Steven, a 30-year-old welder from Los Angeles, has a perfectly normal-sized penis. In fact, going by a recent study which found that the average erect penis size is 5.16 inches long, he’s a little larger than average.
But in his teen years through his early 20s, he had what he calls “penis issues.”
“I always just believed I was on the small side of average, and anyone that said otherwise was just trying to make me feel good or otherwise manipulate me,” Steven, who asked to be identified only by his first name to protect his privacy, told HuffPost.
He felt confident in his looks in other areas ― he hit the gym regularly and was told he was good-looking. But none of that mattered to him; by the internet porn standards he’d absorbed through the years, he believed he wasn’t stacking up physically.
“Growing up in the internet age with readily available porn, it gave the impression that every guy out there is packing a monster penis except for you,” he said.
This mentality took a major toll on his sex life.
“It’s easy to get this false impression that a girl you hook up with would later tell stories about you being the one small cock she found in the wild, or she would tell the next guy she’s with about how he’s so much bigger than the last guy,” he added.
Comparison is the thief of joy, especially when it comes to penis size. At the time, Steven was dealing with what sex experts call penis dysmorphia (or what’s more generally called “penile body dysmorphic disorder” or “penile BDD.”)
Penile BDD isn’t an actual diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that psychiatrists and psychologists use for diagnosing mental disorders; instead, it’s considered a subcategory of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that’s hyper-focused on the penis.
Penis dysmorphia is much more than simply wishing your penis was bigger, said Stephen Snyder, a sex therapist and host of the podcast “Relationship Doctor.”
Much like generalized body dysmorphia, men with penile BDD are so preoccupied with perceived defects or flaws in their appearance ― in this case, size ― that it causes them real distress. Sometimes, it leads to avoidant social behavior.
“Men who suffer from penis dysmorphia may compulsively measure themselves over and over, avoid dating, practice home-enlargement techniques they see promoted on the internet and even seek penis enlargement surgery,” Snyder told HuffPost.
As with regular body dysmorphia, it doesn’t matter that the size differential is insignificant and undetectable to others. The condition can affect anyone: those who are well-endowed, average, under-endowed, growers and showers ― you name it. (In fact, one study in the British Journal of Urology suggested that most men who go for penis enlargement surgery have normal-sized penises.)
“A girl texted me back, ‘OMG you're so f**king thick.' Most would take this as a compliment but it was lost on me, I felt like yet again I was being lied to.”
It’s hard to say how common penis dysmorphia is, though, since people with BDD often don’t seek help from a mental health professional, Snyder said.
“You know you’re dealing with it if you’ve suffered significantly or have your life be impaired as a result, and have engaged in maladaptive behaviors ― avoiding dating or that constant need to measure yourself,” Snyder said.
The good news? In a recent study of American men, 85.9% of guys reported being more or less satisfied with their genitals. But if you’re dealing with penis dysmorphia, size matters a whole lot; you’re never satisfied, and any positive feedback you might hear is basically ignored.
“A girl I was seeing asked me to send a pic and she texted me back, ‘OMG you’re so f**king thick,’” Steven said. “Most would take this as a compliment but it was lost on me, I felt like yet again I was being lied to.”
Porn’s Role In Penis Dysmorphia
Part of the reason some men have penile BDD is that their expectations are warped by porn, where well-hung actors ― statistical outliers, really ― are the norm.
In his book “The Penis Book: A Doctor’s Complete Guide to the Penis,” urologist Aaron Spitz says that roughly 40% of men who come to urologists’ offices seeking penis enlargement surgery got the idea that they were under-endowed from watching porn when, in fact, they are normal.
“A huge problem with pornography is that, although most guys intuitively know it’s not ‘real,’ few men have any other frame of reference to compare themselves to,” Spitz told HuffPost. “Unless a straight guy happens to be a urologist like me, he really has a very limited understanding of the pageantry of the penis in all its various shapes and sizes.”
Hell, even porn stars are surprised by what they see in real life compared to what’s on PornHub.
