On the obsession with penis size and race

cn: discussion of genitals, porn

PZ brought to my attention a “joke” where a comedian mocked the penis size of Asians. My emotional response to this joke is not offense, but rather concern and bemusement.

Concern, because this obsession with penis size sounds hazardous to your health. I would be very surprised if psychologists found that an obsession with penis size were not associated with mental health problems. It’s like if someone “jokingly” mocks another group for not getting smash drunk all the time.

Bemusement, because I knew in the abstract that many people care about penis size, but it still feels unreal. How does this cultural obsession even get transmitted between generations? It’s not a normal topic for kid’s television, or for conversations between parents and children. Are sex ed teachers directly telling kids about the importance of a good dick? Or maybe it mostly affects those souls so unfortunate as to enjoy “edgy” stand-up comics? Or maybe it comes from porn? Hmm, that last one might be the front runner.

As I was reflecting on this, I grew attached to the hypothesis that it’s mostly White people who care about penis size, and Asian people only care insofar as they’ve been affected by cultural imperialism and stereotyping. Of course, a hypothesis demands evidence, and this one is impossible to google. All I could find were think pieces talking about how racist the Asian stereotype is (no, duh).

Here’s the evidence I have, starting with the anecdotes. I’m half-Asian, and I have never cared about penis size. My husband, on the other hand, is white, and says that he has been affected by the cultural concern about penis size. Although, maybe this is a case of the allo guy caring, and the ace guy not giving a shit. Or maybe it’s just a me thing. Wow, anecdotes sure are useless!

Next, let’s talk about porn. As anyone who is familiar with illustrated gay porn knows, western illustrations have a tendency to depict men with monstrously sized penises. On the other hand, the bara genre from Japan, while it does have its own body shape preferences and distortions, does not include such a tendency. (The interested reader may find a copy of “Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It” for a cross-sectional sample of bara art.) And yes maybe that’s just a stylistic difference. But recall our theory that porn is not just an indicator of the problem, but a contributor to the problem.

For my final line of evidence, I did a more clever google search. Not that clever really, I just used Google Scholar. I found a paper titled “Challenging race-based stereotypes about gay and bisexual men’s sexual behavior and perceived penis size and size satisfaction“. It’s based on a thousand gay and bisexual men recruited from New York City. From the abstract:

…there were no significant differences [by race or ethnicity] with regard to satisfaction with penis size or lying to others about penis size.

Although it says there are no significant differences, the raw measured difference was about 10%, which tells you something about the study’s low statistical power. A thousand participants sounds like a lot, but when only 62 of them are Asian, it’s not so much anymore. One thing I found amusing is that Asian participants were significantly more likely to rate their penis size as “average” instead of “above average”, with the result that their perceived penis sizes resemble a real statistical distribution instead of penis Lake Wobegon.

In any case, the larger issue is that my hypothesis is unfalsifiable, at least by this kind of study. If Asian Americans were less concerned about penis size, I could say it confirms my hypothesis. If they were more concerned, I could say it’s because of stereotyping and cultural imperialism. To confirm/disconfirm my hypothesis, it might be best to look for historical or ethnographic work–at which point we may be reminded that there are many distinct Asian cultures, and that the combined Asian category is more of a western construction.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s a bad hypothesis.  Not as bad as that joke though.

I hope the reader enjoyed the exercise in critical thinking about penises. Here are a few bonus facts I found:

-55% of heterosexual men are satisfied with their penis size. 85% of heterosexual women are satisfied with their partner’s penis size. (cite)
-Dissatisfaction with penis size is unrelated to penis size, and is more common among homosexual and bisexual men. (cite)
-Most men who seek penile enhancement have typical penis sizes. (cite)


  1. says

    I think it also ties into masculinity, particularly of the toxic sort. When men insult the penis size of other men, they are commenting on their perceived lack of masculinity. A bigger penis means more masculine, and this ties into racial perceptions as well. A penis is like a masculinity barometer.

