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What All Our Dick Coverage Says About Us

What All Our Dick Coverage Says About Us, According to a Researcher Who Studies Men’s Publications That Talk About Dicks

I’ve always considered MEL’s dick coverage to be inspired.

As my colleague Tierney Finster noted a few weeks ago, in the last year alone, we’ve covered smelly dicks, whiskey dicks, bags of dicks, limp dicks, cartoon dicks and small dicks, giant dicks and bionic dicks.

I personally have written about morning wood; “growers vs. showers”; men reinventing the dick pic; women reinventing the dick pic; men who filter and art direct their dick pics; teabagging as the ultimate sign of friendship; the unspoken pact men have not to kick each other in the balls; the Mormon Dick Soak; a cultural history of men sucking their own dicks; a circular history of circle jerks; and what pelvic floor control can mean for your dick when it’s about to cum.

And that’s just off the top of my head.

I like to think — and that my work demonstrates — that I’m capable of bringing a lot more dick to the table.

But alas, all that dick (from either me or my colleagues) is pretty basic, at least according to Christine Campbell, a psychology professor at St. Mary’s University in London who studies this kind of thing. “MEL’s penis coverage is typical of all men’s magazines,” she explains. “There’s a big (pun intended) focus on size, a lot of giggling about how funny dicks are and anxiety about horrible injuries that might befall their penis. ‘That’s When I Realized They Had Completely Frankensteined My Dick’ from January 2016 is a prime example.”

“You do have one thing we don’t see a lot of here [in the U.K.]: Loads of stories about dick pics — why people send them, how to make them look better, etc. That’s quite interesting.”

Campbell says she was drawn to the subject of media representation of penises while speaking with Craig Owen, a masculinities scholar at St. Mary’s. She was surprised to learn he never talks about dicks with his friends — that most guys don’t. How then do men learn about their dicks, they both wondered, given they’re neither going to the doctor nor talking about them with each other?

Men’s sexual health education in the U.K. — everything from erectile dysfunction to blue balls to which way your dick hangs — traditionally occurs in sports clubs, barbershops and bathrooms. But a fourth such safe place, Campbell says, are men’s magazines, or laddie mags as they’re best known, and which have been frequently exported to the U.S. (Maxim and FHM chief among them). “These are cultural signposts influencing men’s feelings about their penises and their masculinity.”

Consequently, the way magazines like ours talk about dicks is important. Which is why Campbell and Owen conducted an exhaustive study of four of U.K’s leading men’s publications — Loaded, Men’s Health, GQ and Attitude — to find all the dick they could. Turns out, we mostly laugh about our dicks because as men, we’re terrified of them — primarily that they’re not big enough (but of course) and that some horrible accident might befall them. Like an animal chomping down on them.

You write that penises are “masculinity made flesh.” What does that mean?
Lots of what men feel about their masculinity is bound up with their feelings about their penis. If they feel they have a big strong dick, then they are big strong men.

You found there to be two main forms of penis coverage: “Laddish” and “medicalized.” Can you define both?
“Laddish” isn’t too far away from the American term “frat boy” — lots of drinking, not being terribly respectful toward women, being stereotypically masculine, etc. “Medicalized” focuses more on functionality, best practices and healthiest principles.

What is the example of “laddish” penis content?
Lots of giggling about penises — almost like they’re embarrassed to talk about them. Lad’s mags love to make jokes about dicks, similar to drawing cocks on bathroom walls, which guys have been doing forever. They even found cock graffiti in Pompeii. I think it’s slightly childish to stamp pictures of masculinity everywhere, but it’s also connected to the giggling. It’s all about valorizing large penises.

For example?
Townspeople and spectators at the Tour de France know exactly where the bikers will be riding. Someone spray-painted an enormous cock and balls on the road. You couldn’t miss it where the camera was following. It was very detailed, with hairy balls and a little spurt coming out as well. The graffiti valorized penises to such an extent that the commentator said it “eclipsed the achievement of even the riders themselves.”

What’s a similar example in a men’s magazine?
By focusing on celebrities renowned for having big ones — like David Beckham, whose wife publicly stated his “looks like a tractor exhaust pipe.” Michael Fassbender, Ralph Fiennes, Colin Farrell and Jon Hamm are all celebrated for their big dicks. Why? Because having a big dick isn’t like having a big nose or having big feet. It’s more than just an appendage. It speaks to who you are as a man. Knowing Michael Fassbender has a huge cock makes you think of him as more masculine.

What about “medicalized” coverage?
It encourages guys to make their dicks as beautiful as possible — by trimming, prepping and staying fit. MEL does some of this. I remember seeing something about avoiding smelly dicks on your site, and I thought, “Oh my God, anybody reading this is going to think, I have to wash my dick 20 minutes before I have sex! There’s even a brand name included for what to wash it with…

GQ attempts to rise above the laddish approach by refusing to snigger and giggle. They approach it very seriously, as a medical issue. But they’re so serious, there’s no room where guys can just hear and talk about dicks casually. No articles about pleasure or how dicks work. It’s always about size and what can go wrong.

By contrast, the next study we’re doing is about how breasts are represented in women’s magazines. It’s completely different. If you look at 17 Magazine or Teen Vogue’s coverage of breasts, it’s casual and fun: “Breasts are great! They’re fun! They’re normal and natural and come in all different shapes and sizes.”

Compare that to the fear and anxiety that men have to contend with regarding their penises all the time. They either see massive, unattainable penises like Michael Fassbender’s, or horribly deformed penises that are about to fall off. It’s all about fears of one sort or another. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of deformity. Fear of embarrassment.

I call it “freakshow spectacularism.” One article talked about Aboriginal people cutting their dicks lengthwise and then pounding them flat with a rock. Another about some guy who got his dick stuck in a bottle and it swelled up and had to be cut off. The message to guys: Haha, dicks are funny! Or: Look at what could happen to my dick!

Either way, he’s distancing himself from his body part.