We Found the Guy Whose Penis Is on the Wikipedia Penis Page

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Jan. 8 2014 6:22 PM

On Loins

The incredibly popular, highly contentious Wikipedia pages for penis and vagina. Plus: Meet a guy who uploaded one of the penis photos.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has described his vision for the free encyclopedia as "the sum of all human knowledge." It's a noble goal, but it turns out that many Wikipedia users—readers and editors alike—are less interested in the sum than the parts. Two parts, in particular: the human penis and vagina.

Wikipedia keeps detailed records of page views and edit history so it’s easy to measure how often readers visit each article and how much work editors have put into each page. You might guess the entries for brain and human brain would be the most popular anatomy pages, given the brain’s importance and complexity. But together they average a total of only 215,000 views a month—considerably less than one-half the monthly page views either the penis or vagina page receive. The penis page is so popular it receives four times as many views as head, shoulders, knees, and toes—combined.

Here’s a graphic that shows the popularity of different anatomy related pages on Wikipedia.

140108_CBOX_WikipediaGenitals
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Of course, it's not entirely surprising that people aren't spending their free time reading encyclopedia articles on the human ankle. But in the past five years, we have searched for the penis and vagina pages 66 million times. Some fraction of these searches are surely the result of a juvenile impulse—searching Wikipedia for penis is the 21st-century equivalent of looking up swear words in the dictionary. Some other fraction of the searches likely spring from a perfectly natural adolescent impulse: A desire to understand how your body works, and how the body of the opposite sex works, too.

The pages, and their histories, also offer a glimpse into Wikipedia’s awkward adolescence, and into the issues the encyclopedia continues to struggle with as something of an Internet young adult. As you might imagine, these sensitive regions of the body have inspired heated editorial debates, debates that point up the imperfections in Wikipedia’s crowd-sourced model—specifically the degree to which men outnumber women in the Wiki-editing ranks.

These debates play out in Wikipedia’s talk pages, where editors discuss changes and identify possible improvements to each entry. Since the conception of the vagina page, there have been 119 discussions threads in its talk page. The penis page, in the same timeframe, has had twice as many topics posted, with 255.

Of the 255 discussion topics on the penis page, a fair number relate to the controversial circumcision debate. But an even larger portion are focused on whether or not there should be a photo of a penis on the penis page, how many photos is enough, and whose photo should be chosen. The exchanges are sometimes clinical and sometimes off-color. Below is a timeline of the more noteworthy edits and discussions on the “Penis” page:

Nov. 8, 2001: Penis page created by an anonymous user.
Jan. 8, 2002: User Dmerrill, one of the first 200 Wikipedia editors, adds an “Erection” and “Circumcision =” section.
March 26, 2002: After more than two months of going unnoticed, the section titled “Circumcision =” is finally renamed “Circumcision.”
Jan. 30, 2003: The first diagram of a penis is uploaded when user GrandVoivodOfErdely adds "== 8====D ==    illustration 1.0: a penis" to the page.
July 13, 2003: The first photograph of a penis is added to the page. The image comes from “LuckyMojo.com,” a Hoodoo (similar but different than Voodoo) based website dedicated to spell kits, occult books, and tantric sex.
July 1, 2004: Users begin to debate if displaying a picture of a penis is profane or not. The fourth contribution to the debate, from user Karada reads, "If we are going to show an erect penis, we should show one that is fully erect, rather than semi-erect." Debate continues.
Nov. 21, 2004: User Clawed writes "I have taken pictures...colour photo with a black background, fully erect in second photo." He simultaneously uploads the picture to Wikipedia.
Mid-February 2006: The number of pictures continues to grow with one diagram, three separate sets of photos that feature both an erect and flaccid penis, and a photo of an elephant penis.
Aug. 24, 2006: After a user uploads another set of flaccid/erect penis photos and states, "I can assure you that they are both of the same penis," the pictures are removed by another editor, who notes, "I don't particularly like the oversaturated colors over the black background in this one."
March 16, 2008: Photos of a penis, showing “teenage development” from the ages 12 to 16 are removed. User Mike Segal argues they should have stayed: "It is NOT automatically illegal in the United States to show photographs of minors just because they aren't wearing clothes."
June 2, 2008: User Ranchoahn says, "I have read through this talk page extensively and have seen a lot of bickering over the images. Perhaps the community would like to see the image I have created." User OhNoitsJamie responds, “We have plenty of penis photos. We don't need anymore. Please don't bother." Ranchoahn: "Awwwww."
Dec. 8, 2010: A separate human penis page is created. The editing of the penis pages mostly comes to an end as both articles are set to have limited editing privileges. This makes it impossible for users who are not editors of a set rank to make changes to the page. 

The evolution of the vagina page has similarities and differences with that of the penis page. Although determining the gender breakdown on any particular article is not possible, it is estimated that only 10 percent of all Wikipedia editors are female, and the talk page for vagina has many comments you might expect from a male-dominated site. “That picture of the vagina is nasty...,” writes one user. “YAY the vagina is back!! this one isn't spread open though like the old one...oh well,” writes another.

While the contributions of the most boorish editors have thankfully been relegated to the talk section, it’s possible that the lack of female editors has resulted in significant differences in the quality and utility of the vagina page compared to the penis page. I asked Naomi Wolf, author of the recent book Vagina, to read through the vagina page, to see it through the eyes of a thinker with a feminist cast of mind.

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