On Penises: Average and Normal Are Not the Same Thing

Mr. Happy

Noah Brand talks about the difficult task of accepting one’s own genitals.

This post is a response to Carlo Alcos’s post “Let’s Talk About Penises, Shall We?

When I was a connoisseuse of slugs
I would part the ivy leaves, and look for the
naked jelly of those gold bodies,
translucent strangers glistening along the
stones, slowly, their gelatinous bodies
at my mercy.  Made mostly of water, they would shrivel
to nothing if they were sprinkled with salt,
but I was not interested in that.  What I liked
was to draw aside the ivy, breathe the
odor of the wall, and stand there in silence
until the slug forgot I was there
and sent its antennae up out of its
head, the glimmering umber horns
rising like telescopes, until finally the
sensitive knobs would pop out the
ends, delicate and intimate.  Years later,
when I first saw a naked man,
I gasped with pleasure to see that quiet
mystery reenacted, the slow
elegant being coming out of hiding and
gleaming in the dark air, eager and so
trusting you could weep.
–Sharon Olds

Reading Carlo Alcos’s recent piece on penises struck home for me, because like most men, I’ve always been aware of the issue of penises and their size, but there’s never been a way to have a mature conversation about it.

A while back, a lover told me “You have a beautiful cock.” I was stunned speechless; nobody’d ever told me that. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her, it was that it had simply never occurred to me that there could be such a thing as a beautiful cock. I felt appreciated in a way I never had before.

The fact is, for most men, our dicks are more of a source of insecurity than anything. The sheer prevalence of dick jokes in our culture speaks to the deep uneasiness we feel around the subject; we laugh at it in an attempt to rob it of its power, because so many of us think our penises are somehow inadequate or wrong or weird. And it’s nonsense.

What changed my outlook was a site I discovered a little while back, a place called ErectionPhotos.com (NSFW link, if that’s not obvious), a non-pornographic site that’s just a gallery of pictures of real penises. Unenhanced, unretouched, all sizes, all shapes, just anonymous men of all types and ages being shockingly vulnerable by letting us see their genitals.

The miracle of it, particularly browsing their soft-hard gallery, of the same gents in a flaccid and an erect state, is what a range of normal there is. Looking these pictures of normal penises, you realize how much is normal. Most guys come in pretty close to average size on one side or the other, with some outliers on both the big and small side. They have different angles, different shapes, different coloration, but they’re all normal. They’re all okay.

For me, at least, looking through those photos, I felt decades-old insecurities loosen their grip. It gave me a context to put myself into, a path to accepting my penis as normal. If all these guys had made peace with their bodies to the extent that they could place their johnsons on public display, even anonymously, then why couldn’t I make the same peace?

I have come to believe that part of accepting our nature as men is accepting our own penises, without insecurity, without giggling, without shame. I don’t imagine we can get beyond our weird hang-ups about the subject in one leap, but we can begin by placing them in context, neither putting too much importance on them or denying they’re even there.

Oh, and ladies: try telling a man he has a beautiful cock. If my own experience is anything to go by, you’ll make his day.

Photo– amanderson2/flickr

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. Well, I’ve told my boyfriend that I really like his penis; I find it beautiful and cute. Nice shape, not too big not too small, and the way it reacts to me makes me swoon. I think he liked it, yet he still feels a bit embarassed at the ‘cute’ adjective. He now loves the fact that I simply adore ‘our little friend’ but at first he thought that this isn’t an adjective that should describe a penis. But why? Why should it be considered unfitting or ridiculous to call it that? Why does it have to be huge and super strong to ‘dig’? (I don’t even like too big penises, they kinda scare me…)

  2. Thanks to the internet and broadband and internet anonymity, our time is the first time in human history when anybody with an internet link can find out for him/herself the variety of human genitalia. Even Wikipedia Commons has several hundred explicit images of each sex. I suspect that around there are around 100,000 vulvas on display in “amateur” websites. Some of those images were uploaded without the consent of the person depicted, but I doubt that is the general rule. There is so much online that I wonder if commercial porn has no long run future except in catering to disgusting and barely legal fetishes. I firmly believe that classic “softcore” porn has no future. Why pay for something that hundreds of thousands cheerfully give away??

    At any rate, never has it been easier to discover the variety in penises and vulvas, especially the latter. That many men are willing to display their penises (but very seldom their faces as well) is no surprise. Much more surprising is the number of women who not only drop their knickers and spread their legs, but also look str8 into the camera. A fair fraction are over 40. Some smirk, some are afraid, and some simply look silly. But many show a fierce pride. Thousand of years of vulva shame are crumbling, among women who have never heard of Eve Ensler or Betty Dodson. Technology has fueled a radical change in attitudes towards the female body and its exposure. 50 years from now, quite a few adult women will recreate naked at enclosed pool and secluded beach, and this will not be controversial.

    • Valter Viglietti says:

      “50 years from now, quite a few adult women will recreate naked at enclosed pool and secluded beach, and this will not be controversial.”

