Its something most gay men and straight women love to dish about. One could argue its what makes a man a man. But for most of the 60 men sitting in a New York City auditorium last fall, the subject was a debilitating source of shame, anger, displeasure, and resentment. What brought these men together was a desire to talk frankly about a topic thats usually the stuff of punch lines or fighting words: life with a small penis.
I initiated this group out of my own need to deal with an issue that was affecting my life, says Robert Woodworth, who says his erect penis measures five inches. It was a coming-out process.
Woodworth, 59, is the director of institutional services at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center in New York and the man behind an ongoing series of discussions about gay men and their penises. That initial discussion in November, called What Is Small Anyway? led to the centers first facilitator-led, four-week support group for gay men who feel they have small penises. Five men ranging in age from their late 20s to late 70s joined the group to talk about showering at the gym, going to nude beaches, hooking up online, and other situations that put a public face on their most personal of private parts.
It was a humbling experience, says Charles Greenberg, a support group participant who says his erect penis measures three inches. Greenberg says participating in the group was helpful and made him less uncomfortable with being small. But is worrying about size something uniquely gay? Do straight men have the same fears as their gay peers? Or are we just obsessed with the male member?
Charles Silverstein, a psychologist and coauthor of The Joy of Gay Sex, believes that when it comes to who worries about penis size more, the gays get a bad rap. When straight men are undressing in the locker room, theyre looking at each other to measure up, he says. They may not be looking with desire, but theyre looking. And its that gaze that Silverstein says is at the heart of any discussion about size: Its not about functionality or a fear of sexual activity, its about aesthetics. Its about a man asking himself, How attractive can I be to another man with my winkie when he has a big schlong?
Whats so wrong with being small? Evolution obviously hasnt noticed anything amiss in a less-than-gargantuan penis. Greco-Roman sculpture deemphasized a large penis in favor of sometimes grossly disproportionate hands, torsos, and heads, body parts that were considered far more representative of the masculine than the penis. Depicting a whopper of a penis would have been considered vulgar. Most of the classical Greek sculptures have tame penises, not big ones, explains Silverstein. Sixteen-year-old boys were the model of masculinity.
Still, as evidenced by the turnout at the center, gay men clearly are worried about the size of their penis. Perhaps its because we all have one, or because we have sex with people who also have one. Yet while many gay men are taunted about their small penis by family members or locker mates, the most painful experiences sometimes come at the hands of other gay men. Woodworth says he was first confronted with an antismall penis bias in college when a sexual partner said to him, Oh, youre small. He didnt say I hate it, Woodworth explains. He just acknowledged it. But anyone who says that is by definition being critical.
Greenberg, 63, says being around for the sexual revolution in New York, where action was readily available, wasnt exactly a nonstop party for men on the small side. I was rejected a lot, he says. Im a nice-looking man, but as soon as they felt my penis, they left. You know these size queens.
Not every man with a small penis thinks its a problem. Chris (who asked that his last name not be used), a 34-year-old gay man from San Francisco, says his very thin penis measures 4.5 by 3.75 inches, the same size it was in junior high. Although his penis is smaller than average and he was regularly made fun of in school, he says his sexual life and long-term relationships never suffered. People that Ive been interested in dont seem to care, he says, adding that many of the men he meets actually fetishize a small penis. It wasnt until a sexual partner commented on his size that he felt self-conscious. I didnt think I was small before then, he admits.
At this point its worth asking, What is small? My small may be your average, and your big may be my small. The Is he a show-er or a grower? question should be taken into consideration; just because a penis looks small unaroused doesnt mean it wont grow, sometimes considerably, when the blood starts flowing. (Plenty of Web sites offer scientific research of varying quality on this issue.) Woodworth says the standard way to measure the length of the penis is to start along the bottom of the erection, from the point where it meets the pubic area to the tip; measure the circumference at mid shaft.
In the 1960s sex researcher Alfred Kinsey determined the average length to be six inches; a study conducted by Lifestyles condoms in 2001 found the average length to be 5.7 inches, with 75% of respondents measuring between 4.5 and 6.5 inches (the company offers a small-size condom for the 17% of men below 4.5 inches). Abnormally small penises, called micropenises, measure no longer than three inches.
