Sex Week Leads the Return Of the Penis to Columbia

Eve Ensler has some competition.


A Helen Hayes Award-winning playwright, Ensler is most well-known as the author of The Vagina Monologues, the 1997 play that sparked the creation of V-Day, which organizers describe as a worldwide campaign to stop violence against women.


But the 20 students gathered in the McBain lounge on Tuesday evening came to see a play not about the vagina, but about its perennial companion, the penis.


The students were there to see Hold Me Until Morning, a little-known, 26-year-old drama about the relationship between a young man and his sex organ. In the play, the man's penis goes on strike. Call it "Priapus Shrugged."


Hold Me Until Morning is a recent addition to Columbia's Safer Sex Plus! Week, said Judith Steinhart, the organizer of the week's events.


"It's been my desire to do this here for a long time," Steinhart said. "I've seen this on video tape where the woman played the part of the penis and that draws parallels between ideas of consent, tenderness, flow, and harmony--the whole mind-body connection, which is so important."


The inclusion of Hold Me Until Morning in the events of Safer Sex Plus! Week follows a recent surge of interest in the penis.


While the late 1990s were dominated by Ensler's Vagina Monologues, Columbia students can now see Puppetry of the Penis, in which Australian actors David Friend and Simon Morley perform exactly what the title suggests. They can also read David M. Friedman's A Mind of Its Own, a "cultural examination" of the penis that Amazon.com said "convincingly suggests that humankind's various and contradictory attitudes toward the penis have been instrumental in mapping the course of both Western civilization and world history."


Which begs the question: Is the penis making a comeback?
"So to speak," said the irrepressible Steinhart, smiling widely. "Of course, the penis was never gone."


Some students agreed with Steinhart. "I think the history of the past 3,000 years shows that the penis is alive and well," Elliott Bundy, CC '03, said.


Ivy Washington, CC '04, said that the penis has attracted increased attention around Columbia recently.


"I'll tell you this, the people who've talked to me say that Hold Me Until Morning is what they want to come to," said Washington, who has helped organize Safer Sex Plus! Weeks since she arrived at Columbia.


Cast members of Hold Me Until Morning had differing opinions about the role of the penis. "I noticed that this event is free, but the Vagina Monologues are not," said Richard Hahn, a GS student who played the role of "Self." "So we penises are still in second place."


"The penis is definitely making a comeback," said Katherine Paz, CC '05, who played the role of "Penis." "I'm the advocate of the penis," she said. "I am an empowered penis."


"I didn't notice any resurgence," said Raizel, CC '05 and the president of Conversio Virium. "The penis has always been present as a normal topic of discussion in my life. I'm a doctor's daughter, so I wasn't sheltered from anything that has to do with sexuality."


Raizel said that it is possible that the new interest in penile topics is a form of backlash against Eve Ensler-inspired vagina mania.


"There's a lot of emphasis put on female sexuality because before this past century, we didn't have a lot of rights as females, and now we're coming into our own," Raizel said. "I don't know if guys are feeling threatened by that, or if they want attention too. It could even be a way of putting 'them' back in 'their' place."


Mario Colucci, a student in Buffalo, N.Y., and a penis puppetry enthusiast, was reluctant to talk about his hobby. When asked whether the penis was making a comeback, Colucci said, "No, I don't think its ever gone anywhere."


Colucci, who noted that the penis puppetry move that gets the most attention is called "The Gonzo," said that penis puppetry gets the most attention in high school. "Generally it's a big locker room extravaganza," Colucci said.


Colucci added that other penis puppetry poses include the "Eiffel Tower," the "Monkey Brain," and the "Turtle."


Julie Crawford, an assistant professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia and a member of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, said she thought it was interesting that "In this cultural moment of vaginas--the long and hugely popular runs, in multiple countries, of Eve's Ensler's Vagina Monologues--that the penis--or rather its possessors--feel the need to remind everyone that they too have a lot to say, as if we forgot."


For Crawford, talk of penises and vaginas is not just about smashing taboos or getting a cheap laugh.


"Given that Eve Ensler has used her fame and money to raise public awareness about and provide material support to international women's causes including Afghan women's rights," Crawford said, "it will be interesting to see if any penis-art makers have a social conscience."

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