Does Genital Size Impact Genital Self-Image?
Previous research indicates that most people are satisfied with or at least feel neutral about their genitalia. Nevertheless, some individuals are not satisfied with their genitalia, and this situation can have negative consequences on their mental and sexual health.
For individuals with penises, the most common complaint about their genitalia is having a short flaccid penis. On the other hand, for people with vulvas, the most common complaint is having large labia minora (inner lips) that protrude noticeably beyond the labia majora (outer lips).
Notably, while these are the most common concerns worldwide, genital preferences can vary by culture. For example, women from some cultures in Western and Southern Africa stretch their labia minora with the goals of enhancing their sexual pleasure and making their genitals more aesthetically appealing.
Despite penis and labia minora size being the most commonly reported complaints about genitalia, many researchers believe that other factors play a role in a person’s genital self-image. A common theory is that the consumption of sexually explicit material like pornography that regularly showcases large penises and short labia minora may make a person feel more self-conscious about their own genitals.
Another possibility is that those who engage in sexual activity frequently are exposed to a greater variety of genitalia, therefore recognizing the normal range of sizes and appearances and feeling more satisfied with their own genitalia.
A recent anonymous online study surveyed 3,503 Swedish residents on their genital self-image and possible factors that could influence this perception. The survey included the validated Female Genital Self-Image Scale (FGSIS) for participants with vulvas and the validated Male Genital Self-Image Scale (MGSIS) for participants with penises.
The participants who completed the FGSIS were asked to measure how far their labia minora protruded from their labia majora, and the participants who completed the MGSIS were asked to measure the length of their stretched flaccid penises.
All of the respondents were asked about their age, frequency of sexual activity, exposure to sexually explicit material, satisfaction with the size of their genitals, avoidance and safety behaviors, and their openness toward cosmetic genital surgery.
In the end, the researchers found that the average stretched flaccid penis length was 12.5 cm and the average labia minora protrusion was 0.76 cm. While most of the participants were neutral or positive about their genitals, about one third (33.8%) of all individuals reported that they were dissatisfied with the size of their penis or labia minora. What’s more, 3.6% of the labia minora group and 5.5% of the penis group had an extremely low genital self-image (defined as 2 standard deviations below the average). Additionally, 13.7% of those with labia minora and 11.3% of those with penises would consider cosmetic genital surgery.
A better genital self-image was associated with genital size (whether it be a longer penis or shorter labia minora), being more sexually active, and an older age for the participants with vulvas. Conversely, a worse genital self-image was associated with an openness to genital cosmetic surgery and avoidance behaviors (e.g., avoiding sexual activities like receiving oral sex, avoiding situations where someone could see their genitals, etc.) and safety/checking behaviors (e.g., comparing their genitals to others, covering their genitals, etc.) Genital self-image was not found to be associated with exposure to sexually explicit content.
These findings align with previous studies that show that while most individuals are satisfied with the appearance of their genitals, a sizeable portion (about one third) are not. Given the inherent risks and irreversibility of cosmetic genital surgeries, it may be worthwhile to educate oneself about what is normal when it comes to genital appearances. After all, many individuals who are dissatisfied have perfectly normal genitals and may wish to consider a psychological approach to help them with accepting their bodies before exploring cosmetic surgery.
- Hustad, I.B., Malmqvist, K., Ivanova, E., Rück, C., & Enander, J. (2022). Does Size Matter? Genital Self-Image, Genital Size, Pornography Use and Openness Toward Cosmetic Genital Surgery in 3503 Swedish Men and Women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 19(9), 1378-1386. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.06.006