Forget about statistical norms when it comes to the bedroom: Thats where size seems to make the most difference. In general, men prefer certain body parts attached to their sexual partner to be on the diminutive side. How many straight men do you know who like women with size 16 feet? And except in bear culture, big bellies are as welcome in Chelsea as last years moisturizer.
But there are some body parts that men prefer to be bigor at least average. Why else would pornography, gay or straight, traffic in the language of the humongousJuggs, Latin Inchesand not the itty-bitty? Where are the billboards for SmallDickMagazine.com?
Face it: Its a treat if a big dick shows up in our bed; its an even sweeter deal if it belongs to the man in the mirror. Size queens fuel the aesthetics of the man-on-man porn business and keep the Enlarge Your Peni$$$ spammers humming. Woodworth knows that getting gay men to salivate over small penises may be an uphill battle. Youre going to have preferences, he says. But preferences are one thing; judgments are another.
Michele Moore, a family physician and coauthor of the book Dick: A Users Guide, says insecurities about penis size affect men regardless of sexual orientation and that both gay and straight men should look at the size of their penis the way they do their bank accounts: Its not how much you have but what you do with it that matters. If its big and beautiful and its useless, its going to be a big disappointment, she says.
Which doesnt stop people from trying to live large. Silverstein says ads pitching penis enhancement techniques are unquestionably unethical, and that he would direct a patient who wanted to enlarge his penis to a therapist for work around issues of masculinity and body dysmorphia. Under no circumstances should they subject themselves to surgery, he says. No responsible physician would recommend such a thing.
And while the Mr. Bigs of the world seem to have the upper hand among gay men, Moore suggests that having a large penis might not be the magical key to happiness. Being the recipient of a big organ is not necessarily a comfortable proposition, she cautions. (That may be true, but tell your average gay man hes too slender or too well-endowed and just try to count the tears he sheds.) She also points out that gay mens self-esteem is tied to their penis size much the same way womens identities correlate to the size of another sexualized body part. Its like a woman and her breasts. Women who fixate on their breasts will either think theyre too big or small or the wrong shape, she says. You can turn every way in the mirror, but it relates to a lack of self-confidence.
But do women get as worked up about small penises? Silverstein believes women are being less than truthful when in studies they report not caring as much about penis size as do their male partners. If we could get women to give us honest answers, they would say they like bigger penises, he says. Moore, however, says more of her female patients have expressed concern about their partners penis being too large, not too small. (Maybe this is one arena where being average is an advantage.)
So what do you do if you feel you dont measure up? Many men simply avoid talking about the issue at all, preferring to let their partner make the discovery on their own and letting fate take its course in the sack. Others defuse the sting of being underendowed (as those with body weight issues do) through self-deprecating humor; Howard Stern regularly describes himself as being hung like a pimple.
Many men with a small penis feel the only way they can be sexually attractive or compatible with other men is to become the best bottom they can be, under the assumption that their penis isnt sufficiently large enough to fit the role of a top. But Silverstein points out that when it comes to being penetrated, width, not length, is what does the stretching. Still, many men who are new to bottoming may find a small penis ideal. A cursory search on CraigsList.org found several postings from straight or bi-curious men asking to be with a man with a small penis. Attractive married couple (both straight) seeking a youngish-looking, smooth boy 25small cock a plus, read one. Chris says his versatility in the bedroom has nothing to do with size. I tend to be a bottom anyway, and I love it, he says. Having a small dick didnt turn me into a bottom.
Woodworth stresses that no matter what sexual role a man takes, his penis should be one piece of a larger sexual puzzle. He also dismisses attempts at penis enlargement, whether through pube trimming or surgery, as Band-Aids for a nonexistent wound. A guy with a small dick can be a hot sexual person because he can be, he says. Everyone wants to feel theyre attractive, whether theyre in a back room or in a relationship for decades. Those who love men who happen to have small penises can do their part too. Its not enough to say Be nice to your man because hes anxious about it. Its not about being kind, Woodworth says, coming back to one of his favorite themes. It has to do with being nonjudgmental.
Maybe were all asking the small penis question the wrong way. Perhaps What is small anyway? should be spoken with a dismissive shrug, not an embarrassed whisper. Think of diamond rings or chocolate truffles, and remember: Good things do come in small packages.
(For more information on What Is Small Anyway? e-mail [email protected])