Privates on parade, and the stories they tell…

HERE’S a question for male readers: I know what mine looks like but how’s yours?

I only ask because of a rather remarkable page in last Saturday’s Guardian Weekend magazine which showed 100 penises. Those unkind sorts who say that the Guardian is full of pricks might on this occasion have a point.

The reason for this display of what normally remains hidden lies is a new book by photographer Laura Dodsworth. She previously interviewed women about their relationship with their breasts. On that occasion, the page in the magazine was filled with 100 breasts. I couldn’t help looking for the obvious reason of being an obvious male.

In a short accompanying interview, Dodsworth says that if talking to women about their breasts was a tender topic, talking to men about their penises was more delicate.

Before going any further, full marks to the sub-editor who came up with the simple headline “Members only” – and equal praise for the designer who arranged those words on the droop.

Dodsworth’s new book is called Manhood and each penis has a story to tell. This is one of those simple ideas that just works, so long as you can get over looking at other men’s penises. I do glimpse a few in the showers after squash, but mostly what other men hide in their trousers remains, if not a mystery, then a revelation thankfully unexplored.

I was going to throw in the word priapic around about now and feel pleased with myself. But I’ve just looked it up and although the word does relate to male members, it usually implies more than a degree of arousal.

The penises in Dodsworth’s photographs are not animated in such a fashion – and if they had been, her surprisingly sensitive study would have turned into pornography. How strange it is that a rush of blood can make such a difference.

Her photographs show only her subjects’ centre sections, roughly from above the knees to the belly button. That gives full attention to the members in this parade. What an odd bunch they are. Large and small, straight and curved, proud and shy. And all so very different: all the unusual suspects.

In her book, Dodsworth interviews men about their relationship with their penises. A selection of those interviews was included in the feature. Men talk with pride and sometimes with shame about their penises, about the pleasure they’ve had or the trouble they’ve caused. They discuss their sex lives or lack of such. A common theme lies in men who were teased as boys about the smallness of their penises, and then carried the shame into adulthood, fearing that they could never really be a man – “I’d look at other guys in the showers and feel ashamed,” says one 58-year-old man.

Another, aged 92 and suffering from dementia, says: “I couldn’t get an erection now.”

A 46-year-old black man confesses to being intrigued by having the opportunity to talk – but worries over what word to use, not favouring penis or cock. He decides to call his Rufus – “Rufus, yeah, Rufus. My penis, Rufus, is kind of a barometer of my health, my happiness and my fitness.”

He also talks being approached by white women who want to sleep with him because he is black – “A man’s a man. What’s that about? This is a fetish that makes no sense.”

A well-endowed gay man says: “I’ve found photographs of my penis on Tumblr.” Well, who knew that was even a thing? Not this clearly sheltered heterosexual.

So there you have it – a page of penises is much more interesting than you might have imagined. I am not sure how I would have responded to Laura Dodsworth’s questions, other than to recall teenage years when the excitable young thing could be reactive with embarrassing rapidity. Ah, those were the days. Then again, it would be socially awkward if that stage persisted throughout life.

Oh, and look, please congratulate me on getting this far without using the word “willy”. Until now.

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