Today’s post is some seriously OLD science. Old science and WEIRD science, coming to you courtesy of Mt. Sinai hospital in NYC, 1913.
And it’s also the WEIRDEST conjunction of this:
That Sci has ever seen.
Gerster AG, Mandlebaum FS. “XI. On the Formation of Bone in the Human Penis.” Annals of Surgery, 1913.
The pictures below are curiously safe for work. I suppose that picture up there wasn’t. oops.
Today’s post is a case study concerning the growth of bone in the human penis.
Now some of you might be aware that other mammals often do have penis bones. Known as a baculum, the penis bone aids in sexual intercourse by keeping everything in place. This is probably especially useful if your species has awkward sexual maneuvers.
But that’s other mammals. The human species doesn’t HAVE a penis bone. There are various hypotheses as to why this is, such as human men losing it because they were around the women all the time and didn’t need it. Sci thinks that maybe it got lost because it got smaller (in primates it’s smaller than in other mammals) and got to a size where it caused more evolutionary harm than good. But who knows.
Anyway, humans don’t have one. Unless you’re this guy. This guy presented to the doctors at Mt. Sinai with a hard knob at the top of the base of the penis. It started out about the size of a pea, and GREW, until it was about 3.5cm long running toward the tip of the penis. Interestingly, this didn’t cause the guy pain. What DID cause the guy pain was that the bone meant his penis couldn’t curve like normal when it was erect. In fact, it curved too far UP, and so far up that he couldn’t successfully penetrate a vagina. When he lost the ability to effectively have sex, the man hied himself off to the doctor right quick.
Well, the doctors went in (using ether as anesthesia, ah, the old days. There is nothing as depraved as a man in the midst of an ether binge), and got the bone out very easily, noting at they went that it had dug into both sides of the corpus cavernosum pretty good. For an idea of what that looks like, here’s some penis anatomy.
So you can see above the two spongy tubes that look like eyes? Those are the corpus cavernosa, and they run the length of the penis. When the penis is stimulated, those two cavernous bodies fill with blood, and the blood is what causes the turgidity of the erection.
Now put a little flat bone at the base of the penis. The bone in this case not only caused the curvature to be off, it also had dug in to the corpus cavernosa pretty hard. They ended up having to sew them shut, and the operation did succeed.
But the question is: WHY did this guy grow a PENIS BONE?!
Well, remember those corsets up there?
He wore them. All the time. For years.
Now you might be sitting there and saying “ha ha dude feels pretty”. Well, ok maybe (and nothing wrong with that), but probably not in this case. This is 1913, and this is a time when basically everyone could wear corsets and get away with it. Women wore them for the curves they created, MEN wore them to flatten their stomachs, even BABIES wore them to “support their weak little backs”.
And this guy…well, the doctor’s words about his stomach were “abdomen obese and pendulous”. Ouch. The guy had apparently been very worried about his appearance and had been wearing a pair of corsets with a straight front, the kind shaped like this:
Ok, except for dudes.
Notice something about those corsets up there? Rather than having a flat front, many straight front corsets end in a POINT. This is often useful to ladies to do things like maintain some seriously ramrod straight posture, and to create the belled hips look seen in gowns like these:
See how the dress above comes down in a point? To keep that point flat you’d have a corset underneath it (and obviously a bigger dress rather than just some tulle, this was back when showing a little bit of ankle was still daring).
So it was the points of the corset that were causing him so much trouble. The man spent most of his time sitting down, and every time he did, the point of the corset poked into the top of his penis, irritating the area.
Another part of this was helped along by the fact that the guy had syphilis. The syphilis, combined with the constant irritation of the corset, had apparently caused a build up of desposits, which eventually ossified and turned in to bone. REAL BONE, with marrow and holes in it and everything!
A woman who wore these corsets probably wouldn’t have had this problem, because even sitting down, the point of the corset is going to poke past the genitalia rather than into it (though of course the rearranging of internal organs and the constant abdominal pressure and lung squeeze would have presented their own problems).
So the moral of this story is: if you’re a guy, and you’re vain about your appearance, get a flat front corset. You don’t want to be sitting down in something pointy.
GERSTER, A., & MANDLEBAUM, F. (1913). ON THE FORMATION OF BONE IN THE HUMAN PENIS Annals of Surgery, 57 (6), 896-901 DOI: 10.1097/00000658-191306000-00012