Penis Size: Does It Matter?

Blog #154

As I was walking through the gateway on my way to board an airplane, I saw a poster advertisement stating the following: Size should never outrank service, referring to the smaller size regional jets that now offer first-class, wi-fi and more. I recently saw another poster ad for the same airline stating: How fast the flight goes isn’t always up to pilot. I find these double entendres quite amusing and entertaining.

With all biological parameters, there is a bell curve with a wide range of variance, with most clustered in the middle and outliers at either end. Penis size is no exception, with some of us phallically endowed, some phallically challenged, but most of us somewhere towards the center. In a study of 3500 penises published by Alfred Kinsey, the average flaccid length was 8.8 centimeters (3.5 inches). The average erect length ranged between 12.9 -15 centimeters (5-6 inches). The average circumference of the erect penis was 12.3 centimeters (4.75 inches).

As a urologist who examines many patients a day, I can attest to the fact that penises come in all shapes and sizes and that there is no clear cut correlation between ethnicity and penis size. Flaccid length does not necessarily predict erect length and can vary depending upon emotional state and ambient temperature. There are showers and there are growers. Showers have a large flaccid length without significant expansion upon achieving an erection, as opposed to growers who have a relatively compact flaccid penis that expands significantly with erection.

Some women prefer men who are formidably hung, just like some men prefer women with large breasts. Whereas men with tiny penises may be less capable of sexually pleasing a woman, men who have huge penises can end up intimidating women and provoking pain and discomfort, particularly if cervical contact occurs. The long and the short of it are summarized in the adage, “It’s not the size of the ship, but the motion of the ocean.

Who Knew? “Genital Genetics.” As with so many physical traits, penis size is largely determined by genetic and hereditary factors. Blame it on your father (or mother). In actuality, it is the roll of the genetic dice and how the inherited blueprint that determines physical traits interacts with the local hormonal environment.

Who Knew? Hung like a horse—forget about it! The blue whale has the mightiest genitals of any animal in the animal kingdom: penis length is 8-10 feet; penis girth is 12-14 inches; ejaculate volume is 4-5 gallons; and testicles are 100-150 pounds. Hung like a whale!

Who Knew? On the subject of penis size, one of my favorite things to do when driving on the highway and seeing some idiot in a Lamborghini driving hazardously from lane to lane at about 95 miles an hour is not to flash him my middle finger, but to show him my hand with my thumb and index finger separated about 1 inch apart to indicate to him what I think is the likely size of his penis.

Who Knew? “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus.” Leonardo Da Vinci had an interesting take on perspectives: “Woman’s desire is the opposite of that of man. She wishes the size of the man’s member to be as large as possible, while the man desires the opposite for the woman’s genital parts.”

Who Knew? There are a bunch of “amenities” that accompany the aging process, one of which is “presbyopia” or farsightedness, which demands reading glasses. They are a real nuisance, never around when you need them and always getting lost. But one thing I have observed is that if you forget to take them off when you get up to relieve your full bladder, when you glance down, you see a rather large “member,” thanks to the magic of magnification. I am currently wearing 1.5 power; perhaps it’s time for 2.0!

Who Knew? There is no correlation between penis size and shoe size, hand size or nose size.

Who Knew? “Where’s Woody?” Three of the most common words I hear in my urology practice are the following: “Doc, I’m shrinking.”

Who Knew? Part of the problem is the pervasive pornography industry, where many male stars are endowed like the centaur, the mythological creature with the head and torso of man and the lower body of a horse. This has given the average guy a bit of an inferiority complex.

Many men complain of “shrinkage,” which is a very real phenomenon on the basis of blood flow. The typical circumstances evoking this are exposure to cold weather or cold water, the state of being nervous, and athletic pursuits. The mechanism in all cases involves blood circulation. Cold exposure causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of arterial flow) to the body’s periphery to help maintain core temperature. This is the very reason one places ice on an injury as the vasoconstriction will reduce swelling and inflammation.

It stands to reason that exposure to heat will cause vasodilation (expansion of arterial flow) and this is the very reason that some penile tumescence (state of fullness without rigidity) can occur in a warm shower. Nervous states or anxiety cause the release of the stress hormone adrenaline, which functions as a vasoconstrictor, resulting in a flaccid penis. Participation in vigorous athletic activity “steals” blood flow to the organs that need the oxygen and nutrients the most, namely the muscles, at the expense of organs like the penis.

