Wandering around Erdene Zuu Monastery, the oldest Buddhist monastery in Mongolia, the absolute last thing you’d expect to find is a sculpture of a penis. But just northeast of the building, there it is: a 24-inch stone phallus known as Kharkhorin Rock, standing alone in the middle of a dusty patch of ground, protected by a small fence.
Why in the world would such a risqué sculpture be placed in the middle of a historic spiritual sanctuary? The answer is steeped in centuries of legend. The story goes that there was once a monk who swore to be celibate, but was secretly a womanizer. When the other monks discovered this hidden secret, he was castrated, but they were worried that this offense would inspire similar deeds from a different monk. The large stone phallus seemed to do the trick, serving as a constant, explicit reminder to stay celibate.
What makes the story more bizarre is that many women in the area believe Kharkhorin Rock has a completely opposite spiritual purpose, facilitating the miracle of childbirth. Legend has it that women who stand with their legs spread to straddle the sculpture will be more likely to successfully bear a child.