Let me tell you about the dicks I have seen. Big dicks, small dicks, dicks in-between, dicks of various shapes and colors, cut and uncut.
I am talking about at least 300 pictures of penises, which came via pictures sent to my email, and they all stem from the 2014 article I wrote for Outsports, “Cockocracy: Size Matters in the Locker Room.” The article went viral and landed me a job as Associate professor in Body Politics at London Metropolitan University.
My initial research focused on interviews with eight British athletes — four gay and four straight — and found that men look at each other’s dicks as a gauge to see how big or small they are, comparing themselves to the rest of the team or men in the locker room.
After the article appeared, one of the most surprising things was the volume of dick pics that were emailed to me from men of all sexualities. On the whole, men wanted reassurance that they had a good-sized dick or that they had nothing to worry about. This was a surprise at first, but soon I became used to the volume of pictures that filled my email box daily.
When I wrote the article nine years ago, I had no idea the impact my study would have with people outside of traditional research communities.
I was interviewed for all sorts of TV shows, magazines, podcasts and newspapers. I felt like I had made it when I was reading on the London Tube and saw I was quoted in “The Metro” under the headline “Quirky dick research.”
The most vivid memory I have at that time was when I was hauled into my boss’ office and told “not to put the institution’s reputation into disrepute.” I was horrified to be told such a thing, but also glad that this was opening up new discourse for debate and discussion.
One thing I have learned is that when people are given the opportunity to talk about dicks, cocks, wangers and members (the list of penis terminology goes on and on), men and women alike have a cathartic response.
From my experience there are four different communities that engage in dick chat: heterosexual men about other heterosexual men; women about men; women between women; and gay men between gay men. There are other combinations of communities talking about dick, but these were the main groups I ended up engaging with the most.
Reflecting on my research, my interviews and one-to-one conversations, I would say that men feel the need to compare themselves to other men in terms of size, shape and visual aesthetic.
Most of my research has focused on the lived experiences of men, but during presentations, especially on the topic of “Politics of Urinals,” women are absolutely fascinated.
As men know, the urinal is a homosocial public space, a bit like the locker room, filled with its own rules, politics and behaviors. Women are astounded by all the choices men have to make just going for a pee. It then leads to anecdotal chat about size and look — the overall consensus is that a limp dick isn’t the prettiest body part.
Size is a hot topic for everyone
Size seems to be the most common conversation-starter, followed by the preference for a cut or uncut penis. There is a universal appeal in these two topics and as soon as people know I’m the body politics professor, dick chat comes to the fore very quickly.
My capacity for dick talk has become pretty high and I’m immune to it, but I realize that society hasn’t reached my level of comfort with it just yet. Yet I haven’t met anyone in the right circumstance who doesn’t want to talk to me about dick.
What do we talk about?
Overall, size was the most important focus, with bigger always seeming to be better in peoples’ eyes. That always came with the caveat that one needs to know how to use it.
Many penises are “growers” rather than “show-ers,” and many men have anxiety about how they look when flaccid. Does my dick look too small when it’s not erect? That’s a common question for men.
When it comes to visual aesthetics, many people I have spoken with think the penis was an ugly looking body part, especially when flaccid. But when we break down these views by sexual orientation, gay men prefer looking at penises sexually, while straight men observe to get self-assurance of what they have.
I have learned that just looking at an image online isn’t enough. The men I have spoken with say that seeing the real thing is what matters, which is how the original cockocracy article came about from discussions in the locker room.
In talking to men and women about penis size, I discuss a significant piece of work by Professor Bruce M. King in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy from 2020 that reviewed all penis size literature and concluded that “the average length of an erect penis is probably between 5.1 and 5.5 inches (12.95 to 13.97 cm).” The research suggests that 12% to 17% of men have a penis that measures greater than 6.3 inches when erect. So contrary to widespread belief, the existence of the huge penis is few and far between.
In the world of what might be called “cockdiplomacy,” men don’t talk about the serious side of the issue, which is penis health. For example, when was the last time you spoke or heard about erectile dysfunction without some sort of humor or demasculinizing undertone about it? What about STI’s? Fungal infections? What about testicular cancer?
In talking about the penis, I also learned that you can’t shy away from ball chat either, and for some reason size matters there also. Ultimately, the dick (and the balls) is still taboo, and we really don’t give enough air time to something that is so important to so many people.
Circumcision is another topic that has come up frequently. Many men who were circumcised discussed the sensitivity of their penis and wondered what it would be like to be uncircumcised. Some men felt that circumcision was a form of body mutilation, with their own bodily choices taken out of their hands.
In the U.K., views around circumcision differ significantly compared to those in the U.S., simply because we don’t circumcise as much in the U.K.
I was very often asked to comment on a person’s dick size or give them reassurance. I demurred and simply said, “Maybe it’s best to ask a friend, but thank you for getting in touch.”
There is one particular email conversation that I remember. A man with an extremely small penis sent me a photo and wanted me to humiliate him and tell him he was worthless. He wanted an “expert” to tell him this. By this time, I had been around the block a bit and replied, “Thanks, but maybe ask a friend.”
Looking at the research, in addition to online discussions and the media, I think that men are so worried about how the representation of their penis defines their masculinity and sexual identity that any penis shaming will hurt their ego. So, I think the motto is “let’s joke about it, but let’s not take cock issues too seriously or my masculinity might not come back from this.”
On a different note, something I am still trying to wrap my head around, especially within the positive era of gender equality, is that I have been told on Twitter that my work studying the penis “semiotically promotes the symbol of female rape.”
In response, I have often said that my work is about men, for men and trying to understand — it’s homosocial research. Men have a penis and of course it’s a phallic image of masculinity and used in sexual intercourse – but rape was never part of the work I undertook, and in reality men can also be raped.
I do believe that this kind of discourse, once again, makes the penis a taboo subject and makes people shy away from talking about the politics of their bodies.
So what is Body Politics?
One question I know people are asking is what is a professor of Body Politics? I like to summarize it this way: My research looks at our bodies in relation to society’s understandings of bodies, but with a focus on power relations, disenfranchisement and “lived experience.” How we understand our bodies is part of socially expected standards.
Body politics and the experiences of our bodies are related to disability, ill health, mental health and bodily disenfranchisement (dysmorphia, angst, amputation etc.). However, body politics can relate to fashion, film, law, education and science, and is often deeply entrenched in theoretical perspectives — Queer Theory, Masculinity Theory, Critical Race Theory.
If you look at my research as a whole, there is a wide-ranging amount of research looking at everything from children with disabilities, amputation and diabetes through to the sociology of footwear (my career started in podiatry). All of it embracing the politics of our bodies.
What was the fallout of all of this?
I was excited to see my definition of “cockocracy” was No. 1 in the Urban Dictionary (“The political power of the penis within a hierarchical structure, normally between men.”) I was also asked to write for the “Cultural Encyclopaedia of the Penis,” edited by Kimmel, Milrod and Kennedy. I became a guest speaker for two years at “The Book of Man” Penis Gallery Event, based in Shoreditch London. I also worked with Jackamo, the clothing brand. I was excited to be invited to panel events for Killing Kittens and speak on the Killing Kittens podcast chatting about dick. It been an adventure.
I know I am still making a difference in my own small way. I never thought my Sports Sociology PhD in sexualities and masculinities would have such a career-defining affect. My work in sports has dwindled over the past few years as I have focused more on overall body politics and health — which is a shame, but I am still midcareer and know that masculinities in sport is where my passion lies — but I am only one human.
I do plan, over the next year or two to undertake more penis research, since I truly believe that dick talk and men talking about the penis are too often kept out of sight and out of mind.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski