"Humankind cannot bear very much reality," wrote the poet TS Eliot – and that was long before constant entertainment on television, video games or internet porn addiction were even possible. What Eliot meant, though, is possibly exemplified in the story in the health pages of this week's Mail & Guardian, where we look into the flourishing trade in muti that, it is claimed by its purveyors, can enlarge a man's penis.
Despite every indication that, for women at least, size per se is not very important, and despite the lack of any evidence that such potions work on penis size, it seems that many are still prepared to try them. Not that we could find anyone who'd admit that. The muti-sellers, at any rate, report consistent sales of these specialised products, so presumably the issue of size is still a live one among many South African men.
Over at the annual Sexpo, as we also report in the same edition, the Salvation Army is bravely trying to posit a "healthier" alternative to all this commercialised sex-toy sex-aid sex-talk stuff, a tendency that is admittedly in danger of reducing our sex lives to a collection of objects and/or pornographic images with little connection to the lived reality of the ordinary person. Whether the Salvation Army's solution is a real one or not, and whether or not its own views are misconceived, events such as Sexpo are likely to perpetuate as many myths as they expose – and thus we remain in a realm of barely understood notions about our sexual behaviours and conditions, as well as a set of fuzzy beliefs that are no more absurd, really, than the notion that ground-up rhino horn can increase sexual potency.
It's a cliché to say that the long-term solution to most human problems is education, but in the case of sexuality (and the social complexes surrounding it) there really is a lot to be said for a continued and enhanced process of enlightenment, for clear "birds and bees" information to enrich our discussions.
As South Africa struggles with sex-related problems such as rape and Aids, with messaging on teen sex, masculinity, marriage and so on, the more misconceptions we can sweep away the better.