Annals of phallicity: the hardness score

In the September 2015 issue of Out magazine (p. 20), Aaron Hicklin’s Editor’s Letter, “The Audacity of Cucumbers”, a rave tv review:

If you are among the paltry 55,000 people that tuned in to Logo earlier this year to watch the premiere episode of the British import Cucumber, or the paltrier 24,000 that watched its sibling, Banana, both helmed by the Queer as Folk originator Russell T. Davies, I hope you stayed beyond those establishing episodes. Cucumber and Banana were slow to warm up, but by episodes three and four there was little doubt that Davies had created the most audacious and original queer series ever. Two of them, in fact. They were funny; they were sad; they were mischievous. Sometimes they were even profound.

With titles taken from designations for the Erection Hardness Score, developed by the European Association of Urology, Cucumber and Banana were so audacious that I sometimes felt almost embarrassed to be watching. Yet how utterly novel to see gay sex treated in such a frank and casual manner. The shows are complementary but separate, with characters flitting from one to the other… In fact, I’ve never seen the LGBT community treated with such equity, in which all the constituent parts of the acronym are present and fully fleshed out.


You can watch some scenes from the shows  here.

Some Wikipedia details:

Banana is a 2015 British television series created by Russell T Davies and aired on E4. The sister series to Channel 4’s Cucumber and the 4oD documentary series Tofu, Banana is a series focusing on LGBT youth in Manchester, on the vicinity of the Cucumber narrative. Unlike Cucumber, which is a self-contained serial following the story of one gay man, Banana is an anthology series focusing on the wider LGBT spectrum. (link)

Cucumber is a 2015 British television series created by Russell T Davies and aired on Channel 4. The series focuses on middle-aged Henry Best (Vincent Franklin), following a disastrous date night with his boyfriend of nine years, Lance Sullivan (Cyril Nri). Henry’s old life shatters, and he embarks on a new life with unfamiliar rules.
In development since 2006, Cucumber was announced along with companion series Banana, and web series Tofu in November 2013. The titles of all three shows come from a scientific study into the male erection which divided the erection into a hardness scale consisting of tofu, peeled banana, banana, and cucumber; upon reading the study, Davies remarked that “right there and then, I knew I had my drama”. (link)

I wondered about the path from the EAU to Davies. It seems to start with the Sexual Medicine Society of North America and its Erection Hardness Score, which is a clinical tool, not a scientific study:

As clinicians, we know that there can be several ways to assess symptoms and conditions. This is true for sexual function, too.
The Erection Hardness Score (EHS) can be a helpful tool to evaluate erectile dysfunction (ED) – a man’s inability to get or maintain an erection firm enough for sex.
Developed in 1998, the EHS is a single-item Likert scale that men can use on their own. The tool asks them to consider the question “How would you rate the hardness of your erection?” and select one of the following options:
0 – Penis does not enlarge.
1 – Penis is larger, but not hard.
2 – Penis is hard, but not hard enough for penetration.
3 – Penis is hard enough for penetration, but not completely hard.
4 – Penis is completely hard and fully rigid.

On to the EAU:

The European Association of Urology (EAU) is a non-profit organisation committed to the representation of urology professionals worldwide. All active urology professionals, including urology nurses, are eligible for membership of the EAU.

Erection Hardness Score: The EHS scale developed by the association came to public note when used as the theme of the TV series Cucumber, Banana and Tofu, all by Russell T Davies. The names are used as descriptions in the association’s five-part Rating scale.

We still don’t have the link to Davies (who was unlikely to have been a reader of the urology literature) or the source of the food associations for the scores of 1 through 4. The connection seems to have been through the Pfizer company, journalists in East Asia, and sex therapists in several places. From the China Post on 4/25/07, a story from Singapore, “Pfizer: Erectile dysfunction prevalent in Asia”:

An estimated 20 percent of Asian men suffer from erectile dysfunction, an executive from pharmaceutical firm Pfizer said Tuesday.

“It is a prevalent issue,” Jude Selvaraj, Pfizer’s medical adviser in Singapore and Malaysia [a Medical Affairs Manager for Pfizer in Hong Kong], told AFP [the international news agency Agence France-Presse] at the launch of Pfizer’s new diagnostic kit to help men deal with erectile dysfunction.

… Pfizer’s new diagnostic kit, the Erection Hardness Score (EHS), grades erection hardness from one to four to provide a guide for assessing sexual status.

… “The EHS provides a quantitative measure of the degree of erection hardness and therefore treatment efficacy in patients with erectile dysfunction,” the firm said.

Victoria Lehmann, a sex therapist from Britain, said the EHS was easy to use and would help couples address the problem.

“It’s quick. It provides a really clear language to both doctors and patients,” she said at the launch.

Lehmann likened a score of one to tofu. Four is similar to a cucumber, she said.

Ah, food time!

Pfizer, by the way, is the maker of Viagra:


Lehmann has a nursing diploma in human sexuality and works in sexual medicine and relationship therapy for London Urology Associates.

More recently, a story from Kuala Lumpur in The Star Online (2/25/09), working the Malaysian angle, “Malaysians not so hot in bedroom”:

A surprisingly high number of Malaysians are not sexually satisfied, a survey by pharmaceutical company Pfizer has revealed.

Two out of three Malaysian men and three out of four women are not satisfied with their sex lives, the Asia-Pacific Sexual Health and Overall Wellness survey stated. Malaysians are ranked sixth among 13 countries but, if it’s any consolation, Singaporeans fared worse. They are in eighth spot.

India topped the list with 70% of the respondents saying they were satisfied with their sex lives while Japan reported the lowest sexual satisfaction rate at 10%. “The Malaysian figure is higher than the overall Asia Pacific results where 57% of men and 64% of women reported being not very satisfied with sex,” said Dr Rosie King, who led the study in the Asia Pacific region from May to July 2008.

“The survey links the level of erection hardness to sexual satisfaction for men.” said Dr King during a roundtable discussion at a hotel here yesterday.

The level of erection hardness is measured in a scale of one to four using the Erection Hardness Score (EHS) developed by the European Association of Urology.

“Level one is like tofu where the male organ is large but not hard, level two is similar to a peeled banana where it’s not hard enough for penetration, level three is like an unpeeled banana where it’s hard enough for penetration but not completely, and level four is similar to a cucumber where it’s completely hard and fully rigid,” explained Dr King.

Here we have the full four-part food scale, explained by Dr. Rosie King, the author of Where Did My Libido Go? (2010), on the cover of which she is billed as “Australia’s leading sex expert”.

At some point, Russell Davies was led to this popular literature and realized that the EHS (in its foody version) was perfect for his purposes.

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