Intellectually, a man knows that the size of his penis shouldn’t be specifically relevant in a relationship, to him or to a woman. His common sense tells him that it will certainly not be the major or controlling factor in a woman’s response to him. And yet . . . he can’t help believing that it is.
When the Kinsey Institute reviewed its founder’s data thirty years after it was published, in the light of subsequent findings, it showed that one man in a hundred reaches beyond the 5 to 7-inch erectile median to 8; that seven men in a thousand go beyond 8; and only one in a thousand touches 9. But Durex and the Definitive Penis Internet surveys, while stressing that their core findings are consistent with Kinsey, have cautiously proposed that there are more very big penises – between four and seven men in every hundred reaching 8 inches, between thirty and forty in every thousand reaching 9, and between ten and thirty in a thousand reaching beyond. And where the institute’s data showed that erections above 9 inches are so rare (a word, incidentally, that Kinsey himself always used rather than ‘big’) as to be statistically immeasurable, both surveys have suggested that one man in a hundred posts double figures. In the round, the institute found that eighteen men in a thousand have an erection over the median; Durex and the Definitive Penis propose this figure to be between four and eight times greater. Could Kinsey have been so wrong?
The problem for researchers has been that they have had to rely on participants providing their own measurements. The bulk of Kinsey’s data came from self-measurements (marked off on the edge of returned postcards); all the data in the Durex and the Definitive Penis survey undertakings were collected in this way – the DPS giving the average erection as 6.3 inches, with Durex giving it as 6.4. Are penises, then, like people, getting bigger? If men’s ears have pricked up at this point, the answer is no: the depersonalized and anonymous nature of the Internet almost certainly explains the apparent increase. Not that Durex and the DPS have not taken safeguards against humorists and delusionists. Durex eliminates extreme replies: lengths under 75 mm (3 inches), ‘the size of a large chilli’, and those over 250 mm (a touch under 10 inches), ‘the size of a large cucumber’. The Definitive Penis Survey has disregarded the blatantly fraudulent (‘17-year-old lawyers and those claiming American Zulu warrior ancestry’) and eliminates the bottom 1 per cent and the top 2 per cent of replies; additionally the website has asked participants to provide an electronically transmitted photo which includes a tape measure.
Averaging the averages of Kinsey from over half a century ago, his institute’s from twenty-five years ago, and the Durex and Definitive Penis surveys from the last year of the millennium (only three-tenths of an inch apart, top to bottom, after all) we arrive at 6.25 inches, with a circumference of just under 5 inches being pretty consistent in all surveys; and that surely seemed as definitive as you can get, except that in 2001 Lifestyle Condoms (on the same mission as Durex) carried out the only large-scale study not to rely on self-measurements – and turned the penis issue on its head. After getting three hundred volunteers to submit their aroused manhood to the attention of two tape-wielding nurses under the constant supervision of a doctor, Lifestyle reported the average erection to be 5.8 inches – about half an inch less than the above averaged averages. It’s worth noting that five years earlier two small-scale studies (one in Germany, one in Brazil) had pharmacologically induced erections in volunteers and both had averaged out at 5.7 inches. Even more startlingly, the same year the Journal of Urology had published the findings of a study in which eighty normal men of various ethnicities had also been pharmacologically aroused (the object in this case was ultimately to help in counselling others considering penile augmentation) – and arrived at an average of 5.08, almost three-quarters of an inch less than Lifestyle’s.
The medical profession continues to measure penises; between 2007 and 2010 at least fifteen different studies were published, all of them hands-on. What now seems to be the focus of attention is the likelihood that men who know or think they are below average are unlikely to volunteer to be sized up, or allow themselves to be, meaning that averages could be lower than those recorded (allusion to which hypothesis might, in some circumstances, stand a small-penised man in good stead). What is incontrovertible is that where men and their penises are concerned there are lies, damned lies, and self measurements.
No one appears to have conducted any research to show whether gay men are more prone to exaggeration than straights but, certainly, size is an even greater issue in the gay community than in the community at large – gay men, having their partners’ penises to think about as well as their own, take penises even more seriously than other men, which is saying something. The issue became very heated during the nineties after three researchers analysed twenty-five years of data from the Kinsey Institute and concluded in an edition of the Archives of Sexual Behavior that the average gay man’s penis was longer than the average heterosexual’s – at 6.4 inches, the equivalent of the average black man’s. Much excitement was generated in the gay community, with black gays accused of being more ‘sizeist’ than their gay white brothers.
A final word on this matter of measurements. While most researchers run the tape along the upper surface of the erect member some, curiously, favor the under surface and a few what is called ‘stretched penile length’ – the stretched flaccid penis having been shown to more or less equal the length erect. The second method may be of benefit to a corpulent man with a substantial belly overhang, which curtails his ability to protrude (according to the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis for every thirty-five pounds of weight gain the prepubic panniculus – the pad of fat – encroaches another inch on the penile shaft); the last may be of benefit to any man prepared to make his eyes water for a few extra millimeters against the ruler.
