Is bigger really better? The history of the big dick Pt. I

Is bigger really better? The history of the big dick Pt. I

Is bigger really better? The history of the big dick Pt. I

by Allison Danish, MPH

You know what they say about men who wear big shoes… 

At The Pelvic People, we are intimately aware of the realities of painful sex—and the myths too. When we look at how people on the internet typically talk about pain during penetration, it’s usually chalked up to three words: Dick Too Big. And while a lot of the time painful sex isn’t about big dicks… sometimes it is. 

But here’s the thing: if it’s widely believed that big penises hurt their sexual partners—why are they also anecdotally cited as the most “satisfying” or “desirable” penis? Why then do 45% of cis men wish they had a bigger penis? [1] Why do we reference penis size in so much of our everyday lingo? Why are we so obsessed with big dicks?


We’ll discuss. At length. But first! We need to understand why people ended up with big penises in the first place. 

Weird (Penis) Science

In case you haven’t observed the junk of our primate relatives while at the zoo—fun fact: humans have bigger penises than most monkeys and apes. Like, a lot bigger.

But why is that? Well, some scientists have encouraged the theory that people with vaginas are more aroused by bigger penises, and so survival of the fittest, yadah yadah yadah, big dicks prevail. Buuuut when we think back to the study above that found 45% of cis men want bigger penises, 85% of cis women don’t feel that way—they’re satisfied with their partner’s size (from an enormous sample size of 52,031). [1] And in a 2002 study among cis women who had recently given birth, less than half said that penis length or girth was important. [2]

And when we look at Viva (a sexy magazine for women from the 1970s), their choice to begin running full-frontal nudes of men in 1975 actually resulted in a dramatic decline of readership by women. With the addition of explicit penis imagery, Viva took an unexpected audience shift away from females, toward gay men. [3]

Cover of Viva Magazine - June 1975

Image sourced via: Vfiles

Given this evidence, we can surmise that women these days generally don’t report caring that much about penis size when it comes to their partners, and don’t really like looking at penises head-on anyway (not to mention, people have been covering their junk with clothes for over half of human history) [4]—so why would female sexual choice be the main driver of the evolution of big dicks? 

But, hey. For the sake of fairness, let’s look at some evidence to the contrary. In a recent study among 105 heterosexual women in Australia, researchers found that greater penis size had a positive effect on attractiveness (although general body shape was the most important indicator of attractiveness). [5] In two other studies containing participants from New Zealand, California, and Cameroon, women generally found intermediate-sized flaccid penises more attractive. [6,7] A similar study in China found that small increases in penis length resulted in significant increases in attractiveness ratings. [8] 

To summarize: These studies found that heterosexual cis women thought people with slightly larger penises were more attractive. This seems like pretty good evidence in favor of female choice as a big dick evolutionary mechanism. But I can’t help but wonder, what came first (no pun intended)? The preference for big dicks or a culture that prizes them? 

My guess? The culture. Let me explain. 

As an example of this chicken or the egg question, those same studies performed in New Zealand, California and China also found that cis men preferred lighter-skinned women. Meanwhile, in a rural community in Bakossiland, Cameroon, that attractiveness study found there was no consistent preference for dark- or light-skinned women. Does that mean men were evolutionarily designed to prefer lighter-skinned women? No. That’s called colonialism. I have a theory: people have been culturally conditioned in places like New Zealand, California, and China to prefer lighter skin and more eurocentric beauty standards (racism and colorism, yikes). Meanwhile, in Bakossiland, that cultural conditioning may be less evident because, despite a long history of European colonization, Cameroon remains predominantly Black—resulting in no apparent preference in skin color. 

The same may be true for penis size. These studies are asking straight cis women about penis size in the 20th and 21st centuries, in which we are broadly steeped in a culture that praises bigger penises. So when we conduct studies assessing penis size preferences, are we gathering evidence for a deeper evolutionary truth or are we, rather, measuring the power of cultural beliefs? 

Okay okay, so if humans don’t have big penises just because of “precopulatory sexual selection,” then why? Great question! Thanks for asking. 

Some evolutionary scientists believe it’s to allow for sexual creativity—longer penises might be better for having sex as a (sometimes acrobatic) leisure activity. Others, meanwhile, believe that (along with the arrow-shaped head) a larger penis helped to scoop competitors’ semen out of the vaginal canal, increasing their chances of carrying on the family name. Fair point, cats and some species of beetle have spiny penises to help with just this. [9,10]

And some scientists believe it’s because of bipedalism—that standing up straight made penises more visible, and therefore it serves as a kind of display like a bird’s feathers or a buck’s antlers. Not completely purposeless, but became fancier/larger to perhaps intimidate other males. [11]

So, if penis size isn’t necessarily about sexual attractiveness and the ability to carry on your bloodline—why all the hullabaloo? Is this new?

No, it is not new. Join us for The History of the Big Dick Pt. II.


  11. Diamond, Jared. The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. 2nd ed. New York: 2006. 72-76. Print.

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