To Be Seen Is To Be Known and We All Want To Be Known (NSFW)

Consider yourself warned: the image below the fold is definitely not safe for work. I found it on Library Vixen’s tumblr, who must’ve found it on The painting is called, simply, “Penis;” the artist is named Ellen Altfest, and I think it is breathtakingly beautiful.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, and I saw in hardcore pornography a world where I could be safe sexually, one thing that consistently frustrated me was the monolithic way in which the male body, especially the penis, was portrayed. I wanted to learn from porn, to find myself, understand myself in the images I was consuming, and the penis I saw on the screen or in the pages of the magazines I read–always hard, always penetrating or being stroked or sucked–represented such a narrow slice of how I experienced my own body that I would find myself filling in what I saw as the blanks by remembering what it felt like for my penis to get hard. And I would wonder as well how a woman experienced that process, because how the women I wanted to have sex with saw me was as important to me as what I hoped they would allow me to see of themselves. Images such as this one let me see how I am seen, and it makes me feel good to know that someone would take the time to look at me so closely, to know me in such intimate detail.

One last thought: Thirty years ago, when I was a camp counselor, I had a conversation with one of my campers–he was fourteen or fifteen years old–in which he said, “I understand entirely why boys like Playboy. Women’s bodies, after all, are beautiful. I cannot understand, though, why any girl or woman would want to look at Playgirl. Men’s bodies are just so awkward and ugly.” I don’t remember what I said in response, but I do remember the shock of recognition as I realized that, without ever having thought about it consciously, I agreed with him. I didn’t want to agree with him, and I don’t anymore, but I did at the time, which makes me sad. Perhaps if more images of the male body such as this one had been available to us, we might not have seen ourselves in such a negative light.

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12 Responses to To Be Seen Is To Be Known and We All Want To Be Known (NSFW)

  1. 1
    Palaverer says:

    Interesting. Most of the women with whom I’ve ever discussed the subject have always been very uncomfortable with vulvae (their own or anyone else’s). I attribute this to a variety of reasons (lack of exposure/encouragement to look at or explore one’s own anatomy, religious guilt, the marketing of the vagina as a problem to be solved, etc). I didn’t realize that men might generally feel the same about their genitals.

  2. 2
    L says:

    Always hated people that believed women’s bodies were more beautiful than men’s bodies. It’s an insult to both genders: that men should settle for being insecure, and that women should settle for insecure partners. (Heteronormatively speaking.)

    It really betrays this whole notion that women are the sole possessors of sex, and that men have to go and get it from them. That simply by being women they’re “asking for it”.

    Sigh. It’s really disappointing that most men still feel this way. And yes, gorgeous painting; has that delicate realism that reminds me of Lucien Freud’s work.

  3. 3
    Danny says:

    Was it your intent to have this behind a fold or cut? I’m asking because I pulled this up on my Google Reader at work today and that pic popped up plain as day. Thankfully I work in a pretty secluded area so the risk of someone else seeing was low but there may be other people out there that aren’t so lucky.

  4. Danny,

    It is below the fold if you look at it on the website. I have no idea how Google Reader handles such things. ETA: I added an NSFW notice in the title. I hadn’t realized I forgot to do that.

  5. 5
    Robert says:

    I ended up looking at some nice peen in my RSS reader. My daughters (8 and 14) are in and out of here pretty regularly. No big, but maybe next time you could host it somewhere else and post a link?

  6. 6
    Simple Truth says:

    Thanks for adding the NSFW, but I also already made the faux-pas. Luckily, I’m in good with the computer guys and I don’t think our filter is too strict.
    I’ve run into the attitude quite often that men have ugly bodies. It is sad, because there’s something nice about a flaccid penis, something very trusting, and the rest of the body….well, they didn’t make all those statues in Greece for nothing. Consider me a fan. :)

  7. 7
    Brandon Berg says:

    Just guesstimating based on a package of sausages I happen to have in my refrigerator, but I’d reckon that the average man is on the order of 0.1% to 0.2% penis.

    So why does everyone’s mind head straight there when someone says “men’s bodies?” There’s a lot more to us than that.

  8. 8
    Maureen O'Danu says:

    ‘Tis a truly beautiful image, and as a woman, I’m a bit of a connoisseur of penii. I do understand why women read Playgirl, and also why women are flocking in *droves* to shows like True Blood that show male sexuality *from a woman’s point of view*. The sexiest scene in that particular series, bar none (for me, at any rate) was the one where the ancient vampire Eric was giving orders while his hair was foiled (being highlighted). The many, many brief gay sex scenes (real or dream sequence) seem to be made for female consumption as well.

    Perhaps we’ll get lucky and producers will start producing more series that recognize that “full frontal” should include not just tits, but penii as well. (and no, I don’t care that penii is not the proper plural for penis. It’s fun to write.) One can only hope.

  9. 9
    Ampersand says:

    For anyone who wants to see a larger image of the painting, I’ve put one here.

  10. 10
    Simple Truth says:

    @Brandon Berg: You have a point. However, it is a point that is under a giant painted picture of a penis. I’m just sayin’.
    Also, if you’re referring to my comment, I mentioned the totality of men’s bodies. I had a particular memory in mind when I wrote it, so perhaps it didn’t come out as clear as I’d like.

  11. 11
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I don’t know if it’s wrong to say that men’s bodies aren’t as beautiful: it’s simply a semantic thing about what “beauty” means.

    Men have bodies which are usually different–most notably, we tend to be a hell of a lot hairier. And lumpier. So if you define beauty as being smooth (a personal choice), most men aren’t beautiful. Of course, they may be good looking, handsome, rugged, whatever.**

    I don’t have anything against hair and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having it (good thing, to, as I’m a hairy guy.) Lots of hairy guys are awesome looking. But awesome looking and beautiful aren’t the same thing to me, so I’m sort of in the “hairy backed is not beautiful” camp. The men and Greek statues who I would place in the “beautiful” category are, as a rule, not hairy.

    Maureen O’Danu says:
    March 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm
    …Perhaps we’ll get lucky and producers will start producing more series that recognize that “full frontal” should include not just tits, but penii as well. (and no, I don’t care that penii is not the proper plural for penis. It’s fun to write.) One can only hope.

    If you can get past the slavery, sexism, violence, and other unpleasantness; if you enjoyed the look of “300;” and if you’re not put off by a lot of naked women, then Spartacus has a lot of half- or all-naked men. I haven’t seen much of it but the two episodes I saw stuck in my mind as “holy shit! They can show THAT?”

    **Please not the “if.” If you define beauty differently, you’ll have different conclusinos, of course.

  12. 12
    Lexie Di says:

    I love men’s bodies and I hate how they, like women’s bodies, are being pushed into narrower and narrower definitions of acceptable.

    All of my friends make faces at the idea of a man with hair on his chest. My boyfriend of nearly 2 years is covered in soft, lush, curly, dark hair that I love to run my fingers through. I love to examine how it’s thick at his chest and thins across his belly. I like how it wraps his arms and legs. I even love how the thick mane as all but vanished from his head…

    Honestly, he and I are very different. He’s tall and rectangular with only a small tummy… I’m short and fat with a large, round tummy. All of my joints are smooth and rounded, his are knobby. He’s bald, I’ve got thick, long hair. My lips are thin, his are full. His nose is long and straight, mine is wider and stubbier. His arms are very strong, my legs are very strong. I’m loud with a West Coast American accent, he’s quieter and sports a deep-voiced English accent. Just thinking of how different we are makes me happy…

    Also…. Yay penis! Yay vaginas! Yay fun and fulfilling lives full of new things and new pepple!