Reality and rumor
In Alan Bennett’s play Kafka’s Dick, the Jewish-Austrian writer Franz Kafka is spirited back to the present day with his father, Hermann, and is shocked to discover how famous he has become since his death. But so is Hermann, who is jealous and decides that the best way he too can achieve fame is to get Franz to tell the world how supportive of him he was in life – a rewriting of biographical truth. If Franz does not, Hermann threatens: “I tell the world the one fact biographers never know. I reveal the one statistic every man knows about himself but no book ever reveals. You see, it’s as I say, we’re just a normal father and son, but what’s normal? My normal (Indicates about 8 inches). Your normal (Indicates about 3 inches).”
As far as his broad argument is concerned Hermann is either lying or misinformed: writers like almost everyone are delighted to allege that the penises of the famous are of such dimensions as to attract admiration or ridicule. Virtually all evidence about size is anecdotal, of course. Yet some claims come from so many sources that they seem beyond dispute. The seventeenth century monarch Charles II was nicknamed ‘Old Rowley’ after a prodigious sire he kept stabled at Newmarket – not just for the number of his offspring (fourteen acknowledged bastards) but because he was formidably hung. In 1663 the diarist Samuel Pepys records Sir Thomas Carew telling him”That the King doth mind nothing but pleasures and hates the very sight or thoughts of business; that my Lady Castlemaine rules him; who he says hath all the tricks of Aretine that are to be practiced to give pleasure in which he is too able having a large —”
The scatological poet John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, was once banned from court because, when drunk, he mixed up two poems in his pocket and gave the wrong one to the king. ‘A Satire on Charles II’, which he did not intend to place in the royal hand, contains these lines:
“Peace is his aim, his gentleness is such,
And loves he love, for he loves fucking much.
Nor are his high desires above his strength:
His sceptre and his prick are of a length.”
In the 1940s and ’50s, the waiters of Paris referred to their restaurants’ giant peppermills as ‘Rubirosas’, after the international diplomat-playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, whose conquests included Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ava Gardner, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak – and Eva Perón. According to one of his wives his penis was 11 inches with a 6-inch circumference, ‘much like the last foot of a Louisville Slugger baseball bat’ (Too Rich: The Family Secrets of Doris Duke). There’s considerable anecdotal evidence to believe that Charlie Chaplin had good reason for calling his penis, as he did, the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ and to support the claim that at one time the three best-hung men in Hollywood were Frank Sinatra (his valet claimed his employer bought special custom made underwear for concealment), Forrest Tucker and Milton Berle. ‘What a shame – it’s never the handsome ones,’ Betty Grable lamented. ‘The bigger they are, the homelier’ – a slur on the likes of Valentino and Errol Flynn, widely regarded as probably the handsomest men ever to have appeared on the screen.
Today, in an age that has become so demanding of every detail of celebrity lives that no celebrity penis can go about its business in decent anonymity, there appear to be more ‘bigs’ than statistical distribution clearly specifies is possible – a situation more publicity mill than peppermill. But there’s no disputing the size of the Valentino penis: he left hard evidence, a cast in solid silver, a memento to the actor Ramon Novarro of their affair. The Valentino penis swung both ways, as it were, principally away from the distaff, and was as long as his name. His full name, that is: Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla. Another who left the measure of his manhood to posterity was Jimi Hendrix, captured by the Plastercasters, an arty cooperative of rock-star groupies that in the 1960s found something more intimate to collect than signed photos or autographs on their breasts.
While these casts are originals (though Hendrix’s has been lost), replicas of the penises of porn stars like Ron Jeremy and the late John Holmes, taken from their not-so-private parts, are on sale across America, and the world, via the Internet – for use as dildos. Holmes, like Hendrix, was a 12, while at 9.75 Jeremy is a quarter-inch less than Valentino. ‘They say 10 in some press and I say fine, I’ll keep the extra quarter-inch,’ Jeremy told Onion magazine. And by the way: his friend Holmes used to call him Little Dick.
It’s never mattered that rumors about penises being big or small are just as likely to be untrue as not for them to be relished as fact. Despite more than half a century of research that irrefutably indicates there is no justification, humankind continues to have a sneaking suspicion that short men are frequently over-endowed as some kind of compensation for a lack of height. Thus it continues to be written, for example, that the dwarfish painter Toulouse-Lautrec was known as the Coffee Pot in Paris brothels because of his huge member – though Julia Frey’s life of the nineteenth-century painter carries a photograph of him in the nude captioned: ‘Note short legs; genitalia and cranium appear normal.’ The law of compensation, another common suspicion, goes into reverse for other small men whose deeds are the biggest thing about them – the ‘bastardised conception . . . great man, small member’, wrote biographer Frank McLynn in defense of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The first suggestion that Napoleon’s penis was ‘abnormally small’ came from assistant surgeon Walter Henry, one of the five doctors who conducted his autopsy. Conceivably at death it was: modern medical opinion is that Napoleon died of chronic arsenic toxicity from years of taking poisonous medicines, which would have atrophied his genitals just as it left his body hairless and made him fat to the extent of having breasts. But as McLynn emphasized, there was nothing in the emperor’s earlier life to indicate any abnormality: “As a man who liked to portray himself as a rough and ready soldier, Napoleon several times appeared in the nude in the presence of his troops . . . ‘If O’Meara [his physician] writes a diary, it will be very interesting. If he gives the length of my cock, this would be even more interesting.’ This hardly sounds like a man worried that posterity would laugh at him, and indeed O’Meara did produce a journal and made no use of Henry’s ‘astounding revelation’. Besides, even if we could imagine a substantially under-endowed man as a compulsive womanizer – which Napoleon was – his bedmates would surely have spoken of this interesting aspect of his anatomy.”
