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How do you measure a man(or woman): Small Penis Syndrome?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There has been an outpouring of comments in response to the articles on the topic of “small penis syndrome (see the articles “Male Self Concept and Small Penis Syndrome” and “An Anxiety Disorder: Small Penis Syndrome“). Clearly, this is an issue that is emotionally painful to the men who experience this problem and the women they are with.

While I am in no way dismissing the very real emotional pain suffered by the men who suffer with this problem, I want to add some comments to help put a new perspective on the issue while including many others on the topic.


One of the things that makes us unique as human beings as compared to other living creatures on this planet has to do with our ability to think in terms of metaphors. A metaphor is a “symbol of speech in which a symbol is used to represent something else. An example of a metaphor is: 1) “That woman is as cold as ice,” or, 2) “His mother ordered him to clean his room because it looks like a pig stye.” In the first example the meaning is that this woman is unemotional, or that she seems not to care about other people, or that she is not nurturing. In the second example, the mother is complaining that her son does not put his things away and fails to keep his room neat and organized.

“Castration anxiety”

Freud, who is no longer in vogue in the psychiatric community, hit upon the worry that men have about their masculinity, when he discussed “castration anxiety.” Without going into any of the details of this concept, suffice it to say that Freud was referring to the fear and doubts that boys and men can and do have about their ability to be assertive, competitive and aggressive. One way in which the worry expresses itself has to do with the preoccupation that males have about the size of their genitals.

Do you think this is silly or untrue? Among the types of activities that boys engage in having to do with their genitalia is engaging in urination contests. Many groups of boys will have contests to see who among them can urinate the farthest. Another contest is what is called, in the vernacular, “a circle jerk,” in which boys will sit or stand in a circle, penises out or pants dropped, and masturbate to see who ejaculates first and farthest.  Then, too, there are the more commonly known activities, more metaphorical in nature, such as arm wrestling, indian-wrestling and other such types of tests of strength.

Some of these issues having to do with men and masculinity are expressed in our music. A famous example is the song by “Peter, Paul and Mary,” entitled, “Blowin In the Wind.” The lyrics are metaphors for many things but the most important is masculinity when the song raises the question: “How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?” Of course, among the many issues that the lyrics hint at have to do with racial and religious hatred, warfare and the quest to be treated by others with respect and dignity.

By the way, this search for respect and dignity includes women as well as men. In fact, it can and should be argued that women also struggle with “castration anxiety” in the sense that they want and should be treated as equals who work for equal pay alongside men and who should be free of sexual harassment and violence.


There are two ways of looking at the comments about “penis size.” One way has to do with the very real perception of those who experience it, that they have very small genitals and struggle with terrible feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. However, the second way of looking at it is to include all men and women in that everyone wants to feel strong, assertive and respected but often do not either because society treats them unfairly or they have deeply ingrained feelings of weakness and ineffectiveness.

For those who live with fears of inadequacy of any kind, there are many treatments available, including everything from psychotherapy to assertiveness training classes. In a way, what I am implying is that all of us, men and women alike, can learn to “stand up and be counted as men(women).

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, PhD

Editor’s Note: August 3rd, 2009: Several days ago, after watching a disturbing trend of angry comments start to bloom into outright advocacy of aggression (something we could not allow), we decided to turn off comments on our series of Small Penis Syndrome (SPS) articles. We regret that it has come to this as we have become amply aware that it is important that people have a place to go on the Internet where they can talk about this powerful anxiety and the shame that surrounds it. Today, we are restoring read-access to the older comments, but are not going to accept any new comments on the essays themselves. Instead, we ask that people interested in discussing Small Penis Syndrome please visit the special Small Penis Syndrome forum we have set up within our Mental Help Net Community especially for this purpose. We regret any inconvenience this shift in venue has or will cause those interested in participating in the discussion.

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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