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Relationships Sizing up: Our increasingly open obsession with the penis

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No matter how many times men hear that size doesn't matter, we just can't stop obsessing over it. There isn't a male alive who from puberty on hasn't wondered how he stacks up.

This anxiety is highlighted by a new study being billed as the most comprehensive examination of penis size ever.

"Am I normal?" is the partial title of the study, published in this month's issue of the BJU International, formerly the British Journal of Urology.

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The study looked at results from 17 studies that measured 15,521 penises. The measurements were taken by a "health professional using a standard procedure," the authors write. Men in the studies ranged in age from 17 to 91 and lived in Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. The average flaccid penis was found to be 3.6 inches (9.16 centimetres) long, 5.2 inches (13.24 cm) when stretched and 3.7 inches (9.31 cm) in circumference. The average erect penis is 5.1 inches (13.12 cm) long and 4.5 inches (11.66) in circumference.

So there you have it.

The whole point of the study seems to be to reassure men that the monster-sized penises seen in pornography or Michael Fassbender movies aren't indicative of reality.

Researchers have created graphs based on the study's findings to be used by physician.

"We believe these graphs will help doctors reassure the large majority of men that the size of their penis is in the normal range," lead author Dr. David Veale, from King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, told The Independent, a British newspaper. "We will also use the graphs to examine the discrepancy between what a man believes to be their position on the graph and their actual position, or what they think they should be."

For the men who might be helped by having a doctor hold out a chart, it's certainly a good thing to have them. Who could argue otherwise?

But there's something about these charts that reminds me of those "You must be this tall" signs at carnival rides. Nobody wants to get under that sign and realize they're too short.

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The researchers point to a large Internet survey conducted in 2006. It found that while 85 per cent of women were satisfied with their partner's penis size, only 55 per cent of men were satisfied with their own size.

In an article called "What it's like to have a micropenis" published last November in New York Magazine, Alexa Tsoulis-Reay noted that only 0.6 per cent of men have what qualifies as a micropenis, "but peruse online forums and you'll find many men with average-size or large penises lamenting concerns about their seemingly inadequate genitals."

Many previous studies have established that the average penis size is a little more than five inches. But clearly that hasn't eased men's fretting.

Will this new study? Will these graphs?

Probably not. Not when the brief appearance of Ben Affleck's penis in Gone Girl gets as much scrutiny and discussion online as the movie itself. Not when the New Republic asks if our obsession with penises is "the final wave of feminism."

This new study is, in its own way, one more example of our increasingly open obsession with the penis: stretching it out, evaluating it, pulling a tape measure across it, holding it up to graphs. Male bodies are increasingly being objectified much the same way women's have for so long, and the main focus of that objectification is, well, you guessed it.

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But there is no female equivalent to the penis, no one piece of anatomy that is supposed to represent your womanhood. As long as we think of the penis as a guy's "manhood," many men will always believe that bigger is better, whatever a graph might show.

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