Health : Size Matters?
A document that came from a large National Institutes of Health study that began in 2006, titled: “The Association Between Penis Size and Sexual Health Among Men Who Have Sex with Men” has been receiving a great deal of media attention. This attention originated from Fox News and the Traditional Values Coalition, both seemingly pushing a political agenda. The attention is not simply because of the study’s conclusions, but because of the cost of original grant that came from the federal government and its link this study that examined penis size and sexual health .
The press discussing this article focused on some of the key findings that are easily sensationalized , namely; “Those gay men who felt they had small or inadequate penis sizes were more likely to become “bottoms,” or anal receptive, while gay men with larger penises were more likely to identify themselves as “tops,” or anal insertive. Another finding is also mentioned in most of the articles, a finding stating that men with smaller penises were more likely to be psychologically troubled than those with larger genitalia.
After reading the full publication, I can report that there was more to the study that just sexual positioning. It sought to explore four questions: First, to what extent is perceived penis size associated with penis size satisfaction? Second, understanding that condoms are often limited to a narrow range of available sizes, to what extent is perceived penis size associated with condom use, HIV, and STIs? Third, to what extent is perceived penis size associated with men’s sexual positioning (anal insertive vs. receptive)? Finally, to what extent is perceived penis size associated with psychosocial outcomes (e.g., adjustment in the GLBT community)?
As part of the Sex and Love Study, version 5.0, this article was a small part of what was a much larger body of work executed under a grant funded by NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study surveyed 1,065 gay men from New York City.
This final paper on Penis Size and Sexual Health was authored by individuals from Brooklyn College, Center of HIV/AIDS Education Studies and Training (CHEST), The City University of New York, and Hunter College. According to Fox News, Jeffrey Parsons, a professor with Hunter College stated that, “The data were not collected using taxpayer funds. NIH funds were not used to measure anyone’s penis size.”
In my opinion, this study is of some concern for several reasons, reasons that have nothing to do with politics or finances.
First, I assume that the article was the result of ‘repurposing’ data that was collected for other primary purposes. This is of concern to me because the repurposing of data, although common, can be misleading to participants in the study. I know that if I were recruited to participate in a study on say, HIV medication, and this paper on penis size and social-sexual health was part of the outcomes of my participation, I would feel mislead and exploited. I do not agree with, nor am I willing to condone the
use of anyone’s personal data, privatized and confidential or not, that has been collected for one purpose and then repurposed and published under a completely unrelated topic .
Another concern of mine is that studies such as this create an association between facts that may be completely unrelated, serving to further stigmatize potentially vulnerable individuals. Does this article say that men with small penises cannot be happy and sexually satisfied? If so, does perceiving your penis as being small mean you will not be as happy as men who perceive their penis as being large? Does this article show that men with ‘small’ penises are more likely to be bottoms, or is it that men in New York City with small penises are more likely to be bottoms, or is it that men who are willing to participate in a study recruited from the streets of New York City with small penises are more likely to be bottoms? (…you get my point) well, wait, what exactly is the point…?
Most importantly, I fail to see how publications such as this have the potential to contribute to the health of gay men. Will there be some intervention created for men with small penises that helps them live a happier life, or learn to top? When we as gay men are, survived our information is processed and then conclusions are drawn, the line between contributing research and the exploitation of gay men can be a fine one and I feel this article is a good example of how conclusions can cause harm.
How are we, as gay men, perceived as a result of this paper, especially in light of the media and their focus on the more controversial findings, and where is the contribution to our health?
The important truth that this study found and then failed to emphasis (and actually almost refutes) is that “perceived penis size was not significantly related to men’s frequency of sex partners…” yes; men with penises they perceive as being small have as much sex as any other man.
Some more good news did come from the study, penis size was unrelated to non-skin-to-skin viral STIs, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV, or pubic lice/scabies.
The last word from the article? “…these data highlight the need to challenge the culturally ingrained notion that ‘‘bigger is better,’’ as the social consequences of these messages may have lasting negative psychosocial and sexual health effects on the individuals receiving them”.
I can just imagine the posters and envision the social media blitz now ~