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Masculinity, Sex, and Dicks

New Understandings of the Phallus

Andrea Waling and Jennifer Power

This special issue brings together interdisciplinary work exploring the relationship between bodies, masculinity, and the penis or phallus. The symbolism, significance, and meaning of the phallus or penis has varied historically and across disciplines. In the psychoanalytic tradition, “the subject…can only assume its identity through the adoption of a sexed identity, and the subject can only take up a sexed identity with reference to the phallus, for ‘the phallus is the privileged signifier’” (Segal 2007: 85). Jacques Lacan's work has inspired feminist critiques of “phallocentrism” in high and popular cultural texts since the 1970s (Segal 2007). Elizabeth Stephens (2007) describes the ancient Greek ideal of small penises as indexing self-control and rationality, while the Romans celebrated virility and power, which they associated with a large penis. Other scholarship has explored the racialization of penis size, such as the stereotype of Black men as possessing large penises, indexing hypersexuality and often depicted in racist terms as representing aggression or lack of civility (Lehman 2006).

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About the Cover Image

Andrea Waling and Jennifer Power

It was difficult to determine the right cover for this special issue. The purpose of the issue was to encourage new ways of thinking about the phallus, and the aim was to find an image that did just this—ask people to wonder what the image is telling us. What does it represent? What is the story? It is perhaps ironic that the image we found most appealing is a device designed to prevent a penis from functioning. In the late nineteenth century, masturbation was believed to cause mental illness, and solo ejaculation was considered a form of sexual dysfunction, and this is one example of many, often brutal, devices created to physically prevent erections and masturbation. Sitting over modern blue jeans, however, the image is erotic and evokes BDSM or kink culture. The old and the new, repression and eroticism, are one and the same.