  2. Owlmirror says

    I grew attached to the hypothesis that it’s mostly White people who care about penis size, and Asian people only care insofar as they’ve been affected by cultural imperialism and stereotyping.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily “white”, but more “contemporary American” (do all European cultures have the same feelings?).

    We know the ancient Greeks & Egyptians were of the opposite opinion.

    Why Ancient Greek Sculptures Have Small Penises

  3. Callinectes says

    The problem with studying trends in porn, and Japanese Manga specifically, is that if you don’t know about certain genres or kinks going in you probably won’t discover them in the course of your research. Not that kind of research, at any rate. As such, any analysis of Japanese pornography that focuses on the penis size of only the male characters will be woefully incomplete.

  4. says

    Penis insults are amazingly common. Just look at how common they are when discussions of gun and gun crime come up. You’re sure to see someone claim people owning guns is to compensate for having a small penis.

  5. says

    The bara comment is amusing to me because part of the reason I don’t read a lot of bara is actually because there are *too many* large penis depictions for my taste! But that’s mostly because I’m comparing it to more female-reader-oriented genres like BL and slash art; I don’t really have much experience with western male-oriented erotic art to compare to. I do agreed though that they do seem to trend less comically large than some other subgenres. (Although I have to wonder how much of my perspective gets skewed by what people like to translate and who is doing that translation).

    Heterosexual doujins, on the other hand…. there’s definitely a fair serving of comically-large-penis fetishism going on there.

    (Also, “penis Lake Wobegon” is a genius piece of phrasing)

  6. says

    Artistic depictions of exaggerated penis size may have started in ancient Roman culture and “Priapus” that is commonly depicted with a large and always erect penis.

  7. says

    @Callinectes & sennkestra
    The discussion to porn is more silly than serious, as I wasn’t going to systematically check the various genres of illustrated porn, and am not a good judge of penis size in any case. But I would imagine that penis size is smaller in female-oriented genres, given that the preference for larger penises largely comes from men.

  8. Art says

    Did a image search for bara. Very few exposed penises at all. As packages, covered, they seem more or less average. Bara seems to focus on muscled chests and abs.

    As a comparison I scanned a little hetero porn. Seems the focus is on woman’s bodies, kind of like bara. There are, evidently niche groups focused on the size of the vulva but mostly it seems to be about large chests, like bara.

    The obsession with penis size might have to do with western focus on manliness, adequacy, potency, and masculinity. Western culture, with emphasis on US ‘western mythology, think cowboys, has long had a focus on being a “real man” and “measuring up”. Seldom explicit outside porn, I guess, it might suggest penis size as proxy for maleness and adequacy. A lot of this comes directly, or by implication, out of advertising and the tendency to imply inadequacy to create desire for a product that will restore adequacy. The Marlborough man is often pictured with chaps, by design cut-away at he crotch, that also makes the crotch area of the jeans under to bulge out, and with a large belt buckle that is said to draw the eyes to the groin. All supposedly very manly, I guess.

    There is also likely some racial edge to it with the mythology about black men being they are remarkably large, and very masculine. So working it from both angles.

    I don’t know what it all means but penis size does seem to occupy a lot of brain space in the US.

  9. says

    Art @8,
    I should note a distinction between bara illustrations (which is what you’d find in image searches) and bara doujinshi (longer-form comics). You’d find more of the penises in the doujinshi. But there’s still a lot of emphasis on muscled chests and abs. Which is not necessarily better from a body image standpoint than the large penises.

    I observe that image searches for the Marlboro man do not appear to emphasize his package, but rather his face and hat instead.

    Although I wasn’t being too serious about my image analysis of porn, there’s a lot of depth to it, and it’s definitely worth many doctoral dissertations.

  10. khms says

    #2 @Owlmirror

    We know the ancient Greeks & Egyptians were of the opposite opinion.

    Why Ancient Greek Sculptures Have Small Penises

    I don’t think these ideas are completely gone. There is still a … meme? … around that associates big penis size with less intelligence, and I strongly suspect it’s connected to the myth that blacks have larger penises.

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