Does size matter? Not as much as sexual illiteracy!

A study of Women’s Preference for Penis Size reveals a big surprise – most women know it, most men don’t. Everyone should!

Essay by Elizabeth Joyce

(9 min read – a small investment in illiteracy)

“Sigmund Freud was sexually illiterate. He did women a tremendous disservice. He was brilliant but taught some nonsense.” – Dr. Ruth

Sexual illiteracy is a curse. It should be cursed by every vibrant, intelligent, healthy, caring, sex loving person. And their partners. Of the myriad sexual problems – across gender, age, ethnicity, cultures – none is more common, more insidious, than sexual illiteracy. Ignorance robs millions of people of a life of sexual enjoyment.

“Only 49% of heterosexual women are satisfied with their sex life. Only 51% of men.” – The Vagina Bible

To put this sad state of affairs in the vernacular, we’re fucked up when it comes to fucking, even though we ‘do it’ about 120 million times, every day, and on average over our life time, 2,580 times with five different people.¹

Sexual illiteracy is universal and we make little effort to free ourselves from this bog of stupidity. And one of the most prevalent, persistent and ubiquitous questions steeped in ignorance is: ‘Does size matter?’ Which is often stated as a declaration, ‘size matters.’ This question invades almost every relationship because men live with it – big or small – and women are afraid to talk about it. Even though they “know” the answer – and ladies, it ain’t what the men think and they deserve to know what you think.

A perspicacious, tell-all, show-all, clarify-much book. Great for your coffee table.

There is no one-size-fits all

Here are two sources that can help fill the ‘stupid void,’ providing scientific research of women’s preferences, plus empirical, in depth, anecdotal evidence from 100 men. Together, they add much clarity, considerable specificity and best of all inject the beauty of honesty into the relationship.

Laura Dodsworth, in her blockbuster book, Manhood: The Bare Reality, offers a rare glimpse into men and their stories, anxieties, hang ups and deepest thoughts, about everything from fatherhood and work to sexual pleasure and suicidal thoughts. Deep revealing stuff that every woman should want to know.

The study, Women’s Preferences for Penis Size (see full report in Research section), provides answers to what women think is: i) the average size of a penis; ii) the size they prefer in different durations of relationships; and iii) the size most likely to carry sexually transmitted infections.

Cultural meme, cultural quips

‘Does size matter?’ is an over simplified, unintelligent question that ignores our complicated human reality. It cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ‘true’ or ‘false” or cultural quips. It’s requires an intelligent understanding. So scientists have been researching it for decades and recently arrived at some more refined and accurate answers. The answers are not a panacea for the debilitating assumptions behind this cultural meme but they can improve a lot of sex lives by helping eradicate the stress and insecurity perpetrated by myth.

From “Manhood: The Bare Reality” by Laura Dodsworth

Women reveal two important differences – critical truths

We thought we’d take on this troubling question by summarizing this study’s findings and recommending Laura Dodsworth’s book.

The study isn’t the first on the subject but it’s one with an important difference and the findings could be beneficial to any man or woman who secretly wrestles with how to answer the incessant question that fucks up the sexual psyche – men’s insecurity and women’s anxiety on how to deal with men’s insecurity. These findings could allow women, if they’re honest with their partners, to deal with the unspoken question without psychologically undermining his ‘manhood’ ego.

“I had no idea how many men believed they’re too small. It’s very common. And the men who thought they were too small looked really normal size to me.”  – Laura Dodsworth, author, photographer of Manhood: The Bare Reality.

Dodsworth’s observation is confirmed by the research. Men’s assumptions are erroneous and their thinking ill-informed. Her book’s 100 stories and photographs rip the veneer off of manhood myths and open up a conversation for a better understanding of how this treacherous meme undermines relationships.

The book redefines ‘normal,’ and the full photographic display of men and their penises not only exemplifies the diversity of their bodies but offers a calming, compassionate narrative that can breakthrough through ignorance, anxiety and shame. It is reassuring for men and enlightening for women, who may rethink what they think they know about men and their bodies, especially the penis, which, as a one man sadly said, “I think it probably comes straight back to, will I be loved? So I draw this correlation between dick size and love.”

As most women will tell you, there is no correlation. But this engrained male thinking is killing many relationships because men think women have a “pecking order” when it comes to their pecker. But as one of the more intelligent men in Laura’s book said, “Maybe I want to be thought of as a better lover?”

“Your penis isn’t the only one I’ve known, but it’s the only one that’s been worth keeping.” – a happy partner.

Mark Greene, editor of The Good Men Project states in the foreword that this book is a wonderful look inside “how vastly diverse men actually are.” And Laura Dodsworth concludes that, “It turns out that penises are the perfect metaphor for men’s most private selves.”

Maybe it’s the penis as a metaphor, not its size that matters?

“Size does not matter. Except if it is a miniscule penis, it might be a problem [she chuckles]. Size has nothing to do with good sexual functioning … and should hold true with heterosexual and gay relationships. Most important is to please each other.” – Dr. Ruth

Dr. Ruth Westheimer

For forty years, Dr. Ruth Westheimer has been declaring “size does not matter” and in a recent interview, at age 91, she’s as adamant as ever. As a woman and sex therapist, who has spoken with thousands of men and women, she certainly has some credibility, but her claim is pretty general and doesn’t answer: For who? For what? When? How? Why?

