Why ‘The Penis Beaker’ will be the death of us.

Radio 4 is my morning jam. For years, daughter and I have enjoyed the dulcet tones of John Humphries over cous cous/waffles/crumpets (her. She has the fickle tastes of her mother) and poncey herbal tea (yours truly). Mornings with Auntie are the place where my inquisitive ten year old has made all manner of discoveries about the world.

“So, Brexit. It’s a bit rubbish isn’t it?”
“Cor, Nigel Farage is a twat”
“You get melanoma from mosquitos???”

(Two out of three ain’t bad.)

This morning, as she curled up miserably on the floor, sadly clutching a crumpet (returning to school after a wonderful birthday half term being the official source of her lamentations, but really she’d stayed up until ludicrous o’clock, secretly reading comics under the bedclothes), I listened earnestly to a piece on the evolutionary foundations behind feelings of disgust.

I’m sure there must be plenty of manky old shite out there that could have me gagging on my breakfast yoghurt, but on the whole I’ve never really given it much thought. I mean, one cursory glance at Mumsnet will give you all the insight you need into the grim habits of humanity. And if you really need any further proof that we’re all a massive stinky bundle of dirty habits, stagnant smells and sticky bogeys, then you might want to question your motivation.

But Dr Val Curtis of the London School of Tropical Medicine had rather a lot to say about feelings of disgust and how they are nothing more than an evolutionary hangover, designed to help us respond appropriately to potential danger. Her example being (and I’m totally paraphrasing here because, I have to admit, I was also curling my eyelashes) that if you find yourself sat on the tube next to someone with only one hand and suddenly feel repulsed, then it’s your natural evolutionary instinct kicking in to protect you from leprosy. Except you’re about as likely to encounter someone with leprosy on the Circle Line as you are an actual Circle Line train that doesn’t stink like the armpit of the devil. In fact, I’m now entirely certain that my desperate need to bathe in bleach every time I set foot within fifteen metres of the London Underground is pure self preservation. However, my entirely unfounded fears of contracting Ebola on public transport aside, it’s clearly fucking bonkers to assume that instinct overrides knowledge when it comes to disability.

That said, I’m no doubt doing Dr Val a disservice. As a scientist, she’s very sensibly investigating the link between brain and body. Which is obviously a very cool thing. And I’m all for finding out what motivates human response. After all, It’s all well and good accusing people of fear when they conduct themselves like fucking arseholes (I’m looking at you, Britain First), but it’s people like Dr Val who give us the impartial and research-based evidence to turn what could be simply assumption into cold hard, shiny, antiseptic, scientific fact.

Yet, later on, I found myself thinking about the bloody study again. There was something missing. And in a moment that was less “eureka” and more “oooooooh, hang on a minute”, I realised what bothered me about her thoughts around disgust. None of what she said (revulsion at poor personal hygiene being nature’s way of protecting us from transferable disease etc etc) adequately explained the wholesale “OH FUCKING NOOOOOOOO” response to ‘The Penis Beaker’ story by Every Woman Ever. Or the sheer look of “NO WAY” on my colleagues faces when I drunkenly told them my Danielle Westbrook story. Or that one about my old neighbour and Frozen Poo Sex.

I shan’t elaborate (mainly because I’m still dining out on old Danny W and FPS Man – I’m ace at parties. Talk to me.) but all three stories have one thing in common: they’re gross, yet fucking hilarious. No one pukes, feels queasy or needs to disinfect themselves and they certainly don’t trigger thoughts of life threatening disease (outside of wishing one on the people involved for, frankly, being so bloody stupid). They do, however, have a habit of sticking around the old grey matter for far longer than is useful. Christ, I can barely remember where my keys are most days, but somehow still remember old neighbour’s job, address and profoundly disturbing sexual kink.

And this kind of stuff is EVERYWHERE. If you want to while away a good hour or two screaming at the gross, ludicrous and downright fucking Darwin-esque levels of pillockry, look no further than the Mumsnet message boards, where tales of troubled vaginas, world class stupidity, genuine infectious diseases and, of course, The Infamous Penis Beaker (so good, it bears mentioning twice) are just business as usual.

Personally, I am partial to a spot of Dr Pimple Popper. As pustules pop, cysts explode and blackheads squiggle out of the craters in noses, I feel a sense of grim satisfaction. And, dare I say it, jealousy. Damn, that woman has an awesome job.

But where does this leave Dr Val’s theories? Well, here we have a bit of a potential problem. You see, if she’s right, then we’re breaking our natural revulsion instinct. All this farting around on that internet, howling with laughter at the dad who ate the fatballs and watching re-runs of ‘The Man With The 10-Stone Testicles’ is doing our species a massive disservice. We’re desensitising ourselves and, theoretically at least, our tolerance levels to all sorts of previously distasteful situations should increase exponentially.

In short, we’re leaving ourselves wide open. If we find the gross shit hilarious, fascinating and/or satisfying, we’re fucked in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Wanging a breeze block at the head of the undead is only really effective if you don’t feel the need to hang about long enough to watch it go pop. And when Skynet eventually becomes self aware, we’ll all be too ensconced in kittens, eyeliner tutorials and erupting steatocystomas to notice.

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