      Hooray to that!
      It was about time that millennia of religious and cultural shame about the beautiful and amazing human body, come to an end.
      The naked 😉 truth is, there’s nothing to be ashamed about our bodies. 😎

  3. Up until now I thought I was more on the, inadequate side (porn will do that to you…). After visiting erectionphotos.com, I feel I’m downright gifted…

  4. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Masters and Johnson, among others, lied about penis size. Equatorial peoples have bigger ones because there are more “network” (non-monogamous) arrangements, and the big ones are better for evacuating sperm. They may be better for producing continuous orgasms in women who are constant commers. Many men with big ones may do more pounding because they can’t bottom (hitting the external clitoris,) and have to depend on vaginal sensations more. Yes, a big one can “drag” the clit into the action.

    Average or smaller penises have the advantage of being able to squnch the base of the penis and the pelvic bone against the clit directly. This can be a great technique, especially if rotating or grinding are involved. This may work better for “definite”-commer women.

  5. Interesting how the statue in the picture is circumcised, you know, genitally mutilated? How about the first step in us accepting our fucking ducks is to stop cutting the fucking end off of them when we’re born. Is that too much to ask or do you demand “a beautiful cock” so much that you need to fucking slash baby boys in the dick.


    • jimmy: That penis statue in the picture looks non-circumcised to me – mostly because it has an intact frenulum. It could be circumcised, but it’s very difficult to say from that angle.

      That aside, I totally agree that the horrenduous practice of circumcising children who are unable to consent must stop.

  6. Stranger says:

    I think penises can be extremely beautiful. The shapes and curves of them are really, really spectacular. Like all of the human body masterpiece, in my opinion.

    I remember going through similar relief and self-acceptance when I browsed through this gallery for normal, non-sexualized images of women’s breasts: http://www.007b.com/breast_gallery.php

  7. wellokaythen says:

    She should tell you your cock is beautiful. But, if she doesn’t actually think your cock is beautiful, then….?

    • Valter Viglietti says:

      @wellokaythen: “if she doesn’t actually think your cock is beautiful, then….?”

      I’m all for sincerity (somebody else, OTOH, might prefer a white lie 😉 ).

      But I want also to point out that, many times, women ask something like “Do I look fat?” or “Do you think I’m pretty?”, and men usually answer in a positive way – regardless what they believe.
      What I mean is, sometimes you lie (a little bit) to make someone feel good. Do you think this is bad?

      • I always think it’s strange to apply a word like “beautiful” to the genitals, male or female, because let’s face it, from a purely aesthetic point of view, they are kind of ugly. They are beautiful in their well designed functionality, but that’s as far as I’d go with it. No one has ever told me that my pussy is beautiful, and I don’t expect to hear it, because, frankly, it’s not beautiful. Not to look at, anyway. It’s got hair and dangly bits and weird folds of skin. I mean, not every part of the body has to be beautiful. The inside of my nose is a miracle of design, but it’s functional, not a thing of beauty. I’ve never told a guy his penis is “beautiful” but I have said it’s wonderful, or I love it, which is true.

        • Valter Viglietti says:

          Sarah, never forget that beauty is – mostly – in the eye of the beholder. It’s mainly subjective.
          Thus, what is beautiful depends on the point of view. That’s why some modern art look awful to some and amazing to others (ok, classic art has much more agreement on, but still no unanimity).

          I’m a graphic designer. I can appreciate the beauty of an “R” or a “Q” letterforms, while most people would never notice. A mathematician can enjoy the beauty of an equation.
          A facet is a trivial object… yet, a well designed faucet can be in a design museum; kind of a piece of art.
          There’s beauty everywhere, if you are able to see it. 8)

          In the same way, even a genital organ may be beautiful.
          Even me being a straight guy, I understand how many women may see a penis as beautiful: because it has harmony, sleekness, grace and power in its form.
          Not by chance, penises have been sculpted many times in art.

          Just some days ago, I observed my new girlfriend’s vulva for a long time; and I was fascinated in noticing its uniqueness and form. THere’s was something magical and sacred and mysterious and – yes – beautiful in that form. I was delighted.

          Yet, you have to have open eyes to be able ti see beauty everywhere. 😉

        • ugly bits says:

          I strongly disagree about the beauty of our ugly bits, at least when I’m in the right frame of mind.

          • Valter Viglietti says:

            @ugly bit: “I strongly disagree about the beauty of our ugly bits”

            While I respect your opinion, I remind you that yours is exactly that: a personal, subjective opinion.
            There’s a big difference between “I do not like it” and “It is not likable”.

        • @Sarah…Too bad you feel this way. I have told several women they had very pretty pussies. They really did.

          My ex wife had the prettiest of all pussies i have seen. Just lovely. Of course, I did not get to see it often but it was quite pretty.

          Too many women feel their pussy is ugly, unclean…..Women have a negative view of their pussy. It is totally wrong.

  8. Yeah, I mean, if your 7-8″ or more, there’s not a whole lot to feel insecure about. Women state ‘size doesn’t matter!’ But then you see the ‘Pavlovian’ response when their at a ‘Male Review’ and come across a larger than “average/normal” size one. One night, while trying to come up with something to ‘spice’ things up between the Missus and me, I googled ‘Erotica for Women’ and came to a site called ‘For the Girlz’. Let me tell you, nothing under 8″ there. Yeah, size doesn’t matter… except when it does.

