“How do I go about navigating sex and relationships when I’ve got a small penis and people have sometimes been unkind to me about that?”
We’ve covered this in detail in a podcast here, and here’s a summary of what we had to say.
The most important thing to emphasise here is that there is a diverse range of genital sizes, and that a lot of ways of having sex don’t require genitals at all, or specific kinds of genitals. However, we can’t escape the fact that we live in a culture which does have narrow ideals about what bodies and genitals should look like, so let’s start with that.
When it comes to penises there’s a cultural ideal that they should be a certain size. We rarely see penises at all in our everyday lives, so a lot of people end up making comparisons with the ones that they see in porn. These are actually very different from most people’s penises as they tend to be chosen for being very large and capable of getting erect and ejacuating easily. There’s also a strong cultural message that big penises are more masculine, and a lot of ridicule and stigma about having a small penis, which can leave people with a lot of shame around this.
In fact if we think about all of the ways in which diverse bodies are stigmatised (e.g. fat bodies, disabled bodies, trans and queer bodies, bodies with scars or skin conditions, older bodies, etc. etc.) the majority of people are nowhere near the ideal, so perhaps it is the ideal we should be challenging rather than criticising ourselves and other people. However that is easier said than done in a culture which rates people so much on appearance.
Diverse genitals, bodies, and types of sex
In our book we talk a lot about the different kinds of sex that people can have, many of which don’t require genitals at all. Again culturally people tend to immediately think of genital penetration, but lots of people have kinds of sex which don’t involve penetration or genitals at all, for example, various forms of stroking, kissing, kink/BDSM, erotic massage, mutual masturbation, dry-humping, tantric breathwork, oral sex, etc. A lot of people find penetration painful, uncomfortable, or simply not very enjoyable, and may welcome a partner who doesn’t focus on that. Some would rather not have their genitals involved at all and prefer to keep their pants on entirely.
If you have a small penis but are into penetration there are various options. Some people find penetration with a small penis pleasurable. Others find that it can be a bit more difficult to penetrate a vagina or anus with a small penis and, like people with vulvas, find it useful to use a strap-on dildo, some of which have space for the penis to fit and be stimulated. Many people find that penetration with fingers works as well – or better – than penis penetration because fingers can be more dextrous and sensitive.
Again it is important to emphasise that genitals come in all shapes and sizes. The clitoris and the penis are basically the same organ with sizes on a spectrum, and decisions get made about whether the organ ‘counts’ as a clitoris or a penis when we’re young, based on its size. But size and shape can also vary a lot over time. In an ideal world we wouldn’t make any assumptions about what kinds of genitals a partner is going to have, but would focus on finding out what works for them because different people like different kinds of touch in different places.
Your relationship with your body
Perhaps the key thing in this area is to focus on your own relationship with your body to hopefully reach a point where you can get comfortable enough with it. It’s important to remember though how hard that can be in a culture that’s so obsessed with bodies, and with ‘being normal’, so give yourself a big break if you find it difficult. Some folk find it helpful to elicit the help of a counsellor or other professional if they feel really negatively about their body.
One of the things that works best in helping us to feel better about our bodies is to spend time focusing on how our bodies feel (from the inside) rather than how they look (from the outside). Think about the times when you feel most ‘in’ your body. It might be when you’re dancing, or sitting in nature, or laughing, or doing a sport, or soaking in water. Spending more time ‘embodied’ like this can be really helpful. One way of doing this is the body scan meditation (see resources), another is spending time on pleasurable self-touch, which we talk about a lot in our book.
Finding other people
In terms of finding other people for sex and relationships, online dating can work well, particularly on sites like OKCupid.com which are less focused on physical appearance but give you more space to talk about what you’re into. You may also find that other people who are diverse in terms of body size and shape, disability, gender, sexuality, health conditions, etc. are more accepting or enthusiastic about body diversity than folks who haven’t had to think about these things themselves.
It can also be useful to meet people outside of a dating context, for support and friendship, and because it’s easier to get to know people beforehand. There are meetup groups for all kinds of diversities where you might meet more like-minded people, and it can be great to be in spaces where diverse bodies are celebrated such as naturist venues, fat activist groups, or body diverse dance or yoga classes.
A couple of good books about your relationship with your body are:
Jenkins, E. (1999). Tongue first: Adventures in physical culture. New York: Virago.
Cooke, K. (1996). Real gorgeous: The truth about body and beauty. London: Bloomsbury
Our yoga teacher and friend Catherine has a really useful body meditation audio you can access via Helix Yoga