The Sexist

Sexist Comments of the Week: Homophobic Penis Sketch Edition

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

  • kza

    When I was in high school I used to draw dicks in my notebooks like that kid from Superbad. I must not be homophobic. woot!

  • Saurs

    Adrienne is completely correct. There's nothing natural about it. It's a sign of severe and skewered sexual repression that both men and women seem hesitant to sexualize a naked male body (when and if they're actually present); the phallus becomes a tool to ward against the evil eye, an omnipresent architectural shape generally suggesting heavenly transcendence or national virility, and a form that basically exists everywhere, but always presented in a non-sexual manner. The actual penis is so invisible that we're more likely to associate sex (or masturbation, anyhow) with its proxy, a cucumber or a dildo. Meanwhile, paintings of soft folds and "infinite partings" representing labia are still, in the twenty-first century, giggled over or masturbated to. This is generally defended by dudes who think the male form is the default form and that secondary sexual characteristics (like deliciously beefy thighs) are absent in dudes or are somehow asexual. Not the case.

  • Saurs

    (Of course, jokes about and knowing smiles with respect to cucumbers and dildos enjoy such popularity because the notion of women wanting to masturbate for reasons other than for the ultimate pursuit of pleasing and servicing men is totally foreign and confusing to most folk.)

  • Scott F.

    If I was drawing a nude...I would include whatever I saw. It's ridiculous to be SO hung up that you can't draw the sexual organs. There are people that I know that can't even use the real name of the sexual organs. How weird is that? Now I have to go touch my "wee wee". Thanks for reading.

  • je di

    I'm curious how the models' eyes are treated. It seems like that would be the most awkard part of sketching anyone, let alone a nude. -j

  • Sarah

    Here's some interesting food for thought via Guerrilla Girls:

  • Adrienne

    I wonder if the aversion has anything to do with the penis being soft. Phallic symbols always depict an erect penis, right? I've never seen a soft penis anywhere except in person on an intimate partner or in Greco-Roman style art, as far as I can remember. I wonder (and would love if anyone can weigh in) whether the erectile condition of the penis has anything to do with the discomfort level.

    I've never drawn a nude male model whom I wasn't also dating. Now I want to try it to see how I would feel.

    I think the fact that some college-age women draw a circumcised penis even when it's inaccurate is pretty interesting, though it could be explained by the fact that inexperienced artists have to be trained to draw everything the way it is in front of them and not the way it is in their heads. This is true for facial features and any other body part, really. It could be that they're avoiding looking at the penis, but it could also be that they're just careless. One would have to see the rest of the drawing to determine this, I think. Did you get a sense of this from looking at their drawings, Stephen? Were they otherwise quite accurate?

  • Adrienne

    Also, I don't want to get off topic but I think this is relevant: i've been posing for a drawing class for almost a year, and in nearly every drawing i've seen of myself, the (male) artist had removed my armpit hair. They've also removed all of my pubic hair on more than one occasion that i've seen. This is really odd to me.

  • Sarah

    Adrienne: I shave my legs, but also retain my pubic hair and armpit hair and have been thinking about modeling at a local community college to pick up cash, but now I'm not sure! I would not want my body hair removed . . .

  • Adrienne

    Sarah, yeah, it's kind of heart-breaking. They don't draw my leg hair either, but I understand that, since it would be hard to do it quickly and make it look okay. Each hair individually? Shade it all in? But my armpit hair is really fun to draw! I feel like I'm doing a service by exposing people to an unconventional body, at least in terms of grooming. I think I'd be a little heart broken too if I had an uncircumcised penis and they drew it without the foreskin.

    To connect this more directly to the topic at hand: I think it's typical and purposeful to alter a model's body in your drawing for certain reasons. I've seen drawings of me in which I am busty and muscular like a comic book heroine, which is cool even if it's not real. Some of the guys who remove my body hair sell those drawings, and perhaps their buyers aren't interested in hairy ladies, so I get it. But adding shorts to a nude man? Refusing to draw genitalia as a college student, when you're there to learn?

    One possible non-homophobic reason I can imagine is that the artist (of any gender) may have survived sexual assault in which a penis was involved and might be triggered by the sight of a penis.

  • Molls

    I've been modeling for art classes for 7 years, I've modeled with men, and my guess is that most of the people who don't draw male genitalia neglect it because it isn't easy to draw.

    I frequently am pictured with no face, no hands, and no feet. I don't take that as a sign that people aren't drawing what is there, but that it's much easier to draw big shapes than little (no implication intended) details.

