On the beauty of the human genitalia  

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"The art of procreation and the members employed therein are so repulsive, that if it were not for the beauty of the faces and the adornments of the actors and the pent-up impulse, nature would lose the human species."--The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

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Mentions of the the beauty (or ugliness) of the human genitalia are few and far between. Mentions of its ugliness are more common.


Leonardo da Vinci

human extinction

Beauty -- or the lack thereof -- in eroticism is strikingly expressed by Leonardo da Vinci in his Notebooks (Windsor 19009, recto):

"The act of coition and the members employed are so ugly that but for the beauty of the faces, the adornments of their partners and the frantic urge, Nature would lose the human race." (quoted in Bataille's Erotism: Death and Sensuality, translation by Mary Dalwood).

Another translation of the same quote:

"The art of procreation and the members employed therein are so repulsive, that if it were not for the beauty of the faces and the adornments of the actors and the pent-up impulse, nature would lose the human species."--Edward McCurdy [1]

Original Italian:

"L'atto del coito e li membri a quello adoperati son di tanta bruttura che se non fussi le bellezze de' volti e li ornamenti delli operanti e la frenata disposizione, la natura perderebbe la spezie umana"

Dutch translation

In Geerinck, egvde and in Marc de Kesel 2013 'Weerzinwekkend mooi. Freud, Bataille en Lacan over de seksuele herkomst van het esthetische gevoel'


"the sense of beauty [...] always directs the sexual impulse, and without which this sinks to the level of a disgusting necessity [ekelhaften Bedürfniß]." --"The Metaphysics of Sexual Love"
"But now the act through which the will asserts itself and man arises is one of which all are, in their inmost being, ashamed, which they therefore carefully conceal ; nay, if they are caught in it, are terrified as if they had been taken in a crime." --"On the Affirmation of the Will-to-Live"

Havelock Ellis

"There is another reason why the sexual organs should be discarded as objects of sexual allurement, a reason which always proves finally decisive as a people advances in culture. They are not aesthetically beautiful. It is fundamentally necessary that the intromittent organ of the male and the receptive canal of the female should retain their primitive characteristics; they cannot, therefore, be greatly modified by sexual or natural selection, and the exceedingly primitive character they are thus compelled to retain, however sexually desirable and attractive they may become to the opposite sex under the influence of emotion, can rarely be regarded as beautiful from the point of view of aesthetic contemplation. Under the influence of art there is a tendency for the sexual organs to be diminished in size, and in no civilized country has the artist ever chosen to give an erect organ to his representations of ideal masculine beauty. It is mainly because the unaesthetic character of a woman's sexual region is almost imperceptible in any ordinary and normal position of the nude body that the feminine form is a more aesthetically beautiful object of contemplation than the masculine. Apart from this character we are probably bound, from a strictly aesthetic point of view, to regard the male form as more aesthetically beautiful." --Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 4 (1905)


In "The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life" (1912)

"The genitals themselves have not undergone the development of the rest of the human form in the direction of beauty; they have retained their animal cast; and so even today love, too, is in essence as animal as it ever was."

In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)

"Es ist bemerkenswert, daß die Genitalien selbst, deren Anblick immer erregend wirkt, doch fast nie als schön beurteilt werden, dagegen scheint der Charakter der Schönheit an gewissen sekundären Geschlechtsmerkmalen zu haften."


"It is worth remarking that the genitals themselves, the sight of which is always exciting, are nevertheless hardly ever judged to be beautiful; the quality of beauty seems, instead, to attach to certain secondary sexual characters."

Georges Bataille

Bataille says on the subject in L'Erotisme:

"Personne ne doute de la laideur de l'acte sexuel. De même que la mort dans le sacrifice, la laideur de l'accouplement met dans l'angoisse. Mais plus grande est l'angoisse — à la mesure de la force des partenaires — et plus forte est la conscience d'excéder les limites, qui décide un transport de joie. Que les situations varient selon les goûts, et les habitudes, ne peut faire que généralement la beauté (l'humanité) d'une femme ne concoure à rendre sensible — et choquante — l'animalité de l'acte sexuel. Rien de plus déprimant, pour un homme, que la laideur d'une femme, sur laquelle la laideur des organes ou de l'acte ne ressort pas. La beauté importe au premier chef en ce que la laideur ne peut être souillée, et que l'essence de l'érotisme est la souillure. L'humanité, significative de l'interdit, est transgressée dans l'érotisme. Elle est transgressée, profanée, souillée. Plus grande est la beauté, plus profonde est la souillure."

English translation:

"No-one doubts the ugliness of the sexual act. Just as death does in sacrifice, the ugliness of the sexual union makes for anguish. But the greater the anguish—within the measure of the partners' strength—the stronger the realisation of exceeding the bounds and the greater the accompanying rush of joy. Tastes and customs vary, but that cannot prevent a woman's beauty (her humanity, that is) from making the animal nature of the sexual act obvious and shocking. For a man, there is nothing more depressing than an ugly woman, for then the ugliness of the organs and the sexual act cannot show up in contrast. Beauty has a cardinal importance, for ugliness cannot be spoiled, and to despoil is the essence of eroticism. Humanity implies the taboos, and in eroticism it and they are transgressed. Humanity is transgressed, profaned and besmirched. The greater the beauty, the more it is befouled." --Erotism: Death and Sensuality

See also

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