Media portrayals of sexuality perpetuate the notion that, when it comes to penises, bigger is better. This size bias is likely due, at least in part, to cultural messages that equate penis size with masculinity and sexual prowess. Pornography reinforces the notion that men with large penises are better lovers and more desirable to women. But does a man’s penis size really matter for heterosexual women’s sexual arousal and satisfaction?
Nearly 30 years ago, in response to evidence suggesting that penis size has little impact on women’s physical pleasure,1 researchers set out to examine whether penis size has a psychological impact on women’s sexual arousal. Undergraduate women (and men) were asked to read an arousing story where the male character was depicted as having either a small, medium, or large size penis. Despite the fact that the stories were significantly arousing, there were no differences in women’s sexual arousal based on the man’s penis size.2 But one interesting difference did emerge: Women who were higher in erotophilia (i.e., those who are especially likely to respond positively to sexual stimuli), reported more arousal in response to the story where the man had a large as opposed to medium or small penis.2 Therefore, women who have a tendency to respond positively to sexual cues may experience higher arousal in response to a strong sexual cue such a as large penis.
Beyond hypothetical written descriptions of a man’s penis size, researchers have also explored how women feel about their partner’s penis size.3 Most women rated their partner’s penis size as average (67%), about a quarter rated their partner’s penis as large (27%), and a few women rated their partner’s penis as small (6%). Importantly, the vast majority of women were satisfied with their partner’s penis size (84%), and this was a significantly higher percentage than the number of men who were satisfied with their own penis size (55%). Only 14% of women wanted their partner’s penis to be larger, and, in fact, 2% wanted their partner’s penis to be smaller.
Media messages about the importance of penis size are linked to ideas that “real sex” requires penetration. We know from a previous post that many sexual activities (that don’t require penetration) are considered sex and are linked to pleasure and sexual satisfaction. Research on the importance of penis size suggests that a guy’s size may matter more to him than to her. Although some women were more aroused by and desired a partner with a larger penis, a few wished their partner’s penis was smaller, and for the majority of women, bigger was not necessarily better.
Note: This is Part 1 of a two part series...See Part 2, by Dr. Justin Lehmiller, here.
1Masters, W. H. & Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human Sexual Response. Boston: Little, Brown.
2Fisher, W. A., Branscombe, N. R., & Lemery, C. R. (1983). The bigger the better? Arousal and attributional responses to erotic stimuli that depict different size penises. The Journal of Sex Research, 19, 377-396.
3Lever, J., Frederick, D. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). Does size matter? Men’s and women’s views on penis size across the lifespan. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 7, 129-143.
Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.