Men's Perceptions Of Penis Size

Men's perceptions of penis size

Body image is the internal psychological representation of one's own bodily appearance. Dissatisfaction with your body image can produce low self esteem, dieting, drug taking and so on. Clearly, body image problems are potentially a threat to a man's health.

And these "body image" threats come from either specific body parts or the overall appearance of a man's body. Here, of course, we are concerned with penis size as a body image issue. Little research has been conducted on how men see penis size. But it is a fundamental part of body image for many men.

Anyone living on Western society would imagine that we are obsessed with penis size - indeed, this website has attracted over 16 million visitors, so that must be true in some way. This is borne out by what we see around us - the number of websites offering penis size improvement products is huge, and a search for penis size produces millions of websites.

Websites like Measurection for men with smaller penises exist for men to exchange views and discuss this important issue.

Of course, penis size is linked with notions of masculinity. In short, what it amounts to is that a large penis suggests one is more of a man. The male genitals are taken to symbolize virility, procreative potency, and above all power. All of these are parts of one view of masculinity. (A masculinity which has been called "hegemonic masculinity".)

If you extend the analysis of how men operate - penetration, thrusting, competing, occupying space - you pretty quickly see that men are expected to have a large, penetrating penis to do this effectively.

It follows that a small penis might suggest questions around a man's sexual prowess and even his overall level of masculinity.

This symbolism in our culture is highly destructive, but it leads men to ask for penile augmentation surgery, despite the unproven and rather risky nature of the procedure - and in fact many of those men have a penis which is of normal size. From this anecdotal evidence, one might conclude, correctly in my view, that penis size is a major body image problem for many, if not all, men who live in the West.

But meaningful research on men's perception of what penis size means is rather limited. Little evidence exists on which we can base conclusions about how size (and one's own relationship to average size) affects men's sense of self.

But in one piece of research, only 55% of men reported being satisfied with their penis size; the rest wanted a bigger penis. We also know that men who think they have a large penis are more satisfied with their appearance. There is, it would seem, a link between healthy body image and a large penis.

And what of gay men? Perhaps nowhere has the cult of the large penis ever been so clearly seen as in the gay culture. (Although one study found only 7% of gay men think the penis to be their favorite body part on another man, and another suggested that men within the gay bear community possibly prefer small penises.)

Overall, though, there is little reason to suppose that gay men see penis size as any different to their heterosexual brothers. The study on which this page is based was conducted by two researchers who set out to establish perceptions of penis size among gay men and the relationship between penis size and body image and masculinity.

Gay men were recruited for these projects to look at the question of body image amongst gay men. The questions which the men were asked around penis size were presented in a consistent and structured fashion, and analyzed using the same analytic procedures with methodological uniformity.

This results in analytical rigor and greater research reliability. The interviews tasted between one and two hours and sought to understand the meaning men give to their bodies, bodily practices, and masculinity. These conclusions may extend to heterosexual men as well.

Dominant themes and issues naturally emerged from the data, a process which was seen as providing the greatest accuracy of interpretation. The data around penis size provided two dominant themes: (i) Size Matters and (ii) The Relationship Between the Penis and Masculinity.

Size Matters

If you believe bigger is better, then you may view big, hard bodies as preferential; you might think that men are culturally expected to occupy space as a symbol of masculinity; in other words, a big, muscular body may be your ideal way to take up that space. And certainly many men do seem to take this view, just as they also seem to break the body down into a number of parts and apply the same logic to all of them - so that symbols of masculinity become broad shoulders, a six pack stomach, a large chest, and so on.

The same desirable qualities of large, imposing, and space consuming may be applied to the penis. So one man reports that "as much as they say it doesn't matter, it does....I know if you have a small penis then you're very wary about it.... if you have a large penis then nobody asks any questions....there's a lot of that sort of happening". The majority or men stated simply that a bigger penis is a better penis.

According to one man: "In a gay world, the bigger the dick usually the more people want to have sex with you." Another man suggested: "I think this is an issue that most men have, they want the penis to be big and the longer the better, the thicker the better and then they get satisfied. It's important to compare with other people if their penis is smaller or shorter."

Power and Masculinity

The significance of penis size to these particular gay men is that between guys it's one way that they tell one another that they're more masculine than the other.

Such (young) men have observed that in contemporary Western culture a big penis is supposedly representative of a higher level of masculinity. They even go so far as to report the places where they have seen this kind of thinking manifested (TV adverts and so on.)

As a result, penis size plays some kind of role in defining their masculine identity. Interestingly, of the thirty men interviewed for this piece of research, none identified themselves as having an average or smaller than average penis. Quite the contrary - they all suggested they had a larger than average or large penis.

One man was reported as trying to maintain a balanced perspective in that he claimed he was not too upset about the idea of someone having a not particularly big penis. However, he still observed that he was "above industry standard"! He claimed he did not think guys were "more masculine just cause of the size of their penis" and went on to observe "if you've got a penis you've got a penis, if it all works that's all that matters".

One man attempted to address the culture of excess by saying "there's always an interesting time to find out what someone's penis size is. But once you find out, it doesn't make much difference". But very few men stated outright that penis size had no connection to masculinity. So, in short, the majority of men believe that penis size, in terms of one's body image, is a crucial factor in determining one's masculinity.

And indeed, the penis is an important part of a man's overall body image. The most common contemporary desired standard for the penis is that it should be large, but whether that is an individual man's preference is another issue.

Clearly, the majority of men in the research project currently being examined see penis size as an important aspect of their masculine construct. Gay men recognize that the bigger is better notion controls the way in which they view their ideal male. As far as masculine identity is concerned, men are comfortable when they deflect this to the 'other'. In other words, few men are prepared to discuss penis size in relationship to their own masculinity.