Get the Perfect Penis

Just in: Science says women prefer large penises. Penises larger than the 95th penile percentile. But women care much more about other things, and this discussion is fraught.
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The most popular story on The Telegraph yesterday was "Size Does Matter, Study Finds." Reporting on the same study, Science called it "The Final Word on Penis Size." 

Guys. Is your penis not so great? Well, women care about that, and you should know. 

Ladies. Do you not care much about penis size? Well, maybe consider it.

SHARK300200.jpg(Brian Mautz / Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Not that there's anything guys can do about it, except subsequently try harder in other ways to compensate. Buy nice, bulky things. Be very outgoing, ever vigilant. Get angry about sports. Do you have a fast boat? How fast is your boat? Hm, that's sort of fast.

I'm always fascinated by scientific studies of beauty and attraction. I'm also fascinated by conversations about body shaming and objectification, so it can be a fine line. I prefer fascination to outrage, in general. 

SHARK300200.jpg(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

So here's this study that's described by lead author Brian Mautz, a postdoctoral fellow in biology at the University of Ottawa, who kindly let me reprint the above male renderings from the study. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Matt Soniak summed up how they did it:

... The researchers created 343 computer-generated male figures that varied in penis size, as well as in height and shoulder-to-hip ratio--traits that other research has linked to attractiveness and reproductive success. Mautz and colleagues turned the figures into short video clips and projected them, life-sized, onto a wall for viewing by 105 women. Each woman watched a random set of 53 figures and rated their attractiveness as potential sexual partners on a scale of 1 to 7.

"The first thing we found was that penis size influences male attractiveness," Mautz says. "There's a couple of caveats to that, and the first is that the relationship isn't a straight line." Rather than the attractiveness rating consistently improving with each jump in penis size, the team found what Mautz calls "an odd kink in the middle." Attractiveness increased quickly until flaccid penis length reached 7.6 centimeters (about 3 inches) and then began to slow down.

What's more, the most-preferred penis sizes seem to be off their charts, above the maximum portrayed in the study (13 cm, 95th percentile of males). And, in looking at how quick women were to mark their score, the fastest ratings were the low scores given to the small men.

A potentially redeeming thing for small-penised guys concerned by this, despite the headlines, is that men's shoulder-to-hip ratio correlated much, much more strongly with attractiveness than did the size of his penis. That ratio explained about 80 percent of variability; height accounted for 6 percent, and penis size for 5. Men can generally work out and change that shoulder-to-hip ratio if they care to. More from Science:

... Mautz says, is that penis size isn't the only thing that matters. It interacts with other traits, and its effect depends on whether those other traits are already attractive to begin with. If one of the model men was tall and had a masculine, V-shaped torso with broad shoulders and narrower hips, for example, he was considered more attractive than his shorter, stockier counterparts, regardless of penis size.

So while coverage of this study focused on how penis size really does matter, what it primarily found was that other factors were much important. There's more insecurity and interest in the penis discussion than the guys-with-big-hips discussion, though. 

One of my favorite things Julieanne Smolinski has written was her essay "Is a Small Penis a Feminist Issue?"

She goes on to say, after confirming the conventional wisdom that the size of a guy's penis is rarely a primary factor women consider, but that it is a factor that at times influences behavior toward men:

... I DO talk about dicks a lot with my friends. 1/2 Priced Appetizer hour at the Atlantic Pacific Applebee's might more aptly be called, "Penis Talk with Julieanne Smolinski."

I think the reason these conversations are shared with such relish by straight women (and OK, gay men) is that they're sort of the photo negative of the locker room. It's a way to parry an objectionable culture that we've always been sure happens just out of our ear shot. It's cattiness in response to bullying, but that doesn't make it an appropriate salve.

...

But am I allowed to joke about it? When I describe a guy to my brunch friend as "the most tragic example of meat rationing since World War II," and he laughs, is he a bad person? I mean, he is, but that's why he's my brunch friend.

I will never, ever laugh at a fat joke -- not even accidentally. I just don't find them funny (exception: Fat Guy in a Little Coat, because come on). And yet a poorly-executed mini ween pun can make me laugh appreciatively like a bearded old professor.

...

So, as I tell young guys who ask: Sure, there are women for whom a small dick is not a problem. But just like a lot of men are attracted to women with huge, perfect breasts, a lot of women prefer a big dick.

I'd be tempted to say that, empirically, certain sizes of body parts are just more effective, much in the same way that a bus is more effective at holding 30 people than a car. But it is not objectification to admire a very large bus. And at its root, objectifying people is a feminist issue.

Mautz and company are evolutionary biologists. That's a field where researchers want to know everything about how and why people are the way we are. It's totally reasonable to question why some humans lug around 10-inch penises when they seem only more prone to being sliced off in battle or caught in a windmill. 

The conclusion from this study is that in a time before clothing, women chose to mate with men with larger flaccid penises based on their appearances. That drove selection. It's an interesting explanation. The bigger question is what good are we doing by perpetuating talk of penis size in media, in the context of objective science? Does it help explain social behavior through primal reproductive instincts -- that maybe that's why she dumped you, not that you're a bad/boring person, it was just a physical preference totally beyond your control -- or does it just lead us to more gratuitous objectification of Jon Hamm?

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The AtlanticHe is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.

 
 
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