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Last week, readers theorized as to why art students avoid drawing the penises of nude models. Both David Quammen and John Hammack attest to students avoiding their genitalia by inserting an obscuring shade or a set of imaginary shorts over their crotches. Is homophobia and sexual repression to blame, or is free penis sketching a matter of training and experience? Discuss.

Amy says a drawing of the hand is easier than that of the bush:

having been an artist in a figure drawing class, I can tell you that the ‘tender parts’ tend to be just as difficult to draw as a hand (especially if you’re circumcised). Perhaps more difficult than a hand. I can practice drawing hands from observation by looking at my left hand, but only the guys in class can practice drawing male junk without a model—-and even that they can’t practice while doodling in their notebooks during other classes.

So the avoidance of drawing your tender parts may be less shyness than lack of ability.

Stephen Kosciesza says he routinely gets snipped:

Amy, funny you say that about “it” being hard to draw, “especially if [we’re] circumcised” I’ve been a model for 15 years. I’m an uncircumcised man. And I’ve seen it over and over: in college age classes, the young women tend to draw my “it” circumcised. I have to wonder if they’re not comfortable actually looking at “it” (especially on an older man), and they draw what they expect. And of course, here in the USA, if you haven’t seen many, there’s a good chance you’ve only seen circumcised.

PL suggests that the penis is “taboo”:

I can appreciate that Mr. Quammen might attribute an amateur male artists reluctance to work with a male models to homophobia. However, it would seem to me that this is using a rather broad brush. There could be several reasons that amateur male artists are not comfortable with depicting male models, probably the most reasonable being that depiction of male genitalia in popular and modern culture is practically taboo.

I would suggest to Ms. Hess that she could have been more careful in illustrating that it is Mr. Quammen’s opinion that she is reflecting, and that not all male artists that have struggled to attempt to depict male models suffer from homophobia.

Saurs disagrees:

“There could be several reasons that amateur male artists are not comfortable with depicting male models, probably the most reasonable being that depiction of male genitalia in popular and modern culture is practically taboo.”

Yeah, the phallus as an architectural shape, for example, is so seldom used, I’ve forgotten what they look like.

Jon explains what “homophobia” is:

PL, Mr. Quammen is using the real definition of homophobia, not the more popular but incorrect definition (not liking gays). Homophobia is pretty much exactly what is described in the article, not wanting to draw or look at male junk (if you are male) basically being uncomfortable looking at or being close to those who are the same sex as you.

Stephen Kosciesza insists that genital avoidance is no homo(phobia):

I’ve been a male art model for 15 years. I suppose you might say that I’m a charter member of the Guild. I believe that explaining a man’s reluctance to draw a nude male model—-and to draw a penis—-as “homophobia” is just way too simplistic.

Nudity among non-intimates is something that most people in our society are not used to, and there’s bound to be discomfort and uncertainty at first. I’m sure many men AND many women feel some nervousness and discomfort when faced with drawing from the live nude model for the first time. No doubt, the nature of that discomfort would depend first on who they are themselves. And then it would likely depend on whether the model happened to be of their sex or of the opposite one.

A woman might very well feel awkward drawing the nude man in front of her, too. And a man might feel uncomfortable the first time actually looking at the nude woman modeling in front of him.

It’s human nature, and as with everything about human nature, there’s rarely one, simple explanation. And since when we’re talking about human nature, we’re talking about individuals, generalizations are noteworthy mainly for their exceptions.

I think to boil male reluctance to draw the male nude as homophobia is way too easy and dismissive an answer.


Stephen K, it’s human nature to feel uncomfortable with the human body? Really? It seems to me a clear case of the exact opposite, of a reflection of how societal constructs and expectations actually inhibit true “humanity” (whatever that is).

There’s no “natural” reason for men to be uncomfortable with the sight of a nude male body. I wouldn’t go as far as to say every man who is uncomfortable is homophobic (I don’t think the article was saying that, either) but there is an idea pervasive among many in US culture that for a man to look at another man’s body is “gay” and therefore wrong. We don’t have a cultural space for the appreciation of the male form as a work of art (certainly not like, say, the ancient Greeks), so to see a nude male body is jarring for many people. The biological penis has so much cultural weight as a tool of sex that it’s hard for a lot of people to get out of that mindset, and for some men this manifests as homophobia.

This is the exact opposite of “human nature” which, if anything, would dictate that people be, by default, comfortable with nude bodies of all genders.

I know we probably agree on a lot of this (being uncomfortable with nude men not being an exclusively male trait) but it bugs me when people bring out “human nature” to justify/explain away behavior that is actually learned and socially constructed.

Sketch, with penis intact, by Keli Anaya