Social history of the penis

In our time, no one has changed attitudes to the genitals in general and the penis in particular than Freud. He wrote about how the penis affects the development of the individual psyche, the dynamics of the family, society's expectations, gender roles, humor, art, religion and more, much more. There is no way anyone can deny the central place of the penis in the theory and - presumably - in the imagination of Freud. Mind you, he's probably right: the penis probably does affect all those things.

While his foundation may have been the concepts of penis envy and castration anxiety, the construction he built upon this was one in which the unconscious mind's activity centered upon male or penile lust; he claimed that all libido, female as well as male, was phallic, and in doing so made it normal (or at least more widespread) to speak of the penis and the vagina. The ideas which Freud wrote about uncovered and dispelled the shame and secrecy of hundreds of years of Christian repression and civilization. Freud did not pay listen much to the people who found his views controversial or offensive, but resistance to the main thrust of his work - nay, to the thrust of his penile theories - was consistent and vociferous.

Click Here For The Contents Page Of Site

Pages On "Other Thoughts"

The penis and gender politics
Social history of the penis
Sperm competition

People apparently did not want to believe his theories, disregarded his facts and regarded him as a somewhat dubious character. None of Freud's many theories was more revolutionary than the suggestion that mind and body must pass through a series of developmental stages: oral, anal, the Oedipus complex (based on a son's jealousy of his father, who clearly possesses mother, a female with whom the son is deeply in love); and, of course, what made these suggestions unpalatable or even unacceptable to some is the fact that the most important organ in shaping one's character - both for men and women - is the penis.

In effect, Freud said, the only thing that divides men and women is having a penis or not having one. And by this what he meant was the presence of a penis or the jealousy of those who did not have one for those who did. It's this which is the source of the penis envy held by little girls and women (and these days we may add feminized men to the roster) towards real men. Freud held that penis envy is as emotionally real as the penis itself. For boys, emotional development results in castration anxiety, a fear that Dad will take away the boy's penis as punishment for wanting to possess mother. Whatever else he suggested, on this, Freud was consistent: the psychological reality of castration and anxiety about losing the penis (or never having one) affects everyone - boys, girls, men and women.

Freud's writing on castration developed as time went by. In The Interpretation of Dreams, he talks about a boy whose nightmares cause him anxiety - he dreams of daggers and knives, which Freud took as a consequence of the father's threat to cut off the child's penis if he continued to masturbate (the boy's anxiety strikes me as a fairly normal reaction!). This episode seems to mirror Freud's own history, in that there are suggestions he was taught how to masturbate by his family's maid, and he was then punished by his father when Dad caught him at it. Freud later described the maid as his instructress in matters sexual.

Although it seems hard to understand nowadays, talking of cutting off a boy's penis was probably a common reaction in nineteenth-century Europe when parents caught a child masturbating. Freud rightly said that while children who masturbate find it pleasurable, the parents hold a deep fear of the child's sexuality and might well threaten to cut off his penis, a threat which will terrorize him and have very deep and long-lasting effects. Indeed, said Freud, this castration anxiety would produce the deepest psychological effect of all: the Oedipus complex. In essence, the boy is terrified of being castrated by his Dad, which he threatens to do because he is so angry about the boy's sexual desire for his mother. This complex, according to Freud, is the foundation of all neurosis. Freud's explanation of how this complex develops is mostly psychological, partly biological, and in parts, where it strikes at the heart of human social history, mythological: and of course, it was then - and remains to day - very controversial. But there we go - Freud said that castration anxiety and its neurotic consequences were the foundation of the human personality, which means that the key factor in the formation of the human personality is the penis.

It's natural, as Freud said, for all little boys to assume that everyone has a penis like he does. When he learns of his sister's or mother's "castrated" body, he may assume his father did the deed - and this becomes horrifying proof of penile amputation. Naturally, he wishes to keep his penis - he must be like his father, after all - so he becomes both resentful and passive towards his father and senses that he is in emotional, if not physical, bondage to his mother. He cannot, must not sexually desire his father's sexual partner; and he cannot even take the risk of not being loved by her, lest in her rage she betray him and give him over to his father so that he may be castrated. We know that children can be narcissistic, but this seems to be taking things too far - the idea that the core of the human personality is based on the fear of the loss of the penis and all it symbolizes.