Psychology of penis size anxiety – what’s normal?

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For centuries, civilizations around the world have viewed the penis as a symbol of power.

The shape has been synonymous for dominance, fertility and masculinity in both the ancient world and the modern one; from religious circles in Egypt to cultural belief systems in Japan. Even deep within the South American jungle and African plain, tribes use the penis as a symbol of worship. And when you look at the almost universal import put on this particular body part, it is no wonder men today have a preoccupation with penis size.

But what is the source of this penis anxiety? Why do statistics show almost half of men are insecure about their penis size when in reality approximately 95 percent of them are of normal size and shape?

It’s not because women list a large penis at the top of the list when it comes to desirable traits in men, so why is there such a disconnect between what is normal and what men perceive as normal?

Kristen Mark, PhD, a sex and relationships researcher and professor of health promotion at University of Kentucky; Paul Joannides, Psy.D., author of Guide To Getting It On; and Laurie Mintz, Professor of Psychology at the University of Florida and the author of A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex have come together with Saludify to help shed some light on this puzzling psychological issue.


 

Penis size facts

The average penis size is 3 to 5 inches flaccid, 5 to 7 inches erect, with an average girth of 4.5 to 5 inches.

Very few men are larger or smaller than this, and even when measured at different times, the same man’s penis while flaccid may vary in length significantly.

Laurie Mintz explains to Saludify the size of the penises shown in porn materials are actually in the top 1 to 10 percent.

Research also shows that only 55 percent of men say that they are satisfied with their penis size, and of those men who are concerned about having too small a penis, 99 percent actually have normal size penises.

Other penis size statistics from WebMD indicate:

Anxiety over penis size can affect a man's emotional health

The penis has been a symbol of power for centuries in many different cultures. (Shutterstock)

  • Because the penis is controlled by the central nervous system, arousal does not necessarily occur only from attraction; exercise and REM sleep can cause arousal as well.
  • Exposure to cold water does make penis size shrink temporarily.
  • Men who are psychologically stressed will have a more flaccid penis that appears smaller.
  • The size of a flaccid penis has little to do with the size of that penis when erect; shorter flaccid penises generally double in length when erect, whereas longer flaccid penises do not tend to grow significantly.
  • Approximately 12 percent of penises gain one-third or less of their total length when erect, compared to only 7 percent which double in length when erect; all others are somewhere in between.
  • The suspensory ligament in the male groin gives a penis a curved shape; cutting this ligament can cause a penis to become longer, but any subsequent erections will be significantly less sturdy.
  • Worldwide, only some 30 percent of men are circumcised, a medical procedure done at birth, which can make a penis appear larger.

Penis size anxiety

“Research suggests that a large portion of the male population does unfortunately place a considerable amount of concern on penis size,” Kristen Mark told Saludify. “There are a lot of pressures placed on men and with the easy accessibility of porn on the Internet, men are often given unrealistic examples to compare themselves to.”

“I think a lot of the penis size concerns come from pressure that men receive to perform and the lessons they learn from what they see,” she adds. “Perhaps a more confident man wouldn’t be as impacted by these concerns, but I’m not familiar with the research on whether this has been examined. I wish that we could see a shift with a less penis-centric culture.”

Mintz agrees that easy accessibility to pornography has had an impact on how men perceive their masculinity, and that it clearly seems porn images are setting up unrealistic images for men in terms of penis size. Also, importantly, in terms of performance—portraying a male as “going all night” when the average intercourse last 3 to 7 minutes and very few people have intercourse that lasts more than 12 minutes.

While it is easy to blame porn for men’s insecurities about penis size, one study found that men who have concerns about their penis size most commonly attribute these to childhood comparisons to their fathers or an older sibling, Mintz added.

Specifically, in one study of men visiting a clinic complaining of a small penis size, 63 percent said that their concerns started in childhood, when they compared their penis to someone else’s and 37 percent said that their concerns began during their teenage years, after seeing pornographic images.

But not all men are dissatisfied with what they have; they just wouldn’t turn down the offer for something more if they had the chance, and when it comes to gender insecurities, women are just as much at fault for finding, well, faults.

