Sometime around 1990, for reasons that need not waylay us now, I found myself in a sports centre in County Antrim.
As I showered before leaving, I turned around to reach for the shampoo and noticed that the gent alongside me had either smuggled the Colchian Dragon of Greek myth into an Irish gym or he was packing the most humungous schlong I had ever seen in my life. This beast was a wonder of nature so magnificent that a quarter of a century later I can still recall every detail of the scene, down to the colour of the tiles behind, frozen in time. It was as if I'd caught glimpse of a double rainbow over the Grand Canyon or a golden eagle had swooped and snatched a cheese and pickle sandwich from my hand. Rutger Hauer's replicant could have listed this thing among the glories of the universe, somewhere between the attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and the c-beams that glitter in the dark near Tannhauser Gate. I swear, if this guy had stepped outside naked, baby seals would have been wincing nervously all the way to Nova Scotia.
So it came as no surprise to me this week to read that an academic from the University of Brighton has confirmed that male athletes in locker rooms routinely conduct sly comparative audits of the pocket power packed by their team-mates and rivals. What had not occurred to me before was that I might have been driven by animal instinct to make the chap beside me captain of our team - unless perhaps we were playing baseball and had forgotten to bring a bat, in which case he would have had a definite natural advantage.
Christopher Morriss-Roberts conducted the research for his PhD. “This knowing of who has a large cock and who didn’t within a homosocial environment helped individual sporting males climb up a social hierarchy of importance,” he wrote in Outsports.
“Those with the larger penises were revered and idolised by their teammates as a symbol of masculinity.”
The cynic in me must glance askance at such extravagant claims, the language of which are reminiscent of the work of racist Victorian anthropologists describing newly discovered primitive tribes. I must also note that the findings appear to be based on interviews with just eight subjects, which personally I would consider less as qualitative research and more as a natter in the pub.
For all that, you have to love a guy who bags a PhD for talking cock literally, when most sociologists do it metaphorically. I also suspect Dr Morriss-Roberts has hit upon a fundamental truth when he writes:
"A large penis is now an essential component of hegemonic masculinity, and should be considered a new tenet of masculine capital - taking into account the significance it has on social hierarchy in the sporting environment. I have called this cock-supremacy."
Men's obsession with the size of our penis, much like the phrase 'cock-supremacy,' is undoubtedly amusing. It is a source of pride or hubris for some, but debilitating anxiety for many more, as spam marketeers have found to their profit. Discussions in the agony aunt pages and self-help books tend to focus on sexual performance and partner satisfaction. The advice usually hinges on such clichés as it's not the size that counts but what you do with it, or that it is better to be built for comfort than the showroom.
It is true that most straight women prefer their partners to be of average or just slightly above average endowment (and yes, this is 2014, there's an infographic for that.) However this misses the point - concerns about penis size are not really about satisfying a partner so much as besting a peer. Comparing cock is a competitive, hierarchical sport, one event in the grand decathlon of masculinity, and it is less important to be big enough for her than it is to be bigger than him.
Was it ever thus? Perhaps. My hunch would be that the obsession is growing awkwardly like a boner on a bus. As the historical sureties of masculine status, from military service and hard manual labour to domestic patriarchy are gradually whittled away by social progress, we may be left with a dwindling pool of arbitrary markers with which to score manliness, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, most of us have probably been exposed to a rather more impressive array of specimens than our forefathers.
Is this healthy? Not always, but on balance, it is probably better than proving our manhood by disembowelling each other with bayonets. On that note, a word to a tall, Northern Irish man, now aged around fifty: Sir, I salute you. You can still be captain of the team.
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