The jokes flowed thick and fast on social media this month when new research claimed to have found a psychological link between having a small penis and wanting to drive a sports car.

But amongst those jibes about fast cars and men “overcompensating” for their penis, there were questions - namely, why is it still socially acceptable to shame people over penis size and why does the notion that “bigger is better” still persist?

Sexual health specialist Dr Simon Snook says around half of people with penises are unhappy about its size and wish it were bigger for a number of reasons.

“[There’s] the misconception that bigger is better [and] the dysfunctional link between penis size and masculinity or the belief that penis size has a significant effect on sexual pleasure of a partner,” he says.

“Most people believe that the average penis size is larger than it actually is; they also believe that penetrative sex on average lasts longer than it actually does or that penetration alone leads to orgasm for most people with a vagina. 

“The list of misconceptions goes on and on.”

Why do people think bigger is better?

While exposure to porn is likely one reason for these misconceptions, Snook says these ideas were around long before the internet made access to porn much easier.

“Most cultures have an underlying masculine competitive hierarchy. This leads to bragging and exaggeration of sexual prowess and functioning,” he says.

Snook says within that social construct, what people think is a normal penis size is usually inflated. 

He says most people who worry about penis size are concerned about its erect size, so seeing other people with flaccid penises in areas like communal changing rooms doesn’t give them a sense of reality when it comes to erect size.  

“However, limited research shows that people who identify as homosexual men have similar levels of discontent over their penis size, despite the fact that they will have comparisons showing that it is normal,” he says.

Snook says it would appear that at some level discontent with penis size is less about thinking it’s smaller than normal, and more to do with wishing to be above average.

“In the end, masculine culture suggests that size matters – penis size, muscle size, and wallet size are all seen as a sign of a male’s position within the tribal hierarchy.”

Dealing with penis anxiety

Snook says anxiety over penis size can affect people’s sex lives.

“People with concern over their penis size are more likely to adapt techniques to ‘hide’ their penis during partnered sex, including a preference for non face-to-face penetration,” he says.

In more extreme cases, small penis anxiety, which is a clinical syndrome, can lead to erectile dysfunction or avoiding sex. 

That anxiety can then morph into general anxiety and depression.

Snook says somebody suffering from small penis anxiety should seek professional help with a therapist. 

But he says a person who simply wishes they had a larger penis should know that its size has little to do with their partner’s sexual pleasure.

“Firstly, for the majority of people with vaginas, sexual pleasure has more to do with other modalities such as fingers, oral sex or toys than the insertion of a penis.

“Secondly, the sensitive regions in a vagina are on the surface and to a maximum of seven centimetres inside … so length really makes little difference.” 

Snook says the same is true for men who have sex with men.

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