Humankind has come a long way in the last few million years, crawling out of the primordial soup and slowly working our way toward agriculture, industry, lunar travel and even a fourth Toy Story movie. And sure, we seem determined to destroy ourselves and the world around us as our next big showstopper, but if we manage not to do that, we potentially have a long way to go.
What, though, of all the stuff lurking or dangling between our legs? Where’s that heading? We know that, as we left apehood behind, we evolved smaller testicles but larger penises — losing the spines from them in the process — so one might sensibly assume that such a trend would carry on toward a foot-long future: Our knuckles might not drag on the ground anymore, but other bits very well could.
This, however, doesn’t reckon with the theory, espoused by the likes of Sir David Attenborough, that physical evolution has pretty much stopped for humanity. We’ve reached a point, intellectually and culturally, where natural selection no longer directs us as a species. Does this mean that this is it for us, genital-wise? Have our pant-dumplings gone as far as they’ll go, without ever reaching a point where the design of a scrotum makes anything approaching visual sense?
But penile progress and ballsack breakthroughs might still be awaiting us in a glorious, lengthy future. Let’s investigate…
Dicks and Balls Made of Spare Parts
Until now, it’s pretty much been a given that the penis one is born with is the penis one dies with (albeit just a little bit darker). But creating them in a lab, sculpting them from other body parts or transplanting them from one body to another are all possible — not necessarily easy or pleasant, but possible. Take Andrew Wardle, for example, who was 44 years old when a penis was finally made for him last year. Born with bladder exstrophy (a rare condition in which the bladder is located outside the body) and growing up in Manchester, England, he went through hundreds of surgeries before a urologist came up with the plan to build him a penis using skin, muscles, nerves and veins taken from elsewhere in his body. An operation that would once have been the stuff of a madman’s dream led to him having a fully working penis, usable for both urination and sexual intercourse. (“People seem to get hung up on the sexual aspect of the operation,” he told Insider. “It’s very annoying.”)
Also last year, surgeons at Johns Hopkins University performed the world’s first complete penis and scrotum transplant, attaching body parts from a deceased donor to a wounded war veteran. As for the balls, well, ethical questions about potential children meant the decision was made not to include the testicles in the transplant.
If neither of the above ideas appeal, there is work underway that seems to bridge the gap between the donor penis and the lab-grown replacement. Anthony Atala, of North Carolina’s Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is working on a procedure that involves breaking a donor penis down to a collagen scaffold, then rebuilding it using cells taken from the eventual recipient. One of the aims is to create partial replacement penises for aging men with erectile dysfunction caused by scar tissue, but complete penis engineering is also on the table — in late 2014, Atala predicted it would be doable within five years, which makes the first lab-grown member imminent.
Phallic Fashion Statements
Does a second penis need to be a replacement, though? Or could it be a bonus? “It’s going to get really bonkers,” says Trudy Barber, an artist and sexual futurologist who created the world’s first immersive virtual reality sexual environment back in the 1990s. “There’s technology that allows us to rejuvenate body parts using stem cells. I foresee a future where people will be able to have different types of sex organs created to go on different parts of their bodies. It’ll be the ultimate fashion statement — having your own unique penis or vagina that you bring out in the most unexpected way.”
It sounds like a huge, improbable step, but then, she explains, people have always manipulated the technology available to them for sexual pleasure. “We’ve seen so much acceleration in the worlds of body modification and gender identity recently, and ideas disseminate so quickly now that if someone influential enough did it, it could become mainstream. We’re going to see a knock-on effect, with different new ideas coming forward from an adventurous, extremely tech- and body-savvy generation. There would be a lot of questions — would these genitals be functional, or an identity statement or a fashion statement? Would they work? And by ‘working,’ do we mean they’d look nice, they’d feel nice or they’d make other people feel nice? This could affect everything from mating rituals — imagine a peacock-like display — to identity politics and individuality.”
The Post-Singularity Dick and Balls
The Singularity, we we’ve mentioned before, is the theoretical point in the future when computers become more intelligent than humans, leading either to a) human extinction, or b) a giant explosion of self-perpetuating technological progress, transforming existence almost entirely. It’s an enormous, difficult idea to wrap your head around — essentially, everything we know would change, with concepts like consciousness and self shifting in meaning as people’s minds become uploadable to the cloud, transcending corporeal form and leaving our fleshy meat sacks (and attached sexual appendages) behind. Considering such paradigm-shifting, metaphysical ideas, it’s hard to imagine where the space for dicks might be. Would the very idea of genitals be passé?
“Genitals won’t be redundant,” says Natasha Vita-More, transhumanist pioneer and executive director of Humanity+ Inc. She describes a future in which “posthumans” exist across multiple layers, including the material one we live in now (the “biosphere”) and virtual substrates, using whole-brain emulation to upload one’s consciousness to a virtual world and download it into different bodies for different environments, like the Moon or Mars. “As long as there’s real time and a material biosphere, there will be physical bodies,” she says. “Genitals would only become redundant if and when a person takes on a new type of bodily form that doesn’t require reproduction of sexual pleasure from these biological organs.”
But what, I hear you cry, of asses? What brave new world awaits the humble rump? Well, first we must consider what comes out of it. Disposal of human waste has always been one of the biggest problems we’ve had as a species, and is what keeps whole sections of the world living in disease and squalour. “There’s a massive public health crisis caused by all the shit lying around our planet,” says Rose George, author of The Big Necessity: Adventures In The World Of Human Waste. “We have the ludicrous and tragic situation of children dying of diarrhea, a preventable and curable condition.”
With this in mind, could we perhaps evolve beyond shitting? If a foodstuff was invented that presented the body with everything it needed so that no poo was generated — the most extraordinary breakthrough in human civilization — then surely, we’d evolve beyond the need for anuses, right? Sadly, George isn’t so optimistic. “I can’t see how we’re ever going to overcome our body’s need to excrete,” she says. “Not even astronauts can, yet, and if anyone needs to, they do.”
Josh Evans, former lead researcher of the University of Copenhagen’s Nordic Food Lab, thinks a world in which humanity no longer poops is possible, although he questions the point of such an exercise. “There are substances that are 100 percent absorbable by the body — pure glucose, for example,” he says. “But man cannot live on glucose alone. There are always byproducts of metabolism. Food that caused no pooing might be possible, depending on what we mean by ‘food,’ but I don’t think that reality would be particularly desirable, and we’d still have to pee and fart.” And farting, of course, involves butts, so it seems our rectums are unlikely to find themselves gathering dust anytime soon.
Living in the tumultuous times we inhabit, looking forward can be scary, but perhaps we have, in our bodies, some of the few devices that are truly future-proof. Whether continuing as-is, coming in bespoke lab-grown form, multiplying into flamboyant display models or remaining steadfast as throwbacks that defy the existential plane everything else has ascended to, one thing seems clear: For as long as humanity exists, you’ll never be far from dicks, balls and asses.