Sex & Relationships

You Wouldn't Believe the Lengths Some Men Go to Enlarge Their Penises

There’s no evidence that it works, but some men swear by penis-stretching.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

It was only a matter of time before America’s obsession with size bounced back onto our own bodies. For women, big butts and big breasts are in. For men, the expectations fall further below the belt. And while conversations surrounding male enhancement tend fall on surgeries and pharmaceuticals, a certain sect of men have unearthed a more “natural” means of enlarging their members: they tug on it.

Penis stretching has become a pretty popular form of body modification. And though there’s no scientific evidence to prove it an effective method, there is an enthusiastic and expanding community to back it. The Penis Enlargement Gym (PEGym) is an online male improvement community that has upwards of nearly 70,000 members. And at the backbone of their training lies an exercise known as “jelqing.”

The jelq (also written as jelching, jeljing, or jelging) is believed to be an “ancient” tradition originating in the Middle East. The exercise involves the pulling and stretching of a semi-erect penis. Individuals are instructed to use the thumb and the index finger grip it at the base. After applying some pressure, they should gently pull the penis outward, away from the body, “as if milking the organ.”

The theory behind the practice is a little dense and a dicey. According to the guys at PEGym, the force administered by jelqing creates microtears in the penile tissue. New cells then grow to repair the tears. They argue that through this “controlled damage and then rebuilding,” the tissue will hypertrophy and the smooth muscle will grow, which will effectively result in a larger penis.

Kimberly Wylie, managing editor of PEGym, explained to AlterNet via email, “This is a similar process to muscle building in other areas of the body. Workouts damage muscle fibers and, during rest periods, the body repairs this damage, resulting in increases in muscle mass.”

It doesn’t stop with jelqing, either. There’s the ruler stretch, the slow crank stretch, the bundled stretch, the leg-tuck-pull stretch and other acrobatics that may make you think having a penis isn’t the only requirement to meet before performing such stunts. PEGym suggests seasoned stretchers try jelqing for 25 minutes a day, up to five days a week. That means by the time the year wraps, these guys will have spent around 96 hours stretching themselves for the sake of size. The results are said to be permanent.

Male enhancement coach AJ Alfaro explained to AlterNet, “We recommend that anyone who's contemplating male enhancement first get checked by their physician… Even in the best-case scenarios there's going to be a risk of injury. This should be acknowledged from the beginning, but by taking preventive measures as recommended the risk is greatly reduced.” 

The medical community remains skeptical of the process, however. Robert Valenzuela, a urologist at NY-Presbyterian Hospital, told AlterNet, “The idea that causing microfractures in the body of the penis can lead to lengthening is completely unfounded… The claim that penile stretching devices could cause microfractures would be very worrisome because it may ultimately lead to Peyronie's disease.”

Valenzuela also noted that patients who wear penis-stretching devices can wind up with swelling, bruising, irritation and other ailments that can interfere with sexual function. Some even develop abrasions that can facilitate the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like herpes and genital warts (caused by the human papilloma virus).

J. Francois Eid, a specialist in penile reconstruction, says any kind of "tearing" of the penis is much more likely to result in the formation of scar tissue and erectile dysfunction than a larger member. According to Eid, overstretching the outer layer of the penile shaft can actually impair the body’s ability to trap blood in the penis during an erection.

But even without a doctor's approval, it's understandable why the technique might appeal to some men. In a paper published in BJUI International, Marco Oderdo and Paolo Gontero of the University of Turin explain that a lot of guys find themselves "attracted by the idea of a non-invasive, low-cost method of having their penis enlarged.” 

"By way of example, if we search Google for the combination ‘penile lengthening exercise we can find up to 41,800 results!" That was in 2010. Should you Google the phrase today, you’ll be hit with over 200,000 potential links. As Eid told us, “It would be wonderful if a simple procedure like stretching the penis would result in an enlargement.” When pressed further on the promises of penis stretching, however, he emphasized, "It's a myth."

