The Man with the Small Castle: The Gorilla PenisPosted: April 12, 2012
Dear reader, there is something you should know about me: I am a huge Dick fan, and I have been ever since my early twenties. Maybe my love of Dick has spilled over into my research, because I often find myself wondering, “What if…?” like in Dick’s classic alternate history novel “The Man in the High Castle”. But instead of asking, “What if the Nazi’s had won,” I ask, “What if our penises had evolved differently?”
Fortunately one doesn’t need to be a Dick to imagine the outcome such scenarios. We only have to examine the penises of our closest living evolutionary relatives, the primates, because in a sense each primate penis is an alternate history of the human penis, a window into What Could Have Been.
I’ve already touched on this idea a little in my post on the barbed penis, where I examined a study claiming proto-humans used to have magnificent barbed penises like many other primates. You might say the barbed penis is like a utopian alternative history, one where the Axis powers lose, but the States and the USSR nuke each other into oblivion, and Canada rises to supremacy, their scientists ruling the land like philosopher kings.
Then you might ask: Which penis corresponds to a dystopian alternate history, the one where the Axis powers win, the West falls to communism, and vampires take over Parliament? This would certainly have to be the gorilla penis.
Had humans evolved along the same lines as gorilla, we might imagine this nightmare scenario:
Our penises are normally invisible, the penile orifice flush with the body wall. When erect, it emerges from the body like the air nozzle on a beach ball, a mere 3 cm long on average (Dixon 1998). It is purely functional and nothing more, stripped of all ornament, individuality, and pleasure-receiving capability.
And instead of feeling horror, shame, and embarrassment about our penises, we feel nothing. Because we men have become hulking, insensate meat-heads, twice as big as the females, who we collect in a harem like precious trophies. The only feelings we do have are a jealous paranoia towards other males who would try to encroach on our harem. But rarely do we engage in true fights. Instead our disputes are settled with elaborate yet neutered displays of dominance–various kinds of posing and posturing, such as chest-beating and strutting, like some never-ending bodybuilding competition (Estes 1992).
In this society where most of our energies are devoted these inter-male competitions, sex is entirely a secondary concern. When it occurs, it is always initiated by the females, and the act itself is bland and perfunctory, lasting one minute at most and typically confined to the dorsal-ventral position, since the male’s micro-penis allows for little else (Short 1979).
So how is it that we humans won the “Battle of the Bulge”, so to speak, whereas gorillas did not? It is difficult to tease out the causal relationships between the different factors, but the difference in penis size is likely due to our different mating systems and whether they allow sexual selection by female choice (Short 1979, Harcourt and Gardiner 1994).
Factors such as distribution of food and the small amount males invest in raising offspring made it so that gorillas were able to sustain a polygamous mating system, wherein one male monopolizes and mates with a harem of females. Such a system effectively eliminates the females ability to choose their mates based on, for instance, the size and stimulating ability of the male’s penis. Rather, female gorillas end up mating with the male gorillas best able to defend their harem, which favors the selection of bigger, more aggressive males. Meanwhile the penis languishes. No longer a necessity to attract females, a dangly appendage becomes a liability for the male gorilla, and selective pressure reduces it to a characterless nub.
We humans, because of different ecological and phylogenic conditions, evolved a mating system that is more monogamous than polygamous. In our system females are still able to exercise some choice over their mates, and hence choose a more stimulating penis to keep them sexually satisfied. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but an irrefutable fact: Females, through sexual selection, have ultimately determined the shape and size of our human penis (Short 1979).
Then let this be cautionary tale for men. To preserve and perhaps one day enhance the state of our penises it is necessary that we stand up to “Nazis” that would prevent a women’s right to choose the penis of her liking, lest we devolve into muscly penisless idiots.
Dixon, A. F. 1998. Primate Sexuality: Comparative Studies of the Prosimians, Monkeys, Apes, and Human Beings. Oxford University Press, USA.
Estes, R. 1992. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Harcourt, A. H. and Gardiner, J. 1994. Sexual selection and genital anatomy of male primates. Proc.: Bio. Sci. 55 (1342): 47-53.
Short, R. V. 1979. Sexual Selection and Its Component Parts, Somatic and Genital Selection, as Illustrated by Man and the Great Apes. pp. 131-152. In: Rosenblatt, J. (ed.) Advances in the Study of Behavior, Vol. 9. Academic Press, London.