My body, my shame.
Modern life has become a funhouse mirror in which our selves are grotesquely reflected back, the more warped the closer we look. Cheekbones aren't high enough, abs aren't defined enough, skin isn't lustrous enough.
Worse yet, our bodies just seem broken down if you trust what TV is telling you.
In 2007, if you don't have restless legs or sleep apnea, then panic attacks or Chronic Fatigue are taking their toll on you. Even if you manage to dodge those bullets, who doesn't exhibit symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder? It's a Cronenberg dystopia wherein even if our bodies aren't actually medically failing us, we fear on some emotional level that they must be.
Enter the latest shame-based syndrome: SPS, Small Penis Syndrome.
Its street name is "the locker room syndrome". Fitting that this disorder is rooted in childhood trauma since experts are positing that's when men's insecurity regarding their physical sexual identity begins.
Now the subject of a comprehensive UK-based research project conducted by urologists at the Hallamshire Hospital Porterback Clinic, we're left to anticipate the potential profits the pharmaceutical industry can reap by targeting male insecurity on a whole new level.
Is it a foregone conclusion that drugs called Girthonex and Lengthocil will hit the market?
There's already an established quack industry of creams, pills, and pumps that have exploited man's longing for the inflated sense of self associated with size.
Modern medicine may opt for the route of making us feel secure with innovative meds that kick start whatever neurotransmitters aren't firing fast enough. "Are you experiencing performance anxiety or embarrassment in the locker room? Ask your doctor about prescription-strength Axxeptitol. And finally learn to accept it all." If you can't alter the physical site of fixation, numb the mental distress associated with it.
The crux of this newest study, which combines data from fifty other previous inquiries conducted over sixty years, is that men and women want different things from the same organ.
Women apparently favor girth over length and are satisfied with their male partners' endowments 85% of the time.
Men tend to fixate on length and are their own worst critics.
The review also debunks long-held myths, namely that there is a variance in size according to race and that the penis shrinks as men move into their elderly years.
Most intriguingly, SPS is most common in men with normal-sized anatomies (5.5 to 6.2 inches in length, 4.7 to 5.1 inches in girth), despite the fact that micropenises -- a none-to-subtle term for penises with a non-erect length of less than 2.7 inches -- are found in less than one percent of the male population.
Causes for why 45% of men feel inadequate are based on factors from without and not necessarily from within; many cited childhood dissimilarities to elder male family members and standards set by pornographic imagery as the sources of their preoccupation with size.
So what are the options for enlarging what you have naturally?
Pumps have a brief effect and at best offer users a placebo effect wherein they may feel bigger more so upstairs than down. Magical herbal panacea products are just that -- futile supposed cure-alls designed to pick pockets. Pills won't stimulate cell growth and contain ingredients that wouldn't pass muster in a vitamin supplement.
Remember those inescapable commercials for Enzyte, the herbal male enhancement pill from a few years back featuring an inanely smiling pseudo-60s spokesmodel named Bob? There's a reason they haven't been making the broadcast rounds lately. The drug's parent company is now embroiled in a class action suit wherein users allege deceptive advertising, misleading claims, unsubstantiated statistics, and a downright deceptive money back guarantee.
Exercises are just going to produce more agony than ecstasy. Extended massaging or pulling sessions to increase blood flow can lead to tearing of blood vessels. Thinking of something exotic? You could theoretically try suspending weights from your member as has been practiced in India, which sounds like the newest set piece from Saw 4.
Certain Brazilian tribes even voluntarily subject themselves to Mondo-style venomous snake bites for the purposes of inducing swelling. Nothing says mount up like a dick engorged with deadly toxins from the fangs of a South American pit viper.
The surgical route is a more clinical but just as, um, dicey an option to take.
Phalloplasty is a corrective procedure intended for men born with micropenises, those suffering from deformities or who have difficulty urinating or achieving sexual intercourse, and hermaphrodites. It's a risky and complicated surgery involving skin transplantation.
Those just looking for a self-esteem boost should also tread lightly. Elective surgeries involve techniques like separating ligaments and fat injections, which carry the risk of loss sensation, infection, lumping around the injection site area, and even erectile dysfunction.
The most invasive procedure involves an incision to splay nearly the entire length of the member (shades of John Wayne Bobbitt in Frankenpenis) in order to insert a cartilage implant. Despite claims made by plastic surgeons, the reality is that the male anatomy is simply not as amenable to augmentation in the way that women's breasts are. There is no medical consensus on the effectiveness or even the necessity of these operations in the medical community and the dangerous long-term effects have yet to be documented.
For gay men, the most conspicuous element of the Hallamshire-Porterback study is this: Where do we fit into the equation -- if indeed we do at all?
Published data makes no mention of the sexual orientation of participants and there's a clear heterosexual bias to the report. Just like virtually every prescription ad, gays are phantom presences. The problem affects us, but we go unacknowledged. When is the last time anyone encountered a commercial for Viagra or Cialis that didn't featured a babe-like middle-aged man lounging around with his wife or devilishly trailing after his coy younger girlfriend?
If anyone has a lofty Sex Factor to live up to, it's us. The Gay Male form has become hyper-idealized in a mere thirty years. What we looked like in the 70s and what we look like now is the result of a cultural Darwinism; as our he-man dream selves become more and more bionic, we experience the angst of not being able to keep up, the dread of falling by the wayside.
The intense pressure to look like fitness models in the gym and porn stars in the sack daunts us. Compulsive exercise, steroid abuse, eating disorders, plastic surgery, fear of aging, youth obsession, and Herculean sexual prowess are increasingly ingrained into our lives.
The Size Quotient is the biggest monkey on our backs. Women have the fashion industry to emulate and resent and gays have our love/hate relationship with pornography, an impossibly flawless and mega-hung world where every man within is wildly desirable but we fear ultimately out of our league.
The SPS research findings conclude that all the mail order miracles and cosmetic tinkering are not the answers to our problems. As with other forms of body dismorphia, the underlying cause is mental and emotional. Snake oil remedies and self-maiming surgeries only exacerbate the issue.
For men with extreme SPS, psychological help is called for. For the rest of us, a daily dose of perspective will suffice. No man is an island...or a peninsula.