We are often told that bigger is better. But when it comes to penises, how much does size really matter? Here’s what people and research have to say about the preferred penis size, and what matters in bed.
A bigger penis is not necessarily better
If you’re wondering if size matters, Lola Jean, sex educator and mental health professional, has a quick answer: “In short, no, penis size does not matter” Jean tells O.school.
The average penis size is approximately five inches, according to a study published in 2015 by the BJU International Journal that sampled 15,521 cis men. Zachary Zane, sex columnist and sex expert for Promescent tells O.school that, ”The vaginal canal is typically only four to five inches when aroused, so a seven-inch penis is actually quite painful for many vulva-owners.”
Jean adds, “Depending on the location of the clitoris, c-spot, g-spot, [or] prostate...a certain size, girth, [or] shape may be ideal to hit that ‘spot.’” However, this does not necessarily mean that a longer and thicker penis will be better at hitting one of these spots. Every person’s body, and where they enjoy stimulation, is different.
In other words, there is no one penis size that is best. The penis that is most enjoyable to a partner is completely dependent on the preferences of the person receiving it. Some may enjoy a very large dick, others may prefer a smaller penis, a curved penis, a short dick, or some variation in between.
So, why do some people think a bigger penis is better?
A study published in 2006 by Psychology of Men and Masculinity that sampled 52,031 heterosexual men and woman found that 45 percent of men wished their penis was bigger. Yet, the study also found that 85 percent of women were satisfied by their partner’s penis size. So, why did so many cishet men feel insecure about their penis size? It’s largely due to cultural and societal messages that shape the way we think and feel about size. Here are just a few ways we receive messages about penis size that can cause people to think penis size matters more than it actually does.
1. Toxic masculinity permeates our culture
Put simply, toxic masculinity is a set of attitudes and cultural messages pressuring men to suppress their emotions, act macho or aggressive, and to generally lean into typically cishet male traits. One of the damaging messages of toxic masculinity is that the bigger a person’s penis is, the more masculine and virile they are. The more masculine and virile a person is, the more attractive and powerful they are. While masculinity is not inherently a bad thing, toxic masculinity and such messages that correlate penis size to attractiveness is harmful to people of all genders.
“Men’s concerns about penis size are fueled by cultural messages equating penis size with masculinity...Popular media, especially TV and men’s magazines, frequently emphasize the connection between penis size and masculinity,” it states in the Psychology of Men and Masculinity study.
2. Porn often features unrealistic representations of bodies
Most porn features penises that are much larger than the average size, explains Zane. Seeing large, unrealistic penises in porn often gives people the idea that their penis should look that way too — or, if you’re having sex with a penis, that you should enjoy a penis that large.
The Psychology of Men and Masculinity study suggests that, “Women’s exaggerated sexual responses to overly endowed men in these pornographic images may also convince men that women have strong preferences for large penises.”
While it can be fun and a turn on to watch these scenes play out, it’s important to remember that these are often not realistic representations of the average body.
3. We are often taught that only penetrative sex counts as ‘real’ sex
“We, as a society, get the message that size matters because our view of sex is very penis-centric” sex educator Erica Smith tells O.school. Often, our cultural ideas of sex revolve around a penis penetrating a vagina [or anus]. This places a lot of importance on the size of the penis and the ability for the penis to satisfy someone. When in fact, most people with vulvas do not orgasm from penetration alone and sex does not need to include vaginal or anal penetration for it to be “real,” Smith points out. Sex can involve sensual massages, oral sex, and other forms of foreplay.
4. Penis enlargement advertisements can convince us big penises are the ideal
There is a large market of penis enlargement products selling people the idea that if they have a larger penis, they will better be able to satisfy their partner. These companies and products “reinforce men’s belief that [partners] are more sexually satisfied by larger penises” by using advertisements that say things like “I’m [now] 8 in. and much thicker. My girlfriend wants it all the time” according to the 2006 study. For the most part, however, penis stretching and enlargement products are ineffective. Still, the messages these advertisements perpetuate are harmful.
