Welcome to Genitales! For the next few weeks we're going to be checking in on the state of North American genitals in 2014. We'll be talking foreskins, vaginal odor, sex-reassignment surgery, STIs, orgasms, childbirth, and more. How are everyone's penises and vaginas? How are we feeling about them? I really want to know. Message me on Twitter to fill in the survey. For the inaugural column, we're talking dick size.
The smallest penis in Brooklyn and the (alleged) largest penis in the world. Photos courtesy of Nick Gilronan and Jonah Falcon
There's something fascinating about penises.
In truth, my fascination is less about penises themselves and more about the disjunct between what they are—dangling, fleshy, easily agitated protuberances—and what they are asked to represent: authority, virility, power. They are masculinity's synecdoche, and rather an odd choice.
For a start, #notallpenises get to be representative of strong, manly qualities. We know the hierarchy: big = good, small = bad. For an organ that changes size upward of 11 times a day (and even more frequently at night), the size thing really gets to people. As a woman, I get that. I know what it is to consciously or unconsciously size up my body or parts of my body, noting the sizes of others', comparing, keeping track. It's an enormous amount of unnecessary pressure, and it seems to me that if you tell a man he has a "small dick," the message is more or less the same thing as saying, "You're fat" to a woman: You are sexually undesirable and not good at being your gender.
While conversations about the everyday humiliations of embodiment in present-day North America are common among my female friends, the only men I've ever really talked to at length (heh) about their junk have been boyfriends or lovers. I was reminded of something dick-pic critic Madeleine Holden said in an interview with VICE in May: "I've come to the conclusion that men face similar (although less intense) pressures to look a certain way, but are afforded fewer outlets to discuss how it affects them. Traditional masculinity requires men to be stoic about their emotional issues and men risk being called pussies and fags if they are openly self-conscious. Basically, men are a simmering heap of raw nerves and unexplored emotions."
I put out a call on Twitter: Did anyone want to talk about his dick? It turns out people really, really did. More than 55 men (all cis-gender) responded to my casual survey, including Jonah Falcon, who currently holds the title for largest recorded dick in the world, and Nick Gilronan, the winner of last year's Smallest Penis in Brooklyn contest. Aside from Falcon and Gilronan, everyone else's names have been changed. I let them pick their own pseudonyms.
The men came from a conveniently varied range of geographic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Their average age was 32. The average dick size was 6.2 inches erect, at the high end of the North American average, which is between five and six inches. (I expect Jonah's 13.5-inch penis skewed the stats somewhat.) The smallest reported penis was 3.6 inches erect. There was a 50:50 foreskin-to-circumcised ratio. The sheer range of items men compared their dick and balls to was incredible—eggs, berries, iPhones, Magic Markers, the classic bottle of Coke, and "about two lighters, end to end."
With a few exceptions, almost all the guys knew the exact dimensions of their penises—length and circumference. A few claimed to "never have measured," but even they acknowledged that was hard to believe.
This sample group was simultaneously very OK with having average-size penises, and not totally aware what the average is. Almost everyone considered their dicks to be average size, even when this was clearly not the case. "I know the average in Canada is between five and six inches," said Steve, a 25-year-old from Toronto. "So I'm in the ballpark." Steve's penis is seven inches long and five inches around. Neil, 37, felt his was "likely below average," despite it being over six inches (the top of the statistical average) while erect, and "occasionally having problems with lady friends not being able to accommodate it." Overall, most men reported being happy with their penises, regardless of size.
Photos courtesy of Nick Gilronan and Jonah Falcon
The most concern seemed to be among the grower-not-a-shower demographic. Deggy, a 32-year-old bisexual man from Leeds, said he consciously avoids Speedos because of his 3.5-inch flaccid, 6.5-inch erect penis. "I often think, 'If only they could see it erect, then they wouldn't think less of me,'" he said.
