Reply to comment about men’s penis size and genital anxieties

Reader JH recently left a comment in response to our NPR/Kinsey Confidential podcast that I’d like to respond to here on the blog. First, I agree that much of men’s penis anxiety surrounds the fact that at some point when they choose to become sexual with a partner, they have to kind of “reveal themselves” and that can be very scary for men. Men who are average or small may worry that they are too small. Men who are quite big often worry whether their partner will accept or reject them. In other words, an awful lot of men worry about rejection or disappointment in regard to their penis.

Women, I think, worry about their pubic hair or, at times, their labia. Some women write to me and are very concerned about the size of their labia. Others are worried that they will choose the right hair “style” for their genitals and try to balance what they want or find comfortable versus what they feel like their partner might want. Women also worry a bit about smell and taste and generally whether their genitals will be “attractive enough”. That’s a lot of pressure for parts typically only seen by a partner or healthcare provider.

Because most of us have or are or will deal with genital anxieties, I think it’s important to help make our partners feel good about their bodies – including their genitals. People really do say things like “wow, you’re so beautiful” to women when they are going down on them or “I love your penis!” These are okay things to say, if that’s what you’re feeling. Even if your partner is momentarily embarrassed (after all, not everyone has experience hearing their genitals talked about!), they may think back later and feel good about themselves. I’d avoid making comments that are conditional (e.g., “it looks so good when it’s shaved/groomed” or “it looks much bigger when you’re in shape, like you are now!”) because that puts a condition, or an if/then, on your appreciation of your partner’s parts. Rather than saying “I love your parts all the time, just how you are” it’s like saying “I like your parts when you do these very specific things to them.” And that can suck.

So try to focus on the positive for yourself and your partner. To learn more, check out The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health, The Penis Book, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, or The New Male Sexuality – all good books.

[Above image via this site.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • jC

    I’ve always felt at a cultural disadvantage with women and the visual access we have to their breasts. I could never really encapsulate exactly how I felt until I saw Superbad.

    “It’s just not fair that they get to flaunt that stuff and I have to hide like every erection I get. I mean just imagine if girls weren’t weirded out by our boners and stuff and just like wanted to see them. I mean, you know, that’s the world I one day want to live in.”

    Exactly.

  • jC

    I’ve always felt at a cultural disadvantage with women and the visual access we have to their breasts. I could never really encapsulate exactly how I felt until I saw Superbad.

    “It’s just not fair that they get to flaunt that stuff and I have to hide like every erection I get. I mean just imagine if girls weren’t weirded out by our boners and stuff and just like wanted to see them. I mean, you know, that’s the world I one day want to live in.”

    Exactly.

  • Debby

    Very good point. I really liked Superbad and there were so many parts that spoke to people’s experiences of sexuality and gender issues, including the quote you posted. I suppose there’s a balance to be had. On one hand, having your breasts be somewhat visible has its advantages in relationships – what you see is what you get…well, unless you’re wearing a push-up bra which many girls and women do. I know that the breasts I see in the locker room look A LOT different than what I see outside the locker room. On another hand, women often find that they need to “manage” their breasts – they may play them up in one situation and try to hide or minimize them in others like around a partner’s parents or in certain job interviews.

  • Debby

    Very good point. I really liked Superbad and there were so many parts that spoke to people’s experiences of sexuality and gender issues, including the quote you posted. I suppose there’s a balance to be had. On one hand, having your breasts be somewhat visible has its advantages in relationships – what you see is what you get…well, unless you’re wearing a push-up bra which many girls and women do. I know that the breasts I see in the locker room look A LOT different than what I see outside the locker room. On another hand, women often find that they need to “manage” their breasts – they may play them up in one situation and try to hide or minimize them in others like around a partner’s parents or in certain job interviews.

  • khaled

    jC.. OMG.. you’re like me speaking my mind! That’s exactly how I think on a daily basis.. I mean, it’s so physically logical anyway.. Why should we have to keep our package hanging low like a donkey’s (excuse me!)sticking to the sides of our thighs.. Why do we have to sit on our balls everytime we take to a seat or a bad couch and say “ouch” almost loudly sometimes in public places. We have to be able to keep our penis and sack out and up to live a ‘comfortable’ life! I’m constantly on underwear sites trying to find the right underwear, sometimes to no avail! Any ideas?

  • khaled

    jC.. OMG.. you’re like me speaking my mind! That’s exactly how I think on a daily basis.. I mean, it’s so physically logical anyway.. Why should we have to keep our package hanging low like a donkey’s (excuse me!)sticking to the sides of our thighs.. Why do we have to sit on our balls everytime we take to a seat or a bad couch and say “ouch” almost loudly sometimes in public places. We have to be able to keep our penis and sack out and up to live a ‘comfortable’ life! I’m constantly on underwear sites trying to find the right underwear, sometimes to no avail! Any ideas?