Isn't He Lovely: The Myth of the Superior Penis
As feminists, I think it's easy to forget that for all of the misrepresentations and misinformation delivered to us about what vulvas and vaginas “should” look like and how they “should” respond to sexual contact, equally tall tales about penile look and length abound. For that reason, I’d be remiss in this blogging series if I didn’t go ahead and underscore a fact that continually evades our collective memory: There is no such thing as the superior penis. I'll also spare us all the rote nautical metaphors about boats afloat on choppy seas, and try to stick with statistics.
Oh, penises—those polarizing pillars of pride and self-pity, those hallowed members, so often shielded from the public eye, as opposed to the regularly recurring vulvas and the ubiquitous butts. Unless you’re watching porn, the sight of a penis on screen remains as rare, as, say, seeing an Asian man as a romantic lead in a Hollywood film. And why must it be this way? Because of its myriad connotations as simultaneously the source of “manhood” and a tool of sexual violence, reproduction and pleasure? Because of the phallocentricism that still runs rampant in our culture, dividing the male and female constructs between hard and soft, respectively? Answers: yes, yes, and yes...most likely.
But I said I'd stick with stats, right? Right. Henceforth with the superior penis myth-busting, then. I'll get more into the discursive elements of our cultural penile hangups in subsequent posts this week.
A well-circulated study from 2007 concluded that "small penis syndrome" is a common psychological issue particularly for heterosexual men. The British urologists found that 45 percent of men longed for a longer penis. And yet, 85 percent of their female partners had no complaints. More precisely, 66 percent of the 52,000 respondents rated their penile length as "average," with 12 percent "small" and 22 percent "large." So although a majority of men considered themselves average, feelings of inadequacy persisted.
Notably, a 2010 study of penis length, perception, and sexual health among gay men found less dissatisfaction. Only seven percent of respondents described their penis as "below average," followed by 53.9 percent "average" and 35.5 percent "above average." I suspect that the more favorable self-reviews have to do with familiarity (and by extension, more realistic idea of how penile appearances vary) and possibly this: Kinsey Institute data suggesting that gay men possess slightly longer and wider penises. Even so, we're talking about differences of less than a half-inch.
Penis size is also a psychological concern for so many men because of the bogus correlations we've constructed between it and race and physicality. Somewhere along the way, while white folks were casting black men as sexual beasts endangering the chastity of white women and Asian men as effeminate "others," we created this mythical penile size spectrum, which has been scientifically disproven. Meta analysis has determined that there is no—let me repeat, no—association between racial background and penis size. Therefore, not only are the penis size stereotypes inherently racist, they're factually wrong. Case closed. Nor is there a statistically significant relationship between one's height or foot length and penis measurement.
Earlier this year, researchers did, however, identify a tenuous relationship between finger length ratio and penis length. To which I say: What difference does it make when the one consistent finding about penis size is that sexual partners typically couldn't care less?
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