Author Archives

Don Kulick
Professor of Anthropology at Uppsala University, Sweden. Author of books and articles on everything from the lives of trans sex workers in Brazil to the anthropology of fat. His latest book "A Death in the Rainforest" was recently named one of Time magazine's Best Summer Reads of 2019.

The Shames of Men

Getty, Illustration by Homestead

Don Kulick | Longreads | June 2019 | 14 minutes (3,788 words)

A few months ago, in April 2019, an eyebrow-raising headline appeared in the British newspaper the Guardian: “Botched penis enlargements: Papua New Guinea doctors warn of nationwide problem.”

The article reported that over the past two years the General Hospital in the country’s capital city, Port Moresby, has treated more than five hundred men who injected baby oil and other foreign substances into their penises to make them bigger. The medical professionals who sounded the alarm about this practice warned that it seems to be widespread and is a growing threat to men’s health throughout the country.

I read this story and sighed. I knew that those doctors were glimpsing only the tip of a ghastly iceberg.


Only a few weeks before the Guardian article appeared, I had returned to Gapun, a remote village in an all-but-forgotten corner of Papua New Guinea where I have been doing anthropological research for the past thirty years. The village is much further off the beaten path than any doctor working at Port Moresby General Hospital is likely to have traveled. Getting there from the nearest town can take two days, but this time I made it in a record fourteen hours.

Leaving from the nearest town with my traveling companions — three health workers from a local NGO — I rode in the back of a truck with no shock absorbers on an unpaved road cratered with potholes. For nine hours. At the end of the road we climbed into a flimsy outboard motor-powered canoe, bobbing on ocean waves up the coast before entering an immense mangrove lagoon and, after three hours, arriving at the end of a shallow, narrow creek. From there, we shouldered our bags and trekked for an hour, through viscous mud and clouds of mosquitoes, across slim slippery waterlogged poles that villagers call “bridges.”

Finally we arrived in the small windless slit in the rainforest that is Gapun; a village with a usual population of about two hundred people. Read more…