By David M. Friedman, authored ``A MIND OF ITS OWN: A Cultural History of the Penis’’
“Over time, the penis has been deified, demonized, secularized, racialized, psychoanalyzed, politicized and, finally, medicalized,” declares freelance journalist Friedman in a serious yet entertaining book that weaves together an enormous amount of material.
In the Greek and Roman worlds, statues of figures with erections were commonplace, he observes, though by the Christian era, the penis had become a source of evil and weakness.
Doctors and scientists from da Vinci onward “deflat[ed] the religious rhetoric” and scrutinized the male organ—sometimes with untoward results, as when American “semen science” led to the creation of antimasturbation products such as Graham crackers.
Western man’s fear of the African phallus undergirded colonialism and slavery, and resonates to this day, Friedman argues, as was evident in the case of Clarence Thomas.
If some of Freud’s case histories might be questioned, Friedman notes how the psychoanalytic interpretation enduringly places the penis and associated anxieties at the fulcrum of society.
The rise of feminism put the penis in its place, as The Hite Report pointed out the limits of conventional intercourse in moving women to orgasm, and as Andrea Dworkin exposed penile pathology—though the author concludes that male sexuality arises more out of evolutionary strategy than misogyny.
His final—and liveliest—chapter concerns the medicalization of the penis, culminating in Viagra.
Even though Friedman quotes a (female) sex therapist on the limits of such drugs, he concludes optimistically that “the erection industry” has performed a paradigm shift, allowing man to impose his will below his belt.
The book has a few gaps—there’s little about the gay penis—but it should reign as the seminal treatment of this topic (and inspire many more puns).