Men, Sex, and Testosterone

A urologist's view on men and sexuality.

Penis Size: The Measure of a Man?

The lengths men go to enhance penis size (pun intended)

Ancient drawings clearly indicate man's obsession with penis size is nothing new. As an adolescent on family vacation at the ruins of Pompeii, I remember viewing with my father a "special" fresco hidden behind a shutter for an extra fee paid to the tour guide. My mother and sister were not invited. Painted on the wall, with only minor decay since the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in the year 79 AD, was the picture of a nobleman with an enormous erect penis, the length and girth larger than a man's leg, placed on an ancient scale, with sacks of gold balanced on the other side. Some time ago I rediscovered that image on the Internet and have occasionally used it in lectures, with the quip that men have always viewed a large penis as worth its weight in gold.


Who knows what primitive neural wiring predisposes men to what I call the Stallion Syndrome, the desire for an ever-larger penis? Yet it appears to be pervasive, and vulnerable to the profit motive, as evidenced by the innumerable ads for pills, supplements, herbs, and devices on the internet and in various magazine that allegedly help men enhance their bedroom "footprint." As would be expected, "progress" has brought us modern versions of this old story.


Last week in the office I saw two young men who had experimented with new techniques to expand penis size. The first was a 33 year old married accountant, who used a traction device he obtained online for several months, and now complained of a variety of symptoms, including penile numbness, several areas of chronic discomfort, and a change in urination. This device attaches behind the head of the penis (the glans) and the other end pushes against the pubic bone, with various model-specific methods of stretching the penis away from the body. The user is instructed to wear this device for several hours daily for "optimal results." If this device were applied to an al-Qaeda terrorist, is there any question there would be protests in the street against this inhumane practice that violated the Geneva Conventions? Yet men actually purchase this device voluntarily and pay more than $200 for this penile version of The Rack.


A second patient I saw was a 19 year old student who feared he had injured himself by practicing jelqing. Jelqing consists of massaging the penis outwards while semi-erect to "push" more blood into the glans, thereby (according to jelqing proponents) causing the penis to expand. How this is supposed to enlarge the penis makes no medical sense to me, but a brief internet search leads to dozens of videos and instructional guides. These men aren't alone. Famed movie ladies'man Austin Powers ("Not now, Basil- Twins! Twins!") used a Swedish Penis Pump to keep his mojo in tiptop shape. And back in the reality-based world, an Oklahoma Judge, Donald Thompson, was convicted of indecency due to his apparent habit of using a penis pump behind the bench while presiding over criminal cases.


It's not difficult to understand why a man might want to have a larger penis- on some level every man would like to see himself as a well-hung James Bond. The question is what makes a man actually try to do something about it. For some men, it is a feeling of masculine inadequacy. My first patient, Mr. Traction Device, couldn't answer my question directly when I asked what he had hoped to gain by using this device, but I later learned his wife had cheated on him. As I've described in my book, The Viagra Myth, it is common for men to incorrectly assume that difficulties in a relationship stem directly from their performance in bed. Some men truly believe that by taking Viagra or enlarging one's penis they may win back the hearts of their partner, even though they may not realize that it is usually non-sexual issues (eg, alcoholism, abusiveness, lack of affection) that lead a partner to stray sexually.


My second patient, Mr. Jelqing, seemed interested in enlarging his penis on a purely macho basis. "I just thought it would be cool to have a bigger penis," he said. At 19, his sexual experience was limited to two very brief "hook-ups," none within the last year. Upon discussion, he hinted that perhaps a larger penis might make him more appealing to women. Were either of these men deficient in terms of penis size? Mr. Traction Device had a perfectly fine penis, quite normal in size. And Mr. Jelqing was definitely on the generous side. But as with individuals with eating disorders, we are not always the most objective judges of our own bodies.


Interestingly, the advertising for penis enhancement products is directed at younger men. Life experience tends to balance out (to some extent) the single-minded male focus on the penis within relationships. I've always been impressed by the number of men I've seen with serious medical conditions that have interfered with their sexual function, such as those in wheelchairs with spinal cord injuries, who are accompanied by attractive women drawn to these men not by some magical penis but because of their kindness, or strength of character. The lesson for creating happiness inside or outside the bedroom is, "It's not about the penis- it's about the man behind the penis."


However this can be a challenging message to appreciate at 19 when just learning the complex rules of sexual engagement, or when dealing with a wife who has gone outside the marriage to find another sexual partner. Far easier to give in to the seductive charms of the Sirens of the Internet, promising incredible virility, instant sex appeal, and eternal happiness ($49.99/mo, credit card required).

 

 

Abraham Morgentaler, M.D. specializes in male reproductive and sexual health, and is a professor of urology at Harvard Medical. more...

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