Is a Photo of a Penis Inherently Lewd, Offensive or Obscene?

LOS ANGELES—So, the photo of Rep. Weiner’s penis is in the public domain—that didn’t take long. Andrew Breitbart, whose sense of victimhood knows no limits, went on the Opie and Anthony show today and, like a school kid, passed around his cell phone with a photo on it of arguably the most famous penis in America, at least for the moment. A video camera caught the image and O&A whisked it into cyberspace in a New York minute. It’s blurry but definitely a penis, erect and skewered to the left, just like the owner’s political leanings.

The way people are going on about it, though, you’d think it was a photo of Christ buggering Mary Magdalene. Even Breitbart, during his press conference—or rather, during Weiner’s press conference—referred to the image as if it was the most disgusting thing anyone would ever see. It was certainly too inflammatory to release. In an act of supreme generosity and understanding of the situation, Breitbart said he would keep it under wraps as long as Weiner didn’t attack him anymore. Weiner did not, but the photo still got out via Breitbart. Now that’s a prick!

As far as the photo goes, maybe I’ve been writing about porn for too long, but an image of a penis, erect or flaccid, is not shocking to me. It’s just a damn penis. Every man, with the noted exception of manly Buck Angel, has one. Of course, context has the potential to change one’s reaction to such an image, but that's understandable. It makes sense after all that people might be put off by a married congressman sending a photo of his erect cock to women he has met online—but even there, context matters. Did he send it totally unsolicited or was it a part of a longer consensual flirtation? In a political sense, it doesn’t matter, but in terms of the ickiness factor, it matters a lot.

There actually is an etiquette to these matters that has developed over the decade or so that people have been engaging intimately online, and one of the most egregious violations of this etiquette is the unsolicited exposing of the penis. It became quickly boring when males relentlessly did it on Chatroulette, and it is equally inappropriate on adult forums, where sexual explicitness is more or less permissible. It is a cliché by now that the vast majority of women are not that interested in a disembodied penis for its own sake, even if they might enjoy an objective appreciation of a particularly fine specimen; but even there, personal taste is everything. Not everyone swoons at size alone.

I would argue that most men still have a hard time getting that fact through their thick skulls, and it seems all too apparent that Weiner fell victim to the common male fantasy that his penis is naturally endowed with some inherently special quality. In the throes of this self-delusion, a man believes his penis is so unique that when a woman simply sees it, something special occurs within her that she is helpless to prevent. It’s probably some sort of long-since-useless evolutionary imperative working its magic on the male reptilian brain, but whatever the reason Weiner exhibited it in spades; little head battering big head into submission, and big ego winning out over common fucking sense.

None of that explains why so many people seem so viscerally offended by the photo itself, however, and why they describe it as pornographic, lewd, obscene and X-rated, to name just a few of the pejoratives thrown its way. Is it really any of those things? On the other hand, maybe these people are actually referring to Weiner’s utter stupidity at lying all last week about acts that could never stay secret. Calling that behavior ‘obscene’ doesn’t do the word justice.

But as far as the photo goes, it’s just another penis … even if it can’t be posted to AVN!