“To all the guys out there, what are you most self-conscious about?” This question was the subject of a recent and massively popular Ask Reddit thread. To date, it has received more than 5,500 comments. While scrolling through them, I couldn’t help but be surprised by just how many different concerns emerged, from thinking one’s voice isn’t deep enough to sweating too much to having “man boobs” to lacking conversational skills. What didn’t surprise me, though, was how many men said they were self-conscious about their manhood.
The vast majority of these guys were hung up on their penis length or girth—but those were far from the only concerns expressed. Some worried about the size of their balls, others about having a hairy shaft and yet others about the curve of their erection.
The responses to this thread give the impression that male genital anxiety is widespread; however, we’re not exactly dealing with a scientific sample here. So just how many men are self-conscious about their manhood? And, more importantly, what can we do to help them feel better about themselves?
A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers some insight. A team of scientists conducted a nationally representative survey of 4,198 U.S. men ages 18 to 65. As part of this survey, these guys were given the Index of Male Genital Image, which asks guys to report how satisfied they are with 14 different aspects of their manhood, including their flaccid and erect penis size, how much pubic hair they have and the amount of semen released when they ejaculate. These men were also asked about their sex lives, including how often they have sex and which sexual activities they’ve engaged in over the last year.
What the researchers found was that, overall, guys were actually pretty satisfied with their genitals. In fact, 85.9 percent were categorized as satisfied, meaning that their average score on the genital image scale was above the mid-point. In other words, on balance, they had more positive than negative feelings about their penises. The remaining 14.1% had scores below the mid-point and, therefore, were categorized as dissatisfied.
Interestingly, genital satisfaction was completely unrelated to men’s demographic background. Guys of all ages, races, sexualities, education levels and relationship statuses had similar feelings about their genitals.
Satisfaction ratings were then linked to how sexually active these men were. Those who were dissatisfied reported having sex less often. They were also less likely to have had vaginal sex and to have received oral sex in the last year. This pattern of results suggests that guys who are more self-conscious about their genitals are either lacking the self-confidence to pursue sex or actively avoiding it altogether.
The good news from this survey is that it seems most guys feel good about their penises. However, there’s a sizeable minority—about one in seven—who aren’t happy with what they’re packing. So is there anything that can be done to help those guys get more comfortable in their own skin—to help them feel more sexually confident? To answer this question, we need to look at what specifically bothers guys most about their penises.
In order of popularity, the top five things guys in this study were dissatisfied with included the size of their flaccid penis, the length of their erect penis, the girth of their erect penis, how much pubic hair they had and the amount of semen they produce.
As you can see, the top three concerns had to do with length or girth. Unfortunately, these are difficult to physically change and most of the currently available methods are expensive, risky and unlikely to work (see here for a review of the evidence). So, if you’re concerned about penis size, my best advice, as a sex researcher, is to stop comparing yourself to porn stars and instead get educated about what “average” really is (stats available here). It turns out that most of the guys who think they’re too small are well within the normal range.
Also, you can take comfort in knowing that a majority of women say that both penis length and girth are unimportant. It also turns out that the penis size women say is ideal is actually pretty darn close to the size of the average guy. Take a cue from what women are saying: bigger isn’t necessarily better.
As for guys who worry that they aren’t producing enough semen? This is another area where a little education can go a long way. According to the World Health Organization, low semen volume is defined as 1.5 milliliters. That translates to roughly one-third of a teaspoon (the average is close to a full teaspoon). If you start making a teaspoon your comparison level instead of what you’re seeing in porn, odds are that you’ll find you’re ejaculating a perfectly normal amount.
Lastly, for those guys who are concerned about having too much pubic hair—well, that one is typically easy to remedy with a little genital grooming. Just be sure to take some common sense safety precautions when you manscape. You’d be shocked at just how many guys (and gals) have wound up in the ER for genital grooming attempts gone awry.
In short, while there are a lot of guys out there who aren’t happy with their genital appearance, the vast majority of them don’t really have anything to be worried about. These guys don’t have penis problems—they just have problems with how they think about themselves.