An email conversation between Sue and Leonita

Hello, Sue

I posted in your feedback section back in August, 2006 and wrote the following:

"I echo the sentiments of one of your earlier visitors in that I love the way you've 'feminized' the penis, dressed it up in cloaks and furs, symbolically stating that the fig leaf has been raised, that it's now our penis, the province of female inquiry and contemplation, to do with what we wish.  Though it wasn't one of your stated intentions, perhaps your male viewers will find themselves becoming more comfortable with the aesthetics of male nudity and, in turn, women's discussion of it.

As a fancier of the nude male form I just happened to Google "Penis as art" one day and found your site; what a substantial contribution you've made to modern art, the study of the male nude—just hope you get some recognition, your day in the sun soon! 

Men in general have a long way to go in accepting their bodies as objects of aesthetic beauty and I believe this enculturation somehow begins early on.  Recently I showed my eight-year old nephew a photo of Michelangelo's "David" and he immediately let loose with an eardrum-piercing wail:

"Ewwwww!  Put some pants on him!"

My friend (female and in her early twenties as I myself am) chuckled along with me, shaking her head in disagreement.

"Nooo!  He's perfectly beautiful just the way he is!"

I found a great essay on the subject of male nudity in our culture written in 1999 by a University of Michigan co-ed entitled, Demystifying the American Penis.  On the matter of keeping the penis hidden behind a fig leaf, the author had the following to say:

"…reluctance to deal with the penis has, in my opinion, done damage to both genders; harm to men because it validates any fears they might have that Size Does Matter, and because it might make them feel their penises are something to hide or to be ashamed of, and harm to women because it isn't equal treatment, and might lead to feelings of exploitation (how come men don't have to be naked, too?  Why just women?) and feelings that women shouldn't enjoy looking at naked men, or at least that women shouldn't enjoy looking at penises in particular."

I have to say that I believe your largest stumbling block to getting your message out there is probably your depiction of erect penises.  The erect penis is such a potent symbol of sexual arousal, particularly so with men—so much so that they find it unnerving for women to, as I stated before, to declare it "our penis, the province of female inquiry and contemplation, to do with what we wish".  My case-in-point is that once upon a time X-rated films back in the seventies were classified according to sexual content with the depiction of fully-aroused male organs warranting the most taboo status of all, triple X!

All this fuss about the male organ in its perfectly natural state, tisk, tisk…

Have you heard of Sylvia Sleigh and her groundbreaking male nudes from the seventies?

I just wanted to bring her work to your attention as I've been a great admirer of hers since happening upon her paintings while poring over a 20th century art book in high school. 

Up to that point in life my exposure to male nudity had been virtually limited to that of viewing cold, de-sexualized ancient Greek statuary. By placing her male subjects in

languid, languorous poses set against luxurious fabrics and textures, by boldly individualizing them in such a frankly realistic fashion with particular emphasis on body hair distribution patterns, the rich contrasts of skin tone (genitals, untanned bare bottoms, etc.) she opened up this young woman's eyes to all the wonderful sensual possibilities of the male body!  The provocative images below best represent her quintessential hallmarks:

Imperial Nude.  She also apparently did another study of this fellow and personalized the study with his name, Philip Golub (SEE below).

Philip Golub Reclining



The Turkish Bath.  The bearded, distinguished looking gentleman reclining in the right foreground is the artist's late husband, art critic Lawrence Alloway.

 Paul Double



Please let me know what you think of Ms. Sleigh's work.  As a young artist and recent college graduate you've both been immeasurably inspiring to me!

P.S.:  My favorite guy in your collection is Anteros.  How did you achieve that exquisite starburst effect on his glans penis?

Write soon!



Hi Leonita,

I loved reading your email. I really enjoyed the pictures of Sylvia Sleigh's work. I also think you might be on to something in you thoughts about the erect penis.
So often I have run into people who are very put off by the name of my project, thinking it's about sex. Then when they see some of the pictures of the sculptures and haven't read why I did it, also think its about sex in some way. Mostly men think I'm a angry woman who is out just to bash men. It's hard at times for people to open their minds to hear understand what it is that I am trying to do with this project.

