Dear Dr. Robert,
I'm 25 years old, and my fiancee is 23. We live in Beirut (Lebanon), but I lived in the U.S. for couple of years. Beirut is struggling between two very different cultures... a very conservative one, and a very western one that is influenced by France. There is almost no censorship in Lebanon... You can turn on the tv at 10 at night, and there you see an x-rated movie... the American rap music is uncut, and you can hear them swearing on the radio... All of the magazines that we get from France, like "Prestige" which is a fashion-female magazine are filled with couples having sex, and naked men and women. I'm a very shy person, and I've never had sex before... It's probably cause I think my penis is >too small. Well, nobody can convince me otherwise, because it is.
My fiancee is a virgin, and she said that she hasn't seen any penises in her life, but I know that's not true because I caught her lying a couple of times. I think she lies to me because she knows how sensitive this subject is to me.
Anyway, I'm very insecure about the size of my penis, and I'm acting crazy to prevent her from seeing any naked men cause I don't want her to compare my penis to other penises. Well, if the government doesn't do the censorship shouldn't I? I mean if she compares my penis to every other penis that she sees, she'll know that I'm smaller than any of them, and she's going to think of me less of a man. I know this sounds crazy, and I am acting like crazy, but I just can't stop doing it... please help me fast.
---[name withheld, Beirurt, Lebanon]
Dear [name withheld]--
This question comes up often in psychotherapy. Since for many men--particularly younger ones--the size of the penis is equated with masculinity, if a man believes that his penis is small, he may feel that he is less "manly" than someone with a larger penis. Also, he may feel that sexual partners will be dissatisfied with him as a lover, and that they may be inclined to desire sex with a man whose penis is larger.
Some counselors and therapists try to treat these feelings of inferiority by arguing and attempting to convince their clients that size does not matter, and indeed, an important study by Masters and Johnson (1966) did indicate that sexual satisfaction both for the man and for the woman [this was a study only of heterosexuals] did not depend at all on the size of the man's penis. But I think that argument is not particularly helpful to a man who doubts that his penis is large enough, whatever that may mean to him.
The argument that size does not matter is not helpful to such a man, in my view, because it is not true. To begin with, on a purely physical level--a mechanical level one might say--as long as the penis is not too large (so large, that is, as to cause discomfort to the woman) a larger penis will stimulate more of the woman's vaginal erogenous zones, and so will tend to produce a greater level of arousal. But this is just a matter of friction, and good sex involves much more than friction, of course. On a more mental level, there is in human beings a tendency to appreciate things for their size alone--not just the penis, but almost anything--and so, just as there are men who imagine that women with large breasts are somehow "sexier" than women with smaller breasts, there are women who simply enjoy fantasizing about, looking at, or touching larger penises, and believe that a larger penis makes a man more attractive. These are facts, and there is no advantage in disputing them.
Now, since you believe that your penis is too small, and since believing this has caused you, as you wrote, to behave in a "crazy" way, I think that a more helpful approach would address your feelings in particular, and not simply deal in generalities about whether or not size matters. I will attempt to do this, but I do want to say first that a written answer cannot provide the counseling or psychotherapy you need. Based on your letter, I believe that you will require professional therapy to heal this tremendous and irrational wound to your self-esteem, and I urge you to seek that kind of therapy as soon as possible, certainly before marrying your fiancee, which you should do, in my view, only when you are feeling happy about the relationship and secure in it. I imagine psychotherapy of this kind is available in Beirut. For your sake, I hope that it is.
To begin with, I wonder how you came to believe that your penis is not large enough. There is, of course, a great variation in penis size, just as there are great variations in most physical dimensions of human beings, but the situation with the penis is confusing, and different from the situation with other bodily dimensions, and I want to explain why. The average length of the flaccid (that is, non-erect) penis has been found to be around three inches (7.5 cm.) or perhaps a little more. Some penises are much larger, and some much smaller, but a curious fact about the penis is this: penises which are smaller when flaccid, increase much more in size when erect than do larger penises, which tend to increase less in size when they become erect. In other words, penises which are larger when soft, usually do not increase much in size when erect, but penises which are smaller when soft, can increase greatly when erect. This is why the vast majority of penises, when erect, measure around six inches (15 cm.), more or less, in length, even though when flaccid there is a substantial variation in size.
Now, for a man who is worried about the size of his penis, this unusual fact is important to understand, because many men, particularly heterosexual men, have had little experience in seeing other men with their penises in an erect state. Normally, one sees others' penises in the locker room or shower room, or perhaps standing at the urinal, times at which those organs are in the flaccid state in which any variation in size is much more pronounced. Other factors come in to play here too. A smaller man's penis will seem larger than the same size organ would on a larger man. And the penis of a man with a flat belly will seem larger than that of a man with more fat around the middle. The point is this: if a man has observed other men's penises mostly in the flaccid state, he really does not have as much basis for comparison as you might imagine. A man's penis may appear smaller than many when flaccid, but might "catch up," at least part of the way, when aroused.
In your case, although you may have not seen them "in the flesh," you have looked at many erect penises through having viewed pornography, possibly more of it than was really good for you. But for various reasons looking at pornography does not provide a good basis for comparing your penis size to the normal or average size. To begin with, the producers of this stuff have an almost unlimited population from which to select men whose penises are unusually large (just as they can select women with unusually large breasts if desired). They can select also for the kind of lean, flat-bellied physique which emphasizes the penis. And then they can use all kinds of tricks of the trade such as trimming the pubic hair to make the penis appear more prominent, or selecting certain camera angles or certain lenses to exaggerate the size of the man's organ. In other words, if you are comparing your penis to the ones you are seeing in pictures, you are treating yourself and your penis unfairly.
As I say, the average size of the erect penis is around six inches (15 cm.). If your penis, when erect, is anywhere near that size--four and a half inches long (11.5 cm.) let's say--you are within the average range. The following chart, based on penis size measurements of more than 10,000 men collected by the Alfred C. Kinsey Institute, makes this clear:
For, as the chart shows, almost all men have erections which measure between four and a half inches and eight inches long. Perhaps, like many men, you wish your penis were larger, and imagine you would have more self-confidence if it were, but please remember that almost everyone wishes for personal assets of some kind or another which he or she imagines are lacking: better looks, stronger muscles, more athletic talent, a higher IQ, larger breasts, and on and on. Yes, in a certain sense a large penis may be a social asset of a kind, but so is a warm and winning smile, or a way with words. At some point, all of us must learn to accept ourselves as we are, including one's body, one's thoughts, one's fears, one's desires--all of it. If coming to terms with this is difficult, please consult the ask dr-robert archives to read some other ask the psychologist questions along with my replies. If you do this, I think you will come to understand that many people are troubled by their current situations in life, whether the problem is penis size, or anything else. So you are not alone in wishing that things could be different.
Of course, accepting that ones body is not all one wishes it were is easier said than done, and that is one of the main reasons why good professional counseling or psychotherapy can be so helpful. One of the results I find in almost all the counseling and therapy work I do is that my clients improve, sometimes dramatically, in their ability to accept themselves as they are, and in their ability to enjoy being themselves regardless of whatever limitations they may believe they have. Once again, I feel quite certain that you would benefit from this kind of psychotherapy, and I urge you to seek it.
Now, suppose the size of your penis when erect really is much less than normal--in other words, that you are correct in saying that you have a very small penis--then what? Once again, truth is best, so I will not make that tired old argument that size does not matter. If your penis really is very small, the plain fact is that you probably will not be any woman's ideal sex fantasy. Not every man can be James Bond after all. But that does not mean that you cannot be a fine and effective lover who can satisfy a woman, father children if you like, and have a happy marriage. This is where the Masters and Johnson study which I mentioned earlier comes in. Although there really are some woman for whom a large penis is very important, they are in the minority. For most woman I have known, both personally and professionally, penis size is way down the list of what makes a man attractive. Personal qualities such as intelligence, kindness, understanding, sense of humor, ability to enjoy life, ability to love and be loved in return, capability to earn a living and to be independent, willingness to take responsibility for the welfare of another person or a family, and many other personal qualities, usually rate much higher on the list than penis size. Skill and tenderness in lovemaking also will rank much higher on most women's lists than penis size, and this skill depends on being able to care about and to tune into a woman's feelings, on being able to use your body--all of it, not just your penis--in order to give her pleasure, and on being able to delay your orgasm until she really is pleased. If you can learn to do these things, she is likely to be happy in bed, and so are you.
Since the size of your penis cannot change (unless you believe all those spam e-mails which promise a bigger organ if you will send money), the most positive thing to do, as I see it, would be to work on those other areas instead. If you develop some of those qualities which women find so important, it is quite likely that you will find a woman who will want to love you and your penis.
Now this woman may or may not be your fiancee, and that is why I agree with you that attempting to keep her from seeing other men in the nude is "crazy," as you put it. You know, I think that I really do understand some of your feelings about this matter, and they aren't "crazy" at all. No one likes to be compared and found wanting. We all want to feel good about our bodies, and many men wish for a larger penis, just as many women wish for larger breasts or a better figure. The "crazy" part--and that's your word, not one I usually use--lies in imagining that you can have a happy marriage while constantly fearing that your fiancee may see a man naked, and so finally learn that some men have larger penises than yours. I am concerned also that your doubts about your fiancee's honesty might grow and become unmanageable if you do not address this situation before committing to marriage.
A much wiser course of action, in my opinion, would be this: sometime soon when you are alone with your fiancee and feeling intimate, you might say to her, "You know, I have always felt that my penis is not large enough. It really bothers me, because I know that some men have penises which are bigger than mine." You would say this in the spirit of trying to open up a conversation on this topic. If you can handle this, I imagine that it might help both of you a lot. If you feel that you cannot handle this level of honesty and self-disclosure, some good professional counseling or psychotherapy will help to prepare you for it. Again, I hope this kind of therapy will be available in Beirut. I want to recommend also that before going any further with marriage plans, you and your fiancee get some premarital counseling with a competent couples counselor. This work should include a discussion about sexual needs and sexual desires, both yours and hers. I hope you will understand that these cards must be on the table if you want the best chance at marital happiness.
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