Stones in the Road

Surveying the Landscape of Our Lives

Cultural History of the Penis-Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Written By: Renee Michaels Ph.D, LCSW,CAP - Apr• 10•14

This post is rated for adults only and meant as a humorous 

                                        review on the cultural history of the penis from the book by 

         David Friedman.

So, last year I was charged with doing some reviews of books in my field of study which was not the penis but of sexology.  This is one book I chose to do a review on as I thought it would be interesting.  Once I read it, I had no choice but make this a funny review because the book was sooooo bad and boring. I really hope my readers find it to be amusing and you might even learn something.


     David M. Friedman, author of  a book on Charles Lindbergh, has taken on the topic of the penis. There may be a connection. The six chapter titles are appropriately named from the era in which each chapter is illustrated. 

The author begins with the history of the penis in the era of the witch trials, in which the witches were reported to be bereft from contact with the “demon rod” which reportedly caused them delusions, hallucinations and hysteria. The author posits that the penis was called the demon rod due to its perceived power over women, sometimes to the woman’s detriment. The women were burned at the stake for their supposed contact with the demon rod.

Misogyny, in all of its subtle and beastly expressions, likely provides the overall answer.  But a more tightly focused lens 

enables us to see in their deaths [of the w the predominance 

of one of the driving forces—the ongoing cultural obsession

with the penis, the insecurities it fostered, and the perceived harm

it could do. We can see how it became, through the mix of fevered 

fantasy and obsessive insecurity, the very agent of the transfer of

evil. In short, the demon rod. (3).

The author finds that Augustine, a sainted bishop, posited over sixteen centuries ago that man had a lack of control of his penis and therefore was pronounced the owner of the demon rod. 

While the penis was venerated in some circles, it was also demonized for the harm it could do to woman, children, and a weak man. “It was a force of nature, revered for its potency, yet just as amoral.”(5)

Circumcision was also a topic in the first chapter of this book on the penis.  The long and short of it is that some cultures revered the penis as it was when God made man, uncircumcised.  Others, like the Orthodox Jews, felt it was a sign of being unclean and therefore irreverent in God’s eyes.  The Jews would therefore serve God by removing their foreskin of the penis, and by doing so, worship God in an act of selflessness. 

This chapter covered the Greek view of the penis as well as the church’s view. It also dealt with the penis in art.Michelangelo-David-2356043


For me, this was the most difficult chapter to get through, as I felt it was not linear and it could have been better understood and synthesized if it had headings that broke it down into parts or eras. The chapter(s) were too long and did not have enough white space.  I understand that because it was the early history of the penis, it had to be placed as it was, first in the book, but if I did not have to read this book, as interesting as the topic may be, I would have put it down.

Chapter two entitled The Gear Shift began with more discussion of penis in reference to Leonardo da Vinci and his many drawings and writings on the penis which helped to draw the penis out of religion and into the world of mechanical science , and therefore from “demon rod” to “gear shift.” (56) .  

Still, if I could I would have put my “gear shift” in drive and sped off as this chapter was only slightly more interesting than the first.

This author explains to us that da Vinci was the first to ask the enlightening and hard question, “do I control my penis or does it control me?” (59).  Really as I continued reading this chapter I wanted to take somebody’s penis to use as a club to hit myself over the head with it so I would not have to read the rest of this book, but alas I persevered.  The reader learned about semen/sperm and blood in it’s role in obtaining and maintaining  an erection. 

Chapter three sees a bit of improvement but only by subject,  covering the age of the black penis.  There once was a bible-quoting treasure hunter named Richard Jobson (103). Through his travels he discovered the Mandingo tribesmen and their voluminous and far-reaching phallus. It was thought that “a Negro’s penis proved his intellectual inferiority and innate savagery”.(106). Excuse me white boy, but my penis is bigger than yours, nana nana boo boo!  Who would have thought that there is racism of the penis. Kinda like having gonorrhea, it’s never a good thing. 

 However, a kindly professor, Blumenbach, dispelled this myth of inferiority and left the racist crying in their white sheets, as he was the creator of the science of comparative anatomy(106). I call this street cred. Also, in this chapter, the author introduces us to the mean and drunk Noah.  We thought he was a good guy for building the arc and saving the animals. Pish Posh. 

Noah supposedly exiled his own grandson Canann to slavery because Canann’s daddy saw Noah naked. This really sucks for Cannan.  

More evidence that the punishment does not always fit the crime and this is a case of mistaken identity! And what does this have to do with this chapter anyway? 

The Cigar.  A chapter one can wrap their hands around.  I think this is not only the most interesting chapter but most well-known view of the penis. Albeit psychological in nature. Freud was the most enormously written and outspoken philosopher on the  psychological underpinnings of the penis (150). 


