Martin Robinson, editor of The Book Of Man and the brains behind The Penis Gallery (Picture: Martin Robinson)It’s raining cocks in my house. The deluge is unstoppable. Visitors are advised to wear wellies and macs because a tsunami of tumescences is behind the door.
This is what happens when you put a call-out on social media for submissions for a Penis Gallery and it ends up going viral in Russia.
I’m the editor of The Book of Man, and The Penis Gallery is the next event – happening 26 February at The Book Club, Shoreditch – at our Festival of New Masculinity, an event series aiming to deal with the issues facing men today head-on, and to celebrate new thinking around masculinity.
Now, despite holding events dealing with mental health and creativity, the need for men to reconnect with nature, and changing the way we handle grief, the Penis Gallery looks likely to be our most popular event, much to my surprise, if no one else’s – the PR team from our partners at Superculture gleefully dubbed it ‘The Night of a Thousand Cocks’.
Sex sells, but all of my messaging around this event has been that this is not porn – indeed the stipulations for photo submissions were we wanted FLACCID penises only, which not everyone abided by (yes, we know what a semi looks like, you’re not fooling anyone).
The exhibition is about sex only in that we’re using it as way to talk about sexual dysfunction and how penis anxiety can affect you as a man in general.
The message that this wasn’t about bragging initially seemed to take hold. Despite 4 in 10 young women reportedly having received unsolicited dicks pics, men were quite shy in sending them into us.
Perhaps for the straight men out there the usual dynamic was off – they were sending their pics to strange men who may not immediately invite them for no strings sex, as I’m sure most women usually do.
Until the Russians came in, unzipped, we were struggling, but I found that interesting in itself. Why the shyness?
Well of course, despite all the DM-ing (or because of?) penis anxiety is still the number one anxiety we have from boys to men. And guess what? The problem is growing.
A recent YouGov survey found 42% of 18-24 year old British men would like their penises to be bigger, with only 36% saying they were happy with their size. Cosmetic surgery firms in the UK last year reported a 70-fold rise in enquiries about penis ‘fillers’, which are essentially like lip filler injections for men, with fluid injected into the shaft to boost its girth and presumably remove wrinkles.
Formerly, erectile dysfunction pills were the preserve of older men needing some artery assistance but now it’s very much a young man’s game.
This can be shown with the rise of companies coming into the market after Viagra’s patent ran out in 2018, most notably the ground-breaking site hims, which has just launched over here after having been valued in the US at over $1 billion.
It has brought erectile dysfunction pills and baldness treatments to millennials by marketing to them in a youthful, relatable way which focuses on wellbeing and self-confidence, more like a GOOP for men – they also provide a service for notoriously doctor-averse men to get their hands on this stuff without having to have an awkward chat with a GP or pharmacist.
Hims recorded $1 million dollar sales in its first week less than two years ago – there was huge need out there.
The Penis Gallery by The Book Of ManAnd where does this need come from? Well it doesn’t take a genius to point the finger at online porn.
Men have had penis anxiety long before PornHub, but undoubtedly things have been exacerbated by the swords flying around on screens everywhere (and we mean everywhere, 33.5 billion visits to PornHub in 2018).
The problem is, for a man, your penis is often felt to be the very root of your manliness.
Laura Dodsworth, whose excellent documentary 100 Vaginas screened last week, previously produced a book where she photographed penises and spoke to their owner’s about their anxieties.
Laura, who will be speaking about her work at our Penis Gallery, told me the she called her book about men in her Bare Reality series ‘Manhood’, because men often see the organ as the very heart of their masculinity. This means that if you have a small penis, you are therefore less of a man.
But guess what? The idea of what is the ‘correct’ size is distorted anyway. The NHS says most men’s penises are around 3.75in when not erect, and 5 to 7in when erect – a far cry from most online mega-dongs. More to the point, if you do have a smaller penis, why should that mean you don’t feel like a true man? Researchers say 0.6% of men have a micropenis, which would mean 200,000 of men in the UK potentially feeling this way, on top of the men for whom average just doesn’t look big enough.
Ant Smith, the author of the Small Penis Bible, who will also be appearing at our event, says his worries started when he was young. He says: ‘I was painfully shy and definitely didn’t want anybody to see me naked, which was difficult at school with its ancient communal changing rooms for physical education, but was much worse later when life was so much about “the dating game”.
‘Penis size anxiety is something I have been able to talk to my wife about, after years of building a caring relationship with her – but growing up there was no one you could talk to.’
The fact that penis anxiety is a taboo only adds to the effects on men’s mental health. Who are you going to discuss your ‘manhood’ anxieties with? Your friends, a doctor, your girlfriend even? No chance.
And for straight men, when do you get a good look at other men’s real penises? It’s not the done thing to have a butcher’s in the locker room (apart from rugby teams, obvs).
This touches upon the broader issues of how men and boys are socialised, where from school masculinity is about rejecting ‘the other’, the feminine, within which looking at or talking about penis matters may be seen as being ‘gay’, and indeed any such anxieties around that area seen as weakness. Such learnings can have detrimental effects that extend way into adulthood.
It took Ant a long time for him to deal with his penis anxiety. ‘Talking about it came about almost by accident (in my late 40s) when a very personal poem I wrote caught the attention of the world and went viral,’ he says.
‘What I can say though, is that talking about it was in itself tremendously helpful in terms of tackling the issues that anxiety causes. Most people are fundamentally decent, they may well laugh about small penises – but when they realise they’re also laughing about people, and people they know, things change. Attitudes change.’
Yet, there is still a good deal of work to be done in this regard as far as Ant’s concerned: ‘The social conversation is totally “out-of-whack”. Hardly a day passes where I don’t notice some reference to “size matters” on TV.
‘We only give voice to those who have (or prefer) a larger penis. We need to rebalance the conversation, be more open and vocal about the truth of the matter – which is that penises come in all kinds of varieties as do the people who have, or want them.’
Indeed this exactly where the Penis Gallery is coming from. To celebrate difference, show penises in all shapes and sizes, and give men and women a chance to have a good look at ‘real’ cocks that are a million miles from internet wangers.
Maybe then we can reduce anxiety and love our bodies for what they are. As Laura Dodsworth puts it: ‘Real beauty lies in reality.’
The Penis Gallery takes place at The Book Club on 26 February, as part of The Book of Man’s Festival of New Masculinity.