Pathetic phalluses

In a perplexing and little-known 1970s erotic thriller titled The Sex Thief, there is a scene that pretty much encapsulates the entire male attitude towards his penis. A naked woman is lying on a bed. The sex thief—a burglar who breaks into women’s flats—stands enigmatically by the window in his 1970s underpants.
The camera remains on the woman’s face as this Milk Tray man in a balaclava (and not much else) approaches. “No! No!” she gasps as he brings his crotch closer to her face. He unpeels his 1970s briefs. “Oh, yes!” she gasps, fainting in amazement.

Ludicrous as it sounds, this scene outlines the two essential male fantasies-cum-misconceptions about sex, true to this day—namely (a) sex is not an intimate, loving experience between two people but a cold, hard performance with the man’s penis resolutely centre-stage, and (b) no matter how much women assure us men that “size doesn’t matter ... it is what you do with it that counts”, we know the truth. Size does matter, they’re lying.

In today’s “supersize me” consumer society, here is the paradox. Men need bigger cocks, and a penis of any size is now physically possible. Consequently, no size is ever going to be big enough. I was interested in seeing where this male preoccupation/neurosis with penis size has taken us, and so embarked on a frankly frightening, but undeniably gripping, voyage of discovery for a television documentary.

We encountered men hopelessly and obsessively searching for “the perfect penis”, a man who claims to have the biggest cock in the world (and no, he is not happy), a man who pulls trucks along with his foreskin as a means to spiritual enlightenment, and a once famous man—John Wayne Bobbitt—who had his penis severed by his wife with a knife, and made a career from his castration.

And what did I learn? First, that Freud was wrong: it is not women who suffer from penis envy, but men. And it is this homoerotic fascination with size that has made it possible and even necessary for certain men to pursue the ever-larger penis. Increasingly, this phenomenon of body modification is seen not as self-harm but as a form of consumer liberation.

My journey began with Dean Friedland, who lives in Utah and wants something more substantial than the average five inches. Friedland is paying Dr Harold Reed, who operates on two to three men a week at his clinic, R66 000 for two procedures—first, lengthening by surgery, and then using weights to maximise girth.

The operation is relatively simple: cutting the suspensory ligament allows the penis to drop and hence appear longer. But most men are suspicious of going under the knife. It can go very wrong and, in the twilight world of penis enlargement, clinics can close overnight and the owners disappear. But if surgery is unregulated, alternative forms of penis enlargement are distinctly wild-west frontier.

Mike Salvini runs a website called and sells a kind of weighted metal splint. If you’re having breakfast, look away now. The splint is inserted into the member and pulled down, using weights that stretch the penis for several weeks. Salvini is an enthusiastic advocate for his metal rod and claims to have doubled the length of his own penis. Besides splints and suction pumps, various other Heath Robinson-style appliances are available on the Internet.

More frightening still, an entire scene has grown up around so-called penis dysmorphia, and men are having their penises injected with silicone to gain size. For the men posting pictures of the results on the Web, it is impossible for such malformed penises to become erect. But that is not the point, they say: they just want everyone to share in the beauty of their mental illness.

Why do men put themselves through such forms of penile torture? These lengthening procedures alter the length of the penis when flaccid; there is no “proportional” effect when erect. Thus penis enlargement is termed “locker-room cosmetic”—this is for the benefit of other men at the gym.

Invariably, what most men would consider a blessing turned out to be a curse. What I found was that an unusually large penis had, without exception, made a misery of the lives of everyone we interviewed.

What is truly extraordinary for me is not the meanings, nor the subconscious urges, nor even the terrible things men are doing to their cocks, but that we have separated the penis from ourselves as an object of love and self-loathing. An instance of alienation that leads to what a female friend of mine refers to as “three in a bed”.—Â

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