Russell Shorto

Putting Things in the Penis (as opposed to the other way around)

The current issue of “The Atlantic” has what is surely the most self-evident headline of the year so far: “The Problem with DIY Penis Implants.” In the vast category of incomprehensible things that humans do, we learn of a very special subcategory. The word “craze” denotes a mass phenomenon but it also connotes irrationality. What has been documented in prisons from Australia to Texas seems to fit the term. Objects implanted include dice, buttons, and “deodorant roller balls.” The question forces itself to the front of the mind: Why? One answer given in the article–boredom–simply doesn’t satisfy. I googled, and found an interesting article from 2001 in “Inside Indonesia” about a similar yearning among working-class Indonesians. Ball bearings and “semi-precious stones” are favored implants. Most common explanations for the behavior are aphrodisiac and performance enhancement. The fact that the operations are self-inflicted or performed not by doctors but fellow prisoners or other laymen suggests, further, that the motivations are deeper, murkier, more darkly mired in the psyche. Most men would I think accept as a definition of “penis”: the thing you don’t mess with. Unless of course it’s broke. If it’s broke, you get it fixed. If not, and hordes of people are attempting to fix it anyway, there is something going on. The world is off-kilter in some dramatic, subterranean way. Can someone solve this?

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About the Author

  I was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I have three children (Anna, Eva and Anthony) and three step-children (Reinier, Hector and Benjamin).  I write books of narrative history; I believe history is most meaningful to us when it manifests itself through individuals in conflict. My books have been published in fourteen languages and have won numerous awards.  I am senior scholar at the New Netherland Institute and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. My interests include the past, the present and the future, not necessarily in that order.  

photo by Keke Keukelaar