With the bedrock concepts of penis envy and castration

anxiety, his depiction of the unconscious as a realm made 

chaotic by penile lust, and his assertion that all libido, 

female as well as male, is phallic, Freud put the penis on 

the lips and minds of nearly every educated person in the

Western world (150-151).

Freud enlightened us with the idea that we grow through stages of development which includes the anal phase. He posited that this was part of our body/mental construct and it could not be denied(151). He claimed we were all polymorphously perverse which of course means we can find erotic pleasure from any part of the body. (Insert anus here, or maybe something into the anus).(151).

 The author also reminds us of the Oedipal complex in case we have forgotten. He posited that this was part of our body/mental construct and it could not be denied(151). 

We are reminded that Freud said the penis was more than a body part but also an idea and a symbol, “a sign so powerful it is itself symbolized by other things”.(156)  Even though Freud was quoted as saying, “a cigar is just a cigar”, he still believed that most times it was not.(156)

Is there ever an end to this thing?  Yes, it is called the glans penis.

The next chapter is where it gets a bit more interesting in that women get involved in the penis in a big way.  The Battering Ram talks about how the feminist movement tool to begin scrutinize men namely what they did with their penis and how it held kept women down (clearing throat).  Freud thought the girls had penis envy and Karen Horney (I might have changed my name) said they did not.  Who to believe? And then there was the woman named Deutsch who believed women served their highest purpose under a man.  I suppose she didn’t get invited to cocktails at Gloria Steinem’s apartment on the west side. 

Betty Friedan and her Feminine Mystic was important here. 

     The Punctureproof Ballon is the last chapter in this hairy tomb about all the things that can cause impotence and what was to be done about. I’d say more but I am feeling flaccid about this whole book.


Since we are not comparing penises here, there is not much to compare as this book is one of its kind in an anthropological, historical, cultural perspective.  Not so much of anatomical.  There seems to be some work on the penis published. For instance, Jesse Bering writes in the anatomical sphere of the penis in his book, Why is the Penis Shaped Like That?  In the book he covers the penis and its buddies, the testicles.  He does explain and express the reason for the dangle, the shapes and the hairy nature of such. He does this in such a way that is much funnier than the writer of this academic tomb. But he does not cover in-depth the history of the penis as Mr. Friedman does.

I did come across another book on the penis, namely, “The Book of the Penis”.  Now that is a catchy little title.  I picked it up to find out if it was at all analogous to Friedmans’ book.  In parts, it was, but far more interesting.  The chapters were shorter, there were clarification headings which were so necessary in the Friedman book considering it’s length. (smile)

 It was more anthropological than historical but history did surface in the form of Grecian formula not to be confused with the Hair Club for Men.  It also covered art and literature regarding the subject of the penis. It was far more interesting and a much easier read. 

In closing, the author of A Mind of Its Own,  had a Mandingo-sized opportunity to cover a subject that has been ignored in historical, and anthropological detail but could have been fascinating. Unfortunately, this author turned a potentially meaty subject  into a dry, stiff treaty that was difficult to navigate.  In doing so, he did a disservice not only to a hefty and important subject but also to the reader.




Bering, Jesse. Why is the penis shaped like that?…and other reflections on being human.Scientific American/Farrar,Straus and Giroux. 2012.

Friedman, M. David. A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis. The Free Press.2001.

Paley, Maggie. The Book of the Penis. Grove Press. 1999


More on sex is forthcoming (pun intended).


As ever,

Be well~





Stones in the Road: Surveying the Landscape of Our Lives

Written By: Renee Michaels Ph.D, LCSW,CAP - Mar• 16•14

(This is a repeat of my very first blog post back in April of 2012)

   As a psychotherapist, I am frequently faced with people who have become stuck in a place that is extremely painful for them. While they know they are stuck, they can’t seem to find a way out on their own.  When they have realized that their life is unmanageable, sometimes they seek help. Often times, people don’t come right out and ask for help but they poke around in the therapist’s office to see if there may be some help there for them. Going to therapy is sometimes a last ditch effort and some come with suspicion and doubt. It is a courageous step to take, but th     e pain they are in emotionally and mentally may have begun to feel worse than the effort it would take to move out of it. One of my favorite forward thinking teachers of our time, Iyanla Vanzant, says pain stands for Pay Attention Inward Now.  Good advice.

