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The post about the gold penis enlarger

25 August, 2009

If this post doesn’t attract the spam bots, I don’t know what will…

Recently I saw an article in the Herald’s “Strange but True” section — where I do all my trolling for topical anthropology blog posts — about a Saudi guy who had paid $US50,000 for a solid 18-carat gold, diamond and ruby encrusted, penis enlarger. The subeditors had a field day with that one: “Saudi pays stiff price for sex toy” reads the headline.

I was immediately struck by the resonances with Lisa’s work about attitudes towards Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs in the Middle East.  Amongst other things Lisa noted differing cultural attitudes towards the drugs: while the men around the department here at Macquarie associated Viagra usage with a lack (we tended to laugh and claim “we don’t need it” when she jokingly offered it to us),  it has all sorts of positive associations for Egyptian men.  She noted that Egyptian men give each other Viagra as gifts without, presumably, any implication of a lack of virility, and that there are a number of food dishes trading on the “Viagra” name.

I sent the article to Lisa, noting the parallels with her research, and wrote a little riff about it.  Lisa liked it and thought I should post it to CM. So, despite my reservations, here it is:

When I saw the article (besides having a good chuckle) I was immediately reminded of the Viagra meals and gift giving you talked about back then — public, or at least shared, celebrations of virility rather than signs of inadequacy.  I thought, what a contrast between the shameful $400 penis enlarger, kept in a draw next to the bed and used in secret, and this ostentatious, ruby-encrusted monument to one’s cock.  It wasn’t just that this thing was so much more expensive than usual, but that its symbolic value is the opposite of what we’d expect; it was being treated like a luxury good or status symbol rather than a pseudo-medical apparatus designed to correct a problem.  I wonder if its given pride of place in the bedroom — maybe in a nice glass cabinet above the bed?

It’s funny, isn’t it?  The usual, Freudian, way we think about phallic symbols is as attempts to compensate for a lack, but the symbolism is always repressed and therefore indirect, concealed, at least to the “owner”.  The bloke just thinks his shiny new red sports car is really cool; the rest of us just look at each other knowingly and wiggle our pinkies.  And then there’s this Saudi guy, who doesn’t bother with sublimating this symbol into some other form; it’s out there, standing (literally) for what it is.  “Yes, this represents my desire for a larger penis.  Who wouldn’t want to have a larger penis?”    Sometimes a penis enlarger is just a penis enlarger.

The logic would seem not to be that of a compensation for a lack. Rather, when it comes to virility, more is always better.

— Jovan Maud

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 August, 2009 8:45 am

    I think we need to write an article together, Jovan.

  2. costa permalink
    26 August, 2009 3:07 pm

    Jovan thanks for posting this comment on CM-Great afternoon chuckle.

    If nothing else it’s a great reflection on the bricolage of meanings and imaginings of “virility”.

    Recently I came across an article by Marcia Inhorn(2004)in the Medical quarterly regarding middle eastern reproductive technologies and male infertility. Inhcom says:

    Exploring Middle Eastern men’s experiences of male infertility and NRTs—
    including, among other things, their understandings of infertility etiology, their
    feelings about their masculinity, their embodiment of new reproductive technologies,
    their interpretations of local religious moralities, and their sometimes conflicting
    feelings of marital loyalty versus desires for fatherhood—presents itself as
    a fruitful area of medical anthropological research.

    I agree with her in that sense, there is a lot to explore. To Lisa who has been duing recent research on this topic my question is: do you think perhaps due to the connection between fertility and virility (and other factors that Inhorn points out above) there has been a more readily acceptance of Viagra versus other NRT’s?

  3. 26 August, 2009 3:13 pm

    Thanks Marlene, and thanks for sharing the reference. It looks well worth following up!

    Maybe we can include that when we write the paper together, eh Lisa? 😛

  4. 1 September, 2009 12:49 pm

    Our western cultural taboo is one reason I’ve never bought a penis enlarger. If my buddies found one in my residence, they’d never let me live it down. I’d like to try one, but I ain’t takin the chance of getting busted with one.

  5. 28 August, 2010 11:50 pm

    Great post Jovan; “I wonder if its given pride of place in the bedroom — maybe in a nice glass cabinet above the bed?” For U.S 50K you would expect so.


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