Here's What All Those Conversations About Penis Size Keep Getting Wrong


You know what they say about men with big hands, right? According to a new comprehensive study of average penis length, those men may just have big hands. 

Which should hopefully be the final word on one of the most damaging conversations about men. The obsessive effort to determine "normal" penis size isn't a debate about science. Rather, the practice of sizing up one man against the another is a debate over defining manhood — and it's one in which no men win.

The new "average": Sourcing data from more than 20 penis-size studies with a combined total of 15,521 participants, researchers set out to answer the age-old question: Just how big is an average human penis?

The new literature review, published in the British Journal of Urology International, found that the average length of an erect penis is 5.17 inches, and the average length of a flaccid penis is 3.61 inches, according to conversions done by Science of Us. The average circumference of an erect penis is 4.59 inches. Meanwhile, past studies (and boy, have there been many) have sized the average erect penis to 5.6 inches, while others have reported as much as 6 inches. Somehow the "average" keeps changing every year.

Much as we focus on "big dicks" and "micropenises," outliers in the study were rare: Men with penises longer than 6.3 inches fell into the 95th percentile, while penises shorter than 3.94 inches fell into the fifth percentile. An overwhelming majority of men fall somewhere in between.

Most importantly, pretty much anyone healthy is "normal." From the new data, study author David Veale and his researchers created a chart for doctors to show their male patients that where they fit on this size spectrum is, in all honestly, perfectly fine.

BJU International

The study also put to bed commonly-held stereotypes of what kinds of people have larger penises. Penis studies in the past have attempted to correlate length to height, race, nationality or body mass index — but according to Veale, these links are weak and should be thrown out. 

Penis studies leave something to be desired: nearly not enough diversity, unreliable self-reporting and self-selecting for men who are confident enough to be measured in a lab. But the real problem is what we're asking: Instead of "What is the actual average penis size?" we should be asking, "Why do we care about penis size at all?"

It's about masculinity and power: Culture has long equated penis size with power, sexual prowess and even masculine identity itself – after all, it's called "manhood." Men are supposed to flaunt it, openly joke about it and view it as an important factor in their sexuality and masculinity. That's a lot of pressure to put on one reproductive organ. 

That pressure surrounding penis size has created an industry of Viagra, penis pumps and dangerous penis enlargement surgeries that play into men's paranoia that their natural bodies aren't good enough. Some men may even suffer from small penis syndrome, a condition in which a man fixates on his package to the detriment of his psychological health. Recent dick-centric documentaries like Unhung Hero and The Final Member shine light on men who go to troubling lengths to both showcase and augment their penis sizes. 

Many of these men are basing their sense of normal on tired sayings, images of male porn stars of exceptional size and, yes, science that keeps on declaring what "normal" truly is.

Good sex at any size: Anatomically speaking, penis length doesn't have much to do with sexual satisfaction, much less a man's self-worth. In terms of heterosexual partners, studies have shown that "'only 25% of women' consistently orgasm through vaginal sex, while 70% require clitoral stimulation to climax," writes Mic's Marcie Bianco. According to a study published in BJU International in 2007, 85% of women reported satisfaction with their partner's penis size, though only 55% of men were satisfied with their own.

"Most men have a penis size that can absolutely be used to pleasure and satisfy a partner," writes sexual health educator Debby Herbenick on Kinsey Confidential. The stereotypes about size are not only useless measures of good sex; they breed insecurity and miss the point. In the midst of endless conversations concerning the "ideal" woman's body, it's important to remember that pernicious stereotypes damage men as well. 

"We hope that [the new study] may help show [men] that they are in the normal range," Veale told Mic. Unlike the debate over penis size, that reassurance is not only welcome, it's necessary.