More Penis Photos, Please!

The San Francisco Bay Guardian recently put photographs of two naked men on its Nude Beaches cover. I'd like to see more of that. (NSFW content inside!)

Jul 23, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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I may be vegan, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the occasional bratwurst. (SORRY I'M NOT SORRY.)

I gotta admit it: I’m not the biggest fan of penises. 

Maybe it’s because I’ve never had a serious, long-term relationship with a cis guy, but there’s something about Unfettered Peen that makes me start choking on nervous giggles the first time I look it head on.

This isn’t just limited to biological genitalia, either: One of my housemates has a flaccid, flesh-colored strap-on that I have to look at out of the corner of my eye like a floppy solar eclipse. It helps if I’m fond of the person it's attached to -- I start feeling all warm and affectionate about them, like they’re a pug with asthma. But every time I see one in the wild, I get all panicky and have to listen to Ingrid Michaelson for the next six blocks until I can calm down.

That said, I am still a super-fan of the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s decision to put two of them on the cover of their Nude Beaches issue. 

Last year, snark machine SF Weekly threw some serious shade at SFBG for putting four breasts and zero dicks on their cover. They even went so far as to compare it to the stodgy, Victorian-collared San Francisco Examiner. If you’re unfamiliar with the gripping politics of San Francisco alt-weeklies, this is one serious jab.

In response, this year’s Bay Guardian cover featured two completely exposed males laughing with a female-bodied person delicately perched on a rock. The whole thing, as opposed to last year’s weird picnic scene, feels delightfully Raphaelite: It somehow manages to read non-sexually, as if Aphrodite, Apollo, and Dionysus all showed up to North Beach and decided to put all that wine-drinking and mortal-fucking on brief hiatus. In fact, it’s downright adorable.

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G'aww!

Even so, SFBG editor Tim Redmond anticipates a little backlash. In his editor’s note, he writes:

“I haven't heard any complaints yet, but we'll get some. And they'll be utterly predictable: Why are there penises on the front page, right out there (as my mother used to say) in front of God and everyone? 

Here's the thing: I've been doing this a long time, and we've put a lot of naked people on the cover (nude beaches, sex issue, random stories about public nakedness) -- and when it's just women, nobody peeps. Full frontal, whatever -- it seems in our society that it's perfectly okay to show the unclothed female body. But not a dick. God, not a dick.”

I’m not sure if the Guardian has actually received much backlash thus far; most of San Francisco is fairly well accustomed to random exhibitions of nudity at various places around the city. But Redmond’s point is still valid: Photos of female-bodied nudity are often structured as demure and alluring, while male-bodied bits are clearly symbolic of our crumbling societal foundation.

Part of it, I believe, is internalized homophobia. Admittedly, I may be slightly off base here: I went to an all-girls high school, and as a result the vast majority of what I know about young guys comes from my little brother and MTV shows about werewolves.

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Wait, does this not happen in real life?

But from what I can tell, growing up mostly means secretly comparing your dick to your friends’ and a lot of punching and Halo in lieu of emotions. Teenage boys have it kinda rough, I think (apart from that whole privilege thing): Every time they have to drop trou in a group, the most obvious indicator of their supposed masculine acumen is just flopping around for all of the lacrosse bullies to sneer at. And I’m sure that guys who couldn’t keep their eyes to themselves in the locker room were roundly punished for it. 

Dicks tend to be symbolic of sexual aggression in our culture, so it’s not surprising that men seem to find looking at photographic depictions of them so stressful. They’re a synecdoche for that locker-room bravado, at once arousing and threatening.

I’m sure you all remember that homophobes are the most turned on by gay porn; for a lot of men, the lines between fight/flight/fuck are pretty blurry. And it’s a slippery slope! Men who are sitting at bus stops, minding their own business, could just be confronted by peen all willy-nilly! And what if they got aroused? 15 years after high school, the locker room dudes would still know.

Small wonder, then, that most of the cis guys I know under 40 are highly preoccupied with simultaneously drawing dicks all over things and loudly disavowing any association with them in any other context. Photographs of naked male bodies, particularly on a highly circulated newspaper, are unpredictable and unrestrained; they can’t be controlled by a single person’s ick factor.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with feeling discomfort at photographed male nudity; many women I know find the whole thing triggering. But a hell of a lot of guys spend so much time making big shows of disgust that they never actually contemplate why they expect female-bodied people to be completely fine with photos of breasts plastered all over the inside of everyone’s eyelids.

And there lies the flip side of the Scary Dick-pic coin: The persistent meme that women don’t find male genitalia attractive. Like I said earlier, I get it. If you handed me flash cards full of testicles and expected me to make a Kate-sturbation flipbook, I could not get the job done. By contrast, I’m positive that I could do it with five minutes and a stack full of nipple photographs. But I’m not every woman. 

If women didn’t appreciate the aesthetics of the male body, do you think Magic Mike would have garnered nearly as much success? That movie was downright terrible -- its only redeeming factors were those V-lines that Joe Manganiello had on his hipbones. Nobody was watching that noise for the rom-com storyline.

Also, remember all the hubbub last year about Michael Fassbender going all-out for Shame? Though the movie was about the psychological complexity of sex addiction, all anyone on the Internet could talk about was Fassbender’s massive schlong. (Which, to be fair, was mighty impressive.) Conveniently, there was little similar gasping over the huge amount of female-bodied nudity that also appeared onscreen.

Actors who dare to show their naked bodies on film are lauded for their bravery, even if it’s in an arguably hilarious context. When men do appear in movies in states of obvious arousal, it’s an automatic NC-17 rating -- as if no one under 17 could handle the sight of an erect penis without their eyes bleeding out.

Again, it’s all about control. When women’s naked or half-naked bodies appear in media, they’re almost always in sexualized ways. But they also tend to be photographed in ways that make their nudity appear harmless and almost bashful. How many more times, for example, can we see this arm around the nipples pose

Meanwhile, photos of naked, aroused men seem to be inextricable from their model’s desire. If I see an erect penis in my vicinity, I’m going to generally assume that at least part of the dude would not be averse to sticking it in some orifice of mine. Physically speaking, cis women’s arousal is nowhere near as readily visible on camera. 

I hate to say it, but the sight of female nudity has almost become normalized, to the point where photos of topless women might as well appear in the Examiner. This, even as pictures of naked men are still “progressive” and “daring.” Sigh. Dicks aren’t progressive; they’re just kinda weird looking. (For the record, so are most parts of the human body. I ain’t a doctor for a reason.)

I, for one, think it’s high time I started acclimating myself to more penises. So bring it on, Guardian! The more times I randomly turn a corner to stare down Michael Fassbender’s better half, the fewer times I’ll dissolve into anxious snort-giggles when anybody takes their pants off. And that’s better news for everyone.