“My surveys show that the majority of men are satisfied with the size of their penis. If someone with wings and a magic wand arrived and said ‘Would you like me to make it a little bigger?’ a lot of men would say ‘yes!’ but this doesn’t mean they aren’t satisfied with what they have, ” said Paul Joannides. “If you go bra shopping here in the U.S., it is difficult to find a bra that doesn’t have padding in it. Seriously difficult, because most bras for women have some form of padding in them. So if we look at what sex is insecure about the size of their body parts, I’d say women win hands down, or breasts up!”


 

Psychological impact of penis size anxiety

Penis size is not such a big deal for women

Despite men’s concerns, approximately 85% of women are content with their partner’s penis size. (Shutterstock)

Past research has indicated 85 percent of women are satisfied with their partner’s penis size yet as many as 45 percent of men have small penis syndrome, the terminology given to the anxiety associated with being “too small.”

Urologists Kevan R. Wylie of Royal Hallemshire Hospital and Ian Eardley of St. James Hospital in Leeds, England, were some of the first experts to take an in-depth look at the imagined concerns of many men, indicating to doctors that penis size insecurities should be taken very seriously.

If not addressed medically, concern about penis size can interfere with a man’s every day activities, even becoming a debilitating condition which prevents him from finding a romantic companion.

“Severe concerns about penis size can be related to social anxiety, avoidance of sexual/romantic relationship, anxiety, and other sexual issues such as ED or PE,” explained Mintz.

The Aroostook Mental Health Center indicates small penis syndrome can go far beyond just basic depression and anxiety. Men with this condition may have a form of personality disorder or may have a developmental delay caused by some early trauma of shame regarding penis size.

For some individuals, concern about penis size can be a manifestation of narcissism, a psychological issue where someone who has only been valued for their outward appearance by others learns to value themselves in the same manner.

Men with extreme cases of small penis syndrome are often classified as “inverted narcissists,” meaning they see their penis as something to be exploited and desired by others, and therefore assume they will be judged by its size and shape.

In the most devastating cases of penis size preoccupation, men may cross the line into Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a condition which causes a man to have delusions about his penis size to the point where he may engage in self-harm activities in an effort increase his size.

Overcoming concerns regarding penis size

As mentioned earlier, the penis as a symbol of “all that is man” has been around for centuries all over the world. It is not likely that our culture can completely shift off of penis-centric mode. That being said, men who are insecure about their penis size should seek professional help from both medical doctors and doctors who focus on the psychological aspect.

These men whose lives are truly affected must be slowly coached through concerns that they will be rejected by women, and that all women who say penis size doesn’t matter are liars. This is a process which can take years and needs to be backed up with medical science which clearly shows a man what “normal” is and how many men fit into this classification.

These forms of therapy, combined with a supportive and satisfied lover, are often key to making a man less concerned about what everyone else has and more confident he is an adequate sexual partner.

Men who feel the need to take an active approach toward increasing their penis size can, according to Psychology Today, try the following:

  • Forget about pills, powders and devices: There is currently no product on the market that will permanently increase penis size.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking decreases blood flow within the body–including within the penis. Decreased blood flow can cause a less-erect erection.
  • Exercise regularly: While this does nothing to build muscle related to the penis, it does improve blood flow which can help improve a erection.
  • Eat less meat and cheese: A diet high in fat can clog arteries, decreasing blood flow to the penis, which can affect an erection and make it appear smaller.
  • Lose that excess weight: Belly fat can make a penis appear smaller because it encroaches on the base of the organ.
  • Relax: Men who are stressed typically have a flaccid penis which appears smaller and may have issues achieving an erection.
  • Stay warm: Taking a hot shower before intercourse will help prevent “shrinkage” due to temperature.
  • Try a penis pump or a cock ring: Both of these devices can temporarily increase penis size, though the change is modest at best. This is because these devices pull or hold blood in the penis, causing a more rigid erection.

Penis size anxiety is common among men regardless of actual size

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