Measure of my manhood

Every guy worries about the size of his unit. Imagine the added pressure of being black

Topics: Body Issues, Body Wars, Masculinity, Love and Sex, Sex, Life stories, Editor's Picks,

"Body Issues" is a personal essay series about obsessions with our own shape.

There’s no moment more anxiety-inducing in a young man’s life than the first time he measures his penis. OK, maybe that’s just me. I was terrified. First of all, I couldn’t find a ruler. I had aged out of the grade where rulers were put on the school supplies list, and any ones that were left over had been lost or broken. I considered measuring against the spine of a book, but my naked-eye measurement would still only get me a ballpark answer. I needed to know the exact measurement. I finally found a ruler, one I had kept from years before, which featured all the NBA Western Conference team logos on it. Why no, this wasn’t embarrassing.

I also had the added pressure that comes with being black. That all black men have huge penises is the one stereotype we don’t riot in the streets over. I couldn’t be responsible for bringing shame to the race by walking around with a sub-nine-inch penis. What would my ancestors think? I could only hope that Marcus Garvey wasn’t looking down from the heavens shaking his head in disgust at my lack of girth.

So I willed it to get bigger. Well, first I got it hard, then I tried to Jedi mind trick it past the point of its actual size to a respectable one. I slipped the ruler down a bit, convincing myself I wasn’t starting at the right spot, that I needed to be measuring from the very base of my penis. That bought me another eighth of an inch or so. Eventually, I’d done all I could do. I’d given it a pep talk. It was time to see what I had. Nothing and no one ever prepares you for this moment.

These days, fully erect, my penis measures about seven-and-a-half inches. Not an impressive world record of any kind, and my guess is that you wish you could go back to when you didn’t know my penis size. Right now, you may be conjuring a mental image of me pulling out that ruler. You could be wondering how I got myself aroused enough to measure in the first place. All this may be very disturbing for you. Sorry. I promise this is leading somewhere, and it begins with me asking myself the question: If it were three inches, would I have told you?

As far back as I can remember, I was told I would grow up to be a man. At three years old, I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded exciting. Men drove cars and went to work. They were tall, they could lift little kids up over their heads and they didn’t have bedtimes. They could eat huge meals that were bigger than my stomach. They also had big penises. Or, they were supposed to have big penises. Over time, I heard adults fretting the question “Does size matter?” I didn’t understand a word of it, but I knew it was important. Something needed to be big.

I didn’t figure out what it was until sex ed in the fifth grade, when I learned about condoms along with the concern that I might slip out of one and accidentally impregnate a woman and have to drop out of school in order to pay child support. It was all a bit hazy and confusing.

Masculinity is a grab bag of fragile insecurities, and I don’t need to tell you that anxiety about penis size may be the most powerful one. This is why you’ll hear stories about men who carry Magnums in their wallet even if they fit into regular-sized condoms just fine. It’s why there’s a bunch of (not so) discreet peeping going on as we stand next to each other at the urinals. It’s the reason every other commercial on television between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. has to do with increasing one’s penis length. It’s why we believe myths about the correlation between shoe size and penis size. And it’s why those of us on the smaller end take comfort in silly phrases like “it ain’t the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean.” We all want to measure up.

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At age 15, I started worrying whether or not I could. For years, I wasn’t thinking about doing much with my penis other than peeing. But puberty turned me into a horny teenager on a quest, and I needed all the tips/clues/spells known in this world and the next. I was in biology class listening to this six-foot-five-inch basketball player try to kick game to a beautiful girl who was otherwise engaged in a long-term relationship. I have no idea how the conversation turned to sex, which is part of the reason I was still a virgin, but at some point or another, they started discussing penis size, and she let him know she thought seven inches was small. I didn’t even know I was supposed to be measuring.

Couple that with overhearing a guy in gym class brag that when he was erect the tip of his penis reached the top of his knee, and I was in panic mode. The first time I broke out a ruler and measured my hard on, I was somewhere in the six inch range. Not too bad, I told myself, considering I was still young, and I figured I could gain about an inch a year up to age 18 and I’d be set. No worries.

