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 E.O.E Newsletter |
 The prostate is a medical object – a gland connected with ejaculation, a site of pathology and a target for treatments. But it is also a prominent figure in our current cultural imaginary, and this new book, A Cultural Biography of the Prostate (MIT Press 2021) palpates its social contours.
The prostate is often connected to discussions of aging, masculinity and sexuality. It is talked about in terms of health and disease – cancer looms large – and mobilized to the inclusion of prostate cancer screening in health policy and to promote self-care practices like PSA testing. The prostate also appears frequently as the butt of jokes about man’s health exams in Hollywood films and stand-up routines.
Men have always experienced changed urination as they age – some of it pathological, painful and life-threatening. And prostate cancer has always been a spectre hovering over those bodies with prostates who managed to get old enough. But it was first at the end of the 1800s that the prostate became the focus for surgical and medical interventions in the West. These treatments were often dangerous and painful, but then, so were the conditions they were addressing. However, when doctors began to medicate, poke, prod and cut at the prostate, its problems also became a tool for discussions about ‘appropriate’ masculinities and sexual behaviour. Its pathologies were speculatively associated with manly activities like riding horseback in the cold and damp, a shift to sedentary, indoor office work, and the tendency of certain older men to chase much younger women. It was
De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, 372. Published in Basel by Johannes Oporinus, 1543. From the collection
of The Hagströmer Medico- Historical Library, Karolinska Institutet (KI), Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Anna Lantz.
Ericka Johnson
Professor of gender and society, Linköping University, Sweden

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