When it comes to penis size, is it really a case of it’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion in the ocean?
Culturally, the widely accepted view on penis size is that bigger is better. But cultural perceptions aside, this doesn’t exactly match up to reality. According to a study by Clue in 2019, heterosexual and bisexual women found a penis of five and a half inches most desirable. Gay and bisexual men also generally prefer an average size, although it varies greatly depending on the type of sex that’s taking place.
It raises the question, if average-sized isn’t only good enough, but quite literally ideal for most people, why are we all so obsessed with the notion that big penises are “manly” and small penises are not?
Why are we so obsessed with dicks?
To get to the bottom of why we’re so hung up on large penises, let’s look at how their representations are perceived in cultures across the world. Large phallic objects have long been the focal point of fertility, sex, and pleasure across continents and cultures: From ancient Egypt’s Cult of Osiris and the missing phallus, and Ancient Greece’s love affair with phallus iconography, to modern-day Japan, where the Shinto Kanamara Matsuri festival takes place every year in February. The festival includes penis-themed parades, phallic-shaped cakes and sweets, and high-energy celebrations. In the UK, we have the Cerne Abbas Giant (a humongous 180ft chalk hill figure which stands tall with an erect penis.
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Fast forward to the present day, this kind of worship has bled into contemporary culture in more ways than one. One study, conducted by Oxford University in 2019, found that the depictions of penises in the media could affect perceptions of penis size. It states that television and men’s magazines often “reinforce the cultural message that a larger penis makes a man more ‘manly.'”
The study goes on to suggest that it is pornography that holds the majority of the power when it comes to dissatisfaction with penis size. In part, because of the size of penises portrayed in porn, which are considerably above average size most of the time. But also because of the over-exaggeration of partners when having sexual intercourse. And, because porn is the most available source for penile imagery, it builds a misleading picture regarding what is actually sexually satisfying.
It’s easy to see how this can happen. Especially as Pornhub’s 2016 data showed that search terms like “big Black dick” and “big dick” were the two most popular searches across multiple countries. Porn sites bolster racist tropes, including the idea that Black people have bigger penises — a stereotype that was spread during the Elizabethan period when white European colonisers voyaged to Africa and wrote exaggerated accounts of their travels. African men were “furnisht with such members as are after a sort burthensome unto them,” wrote one writer.
Comparison truly is the thief of joy, even among peers. A study conducted by the Aesthetic Surgery Journal in 2018 found that participants that engaged in “upwards” comparison (comparing penis size with peers with a perceived larger penis) felt a direct impact on their self-esteem. Whereas those who engaged in “downwards” comparison (comparing with smaller penises) actually experienced an increase in self-esteem. This combination of factors has resulted in 45 percent of men feeling dissatisfied with their penis size.
Now, there’s a rise in the desire for penis augmentation in men with completely normal penises, despite there being multiple risk factors and frequent complications with these kinds of surgeries. And yet, where counselling has intervened, men have found confidence in their penis size and no longer wish to continue with augmentation.
Penetrative sex is not the holy grail for pleasure
Sex is not one singular act and there is no hierarchy to any of it. It all comes down to how you like to get your rocks off. Statistically speaking, penetrative sex, or P-in-V intercourse, isn’t even the most pleasurable sexual act. In fact, of women and people with vaginas, only 18.4 percent can orgasm from penetration alone. So, if you’re feeling insecure about your partner not reaching climax from penetrative sex, then don’t be disheartened. Penis size, big or small, doesn’t guarantee a fantastic shag.
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Pauline Ryeland, a sex and intimacy coach, tells Mashable that when it comes down to sex, intimacy and feeling connected is paramount. “It’s more about your connection with the person,” Ryeland says. “If there was no heart connection, and you’re just having sex for the sake of having sex, well, then there’s going to be a lot of other things that aren’t going to be ticking boxes.
Studies show that when it comes to sexual satisfaction, couples who engage in other forms of sex like oral, hand, and mutual masturbation, have a more fulfilling experience. This is particularly prevalent in the LGBTQ community, where penetration isn’t the central focal point of sex for many couples. Apps like Grindr, a dating platform for queer folk, have options for people to identify as “sides” (men who prefer not to engage in anal sex).
Penis size, big or small, doesn’t guarantee a fantastic shag.
Dissatisfaction with quality of sexual performance, low self-esteem, and body confidence can cause or add to other mental and physical health problems, like performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.
Ness Cooper, sex therapist from The Sex Consultant, tells Mashable that 34 percent of Brits believe that erectile dysfunction is a normal part of growing older and men have to learn to live with it. Which, as she points out, is entirely untrue and actually quite damaging.
“Almost 70 percent of men and those with penises will experience erectile dysfunction by the time they are 70. However, we shouldn’t classify it as normal, as there are many reasons it can affect an individual and these can vary from person to person,” Cooper says. “Anyone experiencing erectile issues should see a medical professional to find out the cause. Once the cause of erectile dysfunction is found whether that is psychological, physical, or a mixture of both, there are many treatment methods to help manage symptoms.”
So, what can penis owners do to feel less overwhelmed and more satisfied?
How to manage penis anxiety
“I think that all comes down to belief systems,” Ryeland explains. “Quite often, we have a lot of beliefs that don’t serve us to our highest good. Challenging beliefs takes a lot of work, but with the right guidance and with the right support system, creating new beliefs is entirely possible.”
Ryeland tells Mashable that she asks her clients to examine where these feelings of dissatisfaction arise from. Often, these are opinions they have taken upon themselves, and very rarely are they opinions gifted to them, she adds. Ryeland advises that there are also things you can do yourself to begin to feel more connected and less ashamed of your penis size. “Sometimes we need to take the focus off the intercourse and just focus on connection,” she says.
If you are feeling at all affected by this article, know that your GP will also be able to support you to find appropriate counselling or anything else you may need. There are also organisations like CALM and Mojo, who help you overcome the physical symptoms of erectile dysfunction while helping you to understand the psychological reasons as to why it might be happening.
Know that penis size doesn’t matter. Neither is it a measuring stick for your masculinity, your sexuality, or your ability to please.