Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Why the penis is going mainstream

Male nudity is everywhere these days, and here’s why it’s a good thing.

Many moons ago, in what now feels like a world before climate change fears, a friend told me that he’d sent a photo of his penis to a famous gay author (slut!), and that, and this was the part that shocked me, the author responded with one of his own (celebrity slut!).

Neither men expected to meet in real life; they just wanted to have a little cyberspace fun. While fantasies swirled in my head about my own celebrity skin exchange with Jake Gyllenhaal, I was mostly dumbfounded that dick pics were becoming a thing. I would have bet on “Fetch” happening first. 

Multiple meanings intended, dicks run the world, but, until recent times, the dicks of the pleasurable kind have remained, for the most part, under wraps. It wasn’t until after Grindr, Tumblr—who could forget those dick-wagging delights—and a long-overdue mainstream acceptance of homoeroticism in Western culture, that Hollywood cashed in on cock worship. Like pretty much all good entertainment these days, most of it’s happening on your TV screen. 

‘Cause there they are, unzipped and uncovered, whether it be in serious love stories like Normal People—hunky heartthrob Paul Mescal does his own stunts, thank you very much—on slick, sick entertainment like EuphoriaEric Dane’s prosthetic penis poses are hard to beat, and one episode had roughly 30 penises in the chorus line—or in wonderfully whacky docudramas like Pam and Tommy—look what’s talking! It’s almost as if, after more than 2,000 years of female exploitation, the boys in the band are finally taking one for, and from, the team. In case you haven’t noticed, Ryan Murphy’s man-on-man TV action’s more bountiful than a Pornhub visit. Peen television is more explosive than the old Columbia House Records “buy eight CDs for a dollar” craze—want them or not, they just keep popping up. 

I vaguely remember a time when Milo Ventimiglia’s bare-naked butt tease on the first episode of This Is Us was a cause celebre. Nowadays, if the guy doesn’t show some ass half the viewers take a pass. Full-frontal nudity is in and on demand now, and I’m gonna bet Oscar Isaac’s “people” were thrilled when the actor agreed to go full-frontal for HBO Max’s Scenes from a Marriage. Didn’t see or hear about it? We’ve come a long way, baby, from when Richard Gere’s American Gigolo and Breathless penis prancing almost overshadowed his acting chops and heavenly good looks. Who knew Gere was a revolutionary? 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention HBO’s Oz penis palooza, or thank Chris Meloni for being a head of his time. The prison drama’s an anomaly that’s brazen in its male sexploits. Beginning in 1997, Oz is often credited with being the true origin of TV’s new Golden Age (before The Sopranos and The Wire), and perhaps its male nudity also ushered in, albeit slowly, the collective cocks we see now. Following that logic, the male members of True Blood, also HBO, could be viewed as the boundary-pushing next step in the male-girdle toss. At long last, free willie! 

Hollywood takes about as many artistic risks as Adele, so I’m guessing that onscreen, male, full-frontal nudity evolved from our own comfort zone in regards to male genitalia. While #metoo probably helped in a “your turn, fuckers” sort of way, there’s also a gay factor in play. Add a touch of irony, because permission came from the straight world. Queer rights and acceptance grew exponentially in the first half of this century, and, with it, similar to the booming same-sex wedding industry, the realization that cocks are big business. Naked women have been selling magazines and movies since the dawn of both, to little repercussions, so, if the dudes are no longer freaked out about their private parts on display, why not let them start their own junk sale?

Once men became comfortable around other gay men and their own metrosexual side, the introduction of public peen became a natural extension (the puns just dribble out, intentional or not). Straight guys, when allowed, aren’t all that different from straight girls, curious about their bodies and with questions galore, and often eager to explore each other. If someone as man-centric as I’ve been all my life could have a crush on a girl when I was 12, I imagine that a lot of straight, male kids my age had same-sex attractions. Add hormones to the mix, vanity, and competition, and boys will be boys playing with other boys.

Unlike gay men, who’ve been expressing their naked side for ages, often shamed for it, jailed, or killed, hetero dudes started having a ball, showing off for Only Fans (“You mean if I fuck another guy I’ll make more than jerking off? Dudes, let’s do this!”), getting kicked off Instagram because they can’t resist showing off too much down there—the metaverse is so behind the times—and lining up to be the next un-Shamed Michael Fassbender in Hollywood. 

American cinema’s been bold in the past—let’s hear it for Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting et al—but there still exists a penis warning label for A-list actors, and a lot of brouhaha for tiny bits. Blink and you’ll miss Ben Affleck’s full-frontal Gone Girl shower scene (Matt Damon makes for a more interesting little buddy), but the publicity helped bank the film. From all the attention he/it received, I would have thought Bradley Cooper went full-on gang bang in Nightmare Alley, but the nudity is so brief and so cloudy (in bathwater), it’s hardly worth re-winding 634 times to get the perfect still…or so I’ve been told. 

Michael Fassbender in Shame

Macho men also claim they don’t like all the attention. Fassbender called it sexist to discuss his penis, Jon Hamm’s mad that going commando means people will talk, and I’m planning to buy a T-shirt that says “stare at my cock,” then beat up the people who look. Give me a break, boys, women’s bodies have been exploited and dissected since Adam bust a rib. Then there’s cowboy, er, actor Sam Elliott, that pinnacle of mustachioed masculinity, pissed off about The Power of the Dog because the “allusions to homosexuality” ain’t the West he knows so well from reading Hollywood scripts. Call it a hunch, but I’d say the former Lifeguard sex symbol doesn’t care to see full-frontal naked Benedict Cumberbatch take over the usually-reserved-for-women role.  

Big egos, small minds, aside, the naked cock is here to stay. Progress may bend, but it never breaks. And if it’s hard, it ain’t going to do either. The new HBO Max comedy Minx (that network has balls) might take place in the 1970s, but take a closer look, not just literally, and it’s clear the penis revolution is pure 2022. Set at a fictional male-nudie magazine that breaks ground by showing the full monty, the conceit tells us that, while men baring all for “Playgirl,” was big news back in the day, network TV baring it all today is the next plausible step in the evolution of peniskind. 

Watching the show’s peen parade episode, all shapes and sizes included, I couldn’t help but think of the original dick picks, now as ubiquitous in the gay world as a handshake, and often as insignificant. As usual, the queers got there first, the mainstream took hold, and Hollywood swallowed it up. Our egos should feel sufficiently stroked. 

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David Toussaint

David Toussaint is the writer of five screenplays (with six film festival awards between them) and four best-selling non-fiction books. A professional journalist since the age of 15, he’s written for such publications as Huffington Post, Queerty, and Conde Nast Traveler. Toussaint is also a professional playwright and actor.

David Toussaint has 24 posts and counting. See all posts by David Toussaint

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