Every day, we are bombarded with messages telling us that “bigger is better” when it comes to breasts and penises. From top-heavy Barbie dolls and female celebrities with gargantuan chests to male porn stars with foot-long schlongs, we are constantly told that “size matters.” And these messages are getting to some of us. Breast augmentation is one of the most popular forms of cosmetic surgery in the United States, with hundreds of thousands of women opting for this procedure each year. Likewise, the penile enlargement industry is booming, with pills, creams, surgeries, and stretching devices flooding the market. So how do men and women really feel about their own bodies? And is it possible that we’re worrying about them for no good reason?
Research indicates that a majority of heterosexual men (55%) are actually satisfied with the size of their penis.1 Of those who are dissatisfied, there is almost a unanimous desire to be larger. In fact, only 0.2% of men want to be smaller. However, the vast majority of heterosexual women (85%) are perfectly content with their partners’ penis size. Thus, while men seem to be kind of split regarding how they feel about the size of their genitals, women are mostly happy with their male partners’ penises just the way they are.
In comparison, only a minority of women (30%) are satisfied with the size and shape of their breasts.2 Of the 70% of women who are dissatisfied, most are concerned that their breasts are either too small or too droopy. However, the majority of men (55%) are happy with their partners’ chest size. Thus, although most women appear to be unhappy with the appearance of their chests, most men have no complaints in this regard.
Taken together, these findings reveal two things. First, women’s bodies appear to be judged more harshly than those of men. In some ways, this is not particularly surprising, given that society has long been more forgiving of perceived imperfections in the male body than the female body. Second, it appears that people seem to be more concerned about their own bodies than is warranted. The large discrepancy between men’s and women’s satisfaction with own vs. partner chest/penis size indicates that, at least among heterosexuals, people may be overestimating how important size is to a potential partner, perhaps because they are buying into the “bigger is better” media messages. I am not aware of any research assessing own vs. partner perceptions of sexual anatomy in gays and lesbians, but I would predict a similar pattern of results.
So before you go spending a lot of money on a product or surgery to change your body, it would be wise to think about who you’re doing it for because all surgeries carry some health risks, and many of the enlargement products advertised on late-night TV have never been scientifically tested. Keep in mind that your partner is probably happier with your body than you are and that changing your body isn’t necessarily going to make you happier or change the quality of your relationship. The safest bet is to learn to be happy and confident with your body just the way it is.
1Lever, J., Frederick, D. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). Does size matter? Men’s and women’s views on penis size across the lifespan. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 7, 129–143.
2Frederick, D. A., Peplau, L. A., & Lever, J. (2008). The Barbie mystique: Satisfaction with breast size and shape across the lifespan. International Journal of Sexual Health, 20, 200-211.
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