Later, I’d discover porn, envy and humiliation. I just wanted to see naked women, not have my entire world shattered as I felt my still-forming penis being judged by total strangers. Part of it may have been that I had the misfortune of finding porn during the age of the Internet and do-it-yourself “reality” porn that seeks to serve every taste and fetish. I could start off with the most basic “man picks up strange woman and has sex with her for money” and be sucked into a wormhole that led to “her first big c**k” or “big black c**k” or “monster c**k” or any other variation of encounters with big penises you could think of. And they were massive. These things weren’t just eight, nine, ten inches long, they were as thick as my calf muscle. I’d alternate between excitement about the impending sexual display and genuine concern that they could literally break a woman. And were you supposed to break a woman? I had no idea, but I knew whatever was sitting between my legs wasn’t going to accomplish it.

Eventually I would realize the men in porn aren’t a representative sample and that they use all kinds of enhancements. Nonetheless, the monster penises in porn managed to make me even more self-conscious.

Let’s say I did get one of those gargantuan penis one day, one that would simultaneously bring pride to the historic fraternity of black men, be pleasing to the girls in 10th-grade biology and wouldn’t get me laughed off a porn set. We already know I didn’t, but let’s say I did. What then? I’d become a heroic sex warrior, of course. What else do you do with a giant penis but slay every willing beauty within a 3,500 mile radius?

Except I would have been terrified to use it. Sex scared the shit out of me. Not the thought of STDs or getting a woman pregnant, but the actual act of having sex. I still blame Missy Elliott for spooking me. At the same time I was trying will my penis to be bigger, here she comes singing about not wanting a “One Minute Man.” Yeah, it was a great song for women who had never known they could ask for what they want out of sex, with lines like “I don’t want I don’t need I can’t stand no minute man” and “tonight I’ma give it to you, throw it to you, I want you to come prepared, ohhh yeah,” but for my virgin self it set off a whole new wave of concern.

At that point, the extent of my sexual experience was the handful of asses I grabbed in the hallways of my high school. Before I even knew what a clitoris looked like, this song had me worrying about premature ejaculation. There I was watching the video and lusting after Trina, the self proclaimed “baddest bitch” who held more sex appeal to me than Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. I couldn’t stop watching for that brief moment when she turns her back to the camera and gyrates like someone just put a dollar worth of quarters in her side. But I knew if I ever did get the chance to roll around naked with her, she’d spend most of our time together laughing uproariously at my performance anxiety.

Sure enough, the first time my penis even grazed the inside of a vagina, I was ready to come within seconds. That was no way to live. You can’t become a mythic sex god boasting the ability to deliver multiple orgasms when you can’t even make it past the labia without blowing your load. My answer to that was practice. I wasn’t having a whole lot of luck in that department, shyness and anxiety and all, so that meant solo practice. I’d masturbate and at the point I was ready to orgasm, stop, then resume, and repeat until I had been masturbating for hours at a time. This way, so went my thinking, my body would be trained to hold an orgasm during sex and extend the session. And I did this for years. Out of pure fear.

Today, I can tell you my penis is seven-and-a-half inches long. Admittedly, this isn’t really an act of considerable bravery, telling the world that my penis is slightly bigger than the national average. It could be read as hubris or simply a shameless attempt to point women in my direction so I can get laid. I can’t stop anyone from thinking what they will, but I can say what this is for me. It’s acceptance. It’s shedding the insecurity that has been bred in me from childhood and that caused me to judge my manhood on the basis of a few inches of weird muscle that sits between my legs. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’ve gotten enough compliments on it from women I’ve slept with that my ego is convinced it is special. It’s not. It’s just a penis. It has all of two functions, and neither one of those has any bearing on my worth as a man. My penis is seven-and-a-half inches long, but it doesn’t matter.

And no, I wouldn’t have told you this if it were smaller. I’m not yet out of the woods on those insecurities. But, still, I rise.

Mychal Denzel Smith
Mychal Denzel Smith is a contributing writer to Salon, and social commentator. He is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and blogs at Follow him on Twitter @mychalsmith.

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