The fully aroused male in many ways is  very scary to  both sexes. Woman are not permitted to look or be educated about  the aroused  male body.
After all looking at the womens body no one can tell if she is aroused or not. There is something about being aroused that is forbidden, however it  implied in every aspects of the media.
It seems that in this society  males  can only  express emotion as aggression in violent behavior. The emotion of passion in loving or expressing sexually and calibrating the human body is not permitted.
So I think you are right when you say that my project in displaying an erect penis is just to much for some people to handle, so sad.

Your favorite sculpture Anteros was fun to make. As far as the glaze goes it's hard to say. I have used that glaze many times and it comes out different each time. It must be the shape that helps to determent it's flow. This whole project was like that. I would think the glaze I used was predictable and it would pretty much do what it wanted.

I was wondering if you would be will to let me use parts of all of your email to post on the web site? I think you have very interesting thoughts that other readers would enjoy.
It would be a while before it would show up on the site. We have to redo the working of the site because we keep getting sabotaged. If we up grade to a more secure formate I hoping we can return to more spontaneous feed back on the site again.

Thank you for your feedback on thoughts on my project.





Great hearing from you and, yes, I'd love for you to post the content of my email to your website and please feel free to edit as you see fit—glad you value my comments!  Please simply refer to me as "Leonita" and please don't post my email address if you would; I'll check in with your website periodically and will respond to any comments regarding my email through your feedback forum.


Would you be willing to post your response to my email as well? You made some excellent points yourself:


"Women are not permitted to look or be educated about the aroused  male body. There is something about being aroused that is forbidden, however it is implied in every aspect of the media.The emotion of passion in loving or expressing sexually and calibrating the human body is not permitted."


Several years ago a female friend of mine, "Lane" obtained a copy of a DVD from the celebrated Better Sex video series and invited me to watch it with her as we, admittedly being sexually uninitiated college sophomores, were intensely curious about men's bodies, male arousal and the mystery of the phallus.  I must say the video delivered on all fronts (smiles)…


Unfortunately, Lane's mother found the DVD when apparently snooping around in her bedroom and was utterly aghast that her daughter had been exposed to-- had in indeed sought out—such pornographic content.  It was a long time before she ever lived it down, the suspicion being that we must be hopelessly deviant, unloosed and promiscuous which couldn't have been further from the truth. 


I had to ask myself, "What's wrong with responsible, mature young women who are legal and well beyond the age of consent viewing such educational (and undeniably titillating) footage depicting male arousal, masturbation and ejaculation, sexual positions and even a woman lovingly fellating her partner to orgasm? 


These particular scenes of male sexual response were fittingly narrated by a woman sexologist for a woman's edification. I was later amused to find out that this warm, genial, reassuring woman, a dowdy-looking middle-aged redhead with a bee's nest hairdo, thick horn-rimmed glasses and nasal tone delivery was actually a part time Sunday school teacher—so, yes, we even had the approval of our Sunday school teacher that it was okay to watch!




I need your counsel, Sue.  One of the first commercial art projects I've applied for as a recent college grad is illustrating an erotic massage manual which would entail producing detailed drawings of manual manipulation of both male and female genitalia.  The woman who wrote the text is reportedly very impressed with my portfolio and will be making her decision soon as to which artist applicant she'll go with. 
While excited about the prospect I'm also more than a bit anxious as well.  My parents are both dyed-in-the wool conservatives and would hit the roof if they found out.  Of course I could be credited under a pseudonym but I want to be recognized as I personally feel there's nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to such graphic content.  If I can help loving, committed couples improve the quality of their sex lives then I've done a beautiful thing...
How did you, Sue, overcome any inhibitions you had over your "controversial" subject matter when you began The Penis Project?  Any thoughts, meditations, reassurance would be greatly appreciated!


A final thought:  It amuses me to no end that much of the so-called "dirtyness" associated with sex in our society is apparently owing to an aversion to genitalia.  I've found that women who blog on the subject of genitalia appearance overwhelmingly find male genitalia aesthetically unappealing (to put it mildly) and, worse yet, many of these same women have an even lower esteem for the appearance of their own genitalia—indeed, some of these mature, adult women can't even stand the sight, the smell, the nature (menstruation) of their own down-there lady business!  How self-invalidating this must be and it's bound to have extremely negative consequences on their sex lives.  Your comments?


Write soon!