Who Knew? Do you remember the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry’s girlfriend Rachel sees George naked after George steps out of a swimming pool?

 Rachel: “Oh my God, I’m really sorry.”

George: “I was in the pool; I was in the pool.”

George to Jerry: “Well I just got back from swimming in the pool and the water was cold.”

Jerry: “Oh, you mean shrinkage.”

George: “Yes, significant shrinkage.”

As mentioned, truly not a day goes by in my practice when I fail to hear the following complaint from a patient: “Doc, my penis is shrinking.” The truth of the matter is that the penis can shrink from a variety of circumstances, but most of the time it is a mere illusion—a sleight of penis, if you will. Weight gain and obesity will cause a generous pubic fat pad, the male equivalent of the female mons pubis, which will make the penis appear shorter. However, penile length is usually intact, with the penis merely hiding behind the fat pad, what I call the “turtle effect.” Lose the fat and presto…the penis reappears. Having a plus-sized figure is just not a good thing when it comes to man-o-metrics.

Who Knew? “Fatal Retraction.” It is estimated that for every 35 lbs. of weight gain, there will be a one-inch loss in apparent penile length.

Who Knew? “Penile Dysmorphic Disorder,” very much paralleling “Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” is a condition in which one’s image of their penis is at odds with reality. Typically, one envisions himself as small when in fact he is quite within the normal range and an obsessive focus on this issue creates a great deal of psychological stress.

Who Knew? “Koro” (“head of the turtle” in Malay) is a cultural form of psychological panic that occurs predominantly in East Asian men. Those who suffer from this delusional disorder are terrified that their genitals will retract into their bodies and take extreme measures to prevent this from occurring.

The erectile cylinders of the penis are essentially our “erector sets,” consisting of three inner tubes within the penis that are composed of vascular (consisting of blood vessels) smooth muscle and sinuses that fill with blood upon sexual stimulation. An erection is on the basis of blood expanding these cylinders to the point of penile rigidity. Like any other muscle, the muscle of the penis needs to be used on a regular basis, the way nature intended for it to be used. In the absence of regular sexual activity, disuse atrophy (wasting away with a decline in anatomy and function) of the penile smooth muscle can occur. In a vicious cycle, any loss of sexual function can lead to further progression of the problem. Poor genital blood flow produces a state of poor oxygen levels in the genital tissues, that, in turn, can induce scarring, which further compounds the sexual dysfunction.

Radical prostatectomy, the surgical removal of the entire prostate gland as a treatment for prostate cancer, can cause penile shortening by virtue of the removal of the prostate gland. The resultant gap in the urethra because of the removed prostate is repaired by sewing the bladder to the urethra with a consequent loss of urethral length. Penile shortening can be compounded by the disuse atrophy and scarring that can occur as a result of the erectile dysfunction associated with the surgical procedure, which sometimes can damage the nerves that are responsible for erections. Getting back in the saddle as soon as possible after surgery will help “rehabilitate” the penis by preventing disuse atrophy.

Peyronie’s Disease can cause penile shortening because of scarring of the erectile cylinders that prevents them from expanding properly.

Androgen deprivation therapy is a means of suppressing the male hormone testosterone, typically used as a form of treatment for prostate cancer. The resultant low testosterone level can result in penile atrophy and shrinkage.

Who Knew? Penile enlargement surgery, aka, “augmentation phalloplasty,” is highly risky, ineffective and not ready for prime time. Certain procedures are what I call “sleight of penis” procedures including cutting the suspensory ligaments, disconnecting and moving the attachment of the scrotum to the penile base, and liposuction of the pubic fat pad. These procedures unveil some of the “hidden” penis, but do nothing to enhance overall length. Other procedures attempt to “bulk” the penis by injections of fat, silicone and other tissue grafts. The untoward effects of enlargement surgery can include an unsightly, lumpy, discolored, painful and perhaps poorly functioning penis—certainly a far cry from a “proud soldier” and more like a “wounded warrior.” Realistically, in the quest for a larger member, the best we can hope for is to accept our genetic endowment, remain physically fit, and keep our pelvic floor muscles well conditioned.

Who Knew? The world’s first penis transplant was performed at Guangzhou General Hospital in China when microsurgery was used to transplant a donor penis to the recipient, whose organ was damaged beyond repair in an accident. Hmmm, now there is a concept for penile enlargement.

Andrew Siegel, MD

The aforementioned is largely excerpted from my new book: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; available in e-book (Kindle, iBooks, Nook) and coming soon in paperback.

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