4 ways to make sex enjoyable that have nothing to do with penis size
“A physical trait does NOT equal good sex or a good lover” says Smith. Whether it is the size of your penis, how big your boobs are, or the shape of your body — none of these things alone impact how good you are in bed as there are multiple factors that can make sex enjoyable. Most anyone who wants — from those with a very large penis to those with a micropenis — can enjoy sexual experiences by employing these tips:
1. Attentiveness to pleasure
Jean says that “attentiveness to pleasure” is key to good sex and Smith agrees. A partner who cares about someone’s pleasure and is invested in making sure they have a good time is far more important than the size of any body part.
2. Advocating for what you want
While paying attention to what your partner likes is important, it's also important that you advocate for what you want in bed. Jean says “It is not solely our partner’s responsibility to make sex good for us. It is our responsibility to understand and communicate our body’s needs.”
3. Thinking outside the box
Sex does not have to include penetration for it to be good or for it to count as “sex.” In fact, many people prefer to have sex without penetration. Smith says, “Sexual pleasure, especially for people with vulvas, doesn't need to revolve around penises or penis size.”
Try to move outside of the dominant narratives about what sex “should” look like and connect with what you and your partner really want. You may find that this doesn’t include penetration, that your penis doesn’t even need to be hard to enjoy yourself, or that there are pleasurable places on your penis that you’ve never discovered before.
“A sexual partner who is...a good communicator is more important than whether or not they have a large penis” says Smith. Communication is key for giving your partner what they want and also for receiving what you want.
It can also be relieving to communicate with your partner about insecurities you might have about your penis. This can open up the opportunity to try different things in bed that are not so focused on penetration or your penis and to get the support you need.
If you want to let your partner know how you feel about the size of your penis, you can say something like, “Sometimes, I feel self conscious about the size of my penis. I’d like it if we could do X.” If you don’t feel comfortable disclosing your insecurities, you could tell your partner what you’re into, like “I really like oral sex instead of penetrative sex” or “I love using sex toys” or “how do you feel about trying X?”
8 people weigh in on if size matters
Research says that size doesn’t matter, but if that’s not convincing enough for you, you might want to hear what others have to say on the matter. We culled some quotes from a few people weighing on where they stand on the “Does size matter” debate.
1. In an article published in Bustle, Britni, 30, said, "Yes, [size] matters, but only if it's too big,...That shit hurts! Plus, guys with big dicks tend to rest on that and not actually put much effort into pleasing their partner because it's like, 'I have a big dick, what else do you want?'"
2. “No, being confident with your body is more important,” one woman says in a video by the Cut.
3. “Big dicks are more work. To get it up my butt, I need a lot of foreplay. If I suck it for too long, my jaw gets tired. This isn't the case with small dicks. Big dicks can be more fun to fuck and suck. But it really depends on the guy attached to the dick. A big dick on a dead fish is no fun, but a small dick on an enthusiastic sex ninja is tons of fun” one guy says on a reddit thread.
4. One Redditor says, “I’m a bi dude, and I don't personally care for big dicks. Bigger than me is fine, up to a point. I can only handle so much in my ass or deep throat before I start to gag.”
5. “The fun spots are around two inches deep so whatever the size, if they don’t know how to make it rub there...you know, teach them, for your own sake, don’t just wish the size will do the job,” says one person in a reddit thread.
6. “I’ve experienced large and it was somewhat uncomfortable but the best sex of my life was with a small curved guy,” another reddit user says.
7. “Unless someone is a real ‘Size Queen,’ there are less gay men who care about penis size than you think... the amount of gay men I have met who genuinely care about big cocks (to the extent where they will out-right refuse smaller than average) and they are being very serious about it? I don't need to count past the amount of fingers I have,” someone shared in a reddit thread.
8. “In my experience, I actually find that women are not as focused on size as culture makes us think they are. For sure, there are plenty of people who love how a big penis feels in their body...but overall, I think this is a cultural myth we keep repeating over and over so much that it sort of becomes true,” Searah Deysach, owner of online sex shop Early2Bed, told EveryGirl in her article, “Does Size Really Matter? Breaking Down the Biggest Sexual Myth.”
The bottom line
The size of your penis is not nearly as important as what you do with it, how you communicate, and how well you pay attention to your partner’s pleasure in bed. If you feel insecure about the size of your penis, you’re not alone. Remember that sex does not need to include penetration for it to be good and your masculinity is not dependent on the size of your penis.