Never Long Enough?
When does size matter?

by Mary Jae Leigh

From buying bigger homes to “super sizing” fast food, it is not surprising that the “Bigger is Better” attitude influences perceptions of the universal symbol of masculinity: the penis. Current reports on average penile size generally vary from five to seven inches long. With 80% of college men falling in this range, why are some men so anxious about their penis size?

A recent survey of University of California (UC), Berkeley Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) students conducted by the author reveals that many believe penis size is not a pressing issue in their lives. Similarly, in a groundbreaking 300 case review by Toronto surgeon Robert H. Stubbs, director of the Cosmetic Surgicentre, “‘locker room phobia,’ adverse female comments, and body disproportion” were listed as common reasons for patients to desire penile surgery.

Options for enhancing the girth of the penis include liposuction combined with fat injection and dermal fat grafting, in which a strip of skin with its fat intact is taken from the abdomen or buttocks, and transplanted along the penile shaft. The most drastic option to enlarge the dimensions of the penis may be undergoing phalloplastic surgery. Penile lengthening surgery is an outpatient procedure where the suspensory ligaments that hold the penis to the pubic bone are released. As a result, more of the interior penile structure is exposed, but the procedure also reduces the angle of erection, potentially causing mechanical problems during sex.

As with any surgical procedures, risks accompany potential benefits. Scarring, decrease in sensation, erectile dysfunction and uneven bumps from fat injections may result. In phalloplastic surgery, the patient risks actually losing length through the ligament reattaching and pulling the penis further into the body.

Even with reported successes, professionals still admit that their techniques are not enough. Joel Kaplan, M.D. developer of an FDA approved vaccum pump system, recommends psychotherapy to help deal with the low self-esteem that is at the root of most patients preoccupations with their penis size. E. Douglas Whitehead, M.D., urologist and President of the American Academy of Phalloplasty Surgeons, terms this condition “perceived penile inadequacy,” and says “my work has been called psychosurgery; it really is surgery for a problem that is a perception issue, not physical. I’m providing a therapy that does work, when psychotherapy and counseling doesn’t seem to work.”

In opposition to penile enlargement therapies, Charles Nicoll, Ph.D., an Integrative Biology professor at UC Berkeley, comments, “What they’re doing is taking advantage of insecurities that some guys have…They think that having a bigger apparatus will solve their problems, but it won’t.” There are no guarantees for success. Steps to enhance the penis should be undertaken with serious thought, understanding of the procedures, and realistic expectations.

Mary Jae Leigh is an MCB major and English minor intent on being a physician; she is grateful for all the support she has received


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