April 13, 2014

Does Penis Size Matter? Why Do We Care…

Recent research on how penis size is related to women's attraction to men has received a lot of media attention lately, but this might not be a good thing.

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mannequin with big penis

mannequin with big penis

You may have seen the uproar in the media in the past week or so that features headlines like “Penis Size Really Does Matter” or “Women Find Men With Bigger Penises More Attractive” or “Science Proves Women Like Men With Bigger Penises“…the list goes on, really.

All of this hype is about a study that was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “Penis Size Interacts with Body Size and Height to Influence Male Attractiveness” led by Brian Mautz, who is now a post-doc at University of Ottawa but was at Australian National University when the study was conducted.

The study

The study found that height, masculine stature, and penis size are important to women when determining attractiveness of men. 105 Australian women were shown digitally projected computer animated life-size images of naked men. The results indicated that penis size was an important factor when women determined attraction to the men. Additionally, penis size was more important in taller men than shorter men and in men with more masculine body shapes. Simply put, a tall masculine man with a large penis was most attractive. Not exactly shocking. However, I do think we need to take these results (and the potentially damaging media headlines that have accompanied them) and consider them in the context of the larger picture.

First of all, this study is based on 105 Australian women. That’s fine, researchers do the best they can to work with what they have in terms of sampling, and I completely understand that. However, one cross-sectional study conducted one time on 105 Australian women does not allow for the kind of generalizations that the media is making (I’m sure Dr. Mautz would agree with me on that one). It doesn’t mean that the study isn’t relevant – it is relevant. It is providing additional insight into what women find attractive in their potential male partners from a biological sexual selection and evolutionary standpoint. What women find attractive is a complicated puzzle with a lot of pieces – this might be one of those pieces.

Second, the study was based on computer-generated images of men. I’m fairly certain that if these women were asked to choose from real-life men, there would be a lot of factors more important than penis size and height in determining attractiveness. I’m not trying to say that looks don’t matter to women. They do. But for both women and men, it is a combination of physical and emotional characteristics that lead to attraction, and this study completely missed out on one half of this.

The media attention

When a study like this receives media attention in the form of headlines such as those listed above, it puts even more pressure on men, many of whom already struggle with wondering if their penis is ‘large enough’ in our world with such a fixation on size. Penis size concerns are sensitive. Much adolescent teasing revolves around jokes and taunting related to penis size. Locker rooms can be a boy’s worst nightmare if this is a concern.

We still see a healthy market for the sale of penis pumps (a device that is more dangerous than it is size enhancing). In my undergraduate human sexuality and sexuality education classes, I have yet to go a semester without the question of size being discussed. Even within the Kinsey Confidential site, the Q&A section is littered with size-related questions: Can I make my penis grow? I’m worried my penis is too small? or Is my penis is too small to satisfy a woman?

Additionally, research has shown that most men overestimate the average size of a man’s penis (the average is between 5″ and 6″ erect and around 3″ to 4″ flaccid, by the way) and previous research has shown penis size matters to men more than women. The porn industry isn’t helping this misconception, with larger-than-life penises that seem to be criteria for entry into the profession.

Perhaps there is something to be said for a large penis on a tall masculine man when it comes to natural selection. However, from all of the research that I’ve conducted and critically evaluated in the field beyond evolution, communicating with your partner, paying attention to your partner’s needs, and genuinely wanting to please your partner (among many other things) are far more important to his or her attraction and satisfaction than the size of a man’s penis.

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