One day, as I was going through the many newsletters on the book industry in my inbox, I happened upon a Publisher’s Weekly newsletter that mentioned the title, Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That. I thought that whoever crafted the newsletter placed that title in it by mistake but my curiosity was aroused and I just had to click on the link to find out more (see below for a link to the PW interview).
It turns out that the provocative title is for a book by Jesse Bering, an evolutionary psychologist and columnist for Scientific American and Slate magazines. Bering had decided to compile the essays he wrote for the magazines into a book and title it Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?… And Other Reflections on Being Human.
You have to admit that it is a very eye-catching title. So eye-catching in fact that whenever I read it on the train, I am thrown inquiring looks by my fellow travelers. I remember on one occasion when the man sitting next to me glanced at my book, double-glanced, stared fixedly at the cover, and then looked away in disgust. I guess he thought I was reading a racy novel (a la Fifty Shades of Grey) and failed to read the second part of the title.
Another time while on the train, the guy sitting beside me glanced up from his book, briefly, to check out what I was reading (I had just whipped out my book with a flourish). He kept looking from the cover to my face over and over again as if shocked and seemed to want to make a comment but unfortunately, his stop arrived before his nerves could take hold.
Despite these glances, I refused to seek an alternative cover for my book or read it on an electronic device. I take pride in what I read and I like to show off.
Though the initial title gives way for many possibilities to develop of what might be discussed in the book, people should pay more attention to the secondary title. Yes, taboo subjects are touched on and Bering does reveal why the penis is long with the male’s precious “family jewels” hanging, unprotected, outside the body cavity, but Bering also delves into topics that provoke the mind to thoughts on evolution and just how much human beings are influenced by their ancestors…..and apes.
Although scientific theories are discussed, Bering breaks them down easily so that a layperson, such as myself, with minimal background in science/biology can easily understand what is being discussed. This book is far from boring. Bering had me laughing throughout. He tends to end his chapters on a comical, but thoughtful note. I kept clicking on my Facebook app while reading to update my status with funny tidbits from the book to share with my friends (now they want to read it).
Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That is organized into 8 parts, with each part consisting of 4 – 5 essays that discuss the heading topic of the section. The topics range from anatomy to cannibalism to sexual orientation to suicide. In all essays, Bering presents an evolutionary psychological analysis of the topic using noted research, experiments, and data collected by scientists in the field. Sometimes Bering alludes to his experiences in the discussions, mostly for comedic effect.
If you are looking for a thought-provoking read, and are not afraid of taboo subjects, then this is for you.
Essays that I enjoyed, not so much for the topic but for what I learned, were:
- ‘Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? The Extended Cut’
- ‘The Hair Down There: What Human Pubic Hair Has in Common with Gorilla Fur’
- ‘Lascivious Zombies: Sex, Sleepwalking, Nocturnal Genitals – and You’
- ‘Asexuals Among Us’
- ‘Darwin’s Mystery Theatre Presents…The Case of the Female Orgasm’
- ‘Top Scientists Get to the Bottom of Gay Male Sex Role Preferences’
- ‘God’s Little Rabbits: Believers Outreproduce Nonbelievers by a Landslide’
- ‘The Rat That Wouldn’t Stop Laughing: Joy and Mirth in the Animal Kingdom’
- Ask Jesse Bering Anything: Why Is The Penis Shaped Like That? (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? PW Talks with Jesse Bering (publishersweekly.com)
- Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? by Jesse Bering: review (telegraph.co.uk)