As February begins we in the ISCHP website editing office, look to our next interesting article. The following was produced by Craig Owen and Christine Campbell following a pecha kucha presented at ISCHP’s 2017 conference. Dee and Neda.
This is an adaptation of the paper presented and that can be readily viewed on You Tube.
Constructions of masculinity have shifted and changed but the central role of the penis has remained firm. Indeed, the very word ‘manhood’ is synonymous with both masculinity and the penis.
Twenty years ago most traditional men were comfortable not talking about the penis, but since then there has been an explosion of media representations of penises. In turn, research suggests men’s fears about their penises are constantly expanding. Where once size was the only salient factor, men are increasingly being directed to concern themselves with the aesthetics of their genitals: shape, proportions, and pubic hair topiary. Men’s magazines play a crucial role here, acting as cultural signposts, telling men how they should feel about their penises and their masculinity.
In a recent article published in the Journal of Health Psychology, we analysed the representations of penises in four of the most popular UK men’s magazines – GQ, Loaded, Attitude and Men’s Health. We found two prominent discourses across the four publications which we termed ‘laddish’ and ‘medicalised’. Laddish discourses built the penis up by celebrating and giggling at large and detailed phallic images and worshiping at the altar of well endowed ‘celebrity swordsmen’. Medicalised discourses seemed to offer a critique of laddish standards, promoting a more serious ‘scientific’ approach that challenged the ideal of a big penis. But this was not as radical as it first appeared. The aspirational goal of having a large penis was replaced by the ideal of a beautiful one. Both discourses increase fears by putting pressure on men to meet particular standards and by highlighting extreme examples of traumatised, mutilated and non-functioning penises.
Ultimate, then, men’s magazines continue to reproduce age-old fears that men’s masculinities are bound up with the achievements and failures of their penises, but present these fears in new, repackaged ways. For sexual health practitioners and health psychologists working closely with boys and men, an understanding of the dominant media representations that males are exposed to in these mainstream media publications will be valuable when structuring interventions, therapies and sex-education classes.
(1) The original pecha kucha that was presented at ISCHP’s conference in 2017 can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad3YLBvpbDw&t=