Taking Dick Seriously, Or, the Erotics of Circumcision

Sometimes I hold
my warm seed
up to my mouth
and kiss it.
—Essex Hemphill

Some of us like it cut, some of us don’t. Some of us like it uncut, some of us don’t. Some of us like it both ways, some of us don’t. We have preferences and that matters.

Taking dick seriously requires that we think about how we take it, about the tools, implements, and orifices engaged in taking it, about friction and frottage, wetness and dryness, saliva and KY. Taking dick seriously requires that we consider how condoms feel, how we experience docking, how masturbation feels.

Taking dick seriously requires that we question the pabulum that men always enjoy sex, that we distinguish between the easy relief of ejaculation and the intricate pleasures of nerve tissue specifically designed to experience pleasure.

Taking dick seriously requires that we talk about bodies and pleasures, that we multiply how we experience pleasure, that we experiment with modes of producing pleasure, that we be and become playful and patient, discriminating and promiscuous.

Thus far, the debate on male circumcision in Kenya has been driven by three main foci: the politics of ethno-masculinity in relation to national masculinity, medical research into HIV/AIDS, and the bodily politics of autochthony. Briefly, the first debate questions what bodily form national masculinity should take and, thus far, those who cut have insisted they cannot be ruled by the uncut. The second debate argues that cut men have a lower risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. And the third debate argues for an ethno-morphology in which ethnic identity is inextricably bound to bodily morphology, more specifically, whether one is cut or uncut.

These are complex debates and my brief summary here does them little justice. It is my hope that others will flesh them out.

Lacking from these debates is an engagement with the erotics of circumcision. As we abstract male bodies into their ethnic, national, political, scientific, and cultural dimensions, we diminish the importance of the felt, the lived, the experienced body.

We who inhabit our bodies have been too quick to cede control and authority to political, cultural, and scientific authorities who tell us how our bodies mean. We have said yes to science without asking about the consequences for our nerve endings. We have said yes to politics without asking about the implications for masturbation. We have said yes to culture without asking about how we can negotiate and multiply our pleasures.

We have believed that the quick relief of ejaculation exhausts the possibilities of how we might experience sexual and bodily pleasure. Denying ourselves the pleasures of play and experimentation, we have accepted that the shapes and textures of penile tissue are irrelevant to the 45 seconds we allot ourselves. In the process, we have refused to consider how 45 seconds might be stretched indefinitely, with delicious results.

We need to talk about what feels good.

We must ask what it means to risk our bodies and our pleasures.

place your ring
on my cock
where it belongs.
—Essex Hemphill

Pleasure matters.

Taking dick seriously requires we ask why and how discussions of pleasure in Kenya have been foreclosed, rendered unthinkable, silenced by the paradoxical blends of tradition and modernity, science and religion.

Progressive theorists of Afro-modernity have challenged imperial and racist depictions of Africans as hypersexual by producing narratives of functionalist sex—always directed to some end other than pleasure—or, perhaps worse, avoiding sexual pleasure altogether and implicitly endorsing an ahistorical idea(l) of Afro-chastity.

We have been told the “west” and “east” are “too permissive” as our own sexual histories are rendered mute and erased. We have allowed that the “east” may have an ars erotica but that our own sexual knowledges have little merit. And we have believed for too long that sexual innovation is derivative, borrowed, and imposed.

And so we have refused to imagine, refused to experiment with our bodies and our pleasures, believing, wrongly, that we have done all that can be done, and to extend beyond our limited frames of pleasure is to court perversity and foreignness.

Taking dick seriously requires that we engage and multiply our discourses and practices of pleasure. The dick debate is about learning to inhabit our bodies consciously, cultivating and nurturing the sensation of embodiment.

Yet, taking dick seriously risks privileging genitality as the sole point of access to sexual pleasure. And so we must take dick seriously and playfully, understand how to intensify sensation, how to feel not just good but frantic, anxious, ecstatic, jubilant, frustrated, teetering, sore, unwittingly aroused, celebratory, angry, ashamed, alarmed, jittery, tense, tender.

We who inhabit our bodies must question discourses and practices that seek to dis-embody us in the names of health, masculinity, politics, and culture.

We must ask what it means to pledge our bodies to each other, be it for 45 minutes or a lifetime, what it means to develop and cultivate and experiment with bodily intimacy.

We who take dick and give dick, have dick and want dick, dick around and dick away, we who care about dick, what dick can do for us and with us and what we can do with dick and for dick, we need to take dick seriously.