McLaren, Angus. Impotence : a cultural history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
McLaren’s cultural history of male impotence drives home one strong assertion: the reality, fear and shame of impotence is no new thing. From Greco-Roman times to the Middle Ages to the modern triumph of Viagra, men (and women) have been dealing with this issue. I chose to focus on the chapter where the author describes the 20th century, especially World War II through the 1980’s. He shows that male impotence is both a psychological and a physiological function. Studies from this time period, however, found the two to be so tightly intertwined that it is was nearly impossible to separate them. They certainly found strong correlation, however, between anxious, insecure men and impotency. Age was a factor, but some studies showed that regular sexual activity could greatly dampen or even eliminate the physiological effects of age on erectile performance. And those thought to be inherently impotent could, with therapy, eventually overcome their problem.
Seeing as this was the protagonist’s main conflict in the film Xala, I thought to dig up a book on the effects of impotence, its treatment and taboos associated with it. While I couldn’t find any studies specific to African culture from Xala’s time period, I feel that, quite interestingly, there are universal reactions from both males and females to this phenomenon. Just as we saw El Hadji’s personal shame and the external female castigation in the African cultural context, this experience seems to be the norm across many (if not all) cultures studied to date. I actually expected to find a lot more literature on this subject, but as I learned from skimming Impotence, the subject is so taboo and shameful that, for the most part, it wasn’t till about 50 years ago that it began to be openly discussed. It is noteworthy that, as in most cases, the criticism El Hadji received from the females in the film likely made the problem worse, as impotence is so directly affected by shame and feelings of inadequacy.