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 ArtFacts.net. 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.