    Also, in reference to the armpit/pubic hair, I sometimes shave and sometimes don't. Often times, as another model mentioned, I'm drawn without public hair when I have it. But again, I would attribute most of that to a lack of detail overall in most drawings. Students typical leave out my tattoos, piercings, scars, moles, nipples, eye brows, knees, ankles, etc etc.

    I find that in more advanced classes or when modeling for a private artist, all of that detail makes it accurately into the drawing. When modeling for a 45 minute, drawing one course, it doesn't.

  • Sarah

    I've drawn my hands and feet on occasion, and it's hard! With pubic hair, though, I think that some modest shading would go a long way, y'know? Same with armpit hair. An impression, if nothing else.

    That said, your remarks on the subject are v. thought-provoking, Adrienne. Thanks!

  • John Hammack

    OK, your comments have "aroused" my interest. As a male model, my feet are usually cold. Unless you get me a fluffer in there, do not expect an erection, even from such a man as myself.
    Speaking of my feet, I have been in judo for many years. As a result of this and skydiving, I am rather self-conscious when art instructors announce, "OK, class, we are drawing feet today." I'll admit my curiosity about why they have me nude when they are simply drawing my feet, but most art models really don't care at all.
    I LIKE being nude because I put a lot of work into my body and modeling is a way for me to see how I'm doing from someone else's point of view. It's sort of like driving a customized car.
    Although I certainly exercise THAT muscle as often as possible too, most eyes do not go there immediately. Most artist or students are simply too busy to get to the center of the body immediately.
    Just to give the City Paper a plug, when I first moved to DC I got most of my modeling opportunities through this great work of journalistic art.

  • Jodi

    My students definitely leave out all the smaller details when they can, so in that respect the genitalia is not that different from the hands, feet and face. That said, I did have one female student this semester (in a third year life drawing course, so well acquainted with drawing the nude figure at this point) place an imaginary top hat and necktie (!) in the hands of a male model whose hands were already neatly folded mostly hiding his genitals. It's not that it's human nature to be squeamish, but I think they are taught that penis picures are taboo to a certain extent, and these people are still pretty young (most of my students are 20 to 24). I'm holding out hope that most of them will grow out of that. Of course, many of the artists in the stories told by your models may be older than the artists I'm teaching.

    As for the female students who drew the uncircumcised model as if he was circumcised: that's a little weird, but in general I find it's very difficult to get art students to actually SEE what they're looking at and draw it accurately. They come to class with a lot of baggage: some of them had their egos built up by a high school teacher so that they think they can sail through university without having to learn anything more, and others are just completely terrified to draw while anyone else is looking. I spend a lot of time in the classroom trying to get artists to stop drawing what they assume the body looks like and start drawing it as they actually see it before them. So the assumption of those female students that a penis must look circumcised could merely be part of a general problem of pretending to look at the model but actually drawing some generalized form from their heads. They constantly make the same glaring assumptions about things that aren't genitalia-related, like the angle of the shoulders and the distance between breasts and pelvis.

    As a former model, I did notice that the majority of female art students would consistently draw me thinner than I really was, and with larger breasts, while male students tended to draw me larger than I was (I was 150lbs). And most of them would emphasize the nipples while playing down the pubic and underarm hair. Not sure what that says about their assumptions or their own body image.

  • Paul G.

    I think Adrienne has made some interesting observations about the comments. And I see a divide in the response to drawing the figure between those that are in an art school program, and others who are hobbyists.

    The activity in a drawing class that's part of a larger program to develop specific skills is going to teach the artist just as much about how to look as how to draw. The local drawing group at MOCA gallery for example is going to draw with different purpose than the Baltimore MICA class for 2-D art students.

    When drawing for enjoyment, it's more common to embelish or diminish the subject in whatever way the artist is inspired. When drawing for an assignment, you're going to draw however the instructor has directed you and be graded for doing it "wrong" if you don't comply.

    As far as the discomfort of guys drawing a nude male model, it's not the exposure to the nude male body, it's the act of deliberate looking that's sometimes taboo. The looking has an intensity that can be construed as interest in the subject, whereas casual nudity such as a locker room or rural pond isn't about the looking and therefore lacks the intesity to make it so uncomfortable.

    Yes, body shame is not natural, but it certainly is the norm in this country.

  • Adrienne

    Paul G, thanks for clarifying those points about situational nudity. I had been entertaining thoughts about locker rooms and wondering why some guys seem more comfortable in that situation (even if there are multiple nude men in closer proximity) than in an art class with a nude male model. Your explanation makes perfect sense.