    • What you are describing is clearly one of the reasons why erectionphotos.com was set up- they are not a carefully chosen selection of what someone imagines all women want to see (and it doesn’t matter if that person is male or female, they are still wrong if they assumed that all ‘Girlz’ are universally attracted to the same thing). They are a full range of normal penis sizes. It would be like me assuming that I should feel really insecure about my small boobs because every porn magazine in the shops has women with massive boobs. But I don’t because 1. men in real life like all different sizes of breasts, 2. it’s mainstream porn. It has to live up to what society thinks all men like. Just as society tells us that big penises are better, and ALL straight women ONLY want 8″ or bigger. Completely untrue.

      • Dr. Anonymous says:

        “would be like me assuming that I should feel really insecure about my small boobs because every porn magazine in the shops has women with massive boobs.”

        This has been discussed to death. There is porn off small women, big women, women with big boobs, women with small boobs, women with no boobs. But there is still only one type of man in porn.

        • Valter Viglietti says:

          “But there is still only one type of man in porn.”

          No there isn’t.
          If you think that way, you obviously saw not much porn. 😉

          I saw lots of it, and I saw every type of man: fat, medium and skinny, tall and short, hairy and shaven, handsome, average and even ugly. And, yes, different size of dicks.
          Sure, mainstream porn usually has hunky, athletic and muscular guys, but there are LOTS of kind of porn.

          I’d even say that porn is more “democratic” than the movie industry, where you seldom see average-looking actors. 😉

    • Don’t take those sites are representative of what women want. I looked at them once and suspected they might have actually been designed by men.

  9. >The fact is, for most men, our dicks are more of a source of insecurity than anything.

    Why do you assume the right to speak for all men?

    • Well as you can see from the sentence you quoted, he only said “most men”. Sounds about right to me, while still leaving plenty of room for exceptions like yourself.

  10. I agree, being told that I had a beautiful penis was the best comment that I have ever received.

  11. Valter Viglietti says:

    Yep, I heard it too, and it makes you really feel good. And whole. And grateful. And loved.
    Thank you ladies. 🙂

    OTOH, when I say to a partner “You have a beautiful body” (or some specific part of it) – and when I say it I always mean it – many times the lady gets embarrassed, dismisses my compliment and thinks I’m lying. 😐
    One really needs (both man or woman) to be the first to embrace the idea s/he can be beautiful, just as s/he is. 🙂

  12. “Oh, and ladies: try telling a man he has a beautiful cock.”

    Having only heard this from one partner, I completely agree!

  13. Peter Houlihan says:

    Well said 🙂 Made me smile.

  14. Fantastic article. I wish we could see more non-sexualized, normal naked people (okay, that sounds strange, I will admit) just so that everyone can just accept that they are also totally normal.

    • Totally agree, it is so hard to gauge what is “normal” when we generally only see one type of body naked- young, airbrushed, and usually exceptional in certain features (ex penis length, breast size etc). If we all just got to see the variety…you feel better about it! I remember the first time I saw a bunch of girls my age naked when we went skinny dipping in high school, and I was pretty blown away at how different people looked- who knew? It’s a pretty great experience to be able to look around and think, okay, everything’s good.

      • Agreed, Artemis and Jenna! There’s nothing more annoying than when someone calls a body ‘gross’ or ‘weird’ or ‘inadequate’ because it doesn’t fit into a very narrow standard. I find a very large range of male bodies and penises quite appealing.

  15. Re “Oh, and ladies: try telling a man he has a beautiful cock. If my own experience is anything to go by, you’ll make his day.”

    Yes…as I said in my original piece, this is what has helped me immensely in accepting my own body, all parts of it. She may not have said it in those exact words, but her genuine, appreciative words and actions have made all the difference.

  16. Great article and thanks for the links. The guys who put themselves out there like this should really be commended, as Heather said. More men should do this, and the soft-hard gallery is great. It’d be great to see an even wider variety and hear different types of anecdotes.

    “Oh, and ladies: try telling a man he has a beautiful cock. If my own experience is anything to go by, you’ll make his day.”

    LOVE IT and YES. Even in a non-sexual scenario.

  17. “Oh, and ladies: try telling a man he has a beautiful cock.”

    I shall make this a daily mission of mine: walk up to a stranger and tell him his cock is beautiful. It’s like my good deed for the day. 😉

    Really though, I think websites like erectionphotos are so necessary and I commend everyone who is a part of it.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      Ha! 😀

      There used to be a vagina.com with a similar gallery as far as I remember, along with a whole bunch of other useful information.

  18. Hi Noah, thanks for posting this and thanks for that link. I’ve never heard of that before, will be checking it out (maybe not in a cafe). My article was reposted at a popular Australian website and there is an amazing conversation going on there…139 comments and counting (it’s here: http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/lets-talk-about-penises/). Cheers.

    (For the record, it’s Carlo, without the ‘s’ :))


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