Talking CockBMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7370.975/a (Published 26 October 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:975
- Petra M Boynton (), lecturer in health services research,
- Will Callaghan (), internet editor of Men's Health.
A one man show by Richard Herring currently touring the UK
For venues and other details see www.talkingcock.co.uk/
Move over The Vagina Monologues—there's a new act in town. Richard Herring's one man show, Talking Cock, is doing for the penis what Eve Ensler did for the vagina.
Historically, the penis has had a lot of attention, but Herring argues that it's not all been positive. For many the penis is a source of anxiety, embarrassment, or shame. This won't surprise the average general practitioner, who will be used to hearing about erectile dysfunction and the various ways in which we should now be treating sexual problems. Herring's act is refreshing because it doesn't medicalise sex. Rather than just listing statistics about sexual problems, he reports what it feels like for men to live with the pleasures and problems that a penis can provide.
Talking Cock is ostensibly a comedy act that covers historical and cultural representations of the penis. Herring uses informative, funny, and moving comments from the 3000 plus respondents to a survey on his website (www.talkingcock.co.uk/question/ to illustrate personal issues that would make the average ethics committee faint. As with any research completed via the internet, the replies that make up Herring's act will be biased, although fortunately respondents are forewarned how their replies might be used. However, the enthusiastic reaction to the questionnaire and show suggests that we shouldn't be too afraid to tackle sensitive subjects.
The show is refined each day according to the responses to the online questionnaire. The night that we saw it, Herring covered masturbation, penis anxiety, and even touched on issues of sexuality and gender politics. Premature ejaculation and the inability to achieve orgasm did not feature, but since no two performances are the same, they may well appear on other nights.
On some levels Talking Cock does oversimplify issues. In his eagerness to salute gay men for being proud of their penises, Herring overlooks the real sexual difficulties that many gay men have. Yet overall Herring should be praised for his handling of a taboo topic, and his refusal to turn a discussion of masculinity into a battle of the sexes.
Health professionals and academics would benefit from seeing Herring's show, as it tells us so much about men's sexual anxieties, as well as offering a perfect template of how to present research data. Braver doctors may even recommend this show to their patients. For anyone proposing a new way of providing sex information, this wouldn't be a bad place to start.