Does penis size matter?

Dear Alice,

I would like to know why those in the "sex-advice" industry always tell men that size doesn't matter? Almost every woman I have talked to, an admittedly unrepresentative sample, says size DOES matter. They don't want the guy to be too big, but they don't want him to be very small either. All things being equal, bigger, up to a point, seems to be better in the male equipment department.

Do sex advisors tell men size doesn't matter just to make men feel good?


Not too big, but not too small either


Dear Not too big, but not too small either,

Kudos to you for asking an age-old question that has typically been discussed primarily behind closed doors! Your concern over the size of your penis is common; one study found that penis size was a concern for about 68.3 percent of men interviewed. As for what partners find desirable, that may be more unclear. It may seem easy to try to apply a one-size-fits-all rule (no pun intended) to sexual partners, but each person you encounter may have vastly different preferences, including penis size. What sex advisors may be getting at when they say “size doesn’t matter” is that it’s not just about how big you are but also what you do with both your penis and the rest of your body.

It’s difficult to determine a general preference for penis size, but the findings from your sample (bravo on your personal research endeavor) may have some truth. A 2015 study found that women tend to prefer a larger than average penis size (about 6.4 inches) in one-time partners and a slightly smaller size (6.3 inches) for long-term partners. Keep in mind that the average penis size has been found to be around 3.6 inches flaccid and 5.2 inches erect, with great variance below and above this average. It’s also worth noting that studies have shown that being self-conscious about penis size, either in its flaccid or erect state, may cause anxiety-induced erectile dysfunction and other emotional concerns.

If you find yourself comparing your body to some standard, you may want to consider the origin of these expectations. Do you find your perceptions of ideal penis size come from porn? Have sexual partners, friends, or other people in your life indicated an ideal penis size? As you mull these over, you may also want to consider the following tips for filtering out external perceptions and building up your body image:

  • You may try to focus on the characteristics and body parts you do like.
  • Refraining from comparing yourself to athletes, models, and actors may prevent the development of an unhealthy and unrealistic image of what is “normal” and how you think you’re supposed to look.
  • Spending more time and energy on pursuits you find rewarding may help since lasting self-esteem can come from nonphysical traits, such as creativity, intelligence, and your values.

Of course, these tips aren’t guaranteed to be effective nor immediate for everyone. However, they may be useful for starting a reflection on your body image. Consulting with a mental health professional may assist you in developing a more personalized approach.

A strong sense of self and positive body image can result in confidence both inside and outside the bedroom. That confidence can allow you to venture into other ways to achieve pleasure. Yes, penetration may be an exciting part of sex, but some people may find it painful or uncomfortable. Non-penetrative sex can serve as an alternative or as foreplay. It can include, but isn’t limited to, erotic fondling, sensual caresses, or cuddling. If, however, your partner is insistent on penetration and particular about a certain size for stimulation, using fingers or sex toys may be another route besides using your penis. The possibilities for having sex are vast, and it can be rewarding to explore different options with your partners.

Communication with your partners will help to understand your likes and dislikes, and their likes and dislikes. Your penis may seem to be the main route to experience sexual pleasure, but you may be pleasantly surprised by what else your partners, and yourself, find pleasurable.

Happy exploring,

Last updated Jan 29, 2021
Originally published Jun 30, 2000

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