Still, there are a lot of penis-stretching enthusiasts out there; men willing to spend hours each week in hopes of gaining anywhere from a little to a lot in the way of penis size. And while science has yet to prove the technique effective or safe, there is a lot of compelling anecdotal evidence out there. PEGym's Wylie insists that thousands of men on the site "have reported longer, thicker, harder, and healthier penises, thanks to manual penis exercises. These results can't be a fluke.” Richard Howard II, a frequent contributor to PEGym who offers his coaching services for just under $300, claims to have gained over three inches in length and two inches in girth through his own penile exercising techniques. “People are free to believe or not believe; I assist those who are the believers,” he told AlterNet in an email.

“The penis has always been linked to a man's sense of virility,” says Alfaro, the male enhancement coach. “We attempt to help men to see increasing penis size as something constructive and confidence boosting, but not necessary.” Alfaro estimates that he has around 500-600 clients per year. But somewhere between the time it takes, money it costs, the risks it presents and the very real possibility that it doesn't actually work, the question comes up: is it really worth it? As New York-based psychologist Alexis Conason reminds us, “We can have a healthy sex life with penises of diverse sizes,” adding, “It’s not one size fits all.”

But the social pressures are real. Pornography has introduced a very narrow image of what men are “supposed” to look like, and the sexting trend puts pressure on some guys to present like images in their personal lives. Unsurprisingly, those who have grown up under the digital umbrella seem to be most eager to imitate the images it promotes. According to a survey conducted by PEGym, the majority of men interested in improving their penis size fall between the ages of 18 and 34 years old. Alfaro notes, “Slightly more men who pursue male enhancement are, by their own admission, single.”

Of course, size is relative. And a lot of guys who think they’re stuck with a small penis don’t actually fit the bill. Of the 92 men who volunteered for a 2005 study on small penises, all fell within the “normal” size range, or 5-7 inches when erect. Conason notes, “There’s a lot of mythology associated with these giant penises that men think everyone is walking around with.”

Sexologist Carol Queen reminds us, “While some women desire male partners with large penises, that is by no means true of all women. Bigger is not better for everyone, and most of the men who are into enlargement seem to be under the impression that any and all partners will like the results better than they’d have liked the original penis the guy got at the factory.”

There are other enlargement methods out there, too. PEGym actually recommends seasoned stretchers transition to “penis hanging,” or, the process of hanging weights from one’s penis. Again, there’s a health risk involved. AskMen reports that though it’s been shown that the process may increase the length of the penis over a long period of time, its thickness will actually decrease. Blood circulation also decreases, which can potentially cause necrosis, or tissue death.

Then there's phalloplasty, an invasive procedure reserved for those with what’s known as a “micropenis.” For a penis to qualify it must measure less than 2.75 inches in length. Though, some insurance companies will cover the procedures for men measuring less than 4 inches in length. Risks include nerve damage and infection.

There’s also a long list of pills and products, though many sexologists have largely dismissed this segment of the market on account of the snake oil salesmen it tends to attract. In 2010, FDA agents seized nearly $350,000 worth of penis-extending devices, component parts and erectile quality monitors made by a company called FastSize LLC on the grounds that the devices were unapproved and made under conditions that didn’t meet the current requirements.

Fortunately, simpler solutions exist. “There are two things that a man can do that may make a difference,” Queen says. “Trimming public hair makes more of his shaft visible, and losing weight means that the fat pad on his pelvis will cover up less of his length. Many large guys seem to have a small penis precisely because their pubis has obscured some of it.”

That said, it’s likely that any obsession with size doesn’t just begin and end with the penis. Psychologist Conasan says, “We tend to buy into this idea that things can be solved by changing our body and that there's some magic pill or potion or exercise we can do to change our body, and it distracts us from what’s really going on. There’s something else that’s causing them to hyper-focus on this one thing.”

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture.