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The Long and Short of Dick Dysmorphia

Inside the mind of someone with penile dysmorphic disorder — an obsession with penis size even when what you’re packing is perfectly average

Eric has measured virtually every object in his house and compared them to his penis. The pseudonymous 27-year-old musician in Norway feels grossly inadequate despite his dick measuring 6.5 inches, nearly an inch longer than the average Norwegian and an inch and a half longer than most American men.

He’s been insecure about his penis size ever since he and a friend found his dad’s porn stash on the family computer between rounds of Age of Empires II and The Sims when they were 12. Porn brought with it many revelations, not least of which was an enduring conviction that the average penis is “much more formidable” than his. “When you get these ideas in your head at such a young age, you never really grow out of them,” he explains. “They’re branded into your subconscious forever.”

Men with adequate penis length who consistently underestimate (and obsess over) their size despite falling within the normal range suffer from something called penile dysmorphic disorder (aka “small-penis syndrome”), explains Judson Brandeis, a board-certified urologist in California. To that end, Eric know he’s above average, statistically, but just doesn’t believe it. Besides, he’s convinced that “average” is too small anyways, so he says it doesn’t matter if he “just tips the scale.” (PDD often leads to upsetting concerns, compulsive behavior, and in the most severe cases, suicide.) 

AJ “Big Al” Alfaro — a “Male Enhancement Coach” and my former dick-enlargement tutor who, since 2009, has worked with more than 6,000 men hoping to increase their size — tells me that many of his clients are larger than average, but “just don’t like being on the small side.” Their inspiration for action often stems from a negative comment from a sexual partner. “Cases like this are the hardest to deal with because they’re rooted in actual trauma,” he says. “From these guys’ perspective, they’re not making it up because they’ve actually had someone tell them that their penis is inadequate.”

Imagined or not, it became apparent to Eric that size was very important to his female peers in high school, no matter the fact that a majority of women don’t find larger penises more appealing. They tend to be more concerned about men using their penises effectively, explains Paul Nelson, a men’s sex therapist at Maze Men’s Health in NYC who likens the confusion to the misguided belief that men instinctively prefer large-breasted women. 

“We all know the knuckle-dragging troglodyte who only wants to have sex with ‘Double D Debbie,’ but I’ve never heard a guy say he’d never have sex with a girl who had A cups. She cares about the size of your dick as much as you care about the size of her boobs — it’s just not that big of a deal.”

For his part, Brian, a 45-year-old pharmaceutical executive in Philadelphia whose penis is seven inches in length and six inches in girth — comfortably above average in both categories — still becomes self-conscious whenever a sexual relationship progresses. Now married, reassurance from his wife only makes matters worse. “She’s made comments about me being big, but I always write it off as her just telling me what I want to hear,” he tells me. “In my mind, I’m not good enough.”

No amount of complimenting Eric’s sexual ability helped, either. “I don’t trust women and their comforting words,” he says, which have only made him tire of sex. If anything, he adds, having a micropenis would be a relief. At least then he’d know where he stood. Instead, he’s “swimming around in an ocean of doubt, one that keeps me up at night.”

It didn’t help that sex education in ninth grade included reading a traditional Norwegian fairy tale of a regular guy attempting to win over a princess. The king demanded to inspect the man’s penis to make sure it was sufficient. It’s meant to be a playful anecdote, but for Eric, it was confirmation that penis size was paramount. “It literally made the man in the story king,” he recalls. “What other physical trait can a man possess that automatically makes him a leader and the most important man in the kingdom?!” 

Well into his 20s, he realized he didn’t even like sex, viewing it as more of a job. As such, in order to climax, he needed to fantasize, and when partners asked why he always closed his eyes when he came, he couldn’t bring himself to tell them the truth. No, he wasn’t imagining a different partner.  “I thought about myself,” he says, “but with a larger penis.”