A cucumber wrapped in a ribbon
Image: Cath Virginia

Dick Amnesia Is a Real Thing

Can't remember a single penis you've ever encountered? You're not alone.

When I’m feeling nostalgic and permit my brain to be visited by the Ghosts of Sexual Partners Past, I can recall the most important and minor details: Annoying habits, scars, peals of laughter, an ex-boyfriend’s nail beds. But one thing I can’t remember is dicks.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I can’t remember their *vibe*, their joie de vivre. What I’m saying is, if you presented me with a genital lineup – like an even more troubling and objectifying episode of Naked Attraction – I could maybe identify one or two, tops. Some have defining features, sure. But can I visualise them the same way I can former partners’ eyes, lips, or body hair? Absolutely not.


If, in some fucked up situation, my life depended on drawing a photorealistic depiction of any of the dicks I’ve encountered in my nearly-30 years of life, I’d start planning my funeral. And I know I’m not alone. Indeed, one person I quizzed about this boldly declared, “I literally cannot remember a single dick I’ve come across.” So, welcome to what VICE is dubbing “dick amnesia”.

Not to be confused with dick induced amnesia – where the dick is so good it makes you forget that its owner is a walking parade of red flags – dick amnesia is when you can remember the guy it was attached to very well, but not the body part itself. It is summed up by the words of one young woman who, perhaps unsurprisingly, wished to remain anonymous like others in this piece: “I can’t even remember who had foreskin or not”. But is this condition as widespread as I suspect? And, if it is, is there any scientific reason why dick amnesia happens?

Before consulting the experts, I conducted a deeply unscientific poll during a weekend away with nine female friends – most of whom I’ve known for upwards of 20 years, and whose current and former dick-laden partners I’ve met on multiple occasions.

“If you had to pick all your exes’ penises out of a line up,” I asked, “could you do it?” The resounding answer was hell no. Ever the romantic, one friend offered a partial defence: “Maybe with serious partners where that’s a big part of your life?” (“Or a small part,” another immediately cut in, “depending on the guy”.)


But I persisted – not letting the conversation move on for even a moment in the interest of journalism – even if we’re talking about someone you’ve were with for a long time, if you were handed a picture of a flaccid dick, would you be able to confidently say, “That’s my ex’s dick”? 

“I don’t even think I could do it with my current boyfriend,” a friend we’ll call Lily immediately replied, referring to her partner of roughly eight years.

“That’s not saying they’re not individual, like I value them,” the romantic of the group chimed in. “But I wouldn’t recognise them.”

Dick amnesia does seem to have a sort of strange logic to it. Let’s not beat around the bush: A vulva is a vulva is a vulva. They each have their individual quirks, of course, but apart from changing hairstyles, lady gardens remain pretty much the same no matter the situation. This is, of course, not the same with dicks.

As 20-something Chloe puts it: “People see willies in different stages. Chub, mini chub, maximum chub, full-on chub.”

There’s also another technical reason why some people who sleep with the bedicked among us may have trouble recalling exactly what they look like. This reason is most succinctly expressed by actor James Spader: During a 1996 Cannes press conference for David Cronenberg’s Crash, an audience member commented that “one of the conventional things” about the unconventional film was that “the women get more naked than the men.” Wondering whether this was “a contractual thing or an artistic thing”, he asked the panel why there was no male full frontal nudity. Essentially, why no dicks?


James Spader – looking like the definition of insouciance, smoking and in shades – leans into the mic. “I think that has more to do with geography than anything else,” he quips. “In most of the scenes we were fucking, and when you’re fucking you don’t see the penis.” So, does this solve it – is dick amnesia also a case of geography?

Luckily, some people have conducted more scientifically rigorous explorations of this issue than shouting lewd questions at their friends. A 2015 study into women’s penis size preferences suggests the simple facts of time might be responsible. “People can generally recall if a penis was described as ‘large’, ‘medium’, or ‘small’, or not described at all,” the study suggests, but it also reported that, while “most women selected the exactly correct model [in both length and circumference] at immediate recall,” only about half selected it after a delay of just ten minutes.

So should society’s dick swingers feel reassured by the fact that their sexual partners rarely remember their genitals? Should everyone?

It is, after all, a cultural cliche that anxious boys brag and exaggerate the size of their parts (so much so that one recent study found that men can’t be trusted to measure their own penises, even in the name of science) and that people of all genital persuasions freak themselves out about what they look like “down there”. This happens to such a degree they opt for risky surgical procedures promising to lengthen, tighten and brighten, over letting it all hang out au natural.


Is dick amnesia, in other words, a force for good? Could keeping it in mind help people ditch their body worries and relax?

Well, maybe we shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves. It might concern the chaps out there to learn that the 2015 report into women’s preferences found that a significant number of women not only forgot what size penises were after ten minutes, they “tended to slightly underestimate the length of penis models” after a recall delay. 

“I remember the micro penis I saw,” says Chloe. Another friend declares that one of her exes had no pubes – in her exact words he was “totally hairless, like a dolphin” – and joked that “there’s PTSD that comes with that”. This seems like a body blow for dick amnesia’s potential to help promote body positivity. It even potentially implies that, in order for a dick to be memorable, it needs to be exceptionally good, bad, or ugly. But, this still doesn’t solve the question of why dick amnesia occurs.

“There could be loads of reasons for dick amnesia,” sex and relationship therapist Georgina Vass tells VICE. “Sexual arousal can suppress executive functioning,” she says, leading to forgetfulness. On the other hand, she also notes that increased cortisol, also known as ‘the stress hormone’, has been shown to impair memory retrieval too.


“If you’re stressed about something before the sexual experience, or stressed during the sexual experience,” Vass says, “like being worried about what the sexual experience will be like, worrying if you’re performing well, or worrying about receiving sexual satisfaction, about how you look, smell, or sound, or all of the above” then she suggests “it would be possible to forget details like the appearance of the genitals of your partner.” But, she adds, in this scenario you could equally forget “the colour of their socks”.

There are some more simple, common sense reasons why people might experience dick amnesia too. “Alcohol can contribute to memory loss, as well as difficulties with sleeping,” Vass suggests. “Combine sexual arousal, stress, anxiety, poor sleep, and alcohol together and you have a recipe for dick amnesia.”

This all seems like quite a sex negative picture, but Vass assures me there’s some hope yet. She points out that enjoyment in sexual activity is linked to “more positive genital perceptions”. Rather than a bad thing then, does dick amnesia prove “it's not the size, it's what you do with it that counts”?

“I do have definite vibe memories of previous peens,” Emma says. “I feel like I remember the effect of dicks rather than an image, I guess.” In the end, if the thought of your last sexual partner not remembering your bits freaks you out, don’t worry too much, because, as Abby suggests it’s not only a question of genitals: “I mean, I can’t remember his feet either”.