This is the second installment of the occasional series Thank God It’s Penis Friday. Cassandra wrote the first one on banana slug sex.
It’s not every day you get an assignment to cover the Icelandic Phallological Museum. So when Richard emailed us, saying that through the magic of Facebook he had spotted that we were in Reykjavik, who were we to turn down such an offer? Off we took ourselves to Laugavegur, which on its western end is one of the city’s prime shopping streets but towards the east peters out into a drab sprawl of graffiti-marked concrete. This, naturally, is where we found the world’s premier penis museum.
It all began in 1997 with the personal collection of historian Sigurdur Hjartarson, who as a child used a bull’s penis, or pizzle, as a whip to corral animals in the Icelandic countryside. That, apparently, was enough to send him on a course of collecting phalluses from as many animals — and, later, humans — as he could find. The museum is now run by Sigurdur’s son Hjörtur, a self-proclaimed “second-generation phallologist.”
Admission is 1,000 Icelandic kronur, or about eight bucks, which seemed a reasonable fee to marvel at members from around the mammalian world.
ALEX: So, as a man, what did you think of the museum?
JEFF: It was impressive. They do a bang-up job there. All those penises coming at you out of the walls and up from the floor. More than 280 specimens from 93 species, if you believe their claims. I’d never thought about the wide-ranging variety of copulatory organs you could find in nature if you went looking for them.
ALEX: No, really, what about things like the elephant phallus, which must have been more than a foot long [pictured, above].
JEFF: Two or three feet, actually. The way it was displayed made it look foreshortened.
ALEX: Okay, but how did that make you feel?
JEFF: Awed. [Silence.] What did you get out of it? Did you learn anything you didn’t already know?
ALEX: Um, yeah. That you can cut up a sperm whale penis and make a flower planter out of it. Also that you can make lampshades out of bull scrotums.
JEFF: You would think of the more practical aspects. Speaking of which, I noticed that most people in the museum seemed to be women. And they seemed to be having a really good time. There was lots of cackling and giggling going on. I wonder what’s so funny?
ALEX: It could have been the little robotic flasher guy who opens up his trench coat and exposes himself while saying rude things. Or maybe the “three caged husbands” display, which featured lots of metal bars and bulging genitalia. But yeah, I definitely felt a bigger wave of estrogen in there than I’d expect in a penis museum.
JEFF: About half the museum is animal penises. Were you a little disappointed there weren’t more human ones in there?
ALEX: Uh, no. Although they could definitely beef up their collection a little bit. I think my favorite human penises were the patriotic comparisons. You have three guys from the U.S., Germany and England who’ve promised their members to the museum when they die. For now they’ve just donated casts and other representations. They’re called the American specimen, the English specimen, and the German specimen. And if you ask me the English one looked a little pasty, and the German one a little thin.
JEFF: And the American one?
ALEX: It was named Elmo. What else do you need in a penis?
JEFF: Err… A better name. “Freud,” perhaps.
ALEX: There was also the Icelandic specimen, which is the only real human penis the museum actually has. They got it last year, when the 95-year-old guy they had been waiting for finally died. So of course it looks a little wrinkly and gray.
JEFF: That’s just due to the ravages of time. That and maybe the formaldehyde. You have to remember, though, that even in one particular country no two penises are alike. So you can’t judge based on that poor bastard’s knob, or what’s left of it.
ALEX: Yeah [dreamily]. You can see the variety in the collection of silver penises cast from the Icelandic handball team, which won the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That’s a lotta penises all in one place. And all the players are very different in length, width, shape and all that.
JEFF: My point exactly. Obviously, size matters in nature, but not in the way you might think. A whale penis is expected to be very large because a whale is very large, although I hear that gorilla penises are only a few inches at most. House cats, of course, don’t need as big a penis. Human penises come in a range of sizes, it’s true, but in all cases function trumps form. No matter what women say.
ALEX: I’m going to pass on responding to that … Have you ever had an assignment involving penises before?
JEFF: Not that springs to mind. I have written about cosmic jets though. Did you know that some cosmic jets are thought to be hollow? They’re tens of thousands of light-years long. They’re the biggest phallic symbols in the universe.
ALEX: Would you donate your penis to science, or at least to a museum?
JEFF: Not at the moment!
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UPDATE!!: the splendors of the Iceland Phallological Museum have been immortalized in film, which has been reviewed, which in turn includes the phrase “a particularly stomach churning sequence for any male member watching.”
Alex and Jeff live in the foothills above Boulder, Colorado, which does not have a penis museum. Alex is a contributing editor to Science News; Jeff writes astronomy books. They traveled to Iceland in June for the highbrow purpose of reporting a book about the 1783 eruption of the volcano Laki, but found themselves instead on assignment for LWON in one of the dodgier parts of Reykjavik.
All photos by Alex.