Whither went my manhood?

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst reviews Impotence a Cultural History by Angus McLaren, in The Telegraph:

Screenhunter_02_may_02_1816In the 1980s it was reported that in parts of West Africa enraged mobs had killed a number of “penis snatchers”: witches who had been accused of leaving their victims as smooth between the legs as Action Man.

Like many stories involving impotence, it provoked winces of sympathy as well as comic sniggers, especially from men who recognised that in cultures where ideals of “manhood” were based more on sexual potency than on, say, being good at crosswords, “penis snatching” was more or less equivalent to “body snatching”.

The sad truth that emerges from Angus McLaren’s cultural history of impotence is that this amounts to just about every Western culture since the Ancient Greeks. Impotence may have produced a far richer vocabulary than headaches or piles – pillock, fumbler, bungler, and dozens more – but when it comes to explaining why they have no lead in their pencils, men’s creative energies have usually been diverted in a single direction: finding someone else to blame.

Early witch hunters in Europe warned how easily simple spells could cause impotence in otherwise virile men. By the Renaissance, these causes had expanded to include idleness, abstinence and over-soft beds.

More here.