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ISSUE 117 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/14/2004

Unidentified flacid object

By Jennifer Hancock
Contributing Writers

Friday, May 14, 2004

The other day, my 14-year-old sister walked in on my dad as he stepped out of the shower. From what I gather, the situation was quite uncomfortable for all those involved. My sister was confronted with the reality of a grown man's penis and was, well, a bit traumatized by the sight of it. Relating the event over the phone to me, she said, "It looked like a hairy piece of road kill. I think I might become a lesbian."

I tried to remember the first time that I saw a penis. I must have been five when I caught a friends younger brother "watering" his mothers plants on the side of the house, but I saw a lot of baby and toddler penises too. At some point, I too must have seen my fathers penis, but it was a long time ago. Living in a household of four women, he was forced to grow rather adept at hiding the aspects of masculinity offensive to the females who ruled our abode. For all I know, maybe it does look like road kill, but I doubt it. My sister was appalled by the sight of his penis, not only because it was her dad, but also because she was naïve of mature male anatomy.

Such innocence may seem like a good thing, but what if she had that reaction to a lover's genitals? What if she told her lover his penis looked like road kill? Talk about putting a damper on the mood. Maybe it is best to become acquainted with sexual organs gradually. First, by watching a parent change a baby's diaper. Then, through simple line drawings on overhead projectors in a classroom. Then, in the back seat of a car at night, progressing to warm candlelight. Finally, climaxing in seeing it in the harsh, unforgiving light of day.

Somehow this scenario seems completely unnatural, but so does my sister's penis encounter. Fully acquainting ourselves with sexual organs does not have to be shocking or sexual in nature, but neither does it need to be gradual. It can start with becoming familiar with one's own body and the bodies of individuals of the same sex. Unfortunately, this is not exactly the strong suit of American culture.

Americans are often shocked by Europe's body freedom. Television programs show full frontal nudity. Most beaches are clothing-optional, as are some parks and resorts. Canada, France, Sweden and the Netherlands, countries more comfortable with nudity, have substantially lower rates of teen pregnancy and abortion than the U.S. Familiarity with the genitals makes talking about sex easier; even children are aware of the apparatuses involved. However, it is understood by those comfortable with the nude human form that vaginas and penises are not just objects to whip out for the purposes of sex. They are parts of the body to be revered as any other.

I must share one of my favorite stories involving nudity, a family and culture clash. A friend of my mother's, who married a Japanese man, was invited to take a bath with his family the first time she met them. She was a little freaked out, but his family was intrigued by her flaming red pubic hair. Wouldn't it be fun to find out who on the St. Olaf campus is really a blonde? On some campuses nude parties are a popular pastime.

Not that anyone will catch me walking around campus naked -- even though it would be nice to feel the sun & everywhere. Nudity is only a problem when it is treated as a problem. Penises, vaginas, butts and breasts must at least be discussed, if not seen. I think my sister's reaction to my father's penis was a rather good one. Although I did not grow up in a nudist household, we could at least talk about our bodies and sex freely. My sister's penis encounter might have been uncomfortable, but she was not afraid to retell the story with her own creative spin. Well, the road kill thing might have been going a little too far. Who wants to hear that their penis looks like road kill? Poor Dad.

To share your own memorable genitalia sightings or any other questions or comments, email St. Olafs resident sex columnist

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