Sometimes a Cigar Is More Than a Cigar

David Nokes

  • The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800 edited by Lynn Hunt
    Zone, 411 pp, £24.25, August 1993, ISBN 0 942299 68 X

A recent ‘free uncensored’ supplement to Company magazine featured a display of 29 male bottoms. ‘How’s this for bare-faced cheek!’ it proclaimed above this set of ‘spanking pics of real-life bums’: slim bums and flabby bums, muscly bums and pimply bums, hairy bums and smooth bums. Pornography has always had an obsession with comparisons and quantifications. It has often seemed more fascinated by quantity than quality. How many inches? How many times? How many positions? How many partners? Aretino’s Postures (1524), the first widely-circulated work of Renaissance pornography, featured an engraved display of 16 sexual positions; within a decade pirate copies had expanded this modest range to 35 or even 44 bodily configurations for the ‘sacrifice to Saint Fuck’. Don Giovanni’s boast of 1003 Spanish conquests is a priapic tribute to Enlightenment notions of l’homme machine; just as Rowlandson’s fascination with erections of Brobdingnagian proportions represents a triumph of Enlightenment hubris over the age-old anxieties of the male inchwar. (Company deals briskly with such male fantasies: ‘Sorry guys, we know the truth. The ten-inch penis is, sadly, very, very rare. The average man’s pride and joy is 4", rising to 5" to 7" when fully erect.’ It’s not clear if we’re supposed to feel deflated or reassured by these statistics.)

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