I was prompted to write this piece as the opening of my blog site as I had a week-long experience in my life that was extremely uncomfortable. I felt like walking out on everything. There was nothing special or necessarily out of the ordinary that happened to me that week.  However, it was one thing after another. It began with the pain in my body, which is not particularly unusual for me as I live with a chronic condition that causes discomfort most days.  In addition to the discomfort, enough to keep me home from work and seek treatment, other experiences began to spiral out of control for six days straight.  Not big things , but one after another.  It was as if I had come loose from my moorings, to the very roots that grounded me to the Universe, and I was spinning out of control. Until this point, I have handled everything the world had put in my path.  They had been large things like death, endings and failures.  But, what occurred this particular week, were small incidental things. I had no sense of my usual life management skills. I had to ask myself, why is it I have handled life-shrifting events and yet the “little things” threw me into a tailspin?  The answer I think may be too long to ensoul here. Whatever it was that caused this windstorm in my life, it was the accidental spilling of the red wine all over the fridge and garage floor that snapped me back to solid ground.

So, I suppose it is in the knowing that while we can fall apart, we can make our way back.  A way back to a place where things come together again.  Life is like playing pin the tail on the donkey,  you know you are going to be blindfolded and someone is going to spin you around but eventually you will be set right again.

It is in this format, I hope to reach as many people as I possibly can to keep them from walking out on themselves and everything else in their lives.  I hope this blog will be a walking stick to help folks move along their path or at least assist them when they come to a fork in the road. In doing so, assist in helping them discover the old stones in their own road that have gotten in the way of them living their best life. I hope this blog will inspire folks to “Pay Attention Inward Now”, to survey the landscape of their own lives and begin to walk past the road of their own backstory, write a new story; a story that is worth living.

Go well~ Renee


In future blog posts, there will be writings on how mental health impacts our lives, diagnosis and treatments available, how our thoughts create our mood, how hypnosis can help just about anything and how the use of language can change our brain.  There will also be literary prose too. Stay tuned.

Replies are welcome and cherished.


Losing Gravity

Written By: Renee Michaels Ph.D, LCSW,CAP - Mar• 02•14

IMG_0481On Dec 14th 2013, I lost gravity. I could feel it coming, this loss of earth beneath my feet. A couple of days before, the panic set in. The tears and the fear. And then…it happened.

My soulmate, Zakery Oyving Michaels, dog of my heart, passed from this place that we shared. A place where gravity held us up on good and bad days. Zak transitioned to be with his friends like Pepper and his love, Sophie. I can imagine them playing and running together on a soft meadow of green grass. Running or walking was not something Zak had been able to do in a long time and he was dependent on me for all of his needs.

We had some life, my soulmate and me. When people came and went and were disloyal to us, we remained steadfastly together.

And when he left, I felt as though I was standing in a pail of bleach water as the color slowly drained from my life. Death of a loved one is a kin to free floating in space between the earth and the surrounding planets  with no certain destination and no guarantee of rescue. It is a surreal period of emptiness, numbness, and uncertainty that has no assurance of ending.

When one experiences death or loss of a loved one or a beloved pet, days seem as though they drag on with no ending or beginning, and the rods and cones in our eyes that help us visualize light and color have been stripped away forever. This is the beginning of grieving. To feel as though one must be dying themselves, or even want to, this is the feeling of grief and unrelenting loss with doubt that life will ever return to normal. The acrid tears fall at their loss and our loved ones’ life stains us with indelible ink.

Then a life line is intergalactically shot out from the darkness directly to our grasping hands.  A gift from Source that one could be rescued from the pungent odor of  grief that attaches itself to our skin, gives us hope.

My lifeline came in the form of two little redheads. They had a rough life before Source placed them in my path. These two little poodles, Rosie and Chu, saved my life by making me responsible for theirs.

Attending to Zak’s life was my pleasure as he gave so much of that to me.

Life calls on us to move on, to move forward. Perhaps it cannot ask us to see crimson in the same way, or smell the freshly cut grass the way we used to, as every goodbye makes its mark on us. Nevetheless, it is we who are left to carry on for those that have left us in charge.

I believe it is our nature to celebrate more than we grieve the lives that have touched us and their souls that still live within us.



In dedication to my soulmate, Zak.  I love you forever.


As ever~

Be well



Written By: Renee Michaels Ph.D, LCSW,CAP - Oct• 09•13

 I know there is nothing happening on here these days. I am working on my dissertation for my doctorate. 

     I promised a bibliography and I will post it soon.  Hoping all is well with you all.

     On Oct 26th, the USF-STP campus in downtown St. Petersburg is sponsoring the Festival of Reading once again. They do it every year.  Every town with a major university usually has one. Many authors are from Fla. this year. Watch for it. Maybe I will see you there!

Be well~





Come To Me

Written By: Renee Michaels Ph.D, LCSW,CAP - Sep• 01•13


08 Come to Me

To all of you who are courageous enough to put your trust in me. I cannot express to you how much it means to me.  I value you and our time together.

Please click on the link and find a dedication from me to your courageous hearts. I love this song, I hope you will too.


As ever~

Be well~



Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: