The politics of increasing private members
Prepare yourself for a cold hard fact: the average erect penis in Britain is five-and-a-half inches long. It’s not six or seven, as some men might suggest when quizzed about it in front of their mates (only to make a joke about theirs being “waaaay bigger than that!”), but a perfectly adequate 14 centimetres.
We have, whether we’re straight or non-straight men, become a generation of size queens obsessed with magnifying our own junk, and it’s fuelling a culture that has lead us down a dangerous path when it comes to our body image. We might not admit to it, but so much of our time is spent adding phantom inches when bragging about our bits on various dating apps or finding the perfect angle for a dick pic that makes it look just a little bit more impressive than it does IRL. We’re living in a fantasy, with pretty much every earth-dwelling man experiencing a certain level of body dysmorphia when it comes to the size of their members. But where did that notion of bigger being better come from?
Between 2013 and 2017, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery recorded over 45,000 penis enhancement procedures taking place worldwide; past figures were so low that they didn’t even warrant being recorded. “It’s important to acknowledge the scale and complexity of the issue,” Giulio Garaffa, a consultant uro-andrologist from International Andrology London tells Dazed Beauty. Figures provided by them show there’s been a considerable spike in penis enlargement procedures in his own clinic over the past half decade.
But this cosmetic phenomenon wasn’t born out of narcissism or insecurity: the initial phalloplasty surgeries for cis men were produced to help those living with micropenises, a dick that’s roughly two and a half times smaller than average for a man their age. In order to cure it and increase its functionality, surgeons would use liposuction to remove fat from the pubic area to give the penis more girth.
A more common, excruciating sounding surgery is ligamentolysis: severing the ligaments that attach the shaft of the penis to the pubic bone, letting it hang anywhere from 1-4 centimetres longer when flaccid (though it has no effect on the size when erect). The latter – paired with an injection of fat from the body to increase girth – is the method used by cosmetic surgeons for the locker room shy nowadays. It might not require an overnight stay in most cases, but the procedure isn’t cheap; you’re expected to shell out anything from £1500 to £5000, depending on how big you want to go.
The surge in interest in the procedure leads back to a problem few are willing to discuss out of fear of being ridiculed. According to research completed by International Andrology London, over 45% of men are dissatisfied with their size – despite the fact that almost all of them have a completely healthy, normal-sized and functional penis. “Although it can be dismissed by some people, even in the medical profession as trivial, our experience after consulting and treating many men in our network of clinics, is that size issues can cause significant distress,” Giulio claims. “Anxiety about size can affect their self-confidence, sexual life and even prevent them from everyday social interactions such as being with a partner and using public bathrooms.”
Marcus* from London was one of the handful of men who decided to go through with the procedure with International Andrology London. “Since I was young, I always felt that I had a small penis and was too shy to shower with other people,” he said, of his reasons for plucking up the courage to go under the knife and enlarge his penis, but it wasn’t something he jumped into easily. Instead, Marcus said he was pretty apprehensive. “There’s a lot of information online of the pros and cons of this procedure,” he adds. “I was worried about the appearance after surgery, and if my erection and performance would be the same.” Luckily for Marcus, the procedure went well: he’s now a proud owner of a bigger willy.
Marcus’ initial anxiety is more widespread that most men would like to admit, and Hugo – a 24-year-old man from Stockholm who now lives in London – knows all about it. The laissez-faire attitude towards male nudity he experienced while growing up with saunas, steam rooms and skinny dipping in lakes lead him to be conscious of being exposed in front of his peers. “It would always be the same guys who would instigate getting naked,” he recalls. It was a certain kind of showboating that men who were comfortable with their penises would indulge in; a try-hard attempt to assert their masculinity. The ones who felt they didn’t match up size-wise were obvious: they diligently kept their clothes on.
It’s worth mentioning that, despite being a so-called “late bloomer”, Hugo convinced himself that his above average penis wasn’t anything to flaunt after encountering pornography for the first time. “It’s interesting how far cultural conditioning can actually affect how our bodies work,” he adds. “Western culture makes money off our lack of self-esteem, so it’s not a surprise that we have so much anxiety about our appearance. In regards to porn, we’re led to believe that if we consume it we’ll become it – regardless of how realistic [in this case, penis size] that really is.”
It’s a learned behaviour to scrutinise your own dick; there’s no evidence to suggest that there’s anything biological about it. A lot of it, as a study conducted by IAL shows, stems from our increased consumption of porn. Their study showed that half of men and nearly 40% of women who watched porn daily wished that their or their partner’s penis was bigger. That dropped to less to a third of men and 11% of women when a group who didn’t watch porn were surveyed.
For gay men, the casual attitude towards swapping nudes and dating apps sees that exposure increase two-fold. Darren from Essex is a 21-year-old make-up artist who looked into enlargement procedures, both pumps and surgery, after feeling sized out by the penises he was seeing in porn and on Grindr. “Historically, I think there’s a notion that the bigger the dick you have, the more masculine you are,” he tells us. Darren’s comments reflect the femmephobia that’s prevalent in gay culture: that having a smaller dick and a more agile frame somehow makes you less of a man. It’s led him to join the gym and gain more muscle mass: an easier and cheaper way of asserting his masculine aesthetic over penis enlargement surgery, and something that undoubtedly carries much less of a stigma. “I don’t feel desirable to myself, so I question why anyone else would want me,” he says. To try and reverse his psychology, he’s deleted all of the dating apps on his phone.
But this isn’t only an issue for cisgender men: there’s a whole community of trans men whose inclusion in this narrative is underwritten; overlooked in favour of a more salacious and tongue in cheek kind of conversation. 27-year-old Archie is a trans man whose decision to forgo phalloplasty was affirmed by the fact he had no qualms, unlike a large percentage of cis men, over flaunting his masculinity. “I don’t feel like what I have between my legs defines me as a man,” he tells us. There was also the issue of the surgical procedure – more complex than the elongation techniques for purely cosmetic purposes – which felt like “a lot of hassle, a lot of money, and really not important to [him]”. The trend amongst cis men looks like narcissism fuelled by anxiety: “People are too worried about what they consider to be perfect,” Archie adds, “ or what society thinks is perfect.”
That too is an issue that bleeds into trans bodies, though. The expectation for all men to look like men and all women to look like women has wrongfully forced many in the trans community to assimilate into the traditional ‘aesthetics’ of the gender they identify with. Sometimes, that’s purely for the purpose of avoiding violence and scrutiny from the outside world. When you consider that there’s a whole generation of trans men out there who can’t afford bottom surgery, but who desperately strive to have genitalia to match their gender, the idea of shelling out thousands for the sake of a few inches of girth and length feels fickle. Surely there’s an easier solution, and by helping cis men to overcome these anxieties the benefit will be greater and far more widespread. By quashing the idea that a bigger penis means somebody is more masculine, the expectations for trans men to affirm their ‘maleness’ by undergoing phalloplasty will be quashed too.
But for now, the desire to have a bigger penis is still attracting up to 200 men a day to Giuilio Garaffa’s London surgery. “It's about personal confidence and looking good naked,” he stresses. The numbers going through with it are significantly lower than that – just 10-20% – but the dozens who do are apparently pretty happy with the end product. According to Guilio, reported results include “significant improvements in self-image and self-esteem, and a reduction in body dysmorphia”, but whether or not surgery is still the most sensible answer is still a question that requires a little more research. Is jumping straight on to the operating tables of Harley Street the best way to solve our own anxieties, or should we be rooting out (sorry) the problem that’s leading us down that path in the first place?
We suppose the same could be said of all kinds of plastic surgeries, but as the stigma starts to lift from flaunting your nose job, lipo and lip fillers, the idea of a man publicly professing how content he is with a penis enlargement feels like a dystopian concept. Marcus, who’s gone through with the surgery and is happy with the end result, is still a firm believer in it being a sensitive topic. “I don't know if I would tell my friends and family about it,” he admits.
So what will it take for men to be happy with the bits they have? Is a wider conversation surrounding the sexy and visceral, if damaging nature of pornography and hook-up culture required for us to see a future that considers below average more than adequate? Or perhaps we should just all start to talk more honestly to each other. It might not be the big future we’re hoping surgery will build for us, but it will help us stop bullshitting to impress others, and to find a killer angle for our (consensually shared) dick pics that captures the beautiful, normal and pretty much perfect reality of what the modern man is packing.