Russell Shorto

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

February 2nd, 2013

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?