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Measuring Up: How Our Culture's Obsession With Porn-Sized Penises Hurts Men

American culture sends men and boys harmful messages about the penis, which can lead to terribly skewed -- and harmful -- expectations.

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But the  Boston Phoenix  reported that phalloplasty (surgical enlargement) is “the next big thing”--the dick job as the new boob job. The AUA, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons all have policy statements against cosmetic phalloplasty, but there remain a number of plastic surgeons willing to cut ligaments or inject penises with fat or silicone-- as long as the men are willing to shell out money. And as post after post on the Measurection forum shows, there are men hopping on surgery of “normal” size.

Measurection originally began as a phalloplasty support forum, but expanded as many members began to experience post-surgical  complications. The founder of Measurection, John LaTreen, issued a statement about this:

“Because of financial motives, many of the surgeons have... painted pictures of maximal result and minimal risk. Unlike other cosmetic procedures, it appears there has been no standardization of procedures we have come to classify as "phalloplastic." Each surgeon goes off on his own as a total "wild card" doing what he or she feels works. Other cosmetic procedures are taught in the medical schools and teaching hospitals. Phalloplasty has not reached that point... The only surgeon now listed here is Gary Alter in Beverly Hills, California. Alter does not do girth enhancement, is critical of and does not do even lengthening on all men... He is here simply because he does do "reconstruction" of those who have been badly ‘butchered.'"

Penis enlargement surgery remains controversial, but if a safer surgery emerged, the dick job might be the next boob job;  the self esteem issues guys have wrapped up in their briefs seem plentiful compared to those in our water-bras. My hope is that by the time this surgery would become accessible, so would the conversations around penis size and sexual pleasure. Sex positive activists are working toward a multi-faceted sex education, which teaches that sex is so much more than penis in vagina penetration--that sexual pleasure is not restricted to, or often even related to penis size.  Studies show, too, that most women don't orgasm from PIV penetration alone. But maddeningly, penis shaming seems cemented in pop culture, whether it’s the assertion that small ones are laughable or that all penises are ugly.

Throughout time there have been different cultural attitudes toward the penis. Penises have long had their place in art, folk stories and ceremonies, like the mythical  Kokopelli, who before being emblazoned on U.S. Southwestern tourist tees wielded a large penis--not a flute. Or in the Hindu Shiva Lingam ceremony where milk and yogurt are poured over phalluses. Some say penis obsession is a part of human nature. Some evolutionary biologists theorize that evolution has selected for larger, bendier human penises, which can better scoop out the sperm of competitors, or implant sperm more deeply into a vagina. 

But humans are more than the sum of our biology. And the way we talk about men’s bodies and penises is socially settled. In the feminist realm of arguments about body image and unreal media representations of women, the answer often is: show us a wider range of bodies. That’s a great first step. But why not also address that real sexual pleasure and function can exist outside of fantasy? In this case, outside of the symbol of the penis.



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