Advertisements for products “guaranteed” to add inches to men’s penises are everywhere, from awesomely bad late-night infomercials hosted by Ron Jeremy to annoying Internet pop-up ads for “natural male enhancement.” The sheer number of such ads and the millions of dollars men spend on penile enlargement products each year suggest that lots of guys are worried that their genitals aren’t big enough. But is “small penis syndrome” (yes, this is a real thing)1 as widespread as the popular media would lead us to believe? And does size really even matter that much to men or to women?
Actually, survey studies indicate that most gay (65%)2 and heterosexual (55%)3 men are satisfied with the size of their own genitals. However, it should be clear from these numbers that a significant minority of men wish they could change their penis in some way. Among the men who are dissatisfied, there is an almost unanimous desire to increase penis size; fewer than 1.5% of guys wish to be smaller.
It is important to note that the dissatisfied men in these studies actually tended to have average or even above average sized penises. So it’s not just guys with below average penises who want to change—many guys who have perfectly normal genitals just aren’t happy with them, and this is the defining feature of “small penis syndrome” (it doesn’t mean you actually have a small penis—just that you think you do). A big part of the reason for this syndrome can probably be traced to pornography exposure. Porn videos frequently feature actors with gigantic schlongs having sex with incredibly attractive people, and repeated exposure to such imagery fuels an association between big penises and sexual desirability. However, most guys probably do not realize how uncommon those porn-sized penises are: scientists estimate that just 2.5% of guys have penises longer than 6.9 inches (17.5 centimeters)!3 As a result, almost any guy who tries to “measure up” to what he sees in porn is setting himself up for disappointment.
As for the other question of whether penis size really matters, the answer is yes and no. On the one hand, more endowed men tend to have a better body image,3 as well as greater life satisfaction.2 Thus, men who are larger do seem to feel better about themselves. However, some of them may feel a little too good, because men with larger penises also tend to be more narcissistic (i.e., self-obsessed).4 Also, it is important to recognize that just because you have a bigger penis does not necessarily mean you will be a better lover or will be seen as more sexually desirable by others. Just consider that, at least in heterosexual couples, most women are very satisfied with the size of their partners’ penises and only a small minority want someone larger. Thus, men’s desirability as romantic and sexual partners is clearly measured in more than inches.
The take home message for my male readers (and this is likely true regardless of your sexual orientation) is that you are probably more concerned about the size of your penis than your partner is. So stop measuring yourself against what you see in porn and quit throwing your money away on penile enlargement gimmicks that don’t work anyway (there’s no scientific evidence that they do anything they promise!). Learn to be happy and confident with your body just the way it is, because that will make you far sexier than an extra inch ever could.
To read more about both men’s and women’s body concerns, check out this article.
1Wylie, K. R., & Eardley, I. (2007). Penile size and ‘small penis syndrome.’ British Journal of Urology International, 99, 1445-1455.
2Grov, C., Parsons, J. T., & Bimbi, D. S. (2010). The association between penis size and sexual health among men who have sex with men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 788-797.
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 and Masculinity, 7, 129–143.
4Moskowitz, D. A., Rieger, G., & Seal, D. W. (2009). Narcissism, self-evaulations, and partner preferences among men who have sex with men. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 725-728.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller's research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.