With Karen Gordon
Photos by Jim Morrison
In 1999, the Canadian Broadcasting Companys banner science show The Nature of Things aired a show on the male penis. It was one of the highest rated episodes in the shows history. They rebroadcast it in February 2000. The head researcher and writer for the show was Karen Gordon. When DRAGÜN magazine approached her about contributing an article, she pointed out the biggest problem with the topic is that people just dont talk about it. She therefore suggested we have a conversation with her about the male penis based on her research. Here is that conversation.
DRAGÜN: Penis size, is it a North American obsession?
Karen Gordon: No it's not at all. We went to England, for instance, and did some man-on-the-street interviews and some of the people we talked to actually thought it was a British thing. There was still that sense that they could beat America or they had to have bigger penises than them. We talked to Dr. Robert Stubbs in Canada who does penis extension surgery and his clients come from all over the world, all different walks of life, different countries. He told us stories about men coming from as far as India and Jamaica. Until recently, very few doctors who practised that kind of surgery were seen as legitimate.
D: What do you mean by legitimate?
KG: Lots of doctors think it's not legitimate,
but the doctors who perform it now are getting results that seem
to be more positive or at least they are doing less damage. It
is highly controversial, incredibly controversial. Some doctors
think that the doctors performing the surgeries are quacks. They
are making money off the psychological problems of specific men,
or a certain kind of man. On the other hand, people like Dr.
Whitehead, president of the American Academy of Phalloplasty
Surgeons, are trying to set standards and certify doctors so
that when you go to somebody and say you want this done to you,
you know that they are using a technique that is, at the very
least, not harmful. Early doctors that performed the surgery
butchered people. There was one doctor in California whose license
has been taken away because he essentially just had an in and
out shop, a factory line. There were very bad results. One of
the earliest techniques for widening it used fat grafts; they
would inject fat, and of course, the penis doesn't have any fat.
D: Because there
is no tissue to contain the fat it would become displaced and
you'd have big lumps wherever it settled. Nasty.
KG: Yeah, it was awful. The latest techniques
are more successful but still horrible. I talked to someone who
had gone for the surgery. He was 26 at the time and had not researched
it. The procedure requires that during the post-op period you
have to wear heavy weights on your penis to keep it stretched
to make sure that scar tissue doesn't retract the work that's
D: I hear the
weight weighs up to eight pounds?
KG: Yeah it does, so he decided not to
do that. Then on top of it the doctor did a fat graft. The graft
was awful. He had to get the doctor to agree to donate his services
to take the fat out. After it all, he felt permanently scarred,
D: More so than
before he went for the surgery?
KG: Yes. It was interesting talking to
him because his level of self-awareness wasn't high. Few of these
doctors ask the men to go see psychiatrists or psychologists.
The attitude is that for all the plastic surgery you say you
need, like a nose job, someone will say you don't. People do
it because it's going to make them feel better. Most doctors
say it's not the job of the plastic surgeon to psychoanalyse
the patient. Its a fine line between wanting to look more
socially normal and their psychological state. For
most normal people, we just want to feel good and we want to
appear more attractive within the range of normal.
D: So is the
problem really in the big head not the little head?
KG: Well, according to the doctor we
talked to in New York, most of the time, yeah, it's psychological.
Men don't see themselves as normal.
D: There are
not a lot of people requiring penis augmentation, they just think
they do because they do not feel normal?
KG: Yeah, according to the research.
Interestingly, our crew went in to shoot a surgery and had set
up and when the patient was brought in, the crew was shocked.
Shocked because the patient was very normal. Moreover, the doctor
confirmed it. However, when I spoke to the patient, he was convinced
that his whole life he'd felt that he wasn't as competitive in
the world of business or in the world of women because his penis
was too small. However, in reality it was normal.
D: We hear that
women do not care about size. Okay, after the cameras are off,
late at night, deep in the bedroom is this true? Do they care?
KG: I think that they do. But that's
a bit misleading because I was talking to a friend of mine last
night and her preference is not big, in the sense of 10 inches
or 8 inches. Her preference is for wider.
D: Girth over
KG: I think that there is a problem with
too small. It's a medical problem if you have what is called
a micro penis but that is a very small (no pun intended) portion
of the population.
D: What's the
size number there?
KG: I think it's two inches or something
and the percentage is very small. Its a birth thing. If
that's the case, the person should go to a doctor; they shouldn't
have psychological issues. They should see what can be done and
then deal with it. But the worse thing is that up until now,
on every level, size, performance, health, men just don't talk
to their partners or their doctors.
D: Is that across
the board with all health issues?
KG: My impression is that it is across
the board and that it's a masculinity issue. But the penis and
sexual functioning and masculinity are so closely related. It's
like there's some big norm floating around out there and a means
test and nobody actually knows what that is but men are trying
to measure up to it.
D: And they're
assuming it's high.
KG: Some people out there believe that
they are normal. However, adolescence can be awful. If when growing
up your masculinity is compromised or if you don't have confidence,
chances are you're going to focus a bit of that anxiety onto
your sexual performance. You feel you're inadequate and then
you do not want to tell anybody because you have to keep this
façade of masculinity up. It all links together to make
some very unhappy people, which is sad.