“In the industry, the average penis size is often over 8 or 9,” Theo Ford, an adult film performer, told HuffPost in April. “Funnily enough, I often forget that that’s the case and am almost surprised if I meet a guy with an average penis size.”
“In porn, even I could potentially feel inadequate,” he admitted. “I’m not sure how the general public feels about themselves if they only see very hung guys, but I hope they, too, remember that porn is simply a fantasy.”
“I think I stayed a virgin for so long because I let my dysmorphia consume me. I adopted a defeatist mentality.”
The pressure to be porn-perfect is harder on some men in particular. Given how popular “big black cock” (BBC) videos are on porn sites, Black men in particular struggle with size issues. (Subreddits about penis size are full of men of color lamenting how porn portrays them: the exaggerated ideas about their genitalia and the industry’s ugly, highly-stereotyped view of Black sexuality.)
Growing up as a Black teen in South Bend, Indiana, Luke, 24, said his penis dysmorphia went hand in hand with his porn addiction.
“The whole BBC myth made me exceptionally self-conscious to the point I just told myself, if women are expecting something special from me, I’m just going to disappoint them, and in that case, I might as well not put myself in situations to disappoint,” Luke, who asked to withhold his last name for privacy, told HuffPost.
Because of anxiety about his size, Luke was a virgin up until a few months ago.
“My penis measures in at a hair over seven inches but because of all the porn I’d seen, I believed I was average at best and definitely small for a Black guy,” he said. “I think I stayed a virgin for so long because I let my dysmorphia consume me. I adopted a defeatist mentality.”
How To Deal With Penis Dysmorphia Without Getting A ‘Dick Job’
Spitz said men should talk to a doctor or a therapist before undergoing any type of surgery. Generally, as long as your body is healthy and functioning, there’s no good reason to stress over dimensions you don’t control, he said.
“Take your natural body, keep it as healthy as you can, and enjoy it, and just as importantly, bring someone else enjoyment,” he said.
It doesn’t help to constantly measure yourself, either.
“Compulsive self-observation and self-measurement tend to make the anxiety of penile dysmorphia worse,” Snyder said. “It’s important to cut way down on compulsive checking.”
Even if you’re not considering surgery, if you’re actively avoiding dating or measuring yourself nonstop ― the two big warning signs of PBDD ― it might be worth talking to a therapist or specialist about your concerns.
Both Luke and Steven said they’ve moved past their days of avoiding sex. They’re less consumed with size. Talking about penis dysmorphia on Reddit with other guys who’ve experienced it has helped. So has taking a more realistic view of porn ― and at times, cutting back on watching it.
“Of course every guy wants the porn reaction ... nobody wants someone to look at their penis and say, ‘Yeah, that will work I guess.’ But you do your research and realize how exaggerated porn can be,” Steven said.
What’s helped most is going on actual dates, he added.
In real life, he realized, most women are far less fixated on length than men are. (In fact, if women are interested in anything, it’s girth, since a wider penis does a better job of stimulating the entire clitoral structure. And obviously, there are other ways to please a woman that don’t involve your penis; work on your oral and digital sex skills.)
And of course, the same holds true for queer men. Yes, some men are very vocal about their “bigger is better” preference, but not all guys are seeking the same kind of sexual partner or the same sort of sex.
Today, Steven gets that people want to share their bed with someone decent, regardless of dick size.
“You have to be someone that others actually want to have sex with,” he said. “Your first concern shouldn’t be your penis size and how many tenths of an inch it is bigger than average. Focus on taking someone out and being kind, charming, funny, entertaining and genuine instead.”
Luke understands that now, too.
“Eventually I realized I have more to bring to a relationship than just the size of my penis, whether it’s big or small,” he said. “My size won’t matter if I have the personality of a rock.”
Sex Ed for Grown-Ups is a series tackling everything you didn’t learn about sex in school — beyond the birds and the bees. Keep checking back for more expert-based articles and personal stories.