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Boys and Their Toys

I always thought it was some sort of overblown myth. It seemed laughable, unreal, the stuff of sitcom hyperbole. Perhaps my skepticism was born from a lack of exposure to males during a critical period of my childhood. My dad moved out when I was five and after that my mom, grandmother, sister and I lived together without the overriding presence of fulminating testosterone for the next five years. There was a six-year period from the ages of ten until sixteen with a stepfather in the house but that did nothing to inform me. It has taken raising my own son to finally understand that it is no myth, not at all a hoax. That human males are obsessed with penis size has proved to be a hard fact.

How does it happen? Is it nature or nurture? Is it hard-wiring or does society and culture infiltrate their baby brains, take their neurons hostage, and skew them towards the desire for a bigger member? I’ve asked myself these questions and, as a scientist, in answering them I’ve tried to remain as objective as possible. I’ve been watching the boy-to-man show for the past sixteen years vis-a-vis my son and I’m convinced I know the answer. It’s my somewhat well-informed opinion that males are innately and universally desirous of being the owner/operator of a large tool.

I first became aware of male preoccupation with organ size in high school. When a doctor came to do exams for the basketball team, one boy in particular was noted to be generously endowed. The physician, the story went, actually commented on the boy’s copious conformation. That this fact was circulated post-haste amongst our junior class and presumably the senior, sophomore and freshmen classes as well, proved it was boys who initiated it. Clearly, no girls were present at the examinations so the rumor was obviously male-made. And rest assured, very few if any of us girls had a frame of reference that would permit an understanding of scale. I still remember his name—he did become somewhat of a legend. I wonder what he’s doing now.… But I digress.

Later in life, I learned about porn stars, men of gargantuan proportions such that most women would cringe at the thought, or better yet, perish the thought. These men have such amazing amplitude I’ve decided there must be a congruent group of women who are designed to house such equipment. The natural progression to questions of length versus girth and genetic predispositions also constitute fascinating factoids to add to the database of male magnitude.

Certainly I’d heard stories of boys who measured their developments. In fact, there have been grown men who measured as well, men who were given salaries to perform scientific studies, men who made it their professions to document dimensions and tease out the statistics, men endeavoring to calculate the average and standard deviation that accurately define the extent of a man. Just imagine, sufficient funds have been granted to have allowed such scholarly men to quantify and categorize their manly preoccupation. You can bet it wasn’t women who spearheaded the effort to calibrate and analyze the male anatomy—too mucho macho.

To be fair, I came to understand that masculine proportions also hold vast interest for females. I sheepishly admit that there was one boy at our high school who became known by a hand sign—embodying the symbol of the lone pinky finger—a sadly stunted digit held not so high above the others bent at the knuckle. The rumor quickly scorched the school, passing from one girl to the next with one fast flash of an extended pinky. I did not originate the reference, but confess to passing the gesture along to anyone interested. And we girls, we were interested. As an adult, there’s a man I see in rare social settings who is purportedly “hung like a horse.” I never asked; I was given the inside scoop—by a male. Naturally enough, I have passed the information along. Women generally are interested. Responses range anywhere from amused to aghast.

Still, it does seem that men place greater significance on genital factors overall. In a study discussed on NPR, investigators tracked people’s eyes while viewing pictures of humans or animals to see where they looked first. Women generally looked first at faces; men generally looked first at crotches. This may come as no surprise to some. To the rest, I can tell you I was surprised too. Men are particularly attuned to the status and mass of masculinity.

To my dismay, when my son was born, both grandfathers immediately honed in on the size of his schwantz. They hovered over my shoulder as I changed his diaper and exclaimed over his largesse. These two family patriarchs, who had never once mentioned penis size in my presence, talked about my newborn’s generously proportioned appendage as if it were the subject of normal conversation. I was both stunned and bemused. Neither man took credit for the trait; each insisted it came from the other side of the family. Were they being magnanimous? Modest, perhaps? Thankfully, I will never know. Can you really tell if an infant is well endowed? This seems unlikely since so many changes happen at puberty. But both grandpas, well-pleased with their newest grandson’s appointment, seemed to know and they were so extraordinarily proud!

It was when my son was three years old that I received proof that large-penis-thinking is an inborn trait. We were doing our usual evening routine. I was helping him with his bath, making sure everything got clean, that he didn’t drown—typical mom stuff. Apropos of nothing, except perhaps being stark naked my son asked, “Mommy, when I get bigger will my penis get bigger too?” I did not laugh, I merely smiled. “Yes, honey. As you grow, all your parts will grow with you and that means your penis will grow too.” Without hesitation and bursting with true male competitive spirit he responded, “Yeah, and it’s gonna be bigger than Daddy’s!”

I couldn’t stifle a laugh. And not wanting to crush his high hopes, I had to agree; it might someday be bigger than his father’s. Apparently it was important to my son that his penis grow along with the rest of him and that he outstrip his dad at some point in the future. The workings of his three-year-old male brain seemed not only gender-specific but completely other-worldly to me. I decided then and there that size fascination must be hard-wired. I have seen nothing to date to change my mind.

A few years back, with my son in the throes of burgeoning pubescence, I received a phone call from my husband. While viewing the search history on our home computer, something caught his eye. “I assume,” he said, “that you are not the person responsible for the computer search using the words, ‘average penis length’ with penis spelled p-e-n-u-s.” Ah. My son. Obsessed with his organ and possessed of questionable spelling talent. With a grand total of three people in our house, one of them being a healthy, normal thirteen-year-old boy, the culprit was obvious. I talked to my husband later about the cyber-search for manhood means and, mildly abashed, he confessed to having measured his own apparatus around the same age. I know I should not have been surprised; nevertheless, I was.

It seems most males want to see how they measure up at some point, usually in early teen-hood. Apparently it’s a natural and scopious captivation that I imagine hasn’t changed much over the centuries, nor do I foresee a diminishment of interest as the generations unfold. As long as there are males on the planet there will always be concern regarding dimensional distinction. As an admittedly interested female bystander, I consider this endearingly puerile and bizarrely entertaining.

I recall a quote from my friend, Laura, also a scientist. “I love men. They’re such an interesting species.” With a sympathetic nod to the fact that men feel equally perplexed by the female subset of homo sapiens and their peculiarities, I submit: She is so right.

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