But this study provides some fascinating insights and facts as to “women’s preferences for penis size.” It should put to rest the ‘old wives tales’ and ‘worried men’s stress.’

One of the findings confirms what Laura Dodsworth discovered and observed. Men with ‘normal,’ average size penises are still hung up on size. They ‘want’ larger without realizing that the difference in size between ‘average’ and what women prefer is miniscule (6.0 inches versus 6.3 in length, and the same as the average in circumference, 5.0 inches).

Women, men and anyone in a long-term partnership should read the study – at least the highlights below – and buy Dodsworth’s book. In an open and honest relationship, it could make a great coffee table, conversation starter.

The research study²

A key to the results of this study was in getting past the problem of how to have women test, judge, recall and report their findings on erect penises. As you can imagine, it wouldn’t be easy with the ‘real thing.’ Previous studies have relied on women selecting amongst 2D, flaccid images, usually photographs or specifically created male manikins (see earlier TED Talk and research findings). In this study the researchers used sense of touch stimuli to allow assessment of women’s size recall accurately, as well as examine their preferences for erect penis sizes in different relationship contexts. So they created “synthetic models of four penis sizes (Fig. 1). I know, I know, they don’t look like what we’re used to but according to the research team, they worked.

In case you’re curious: The models were blue to minimize racial skin-color cues, light weight, sturdy plastic with a smooth surface. They were made with rigid, odorless plastic. The male body was neither described nor portrayed.  If you want to know more about these facsimiles, you can read the report under our Research section.

Where’s the beef?

Let’s get to the meat of the research and highlight a few of the bigger (no pun intended) findings.

(Figure 1)

The size of these particular models was based on previous studies that found that the average (American) erect penis length was estimated as 6 inches (15.2 cm) and circumference as 5 inches (12.7 cm). Models were created to range across each dimension, resulting in length ranging from 4.0 inches to 8.5 inches (10.2 cm to 21.6 cm), and circumference from 2.5 inches to 7.0 inches (6.4 cm to 17.7 cm). This yield 33 different models across the range.

Three key questions

For this study, the key questions were aimed at:

  1. Selecting the penis model that the women believed best reflected the average of men;
  2. The size most women thought most likely to carry a sexually transmitted infection;
  3. The size most women would prefer for different expected relationship durations.

The questions about preferences for “different types” of partners were a bit more complex.

For one-time partners the question was:

“Imagine you’re single and you’re out at a restaurant with some friends. You meet an attractive man who is also single. He seems kind, intelligent, funny, and has a great job. You are feeling sexually aroused. He says he’s in town for a conference but he has to fly back home tomorrow afternoon. If you could spend only this one night with him, what size would you want him to be?”

For long-term partners the question was:

“What would be the ideal size for a husband or serious, long-term boyfriend?”

The question regarding shorter-term partners clearly included more detail. This was done in an attempt to control for intervening variables not of interest. For example, if a woman doubted at all for her safety with an unknown partner, she might select smaller models in the event of sexual assault. Thus, safety cues were included in the characterization.

“I have mixed feelings about having a big penis. It’s seen as a bonus. But I’m quite conflicted because I fundamentally disagree with the idea that a large penis is better than a small one.”  – from Manhood: The Bare Reality

The results from A to Z

There’s too much in the original study to cover here but we have extracted most of the interesting findings. Some are not surprising, others are. All are illuminating and can be of significant value to both men and women, particularly if considered within the context of personal experience.

Some of the facts set out below are references made by the research authors to other studies that they have drawn from in supporting their study and the citation number links directly to the endnotes in the study. The full study report is posted under our section, Research.

Top ten findings (Men note 3-6)

  1. The average erect penis length was estimated as 6 inches (15.2 cm) and circumference as 5 inches (12.7 cm).
  2. Women accurately recalled size and prefer penises only slightly larger than average.
  3. A preference with different partners was a key finding: Slightly larger circumference and length for one-time partners versus long-term partners. [See more findings below].
  4. One-time partner preference: Length: 6.4 inches (16.3 cm); circumference: 5.0 inches (12.7).
  5. Long-term partner preference: Length: 6.3 inches (16.0 cm); circumference: 4.8 inches (12.2).
  6. In a long-term partner, compared to a one-time partner, women may prefer a smaller penis size for physical comfort and a preference for less masculinity in a long-term partner [67]. This given that women typically experience more pleasurable and orgasmic sex in longer-term relationships [71],
  7. They might prefer a larger penis for short-term sex partly so the increased physical sensation compensates for the reduced psychological connection.
  8. Novelty itself contributes to pleasure [66], so seeking a more novel-sized penis may be consistent with a goal to pursue pleasure primarily in one-time partners.
  9. Women value intelligence over attractiveness for long-term versus short-term, partners [49].
  10. Women might shift their preferences for penis size depending on the type and duration of sexual relationship.

