of blatant penis envy is hard to ignore. But funnily enough, its origins lie further back than recent white men's explorations of Africa.

The Romans portray black men with huge penises in the bath houses at Pompeii. One theory is that these images were used to ward off feelings of enmity - the huge black penis was a source of amusement, and laughter dispelled negative emotions.)

A whole library of racist writings followed, ranging from misinterpretation of the Bible by Jewish scholars through nonsense written by slave-owning Englishmen to so-called scientific treatises "proving" that a large penis was associated with base sexual urges that were linked to animalistic origins; all of this farrago served to reinforce the stereotypical images held by most of the white world at the time of black men as having huge penises and being sexually obsessed. 

Friedman's theory is that such racist nonsense found a hold on the white imagination because the Western imagination was still haunted by Roman and Greek legends filled with images of satyrs, centaurs, and other half-human, half-animal creatures endowed with immense sexual power. 

In any event, the projection of the fears and inhibitions of the Western sexual psyche onto the black races led to some extraordinary events. For example, almost every white woman accused of being a witch and consorting with the devil in the middle ages described his penis as black.

There were more pleasant erotic fantasies recorded in literature as well, but in general all writings of the time were split between condemnation of, and admiration for, the supposed massive member of the black races and its link to a highly sexualized state of mind.

One has to wonder at the state of mind of the writers, and how sexually repressed they must have been to come up with this material.

It was only in the 1970's that serious work began on establishing the facts (though one still has to wonder why it mattered, and to whom).

But, nonetheless, the follow-up to the famous Kinsey report of 1948, published in 1979, concluded that the average size of a black man's erection was 6.44 inches, while that of a white man was 6.15 inches.

There is of course some more nonsense here, since you can hardly measure the length of an erect penis to a hundredth of an inch. What's worse is that this data was derived from measurements made by men of their own penises. Hardly reliable, I think.

What's obvious here is that the legend of blacks being endowed with large members seems to be unsupported by any evidence that can be called remotely scientific.

What's perhaps more interesting is that the results of an on-line survey by Richard Edwards in the 1990's seem to suggest that even though there are no credible differences between whites and blacks in terms of erect penis size, nearly 80% of black men consider themselves well-satisfied with their penis size, while only a miserable 20% of white men do. 

Whether the black penis really is larger than the white one, says Friedman, is perhaps an unanswerable question. What is a fact, though, is that many people, both white and black, believe it to be so. One conclusion he draws is that white men fear that black "penis power" is greater than their own. 

And history seems to suggest that this is no new phenomenon.

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century, leaders of the American medical profession were talking in semi-hysterical terms of the spread of sexual crimes by black men, and proposing solutions such as castration and penile amputation to deal with it. That this is no laughing matter, and certainly not a fit subject for frivolous discussion, is demonstrated by the accounts of mob-violence which Friedman records in his book. 

And even though we would like to think of ourselves as more civilized nowadays, Friedman draws attention to the ordeal of Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas, accused of sexually harassing a white woman in the 1990s.

The parallel between the crude, retaliatory, sexual violence of the lynch mobs of the 1930s and the treatment of Judge Thomas at the hands of the Senate committee is too obvious to overlook.

Among other things, Professor Anita Hill accused Thomas of comparing his penis with that of the wildly-improbably endowed porn star Long Dong Silver, charges which Thomas denied in the strongest terms.

As Friedman observes, though, the point may be more subtle than whether Thomas was guilty (by the way, he was cleared by the senate committee). The whole affair was testimony to the enduring power of the image of the black penis as a cultural signifier in America, a penis so massive and powerful that the only possible response to it is one of fear. 

A rather interesting site about the penis in Ireland's historical cultures.

Help for those whose prejudices mean they need counselling in London.

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Other pages on the penis in the human psyche

The penis and the phallus
Beauty of the penis
Penis, phallus and the male ego
A cultural history of the penis
Black men and penis size
Evolution and the penis
How important is size?

Other sections on the site

Penis facts and penile functions
The penis, masculinity and sex
A Cultural History Of The Penis
Penile & Other Problems