There are times when people are prepared to ignore the evidence of their own eyes to ridicule a man’s penis. It happened to the actor Jude Law in 2005 when he was caught cheating on Sienna Miller with the nanny, thereby setting himself up as a ‘love-rat’ and therefore deserving of a kicking. Shortly after, he was photographed changing out of swimming trunks on the veranda of his mother’s house in France, and can’t have been entirely surprised to have his perfectly respectable appendage described as a ‘meagre manhood’ and a ‘puny package’ – alliteration is the tool of derision.
And what of Franz Kafka? If Law was hard done by and Napoleon traduced, then think of poor, hypersensitive Kafka, a man with bad lungs, a hypochondriac array of other ailments, a fixation about masticating his food, an inability to form lasting attachments with women, and an intense love–hate relationship with his bullying father – but, as far as anybody knows, with a penis in no way out of the ordinary. Over 15,000 books have been written about Kafka and none save one has had anything to say on the subject that gives Alan Bennett’s play its sustaining joke. The exception is a work by two psychologists at the University of North Carolina who analysed everything Kafka wrote and concluded on that basis alone that a small penis was at the root of his problems!
Given that they know they inevitably lay themselves open to ridicule about the size of their genitals, however normal they may be, we have to admire actors brave enough to appear naked on stage. When comedian Eddie Izzard appeared in the buff as Lenny Bruce in the West End, one newspaper quoted someone in the audience as allegedly saying ‘He’s obviously not being paid by the inch, is he?’ Another comedian, Frank Skinner, found himself similarly ridiculed when he co-starred with a tortoise in the play Cooking with Elvis and was quoted as purportedly saying that ‘being on stage with something small and wrinkly did not bother him. And playing alongside a tortoise was a nice change, too.’ The classical actor Ian Holm had to suffer a critic’s sneer when for the first time in his theatrical life he took off his clothes playing King Lear. But he had his revenge in his autobiography: “Of my stage nakedness, there was little comment, apart from . . . Mark Lawson, who mentioned the shrivelled size of my manhood when I had to wade naked through a pool of cold water. Even disregarding Lawson’s own physical shortcomings (the liver lips, the pudgy, plasticine face, the old man’s prematurely balding dome), I am pretty sure his own equipment would also have dwindled after a cold bath in front of several thousand people.” (Acting My Life)
While most mockery of men’s penises comes from other men, women are adept at verbal downsizing. Paula Jones, to whom Bill Clinton dropped his trousers, said nothing more scathing than that ‘he wasn’t very well endowed’, but by the time her aggressive female lawyer was interviewed, the presidential penis had shrunk. Referring to claims of several affairs, she commented, ‘If he did have sex with those other women they wouldn’t have noticed’ – mirroring Fanny Hill’s remark about a client being ‘of a size that slips in and out without being much minded’. It is the ultimate disparagement and even more withering when delivered by a woman with personal experience of the penis in question. A former mistress of a former British Tory minister, the rotund Lord Soames, delivered a dagger thrust to the groin with the comment that sex with him was like ‘a cupboard falling on top of you with the key sticking out’. An even more devastating dismissal came from the ex-lover of then British deputy prime minister John Prescott whose manhood, she declared, was decidedly marginal – the size, in fact, of a chipolata. The Sun newspaper gleefully showed a photo of a two-inch cocktail sausage with the caption: ‘Actual size’.
Vindictiveness may account for some allegations, but it’s well to bear in mind that, as a rule, women see only one erection at a time, which denies comparisons (‘How huge is huge when you have no frame of reference?’ asks Isadora Wing, the heroine of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying), and in urgent circumstances, which militates against detailed linear appraisal; and that a study of sexual relations shows that, while women in love are apt to consider a lover’s penis bigger than it is during a relationship, they consider it smaller after the relationship wilts and the parting is acrimonious. Disillusioned with her dull academic husband Graham, in Julian Barnes’ Before She Met Me, his wife Ann looks at his genitalia as he sleeps naked on their bed, puzzling that so much trouble could be caused by ‘so trifling’ a thing: ‘After a while, it didn’t even look as if it had anything much to do with sex . . . it was just a peeled prawn and a walnut.’
Excerpted from “God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis” by Tom Hickman. Published by Soft Skull Press, an imprint of Counterpoint. Copyright 2013 by Tom Hickman. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.