Explanatory points:

  • The goal of the sexual interaction with a one-night partner tends to be pleasure [20]. Women recognize that infection risks are higher from a one-night partner [21]. While women adjust their behaviors for this risk, being less likely to engage in anal sex [22] and more likely to use condoms [23] with one-night partners.
  • Such risky behaviors themselves are often experienced as pleasurable [24].
  • For regular, long-term mates, vaginal intercourse always causes tears in the vaginal mucosa [25] especially in the sensitive posterior fourchette [26], so women might prefer a smaller penis because it’s less likely to stress their physiology.
  • Women prefer more masculine partners for shorter-term sexual relationships [20].
  • The difference in pleasure motive is also suggested by genital physiology. A larger circumference might stretch the vaginal opening such that the deep structures (clitoral crura, vestibular bulbs) are more stimulated, and the clitoral glans is more stimulated by penis [68′].
  • Women likely make penis size judgments partly using their recalled experiences. Yet, it is unclear how accurately women can recall penis size. Exposed to nude male images, women do attend to the genital area [55, 56]. People can generally recall if a penis was described as “large”, “medium”, or “small”, or not described at all [28].
  • When women make errors [in recall], they slightly underestimated model length. One explanation is that women care more about circumference, so they attend to it more [63].
  • A minority of women chose not to report a preference for penis size in short and long term partners. Perhaps these women did not have a clear preference, which could be viewed as a strength, insofar as women did not feel compelled to answer in cases where they did not feel they had a strong enough basis to generate an answer.
  • A larger penis could contribute to infection risks, such that a larger penis on more risky one-time partners elevates risk.
  • Anything that increases friction during intercourse may promote genital injury, indirectly increasing infection risk. A larger phallus would increase friction relative to a smaller phallus. These potential complications of a larger penis suggest why the human penis has not evolved to be larger.
  • Given the variability in vaginal size and tonicity some women would experience more tearing with a larger phallus than other depending on the morphology of their particular vagina.

Male perspective:

  • Penis size was a concern for 68.3% of 200 men in one study [1].
  • Most proposed cues of penis size, including male height and foot size [5], weight [6, 7], shoe size [8], and age [9], are unreliable.
  • No diet, pill, or exercise regime affects the size or shape of genitals.
  • Partner perceptions of the penis appearance seem to most likely to impact men’s feelings about the features of their penis [Many stories in Manhood: The Bare Reality confirm this].
  • The expectations that men have about women’s penis size preferences appear to drive anxiety and dissatisfaction more than some inborn dissatisfaction. [Stories in Manhood: The Bare Reality confirm this].
  • While men and women agreed that the “ideal” penis length was longer than what they thought was average, men mistakenly reported that women would find an even longer penis ideal than the women actually did [10].
  • Most men seeking surgical interventions for enlarging what they perceive to be a small penis actually have a penis that falls within a normal range [16].

For one-night stands the preference is for the ‘big guy’ – but not too big. For long-term partners the preference is for the ‘average guy.’ And the difference is less than 1/2 inch.

Clarity is wisdom

As in all research, there are limitations, caveats and bias, but the overall findings in this study add much clarity.

  • It confirms that women are aware of size and that they do prefer “slightly” larger than the average in length (Between a ¼ and ½ inches in length. And their preference for circumference is the average, 5.0 inches).
  • What was ‘new’was the finding that women prefer a larger penis only with “one-time” partners and when it comes to long-term partners, they prefer smaller.

Women stop wondering, men stop worrying

The results of this study, plus the 100 stories in Manhood: The Bare Reality, have one clear message: Relax. Because the bare reality is open, honest and freeing.

Women: If you’re into short-term relationships, then size matters – temporarily. Long-term it doesn’t matter, in fact, it’s usually a case where less is more – better.

Men: If you’re into short-term relationships, then size matters to her. Not to you. If it’s temporary, it can only matter to your ego and that’s a dead-end street. Long-term, be glad your penis is average – she is – and instead, focus on being a larger-than-life lover in all the intricacies of love and sex that are more important to her than size.

The degree to how much size matters, to use Dr. Ruth’s word, is ‘miniscule.’ Because it’s less than 1/2 inch, which mainly matters in one-night stands – and men’s egos. In the long-term she prefers less.

My dick needs friendly, open, non-judgemental company. One-night stands are pointless. If it’s good, why wouldn’t you want five nights instead of one? – from Manhood: The Bare Reality

Get over it

So, with more than 120 million acts of sexual intercourse taking place around the world, every day, and the average person in a lifetime having sex 2,580 times with five different people,³ the answer is: Get over it and get on with being a great lover. Focus on him being well informed, not well hung, and both of you continually becoming better lovers, not continually worrying.

Read full research report >>


  1. Human Sexual Behavior, by Dr. Judith Mackay, p. 20, Penguin Group (2000)
  2. The Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4558040/ by National Center for Biotechnology Information, and PMC (PubMed Central), US national Library of medicine, National Institutes of Health, Sept. 2, 2015, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0133079
  3. Human Sexual Behavior, by Dr. Judith Mackay, p. 20, Penguin Group (2000)

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