Excerpted from God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis by Tom Hickman, out now from Soft Skull Press.
Intellectually, a man knows that the size of his penis shouldn’t be specifically relevant in a relationship, to him or to a woman. His common sense tells him that it will certainly not be the major or controlling factor in a woman’s response to him. And yet … he can’t help believing that it is.
The most frequent question on all Internet Q-and-A sex sites continues to be, "Is size important?" A downloadable chart of four outline drawings (“low average” to “extraordinarily large”) can be found on the net, which a man can print out and use as a template against which to judge himself. Even the most balanced of men is capable of half-believing he is under-endowed. Many American men, according to the Kinsey Institute, believe the average erection is 10 inches—this despite (or because of) frequently accessing Internet pornography in which participants have shaved off their pubic hair to increase visibility and many have used a vascular device to pump up temporarily. But there should be solace for the average man in knowing that he is statistically within touching distance, as it were, of some 90 percent of all his fellows.
When the Kinsey Institute reviewed its founder’s data 30 years after it was published, in the light of subsequent findings, it showed that 1 in 100 men reaches beyond the 5- to 7-inch erectile median to 8; that 7 in 1,000 men go beyond 8; and only 1 in 1,000 touches 9. But Durex and the Definitive Penis Internet surveys, while stressing that their core findings are consistent with Kinsey, have cautiously proposed that there are more very big penises—between 4 and 7 in every 100 men reaching 8 inches, between 30 and 40 in every 1,000 reaching 9, and between 10 and 30 in 1,000 reaching beyond. And where the institute’s data showed that erections above 9 inches are so rare (a word, incidentally, that Kinsey himself always used rather than “big”) as to be statistically immeasurable, both surveys have suggested that 1 in 100 men posts double figures. In the round, the institute found that 18 in 1,000 men have an erection over the median; Durex and the Definitive Penis propose this figure to be between four and eight times greater. Could Kinsey have been so wrong?
The problem for researchers has been that they have had to rely on participants providing their own measurements. The bulk of Kinsey’s data came from self-measurements (marked off on the edge of returned postcards); all the data in the Durex and the Definitive Penis survey undertakings were collected in this way—the DPS giving the average erection as 6.3 inches, with Durex giving it as 6.4. Are penises, then, like people, getting bigger? If men’s ears have pricked up at this point, the answer is no: The depersonalised and anonymous nature of the Internet almost certainly explains the apparent increase. Not that Durex and the DPS have not taken safeguards against humorists and delusionists. Durex eliminates extreme replies: lengths under 75 mm (3 inches), “the size of a large chilli”, and those over 250 mm (a touch under 10 inches), “the size of a large cucumber,” The Definitive Penis Survey has disregarded the blatantly fraudulent (“17-year-old lawyers and those claiming American Zulu warrior ancestry”) and eliminates the bottom 1 percent and the top 2 percent of replies; additionally the website has asked participants to provide an electronically transmitted photo which includes a tape measure.
Averaging the averages of Kinsey from over half a century ago, his institute’s from 25 years ago, and the Durex and Definitive Penis surveys from the last year of the millennium (only three-tenths of an inch apart, top to bottom, after all) we arrive at 6.25 inches, with a circumference of just under 5 inches being pretty consistent in all surveys; and that surely seemed as definitive as you can get, except that in 2001 Lifestyle Condoms (on the same mission as Durex) carried out the only large-scale study not to rely on self-measurements—and turned the penis issue on its head. After getting 300 volunteers to submit their aroused manhood to the attention of two tape-wielding nurses under the constant supervision of a doctor, Lifestyle reported the average erection to be 5.8 inches—about one-half an inch less than the above averaged averages. It’s worth noting that five years earlier two small-scale studies (one in Germany, one in Brazil) had pharmacologically induced erections in volunteers and both had averaged out at 5.7 inches. Even more startlingly, the same year the Journal of Urology had published the findings of a study in which 80 normal men of various ethnicities had also been pharmacologically aroused (the object in this case was ultimately to help in counselling others considering penile augmentation)—and arrived at an average of 5.08, almost three-quarters of an inch less than Lifestyle’s.
The medical profession continues to measure penises; between 2007 and 2010 at least 15 different studies were published, all of them hands-on. What now seems to be the focus of attention is the likelihood that men who know or think they are below average are unlikely to volunteer to be sized up, or allow themselves to be, meaning that averages could be lower than those recorded (allusion to which hypothesis might, in some circumstances, stand a small-penised man in good stead). What is incontrovertible is that where men and their penises are concerned there are lies, damned lies, and self-measurements.