As a woman, I can't quite classify my relationship to the penis, drawn. On a subconscious level, the scrawled outline of a phallus is instinctively as amusing to me as it is a symbol of threateningly unchecked masculinity. (There's certainly a reason why this article isn't asking "Why do women draw vaginas on everything?")
Nothing sums up this confusion more than the time I paid money for a drawing featuring a scene of multiple anthropomorphic penises drinking beer together. It all happened so quickly: I was walking down Bedford Avenue when a street vendor stopped me, pushing his framed, dick portraits in my path. He told me he was leaving New York the next day to go back home to Africa, and he needed to unload as much of his art as he could before then. "$20?" he asked, waving his various shafts around. Somewhat disoriented by his pitch, and somewhat impressed with his entrepreneurship, I reached into my pocket and found a $10 bill. He accepted my counter offer and I accepted his genital drawing, only to throw it away later when my boyfriend refused to let me hang it in our apartment amongst the "real art"—and when I saw the penis man back on Bedford the following week.
My poor judgement aside, the dick, as an art form, is certainly less abrasive than the dick as sexual advance; generally speaking, dick pics are universally maligned, but dick doodles—in their cartoonish approximation—are often tolerated and even championed. Divorced from the rest of their human form, they're hardly erotic. They're also everywhere, and they show no signs of waning. Men have seemingly drawn dicks—whether clandestinely in notebooks, on snow-covered lakes and cars, or on any surface not currently covered by penises—for ages. But why?
Ask a psychoanalyst and they'll tell you it's obviously Freudian. "In psychoanalytic terms, castration is a core fear that everyone experiences, if not the core fear," Dr. Vanessa Sinclair told me over email when I posed the question to her. "The classical example taken from Freud is that the little boy sees that his mother does not have a penis and this traumatizes him. He then fears that the same thing can happen to him—that not only could he lose his penis, but that he could be exposed and everyone will see that he does not have one. It makes him feel vulnerable. He does not have the phallus—perhaps he never did—and now everyone knows."
She went on, "When you think of the phallus in a metaphorical sense, and not as a literal penis, it's more about who has the power, who has the answer, who has what everyone is looking for. The reality of course is that no one has it. No one has the answer or the power, ultimately. They only do when others believe they do. As long as you are not fully exposed, you can keep people thinking that you have it. But there is a limit to that. So, essentially, the people who are drawing penises over and over again are trying to assert that they have the power. That they have the phallus and do not lack. That they're not vulnerable. It's the same classic example of older men who buy a sports car or motorcycle when their physical health and strength begins to decline."
Though not exactly revelatory, when I turned the question on actual men, this theory seemed to hold true. Perhaps most insightful was a conversation I had with the anonymous guys behind Penised, a company marketed toward startups that "will turn your enemies' logo into a penis." But while the company started out using penises as a way for businesses to insult their competitors, the founders told me that they started getting "a lot of companies asking us to do their own logos due to how viral and popular the service got."
That's right: there are companies that eagerly want their own logos turned into dicks. If that's not a power-asserting move, I don't what is.
However, Michael Yardley, a 33-year-old Florida-based designer and prolific penis portrait artist, told me that he simply just likes drawing them. "I personally like to draw real exaggerated sweet potato-looking uncircumcised [dicks]," he wrote to me in email, adding that he would never stop drawing dicks unless it would "cure cancer."
"I used to draw them a ton when I was first starting out back in the early 2000s, and actually got a little shine for it," he said. "Then that movie Superbad came out and had a scene about [drawing dicks]. That ruined it for me for a long time, but now that shit has mostly blown over so I'm back at it when I can."
Yardley theorizes that boys might draw dicks in their youth to get a grasp on their changing bodies. "You draw dicks from experience, which is only your dick. So if someone goes, "Eww why is the head shaped like that?" you know you are probably a freak and should see a physician about it."
But maybe the best explanation is that there is no explanation for the spontaneous passion men feel for dick drawing. The very essence of life, after all, is a mystery.