Almost half of all men are unhappy with the size of their own genitals. According to a new study, a man's anxiety over the appraising glances of other men, though largely unfounded, can lead to the most bizarre attempts to augment his penis size.
It's a topic that is often the subject of jokes but rarely of serious discussion. And yet, as British urologists Kevan Wylie and Ian Eardley report, there is plenty of need to discuss the issue. For many men, the size of their own genitals represents a serious and even agonizing problem -- despite the fact that, from a matter-of-fact point of view, such fears ought to be completely unfounded. "Such concerns might be unfounded in reality and might be a presentation of social anxiety or some other clinical problem, such as erectile dysfunction," Wylie and Eardley write in the June 2007 issue of the British Journal of Urology.
In an effort to better understand "small penis syndrome" -- a man's fear that his genitalia could be too small -- the two researchers have surveyed a large number of international studies on the issue from the last few decades. According to Wylie and Eardley, "Concern over the size of the penis, when such concern becomes excessive, might present itself as the 'small penis syndrome,' an obsessive rumination with compulsive checking rituals, body dysmorphic disorder, or as part of a psychosis." The two scientists draw loose parallels between the syndrome and the distorted body images of people with eating disorders.
Wylie and Eardley reviewed more than 50 articles in professional journals for their study, and in doing so uncovered a few definitive conclusions that could certainly allay the fears of many a man with a phobia of having too small a penis. For example, studies involving a total of more than 11,000 subjects (and only those were included in which penis size was actually measured and not based on the subjects' responses) showed that the average penis, in its erect state, is between 14 and 16 centimeters (5.5 and 6.3 inches) long and has a circumference of 12 to 13 centimeters (4.7 to 5.1 inches). Researchers only refer to a penis as a "micropenis" if the fully extended flaccid member is no longer than 7 centimeters (2.75 inches).
According to Wylie and Eardley, most men who suffer from small penis syndrome (SPS) don't even have what scientists define as a micropenis. And in most cases their fear of their partners' disparaging glances is also unfounded. According to one of the studies cited, 85 percent of women surveyed said they were satisfied with their husband's genitals, whereas only 55 percent of men were happy with what nature had given them.
In other words, almost half of the men surveyed (more than 50,000 people of both genders took part in the study) would like to have a larger penis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 0.2 percent wanted the opposite, a smaller penis. Twelve percent of the men surveyed considered their own penis "small," 66 percent said it was "average" and only 22 percent described it as "large."
The fear of not being adequately equipped usually begins in childhood or adolescence, which explains the nickname doctors sometimes use for SPS: "Locker room syndrome." Comparisons with others, whether older children or one's own father, often lead young men to believe that their own penises are too small. In a 2005 study, 37 percent of respondents said that their problems began in adolescence after they had seen erotic images for the first time. Because of the growing availability of pornography on the Internet, this could become even more of a problem in the future.
The large number and wide variety of methods used to enlarge a penis perceived to be too small reveal just how serious this concern is for many men. Wandering holy men in India, or Sadhus, attach weights to their penises to elongate them, while men in Borneo's Dayak tribe puncture their testicles to attach what they believe to be arousal-inducing objects. Until the 16th century, men in the Topinama tribe in Brazil would provoke poisonous snakes to bite their penises. This caused pain that would last for about six months, but was also believed to significantly increase the size of the penis.
Today's enlargement procedures are usually less drastic -- and rarely work. The penis enlargement pills being hawked by the million in spam emails every day are simply ineffective. A similar lack of efficacy applies to vacuum pumps. According to the Wylie and Eardley study, evidence on the effectiveness of vacuum devices was found to be limited -- although the authors note that some patients may experience psychological benefits from using them.
Various companies even market so-called penis extenders, which are designed to stretch the penis for several hours a day. According to a few studies, these devices can have a certain elongating effect if they are worn for several hours a day over a period of months. But so far none of these studies has been published in a reputable scientific journal, and should therefore be taken with a very large grain of salt. Doctors also warn that such procedures have the potential to cause tissue damage.
In general, the authors tend to favor "conservative approaches to therapy, based on education and self-awareness, as well as short-term structured psychotherapies." Surgery, they write, is advisable only in very rare cases. Surgical penis enlargement procedures are often risky, and there are currently no long-term studies on the lasting satisfaction of men who have had the surgery.
Most dissatisfied men would probably be interested in an article that got the US's renowned Mayo Clinic an enviable ranking near the top of the list of Google hits for the search term "penis enlargement." According to the article, "If you are like the vast majority of men who wonder if their penis size is normal, the answer is -- yes."