    Also, did you intend "body shame" to mean embarrassment over seeing another person's body, or shame about one's own body? Because that could be another reason some male students would be uncomfortable looking at/depicting another male body: not all nude models conform to the beauty standards, but there certainly are many like John Hammack who "work on" their bodies and take pride in it. If a male artist is uncomfortable with his own body (perhaps including his genitals, but not necessarily), he might have a hard time looking at a male body that is more "ideal" in his mind than his own, or at a man who is obviously comfortable and confident with his naked self.

    This statement of Jodi's: "the majority of female art students would consistently draw me thinner than I really was, and with larger breasts" makes me wonder if some people are trying to be kind in the way they depict a person's body. That is, maybe these female students think that Jodi would like to be thinner and have larger breasts, so they depict her that way. Perhaps some of those female students who remove the foreskin haven't seen an uncircumcised penis (I didn't know what one looked like until I was pretty far into college), and don't realize that's the way it's supposed to look, and so they draw it like the "normal" penises they've seen in order to be kinder. Pure conjecture, by the way.

    I'm curious about my own drawings of nude models and whether I alter anything about them. I guess I'd have to hold them next to other people's drawings to see. I'll try this next time.

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  • Ron

    Adrienne - This is quite interesting. I've modeled a few times for local graduate students, a few beginning drawing classes at local art schools, and a local artist. Other than the latter, all poses were timed so there is no way they could have captured every little detail. The local artist (a male!) I posed for was a back pose, so no genitalia was involved. So now I am unsure how people would draw me if they had the time to be precise. Big, small, no details, etc....

    Your comment from April 5... "I’ve never drawn a nude male model whom I wasn’t also dating. Now I want to try it to see how I would feel."

    I would certainly be interested in testing this out if you still looking to see how you'd react. This isn't the appropriate place to reach out to you, obviously, but I didn't know how else to reach you. I've been trained by the Guild although I do not participate in their program due to time. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am not sketchy and simply looking to test this out. Let me know if you are still looking for a male model to pose for you. Could be for you or others if it makes you more comfortable. 35 white male, 5'8", 160 pounds, average build.


    PS - everyone: interesting thread indeed!

  • J

    Not homophobia, at least not for most people. That is an all too broad and simplistic assumption. I was an art student I know. A lot of the female student tended not to draw the genetalia either, at least in the beginning, so its not just the male students.

    I think most people are specially in the US are just not used to seeing "live" nudity, whether its male or female. Even in countries where nudity is accepted not everyone there would have an easy time and even be embarrassed baring themselves naked in a room full of clothed people. Hence the apprehension for drawing private parts. I myself had no problem drawing the penis but seeing nude models for the first time took some getting used to.

    Although I believe it should somewhat feel natural to be nude, its not appropriate in all places. So in a sense maybe our own natures in addition to social constraints make us apprehensive in drawing private parts when in comes to a public setting. It also depends on the individuals involved, their upbringing, body image, tolerance levels.

  • Robin

    Straight male art student here. I don't recall having avoided drawing the model's penis, though I suppose it would be subconscious if I was, eh? The idea of the intense gaze as expressing sexual interest seems possible, though I've experienced that discomfort with the genitals of both sexes. I agree with the posters who postulated skipping over genitalia as a time-saving measure, I've often done that, and it seems like the artist whose work is sampled above could have done with spending a little less time on shading the testicles and a little more time blocking in the major body masses. Another aspect, which ties into prudishness, has to do with censorship. The presence of genitals, or female nipples, in an artwork automatically renders it "adult only" on public art sites such as DeviantART, so unless you only want over 18s to see your figure drawings, you might want to lose the naughty bits. As for removing body hair and such, that probably is due again to the goal of capturing the major anatomical forms, not getting caught up in surface details.

    Another consideration is that a male artist unusually focused on the penis may be perceived as engaging in chauvanistic narcissism.

  • Gavin Pollock

    Are willies that tricky to draw? I've never considered them a particularily difficult shape, but I suppose I seldom draw them particularly accurately. I tend to draw a generic penis and get on with the other bits when drawing a male model.

    I've also done a bit of modelling and it is quite disturbing to see a rendering of oneself sans genitals. A lot of artists do seem to miss them off. Others go into quite a lot of detail.

    Of course, it's the one aspect of a drawing you can't comment on when seeing artist's work. It's acceptable to say thay've captured one's hands or face really well, but probably not to say, "That's a really good drawing of my willy!".