A recent academic study that looked at studies of over 15,000 men worldwide has found the answer to the age-old question of how big an average human penis is and the answer is 9.16cm flaccid and 13.2cm erect.
Phew! Now we know. Men from all over the world are now able to rate their penile length to an objective study in order to ascertain if they are normal or not.
I was interested to hear the results of this study and to watch the inevitable light-hearted or sometimes even comedic reaction to it. One article actually compared both sizes with household objects, presumably for those without a ruler, and found that it is exactly two wine corks long growing to three when erect. Such comparisons are not only useful aide memoires but they also help as a tactic to avoid talking too closely or heaven forbid, looking at the male penis directly.
Such jovial responses to the subject are to be expected on a subject so intensely central to men’s sense of their masculinity, especially when men are not encouraged or keen to discuss such private matters. This was something I also found with my own research when I asked men about their levels of happiness with their penis as part of a section which aimed to explore the effect of the female gaze on men’s self esteem.
One of my findings that most interested me was that men had no external reference point to compare themselves too, which was something that was troublesome. Not only were men previously to this study unable to “know” themselves and where they fitted in the great scheme of penis things but also that this is troubling in another way, in that masculinity has often invoked science as a support and hitherto there has been no support to be found.
Rationality has long been shown to be a gendered (as opposed to the historical ‘humanist’) concept as is most obvious when women are told to “calm down” or “stop getting so emotional”. One can look at the lad’s mags of the 1990’s, the rhetoric of the Pick up Artists – both of which cherry pick from science to support their ideals – or more generally, men’s wider interest in science (and passing it on to boys) as both a genuine interest but also as a performance of masculinity.
Knowledge is revered over emotion, which is seen as getting in the way; the head must learn to get control over the body; these are historic ways that men have approached the world and tried to organise it. Take the philosopher Descartes for example, who distrusted all the senses and foolishly tried to eliminate all knowledge that could not be traced back to the intellect alone.
The men I interviewed showed some concern that they were unable to rate their penises “objectively” but also a desire to be within a normal range. The trouble was that not only was there no clear definition of normal, they could not admit to having an active interest in how their size compared to other men. This was because such an interest could be misconstrued as being too close to other men, which might result in them being considered to be gay, and we all know how such a threat polices men’s everyday behaviour.
It is strange that we live in a culture when male homosexuality is becoming increasingly accepted, yet men still can’t proffer information about other men’s penis size for such a reason. Whether it is from pornography or from standing adjacent to other men at urinals men do in fact see other men’s penises with some regularity (in the UK at least). Yet none of the men I interviewed ever mentioned knowledge of other men’s parts. How could it be the case that men don’t glean such information from sideways glances or peripheral vision, especially as boys?
I think the way the men answered my questions is an interesting example of how men negotiate their personal concerns as part of their public masculine performance and how tricky this is for them. Thankfully now a group of (mostly male) scientists have done the dirty work for them, so they now have a secure source of such information that neither threatens their masculinity by means of getting too close to homosexuality or by not being able to explain something rationally. Time for a couple of bottles of wine to celebrate, or maybe three…