The authors of the study saw there was a gap in the research literature when it came to the relationship between men’s view of their penis and their perceptions of masculinity.
“We noted from personal experience, social media, and anecdote that the penis is often conflated with masculinity — it appears commonly accepted that part of being a ‘real man’ involves physical attributes of size, strength, and above all, a large penis,” said study author Cory L. Pedersen, the director of the Observations & Research in Gender & Sexuality Matters Lab at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
“Take for example Donald Trump’s assertion during a Republican primary debate that there was ‘no problem [with his penis], I guarantee’ and the rebuttal by Trump’s alleged extramarital partner Stormy Daniels that Trump’s penis was ‘smaller than average.’ This gave rise to several conversations about Trump’s masculinity and character, as well as the politics of penile emasculation. Yet, despite this common cultural acceptance, our review of the literature revealed few studies investigating men’s experiences of their penis and their masculinity in tandem, which in turn, sparked our interest in investigating the phenomenon.”
For their study, the researchers surveyed a geographically diverse sample of 735 heterosexual men, who ranged in age from 16 to 84 years.
Pedersen and her colleagues found that the endorsement of penis-centric masculinity was positively associated with the endorsement of hostile sexism. In other words, the more strongly men agreed with statements such as “Men with bigger penises are more masculine” and “My manhood is strongly tied to my penis,” the more they agreed with statements such as “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men” and “Women exaggerate problems they have at work.” Participants who placed greater value on their own penis size were also more likely to endorse hostile sexism.
These findings held even after the researchers controlled for precarious manhood beliefs. Those who score high on this measure believe that one’s status as a “real man” is hard to attain but easy to lose.
“Overall, our study found that the endorsement of the penis as a central and important component of masculinity predicted chronically discriminatory attitudes towards women (i.e., sexism),” Pedersen told PsyPost. “We argue that these sexist beliefs are likely used as compensatory strategies to further affirm and establish their masculinity status. This has implications for education and intervention — disabusing young men of the notion that masculinity is tied to physical attributes (like their penis) may help to allay men’s concerns about sexual inadequacy, and mitigate the development of compensatory (chronically prejudiced) ideologies against women. Education and intervention of this nature has the potential to improve the lives of both men and women.”
The researchers also found that penis-centric masculinity was a predictor of sexual narcissism. In addition, men who more strongly endorsed penis-centric masculinity tended to be less satisfied with the appearance of their genitals and were more likely to desire validating reactions to their penis from women, such as awe and excitement.
“This finding suggests genital satisfaction may contribute to masculinity ideologies — or that endorsement of certain masculinity ideologies may have a negative impact on genital satisfaction. Regardless of the directionality of the relationship, this finding demands further research given the potential for negative outcomes; both masculinity ideologies and genital dissatisfaction are associated with negative implications,” the researchers said.
But they noted that the cross-sectional nature of their study leaves cause-and-effect relationships unclear.
“Correlation does not prove causation, and we do not mean to imply that penis-centric views of masculinity cause sexism,” Pedersen explained. “While these variables are related, this relationship isn’t causal and likely other variables (not measured) relate to both penis-centric views and sexism. Further, our study is limited in its generalizability (given our participant recruitment) to adult heterosexual men with penises; though it seems likely that the present results would also generalize to culturally broader samples and sexual minority men, given the apparently universal nature of the notion of the penis as central to masculinity.”
The study, “The Association of Genital Appearance Satisfaction, Penis Size Importance, and Penis-Centric Masculinity to Chronically Discriminatory Ideologies Among Heterosexual Men“, was authored by Flora Oswald, Devinder Khera, and Cory L. Pedersen.