D: I was watching
a skit on MADtv last night where these two women were in this
college bar and this geeky guy came in and they totally diss
him. They were playing trivia, and he keeps guessing all the
right answers. Then one of the girls picked the sex category
and he didn't know any of the answers while the girls knew them
all. The question came up, What is the length of the average
male penis? A woman answered six inches. The guy says,
No it's not. It's 10 and a half. She goes, No
it's not. He says, Well that's what I got.
All of a sudden, they are totally into him. When he goes to leave,
people start chasing after him.
KG: (laughs) That's funny.
D: Yeah it is
but what does it reinforce? I mean how many people after watching
that show, say Oh okay, I don't have ten and a half. I
guess I am not desirable.
KG: I dont know, I still think
D: I would say
there has not been a young adolescent boy to man growing up looking
down at himself saying, Is this the right size? or
Is this growing right?" In college, a guy once said,
Oh you should never look down at your penis because the
angle that you're looking at it will make it look small. What
you should do is go out and get a full-length mirror, stand somewhat
back from it, and then look at yourself on a profile. There you'll
get a good judge of what you've got. The process involved
in coming up with that thinking means that there's an obsession.
KG: True. There's certainly sort of an
obsession. Again not for everybody, there are some people happy
with what they are packing.
D: I find it
interesting that such a large portion of society is normal but
are thinking they are not normal. The people who need surgery
or need to go look at their plumbing are such a small percentage
of society. Nevertheless, many people think they belong in that
KG: Yeah. It's so sad and especially
that people who do have problems avoid it. Every doctor had a
story about somebody who came in after years of problems, one
man after twelve years. He never even talked about it with his
partner. They just stopped having sex. Finally, she dragged him
in. Now can you imagine, here's a person who feels like his masculinity
has been compromised, and his wife stays with him for twelve
years although they never discussed it. I mean that speaks to
a bunch of things, but it certainly speaks to the fact that you're
not going to lose somebody by having a problem.
D: What kept
him from talking about it?
KG: Shame and fear.
D: Because it
is attached to his masculinity?
KG: Yes. Its attached to his notion
of masculinity and where is he getting that? Society. The limits
that he put on himself. You know, men dont complain, men
dont cry, men dont fail. And if you fail at the level
of the most basic thing you do to demonstrate your masculinity,
which is get an erection and have sex with someone, then you
are going to have issues. I mean the pain for men must be immense.
almost a simple equation. Your penis is attached to your sense
of masculinity. If the penis doesnt work properly as you
imagine the masculine penis does, you dont feel masculine.
Then your whole psyche goes into flux.
KG: If you get men to understand and
explore their own masculinity and what scares them, then you
may fix physical problems. However, how many men are into exploring
their masculinity? That is the bigger issue. Problems with the
penis can be fixed, you may not like what your biology is doing
to you at that time but you can go get help and you can do the
best you can with it, which is better than sitting around at
home. Sometimes it can be a simple case of bad plumbing; some
men are born with bad plumbing. As they get older, they are going
to find they have erection problems because they have poor veins
that they inherited from their dads.
D: So the blood
circulation is not right and there are things to do about that?
KG: Yes, and you know you may have to
have an implant, but the whole point is at least you can do something
about it. Moreover, if you are comfortable with yourself, you
talk to your partner, and you work things out, you can be very
put sexuality in a box all by itself, a box that no one wants
KG: Yeah, there is a big discomfort level
around it. Facets of our lives are compartmentalised with levels
of behaviour attached to each. There are ways that you are supposed
to act and certain things are considered unnatural. Sex is something
natural that people treat as unnatural. However, every time you
suppress natural human behaviour, you create perversions.
D: Yeah, its
comes out in aberrant ways.
KG: Its naïve to say to people,
Dont express yourself sexually. Because all
youre going to do is make people mentally ill. Also physically
ill. You know there are tribes that when you hit adolescence
youre taken off somewhere and initiated into sexuality
in public ceremonies.
D: There are
tribes where young men have a period of homosexuality where they
are expected to go off with the other men and
KG: Yeah. What theyre doing is
expressing openly that youve now come into your time of
sexual activity. I think we dont acknowledge it as a society.
Whenever we do so, it is jokingly or underhandedly. We look at
poor adolescents going through all of these hormonal bursts and
feel sad about it because its awful. Its terrible
to try to control whats going on hormonally. Your body
changes so quickly. We dont shepherd them as much as we
could. We dont answer those big questions.
D: We are uptight
as a society.
KG: I think we are becoming relaxed about
it and we need to relax more. And just like eating, like sleeping,
like thinking, like loving, like all things that we think of
as normal, we have to reconcile that to our sexuality. There
are different ways that people handle it. I mean some people
have tons of sex and they think that they are doing the right
thing. Some people have limited sex, and are scared of it. Life
is short, you should be happy, and both extremes have repercussions.
full text of this article can be found in the Spring 2000 issue
of DRAGÜN magazine