Ahmed, 29, from Toronto, said his erect penis is "slightly smaller than the length of an iPhone 5C." He started shaving his pubes in his teens to make his 4.7-inch penis look longer and has kept up the practice despite not really noticing a difference. "I often feel ashamed of the size of my penis," he said. "We're so inundated in our society that bigger is better, and people are always talking about if size really matters or not, so it's hard sometimes to not feel inferior." He added, "I've often heard the average penis is five to six inches, so technically I'm almost average, but I still feel inferior, and often wish I had a bigger dick. I worry about my size constantly. It's definitely something that sticks in the back of the mind and affects confidence."
The lone supporter of this demo was Gilronan, winner of the aforementioned Brooklyn's Smallest Penis contest, who said, "I do enjoy when I'm with a significant other and she looks at my penis in amazement when it triples in size from flaccid to erect. That always seems to wow them." Flaccid, Nick's penis is about one inch long. "I'm happy with my penis. Absolutely no complaints. We've had many fun times together and with others."
Most men with small dicks reported finding their penis size unremarkable. "No one's rushing home to text their girlfriends about it, but I've made peace with the size," said Jim, 30. Men under four inches also reported occasionally being turned down for sex based on their dick size, but most were resilient enough to consider that bad manners on behalf of the proposed sex partner. John, a 67-year-old from Mississauga, Ontario, said, "Of the eight women I've been with, each of them eventually told me they'd been uncertain about the level of satisfaction I'd be able to deliver… Only one woman has ever decided it wouldn't be OK for intercourse."
There were a few ardent small-peen supporters, too. Kenny, 46, has a penis that is "just under four inches" and "about the size of a magic marker (med size)." He was very positive about all aspects of his genitalia, including balls ("left one hangs lower than the right, but feel great!"), foreskin ("I am great with it"), and overall aesthetics and functionality ("it may not be long but it does have a nice head and shoots big loads :) ").
While less hung men were either neutral or negative about their small penises, men with large dicks seemed positively affected by the knowledge that they're packing heat. "If I was as happy with everything else in my life as I am with my penis, it would be pretty magical!" said Stefano, a 26-year-old from Toronto with a girthy seven-inch penis. "I honestly love the size of my dick," Luke, a Brooklyn-based 27-year-old with eight inches of cock in his pants. He explained, "I suffer from depression, and at low points its been a source of (extremely gendered comfort) for me. I think it's bigger than the statistical average and that feels great." As a child, Luke spent his spare time stretching his scrotal skin to completely engulf his penis. "Watching it slowly unfold would provide hours of entertainment."
Todd, a 37-year-old from Toronto with an 8.5-inch dick, said he was "quite pleased" with his penis. "It never fails to impress. It's visibly bigger than most other penises I've seen. I play a lot of sports so am in a lot of naked man showers." He said there wasn't anything particularly remarkable about well-endowed life, "other than how into big dicks girls are… They talk about it throughout the entire experience." Todd also took the time to posit a theory: "I actually find that girls that are attracted to me are predominantly a C-cup and over. Is there a genetic thing that attracts well-endowed men to well-endowed ladies and vice verse?" Food for thought.
The men I spoke to mostly referred to their penises in the context of others—what sexual partners said about it, how it compared with others they'd seen. Average men responded with "no complaints from sexual partners," while large dicks remarked on women's positive comments. Overall, if a man's penis was under five inches erect, he made repeated and emphatic reference to his ability to please orally. "It's nothing to brag about," said a man with a four-inch penis. "I wouldn't go showing it off."
This experiment, like the abortion interviews I conducted a few months ago, reminded me once again how hard the patriarchy is truly screwing both genders. Many of the men said their everyday lives didn't really afford them space to talk about their bodies and the pride and/or insecurity those bodies can elicit. They usually spoke about their penises with sexual partners or sometimes with guy friends, but the former conversations tended to involve (as one interviewee put it) "a biased party, trying to be kind or preserve feelings or get things going," and locker-room-style conversation among lads was largely sexual grandstanding. More than a few of the interviews closed with an expression of relief. "This has been interesting… and to be honest, very unburdening," one interviewee said.
Unburdening! We need to talk about how we need to talk. And hopefully we will, over the next few weeks.
That's all for this week! Next week: Tell me about your vagina.
Follow Monica Heisey on Twitter.