Dirty Mind

Superstitions grow up around things we regard as important. Not necessarily things we like, but things we feel strongly about - whether we admit to these feelings or not.

Which means if you want to know the obsessions are of an individual or a culture, look for their rituals.

I don't mean rituals like putting the milk in before the tea (or vice versa), or shaking hands after doing business. Those are just habits and politeness. I'm talking about little actions that are believed to change the structure of the universe in magical, beneficial ways.

How many rituals are there to bring luck? Blowing on dice, wearing the 'lucky' pair of socks, reciting affirmations, doing 'positive thinking' exercises, and of course praying.

How many rituals are there to ward off bad luck? The groom not seeing the bride shortly before the wedding ceremony, actors not mentioning Macbeth, even throwing a handful of salt over your shoulder and never shaking with your left hand.

Sometimes it's not exactly about luck - more about being 'worthy' of success. If you go to sleep at 2am and wake up at 10am, you're supposedly somehow less renewed than if you sleep from 10pm and wake at 6am. Early risers are in some mysterious way 'better at sleep'.

Have you ever known someone who started using mudpacks? And did they look notably younger than before? No - if anything the opposite.

Okay, we all know that these rituals don't work, because they're based on beliefs that aren't true.

But what about washing your hands after urinating? And that goes for women as well as men.

Urine is sterile, and the skin of your genitals isn't any more infested with bacteria than any other organ. In fact, given the number of things you touch with your hands, you'd do better to wash your genitals after handling them.

But no. The idea is that your sex organs are physically dirty, and it seems to make sense, because the waste products that pass through or near them are breeding grounds for germs. Except...actually they're not.

We think sex organs have an ineradicable, invisible dirtyness about them because...they're spiritually unclean. The old judeo-christian horror of sexuality hitches a ride on the modern fear of pathogens, and the result is a superstition connecting disease with sex.

That and the slightly strange practice of putting plumbing for sewage in the same room as plumbing for ablution.

There's a lot of superstitions about genitals - especially male ones. If you doubt it, just think of the pointless ritual of circumcision, and the idiotic arguments made to justify it.

Compare it with the rarity of the much worse female circumcision, and ask how many of those who campaign against the female variety think the male variety is a good thing.

So, there are probably more superstitions about penises than vaginas, and a whole lot more about being lucky than being worthy. I think this tells us something about the cultures we live in.

1 comment:

  1. Good point about the double standards on male and female circumcision - but the hypocrisy goes further than you suggest. Most female circumcisions around the world don't target her clitoral glans: they target either her hood (her foreskin) or her labia. In Egypt 8% of FGM removes just the girl's labia...In Indonesia the common cutting practice is to remove just a sliver of her clitoral hood, whereas in Malaysia it is usually just to slit the clitoral hood. This slitting practice (FGM type IVa - which American paediatricians proposed offering to immigrant parents a couple of years ago) is stated by the 2008 interagency statement on FGM to be one of the commonest forms of female genital mutilation around the world.... Notably, the communities who do all these cuts promote them as beneficial in similar ways to the promotion of baby boy circ in the US - prevention of cancer, smegma etc...

    And here's the interesting thing: a female's intact vulva is much more prone to bacterial, viral or fungal issues than a boy's intact penis. Vulval cancer for example, 2-3 times more common than penile cancer, thrush is very widespread among women... even the bacteria associated with smegma is vastly more common in the labial folds than on the penis. So if the non consensual reduction of genital skin was really a health and safety priority, then logically we would start by lining up the baby girls!