Guys, be honest: Do you wish you were bigger? Almost certainly, the answer is yes.
"I think there isn't a guy in the world who hasn't wished his penis were an inch or two longer," says Michael O'Leary, MD, professor of urologic surgery at Harvard Medical School and a urologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
However, after more than a century of generally dubious and sometimes lunatic penis enlargement attempts, there's still not much you can do. Sure, there are lots and lots of supposed options out there -- penis pills, creams, brutal stretching exercises, horrific-looking devices, and penis surgery. Almost none of it works. The few approaches that can work often have modest benefits and serious side effects. How serious? In some cases, erectile dysfunction-serious.
"Trust me, if I knew of a way to safely and effectively increase penis size, I'd be a billionaire," O'Leary tells WebMD. "But I don't. Nobody does."
Still, common sense doesn't stop size-obsessed guys from trying very sketchy treatments on a vital part of their anatomy -- and risking a lot in the process.
How Small Is a Small Penis?
Think you're smaller than average? You're probably not.
The typical erect penis is usually 5 to 6 inches long with a circumference of 4 to 5 inches. There's more variation in the size of flaccid penises.
Some guys are genuinely smaller than that. In rare cases, genetics and hormone problems cause a condition called micropenis -- an erect penis of under 3 inches. Sometimes Peyronie's disease or prostate cancer surgery can reduce a guy's size.
But studies show that most of the guys seeking penis enlargement are average-sized. They just think they're below average.
Why? Part of it is perspective. It's very hard to gauge the size of your own penis -- looking down, you've got a bad angle.
Psychology plays a role, too. Some average-sized guys become obsessed with the idea that they're too small. There's even a psychiatric diagnosis: penile dysmorphic disorder. It's similar to the perceptual distortion of anorexics who think they're fat no matter how thin they get.
According to one study, the majority of men who get penis enlargement surgery have this condition. They're also the least satisfied with the results.
What Works: Weight Loss
There is one safe and effective method for getting a larger-looking penis: weight loss.
"A lot of men who think that they have a small penis are overweight," says Jennifer Berman, MD, a urologist in Beverly Hills and co-author of Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman.
Losing weight will reveal more of that hidden shaft that's buried beneath belly fat. It doesn't actually increase your size, but it will look that way.
For guys who would rather have a surgical procedure than eat less, liposuction of the fat pad around the penis can work. Still, the effects aren't permanent -- if you don't change your eating habits, your penis will once again sink into your belly, like a pier at high tide.
Penis Enlargement: Pills, Creams, and Devices
What else is there? Here's a rundown of some unproven options to increase penis size.
- The vacuum pump. This is a cylinder that sucks out air. You stick your penis in and the resulting vacuum draws extra blood into it, making it erect and a little bigger. You then clamp off the penis with a tight ring -- like a tourniquet -- to keep the blood from leaking back into your body. What are the drawbacks? The effect only lasts as long as you have the ring on. Using it for more than 20 to 30 minutes can cause tissue damage. This is sometimes used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, but has not been proven to actually increase the size of the penis.
- Stretching with weights. Weights or stretching exercises won't bulk up your penis -- it's not a muscle. But hanging weights off your flaccid penis may stretch it a bit, O'Leary says. The catch is that it requires a freakish degree of dedication. "You might have to wear a weight strapped to your penis eight hours a day for six months," says O'Leary. At the end of it, you could be lucky enough to gain about half an inch. Risks include tearing of the tissue, burst blood vessels, and other problems.
- Pills, supplements, ointments, and creams. They don't work. None of them. "I think it's safe to say that all of that stuff is complete nonsense," Berman says.
Penis Enlargement Surgery
What about surgery? There are two basic penis enlargement surgeries.
- Lengthening the penis. The most common procedure is to cut the ligament that connects the penis to the pelvic bone. This allows a little more of the shaft -- on average less than an inch -- to become visible outside the body. It's not really lengthening the penis so much as revealing more of what's usually hidden. To prevent the ligament from reattaching, a guy would need weights or stretching devices daily for about six months.
- Widening the penis. For men who think their penis is too thin, more controversial procedures can thicken it using implanted fat, silicone, or tissue grafts.
The American Urologic Association states that these procedures have not been shown to be safe or effective for increasing the thickness or length of the penis in an adult.
One newer -- and possibly lower-risk -- procedure may work for certain men. In some cases, the scrotum attaches high up on the shaft of the penis. Partially disconnecting the scrotum can reveal more of the shaft, making the penis look longer. The surgery takes 20 minutes and can be done on an outpatient basis, O'Leary says.
Penis Enlargement Surgery Risks
Before you take out a penile improvement loan and unbuckle your pants, consider the risks of lengthening or widening surgery.
There are no well-studied approaches. No major medical organization approves of these surgeries. Some guys opt to travel to other countries for treatments that aren't approved in the U.S. If that thought has crossed your mind, slow down -- it's time to have a frank talk with your doctor about the risks you'd be taking.
The side effects of lengthening surgeries are numerous and include infections, nerve damage, reduced sensitivity, and difficulty getting an erection. Perhaps most disturbing, scarring can leave you with a penis that's shorter than what you started with. Widening the penis is even more controversial. Side effects can be unsightly -- a lumpy, bumpy, uneven penis.
The few studies that have been done aren't encouraging. The European Urology study looked at 42 men who had procedures to lengthen their penises by cutting the suspensory ligament and found that only 35% were satisfied with the results. Half went on to get more surgery.
Reconsidering Penis Enlargement
Wishing you were a little bigger is common. If it's becoming a fixation, stop and think before you do something rash.
Talking to a doctor or a therapist can help. Research has found that when a doctor honestly reassures a guy that his penis is average-sized, he is likely to stop searching for surgery.
You also need to be on guard against phony claims for miracle penis enlargement.
"The main target for penis enlargement advertising is insecure guys who think all their power lies in their penises," says Berman. "These guys are easy victims."
Ian Kerner, a sex counselor in New York, says that the imagined glories of a gargantuan penis are not all they're cracked up to be.
"When it comes to penis size, being average is really where you want to be," says Kerner, the author of books including She Comes First. "Having a penis that's too big can be a much larger problem -- pun unintended -- than one that's too small." For guys who are too big for their partners, oral or vaginal sex can be difficult.
"Size really doesn't matter nearly as much as being a good and creative lover," Kerner tells WebMD. "How you use your brains, your hands, your mouth, and everything else -- that's what counts in the bedroom."
So consider: A quest for a bigger penis could leave you with a lumpy, bruised, discolored, thickened, painful, dysfunctional member. (Not to mention a drained bank account.) Does risking the inches you have for the hope of an extra half inch make sense?