From courts to catwalks, the penis is enjoying a moment in the sun

Whether you're in Germany, Paris or Hull, there's only one topic on everyone's mind

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The politics of the penis are always fascinating, and this week has proved no exception. First, a German court in Düsseldorf has announced that it is a man’s legal right to stand up while urinating.

Yep. Standing up at the loo cannot be challenged. The ruling came after a landlord took his former tenant to court for damage to the marble floor of the bathroom in his rented flat. According to the landlord, the damage was caused by stray drops of urine thanks to the tenant’s habit of remaining upright, and by the fact that he clearly had rather erratic aim.

Apparently, in Germany, waving one’s tackle around at the loo is really not done, even if you are a crack shot. It is altogether much more polite to point Percy at the porcelain, as it were, from a seated posture. Some households even rig up hilarious home-made signs with pictures of stick men squatting on loos, effectively commanding visiting chaps to adopt this sedentary style of micturition. What larks! Hence the affronted landlord’s claim that by ignoring this national modus operandi, his careless tenant had ruined the floor and caused £1,440 worth of damage.

The judge was unmoved, ruling that a) marble can withstand urine and b) all men, even in these modern times, have the right to stand. “Despite the increasing domestication of men in this regard, urinating while standing up is still widespread,” wrote the judge, clearly seeing himself as some sort of waggish latter-day anthropologist. “Anyone who still practises this formerly dominant custom has to expect occasional clashes with their flatmates, particularly female ones. But they don’t have to worry about damage to the marble floor.”

A custom? Surely it must be regarded as more than that. Stand up for the standing pee! It has always been the one incontestable advantage men have over women. Yes, women can wear both dresses and trousers (my daughter sees this as a colossal bonus), and we don’t have to worry about the fag of shaving our faces. However, the easy efficiency of the male wee cannot be surpassed, as anyone who has ever run the Paris marathon, where runners are obliged to line up two hours before the start gun, on the loo-free Champs Elysées, will attest.

It probably also is the reason most men are much more blasé about the whole business of revealing their private parts, because the communal urinal is simply part of male culture. At least, it is outside Germany. There they all are, in the gents of any pub, theatre, cinema or restaurant you want to mention, standing up, waving their willies about, and who cares?


This might have been part of the thinking of the American fashion designer Rick Owens this week, when he opted to send four of his male models down the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week with their meat and two veg very much in the open air. The clothes were styled with “peepholes” which left nothing to the imagination. According to the models, it wasn’t much to worry about. “I just noticed it when I looked at the photo board and saw that there were cocks hanging about,” said one.

This is more than can be said for the (mostly female) crowd, where, according to one observer, squawks and giggles “rippled down the front row like a Mexican wave”. And so the Instagram hashtag #dickowens was born. Because, of course, this is the other thing. When it is in – shall we say, repose – the penis is a vulnerable, strange thing which if seen outside the gents can cause involuntary laughter from onlookers. It explains why that great scourge of the 1970s, the flasher, was characterised as more comic than anything else.

Earlier this week, at an arts convention in Hull, I was holding a dinner attended by the great and the good from the British cultural world. Drawn for some reason to discuss the nature of the penis (this does happen from time to time in the arts world), one of the grandees explained that he and some friends were in the West End last year watching one of our most celebrated thespians playing a role whose costume left much to be desired, in terms of coverage. “As he rolled over everything hung out, and you couldn’t help but notice that he was a bit... on the small side,” explained my guest. “We all looked at each other and, as one, whispered one single word.” Which was...?