On Wednesday, the estranged husband of a woman who is being charged with severing his penis told the court on the first day of the trial that his wife “murdered him” the night of the crime. He says that he will “never have a sex life,” and while his mental state is improving, “it may never be what it was before.”
Beyond the shock value of this horrifying incident, the emotional trauma and the feeling of being murdered this California man is feeling raises questions on how intertwined male sexuality is with masculinity.
The man is only going by his first name in court. Moreover, because of the sexual nature of the assault, the Associated Press will not name the victim.
According to the opening statement of Orange County District Attorney John Christl, in July of 2011 the man’s wife laced his food with sleeping pills, then tied him to a bed, cut off his penis and put it in the garbage disposal, because she was angry that her husband was dating a former girlfriend. While the victim has had surgery so that he can urinate, his penis could not be reattached, and therefore he will never be able to have a sex life again.
To a man, not having a penis is not like losing a leg, or losing an arm. To this man, and I’d speculate to many others, losing one’s penis is such a horrifying, private loss that it’s almost like losing one’s life. However, the fact that losing a body part has so much weight within society’s gendered expectations of men, and even women, shows how integral male sexuality is to a masculine image.
Men and masculinity are often associated with sexual activity. Traditionally, men are expected to, and in some ways encouraged, to pursue women as sexual objects, while women are often expected to defy these sexual conquests and to never pursue conquests of their own. Because this man has lost his penis, he has lost his sex life, and therefore he can no longer pursue sexual conquests. This puts his self-image at odds with the image of masculinity that he has been expected to live up to his entire life, and therefore, beyond the immense physical pain, the mental trauma of the experience is so great that he feels like his life has ended.
This is parallel in many ways to how many young women feel after being raped. Chastity and purity is a trait often held in high esteem within an ideal “feminine” image, and when that chastity is forcibly taken away from a young woman, it can feel like their life has ended. In fact, many women have taken away their lives after being raped. Recent cases that come to mind are the suicides of Audrie Potts and Rehtaeh Parsons.
When a woman is raped, the ideal image of femininity that they’ve been conditioned and socialized to meet has been stripped away from them against their will. Similarly, when a man’s penis is forcibly severed from his body, the ideal masculinity he has been conditioned and socialized to meet has been forcibly taken away from him.
The traumatizing incident experienced by this California man shows that, like a woman’s virtue is often viewed as integral to her identity, a man’s sexual capacity is often viewed in a similar light. In our society, a man without a penis can’t feel like a man. In this world, a man without a penis feels like he has no life at all.