Jase noticed his penis was one of the smaller in the bunch as a kid, when he used the communal showers after football and basketball practices. Now, public washing is strictly off limits—he'd rather drive home from the gym in his sweaty clothes and shower in the privacy of his own home.
Jase's insecurities about his 3.5-inch erection affect more than just his hygiene habits. When he was younger, condoms didn't stay on well, and that made sex more of an anxiety trip than it already was. In a recent bout of obsession, he gathered a "database" of scientific papers on penises and measured himself multiple times a day for several weeks to see how he sized up. Growing up, it shaped him socially, even when his pants were on. "I've always been an introvert and I feel that my low self-esteem, due to my size, was a main driver for this," says Jase, now 40.
Lots of guys can relate. Almost one in five American men are unhappy with the length of their erection, according to a recent study of more than 4,000 men, and another 15 percent have a problem with their girth. You won't be surprised to learn that the guys who thought their penises fell short had less sex than the penis-proud group. "Being small can be the heaviest of burdens. I'm genuinely afraid of everything and everybody alike," says David, 30. "I feel I just can't be truly sexually desirable to women with my size."
There's a lot of dick-shaming that perpetuates this idea. When Marco Rubio exposed Donald Trump's small hands, Trump felt the need to tell the whole country that his penis was perfectly fine, thanks. (On national television. During a presidential debate.) In a Fat Shack ad, a seductive blonde—lips parted, a trail of mustard dripping out of her mouth á la cum—holds a sandwich. "Four inches has never been so satisfying," the caption reads.
It goes beyond mainstream news and marketing and weasels its way into casual conversation. "A lot of the jokes we make in everyday life are often sexually related in one way or another," says Abraham Morgentaler, a urologist and the director of Men's Health Boston, whose practice focuses on the health effects of testosterone deficiency. "It's sort of standard humour for guys to josh each other about masculinity type stuff, including penis size."
Morgentaler calls men with dick fixations "peno-centric." The idea that the size of your junk validates you as a man might start as early as boyhood. "When we're younger and coming of age sexually, when there's a lack of sophistication about what it means, number one, to be a man, and number two to be a good lover, the thing that men can see and point to and certainly think about is really the penis," he says.
Boyhood is synonymous with inexperience, and sadly, we don't magically figure everything out as adults. Some guys may think they're small even when they're not, but for the ones who do fall left of the bell curve, the best way to get over it is by being realistic about what your penis "should" look like and how important it really is in the long term, Morgentaler says.
Lots of people never have the chance to see other people having healthy, real-life sex, so they might base their expectations on the sex they do see, usually in porn. But—shocker—porn is not real life. Those macho men are more than well endowed and that can give off the wrong idea, that you need to sport an eight- or nine-inch shaft (also, ow—but we'll get to that later) to satisfy your sex partners.
"If a guy watches 50 or 100 of these video clips, he's going to feel inadequate because he may be smaller than every one of those," Morgentaler says. "But those men are extremely unusual." When researchers sifted through data on more than 15,000 men, they found that the average penis is 3.6 inches soft and 5.2 inches erect. Nothing like many of the massive dicks we see on our laptops.
On a purely biological level, it's also irrational to think size has anything to do with your baby-making skills. "If it matters from an evolutionary standpoint, the best question would be, does it increase fertility?" says Robert Martin, an evolutionary biologist and adjunct professor at the University of Chicago. "The testes size indicates the potential of producing sperm, but I don't see any connection between penis size and anything that would be important in evolutionary terms." There's no evidence that primates have ever used their penises as a power display, he adds, and it may even have little to no effect on how physically desirable you are as a man.
Australian researchers generated 343 life-size male figures that ranged in body shape, body height, and penis size. They projected these "men" on a screen and asked 105 heterosexual women to rate how sexually attractive they were. The women cared most about body shape, which was responsible for 79.6 percent of attractiveness. (They preferred a triangular torso with wide shoulders and narrow hips.) Height came next with 6.1 percent, and penis size fell by the wayside, accounting for only 5.1 percent of attractiveness. "It seems to be a male preoccupation," Martin says.
It's a preoccupation that can be debilitating. Andy, 24, has never heard complaints from sex partners about his 4.7-inch erection, but he still can't shake the feeling that he's coming up a half-inch short. "It lingers in my mind throughout the day on a regular basis," he says. "It causes great anxiety and depression most of the time." Andy started to notice he was smaller than average when he was 19. Like Jase, he also measures a lot. "There [have] been days when I find myself spending a huge amount of time with a ruler next to my penis."
When he's naked in front of sex partners, he often tries to cut through the awkwardness of the initial reveal by being self-deprecating—"It's small, huh?"—but nobody has ever complained or agreed.
It's not crazy that Andy's partners aren't throwing him shade. When it's part of the equation, the penis is an important part of sex—whether it's the real thing or the dildo equivalent. But it's not everything. "How we talk and behave in bed, how we touch, these are all important parts of what makes for good sex," Morgentaler says. "The hands and the mouth and the lips are all part of that. The penis is just one part of the repertoire."
Bigger is not always better, and that goes for anal, too. Research in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 72 percent of women and 15 percent of men feel pain during anal sex. In another study, 76 percent of bottoms reported pain during anal, and for 23 percent of those guys, it was worse than mild.
Not to mention more than a third of women need clitoral stimulation, not penetration, to reach orgasm. For years, Jase used large strap-ons, penis extenders, and sex toys of all kinds before he figured out that his wife needed clitoral stimulation to reach her oh-my-god moments. Now he helps her plateau using the basics: his mouth and, sometimes, a vibrator.
Jase has four decades of life in the books, and for almost half of that he's been married—that's a lot of time to figure out what is and isn't important in your relationships and sex life. Younger guys might need to live a little more before they figure that out. "Every time I hear stories about guys my age hooking up and having one-night stands and even being in relationships, it gets to me because I know I can't ever do any of those [things] because of my size," Andy says.
The peno-centric approach can keep you from engaging with others in all sorts of ways, whether fully clothed or bare-ass naked. Morgentaler recently saw a patient who was worried that he wasn't "developed" down there—despite his junk being "completely normal," Morgentaler says—and because of that, he was still a virgin.
Jase doesn't get regular checkups anymore, because at his last visit the doctor sent in a young woman to check him for a hernia. "I really thought that I was going to die of embarrassment right in the doctor's office," he says. And David doesn't like swimming or going to the beach because he feels exposed. "I can say with all my heart, I'd be way more happy and have a better life if I had a normal penis," he says.
It might seem like a huge deal when it comes to first-time hookups or one-night stands, but in the longer term, your penis does not take top priority. Most aspects of a relationship have nothing to do with what's in your pants—compatibility, mutual respect, and sense of humour, to name a few. Good sex is also high up there in importance, but using your penis is just one way to satisfy your partner, and it's naive to prioritize size over everything else.
"I would emphasize that this problem often goes away when a guy ends up in a stable relationship, because the couple figures out what they do that works, and penis size is usually not an impediment," Morgentaler says. "The quality of the man is not dependent on the size of his penis."
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