Why Men Touch Their Crotch So Much, According to Experts

They say it's not a sex thing – so what is it?
A man scratching his groin
Photo: txking / GETTY IMAGES
Why, Bro? is a semi-regular series where we look at the reasons why men do the things they do.

We’ve all witnessed guys strutting around, one hand buried in their pants. If Reddit is to believed, guys touch their penis between 23 and 30 times a day. There are several explanations for the behaviour in both teenage and adult males: reinforcing masculinity, afterburn from waxing, too tight pants – even social concepts like wanting to belong play a role. But why does walking around with one hand buried near your crotch skew specifically male, and why the utter lack of shame when doing it?


“I would say that belonging is an important part of wellbeing. And that the guys that do feel they belong to a tribe of people who display this behaviour says Jo Ryder, an integrative psychotherapist from Dublin.  “The penis is a strong symbol of masculinity, and all men want that department to be working well. That's the message. The people who come to see me,  they are full of anxiety. Putting your hand on your penis is cocky, [it] shows confidence in one's masculinity.”

According to scientific evidence, says Dr Andras Kolto, a senior postdoctoral researcher at NUI Galway, low-intensity physical touch releases oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that plays a role in social connections and regulating our mood. “It has many beneficial effects on our health and well-being,” he explains, “for instance, it reduces anxiety.”

Most of us know that oxytocin is produced when someone who we love touches us, either in a sexual or non-sexual way. But does that extend to touching yourself? That’s what Joe – a 30-something year old who, like all the men I spoke to, wanted to talk anonymously so they could be honest about their love of grabbing their crotches – says. “I never do it in public, there are men that do. I’m not one of them,” he says in an Instagram DM. “I do it unconsciously during the news, a film. It isn’t sexual at all. Like a special blanket.”   


Joe’s explanation isn’t too far from the truth, Kolto says. “Given that it concerns their genitals, it does have a sexual overtone – but the aim of the behavior, on the conscious level, is not related to erotic stimulation. It rather seems to be a quick check that your ‘treasures’ are not stolen –or they might be itchy.”

According to Ryder, another theory is that people do it to engage with their own masculinity, it has a ‘tribal aspect to it, and only certain groups do it. 

“Psychologists see this as self-soothing behaviours,” says Kolto. “I don’t know of any statistics, [but] I believe many men do touch or play with their private parts, although the majority would only do it when they are alone, or maybe when surrounded by an all-male company where they won’t be frowned upon.” 

Joe agrees it is a self-soothing behaviour – like biting your nails, sucking one’s thumb, or smoking a cigarette – partly conscious and partly automatic. “I’ve never had the compulsion to do it outside. I could get in trouble.” 

But what if you just can’t stop yourself from doing it?  “It isn’t me having a wank in public,” confides Ron, 29, who works in the filtration industry. “It is a habit I can’t break.”


Andras offers the following advice: “In psychotherapy, we often teach clients struggling with such a tenacious habit how to recognize when they are doing it. This is the first step to get rid of such habits.”

He says the phenomenon might attributed to toxic masculinity. “It concerns the male genitals, after all. Some men, especially those who are insecure about their masculinity, or those who feel under pressure by unrealistic expectations about how you should behave to be seen as sufficiently manly, might experience terrible anxiety.’

Martin, a civil servant in his 30s, from Cavan, Ireland, offers a more pragmatic reason why he enjoys having his hand dangle an inch shy of his scrotal sac. “You would use the string on track suit bottoms, tie it around the drugs and let the package rest around the balls. So if you get a body-search they can't touch your balls, as that is considered a strip search.”

Still, Martin regularly admits to doing it for non-drug related reasons. “Others who don't sell drugs do it too, as a status symbol. Like I'm the man... If done in public or when at home, it's a comfort thing.”

So if you rule out drug smuggling, how do you know when the urge to scratch, fondle or otherwise play with your dick in public tips over into unacceptable territory? 

“If you notice yourself with your hands in your trousers in public, or if someone warns you about it, first I would like to reassure you that it is a normal urge – unless it’s getting compulsive,” says Andras. “However, it is not okay to walk around in the public fidgeting with your private parts.”