Have you ever noticed how men behave a little strangely in public lavatories? Given a choice between peeing next to another man or walking to the urinal that's furthest away from him, we'll always choose the one that's furthest away. If the urinal at the far end is already being used, we'll choose the one in the middle and if the lavatory is so crowded that it's impossible to use a urinal without standing next to someone else, we'll opt to pee in a stall. Only if all the stalls are occupied will we stand next to another man and, in the event of that happening, we'll stare intently at a spot directly in front of us, never making eye contact with the people on either side. Such are the peeing habits of men in public lavatories.
Why is this? The answer's simple: we don't want other men to see our penises. Deep down, all men are worried that their penises might not be up to snuff. Of course, none of us will ever admit this--it would be like confessing you prefer ballet to football--but the doubt is always there at the back of your mind. Have I got a small one? Is it below average? Whenever you sleep with someone who's slept with one of your mates, the question you always want to ask is: "Was he bigger than me?"
"People think everybody else's is longer than theirs," says Dr Irwin Goldstein, a urologist at Boston University Medical School.
Part of the problem is that there's no standard method of measurement so no one knows exactly how big an "average" penis is supposed to be. The famous American sexologist Dr Alfred Kinsey compiled data from 6,000 men, but made the mistake of letting his subjects hold the tape measure themselves, thereby dramatically inflating the results. Most urologists put the average somewhere between five and seven inches, a discomfortingly large standard deviation. Indeed, such a broad definition of what constitutes the "average" seems designed to comfort those at the low end of the scale. An additional complicating factor is that men generally view their own penises from above so they appear smaller than those of other men even though they may be the same size.
"Men do have penis envy," says Dr Leon Hoffman, a spokesman for the New York Psychoanalytic Society. "Men compare probably more than women."
Needless to say, men aren't inclined to discuss these sensitive issues with each other, at least not seriously. I once asked my best friend whether he thought there was any validity to the angle-of-vision point. "Absolutely," he said. "When I look down I'm impressed, but when I see myself in the mirror I'm frightened." I was reminded of a joke that the stand-up comic Chubby Brown is fond of telling: "I'm only four-and-a-half inches...and some women don't like it that thick."
I'm not above such bravado myself. I was once chatting up a girl at a party when a well-known plastic surgeon walked past. Taking this as my cue, I asked her what part of her anatomy she'd have surgically altered if she had to choose one thing.
"I don't know," she said. "I suppose I'd have my breasts reduced. What about you?"
"That's easy," I replied. "I'd have my penis reduced."
In fact, if I had to opt for one plastic surgery procedure, I'd probably have my penis enlarged. I've never measured it--I don't dare, in case it turns out to be below average--but a couple of extra inches wouldn't hurt. Or, rather, it would hurt but it'd be worth it. This is particularly true today when women are inclined to rank men according to their vital statistics. For years, insecure men like me have taken comfort from another of Dr Kinsey's findings, namely, that the female orgasm is clitoral rather than vaginal, so the length of a man's penis is irrelevant. Unfortunately, so many women have told me that size does matter, I've had to abandon this salutary myth. It's not the motion of the ocean that counts, apparently, it's the size of the torpedo.
For the purposes of gathering material for this article, I decided to pay an undercover visit to Dr Roberto Viel, a plastic surgeon specialising in penis enlargement. On the other side of the Atlantic, this is proving to be a popular solution to men's long-standing anxiety about the size of their penises--or should that be "short-standing anxiety"?. For instance, the Beverly Hills urologist Rodney Barron says he's performed over 4,000 penis enlargements since 1991. In Britain, it has yet to reach these levels, but Dr Veal claims to have performed hundreds of penile-enlargement operations in the last decade.
The London Centre of Aesthetic Surgery is located on the first floor of an ordinary-looking townhouse on Harley Street. Things got off to a bad start when the door was answered by an extremely pretty girl.
"Yes?" she said brightly.
"I'm here to see Dr Roberto Viel," I said, blushing.
"Oh, Dr Viel," she replied, quickly averting her eyes.
Was I was being paranoid, or did she know what I was there for? I have no idea what percentage of Dr Viel's patients come to see him about penis enlargement, but judging from her reaction it's pretty high. She led me up the stairs and introduced me to another attractive girl, this one dressed in a nurse's uniform.
"This is Mr Young," she told her. Then, lowering her voice to a whisper, she added: "He's here to see Dr Viel."
"I see," said the nurse, adopting a brisk, professional manner. "If you'd like to fill this in, the doctor will see you shortly."
She handed me a form that had various boxes to fill in: name, address, medical history, etc. I flipped it over and on the back it had two additional boxes: "Length" and "Girth". Was I supposed to fill those in as well?
As I was struggling with this, I noticed that the two women were stealing furtive glances at me, as if I was some freak of nature who'd come in for major corrective surgery. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming urge to tell them I was an undercover journalist, that I didn't have a "micropenis," to use the medical term. (A "micropenis" is one that's less than 2.7 inches when fully erect.) I wanted to whip it out and wave it around: "Here! Look! See! It's perfectly normal."
I flipped through the pile of magazines in the waiting room. I was expecting them to be in Japanese--I've heard the rumour--but most of them were in Arabic. Was that significant? The only magazine in English was called Cosmetic Surgery and, to my surprise, it contained an article on Dr Viel. Or, rather, the two Dr Viels. Apparently, Roberto has a twin brother called Maurizio and they both practice together at the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery. According to the article, Roberto has "already performed a procedure on his brother," though it didn't say what. Hmmmm.
After about 15 minutes, Roberto appeared and showed me through to his room. He was a tall, thin-faced man in his late 30s with a pronounced Italian accent. I began by asking him the question that had occurred to me as soon as I'd read the article: were he and his brother the inspiration for the twin gynaecologists played by Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers?
"Of course not," he said testily. "Why you ask me this? I no like this movie."
I cursed myself inwardly. I'd momentarily forgotten that one of the twin brothers in Dead Ringers is a homicidal maniac who fashions a new set of gynaecological instruments to torture, maim and kill his female patients. Dr Viel gave me such a hostile look I was glad I wasn't planning to go through with the enlargement procedure there and then. It's not very sensible to offend a man who's about to take a scalpel to your penis.
Dr Viel then proceeded to tell me exactly what the operation involves. Typically, he explained, he performs a two-part "penoplasty" whereby he first increases the length and then the girth of your little man. The lengthening procedure involves cutting the "penile suspensory ligament" and pulling the penis forward, thereby adding between one and two inches. However, he quickly pointed out that this gain would only apply to my penis in its flaccid state; it would make no difference to it when erect. Not only that, but the angle of my erection would end up being about 30 degrees shallower, a consequence of cutting the suspensory ligament.
I couldn't believe it. The lengthening surgery was cosmetic in every sense of the word. I might impress my buddies in the changing room, but it would make absolutely no difference where it really mattered--in the bedroom. On the contrary, my erect penis would flail around drunkenly instead of standing to attention. There was no upside and a huge downside. Or, rather, a not-so-huge downside. What kind of idiot would have it done?
The widening procedure sounded equally perilous. Dr Viel explained that it involves removing fat from the stomach or thigh and injecting it into the shaft of the penis, thereby increasing the circumference by approximately two inches. However, the fat has a tendency to be re-absorbed, meaning the patient has to return for a series of top-ups, and it can also result in unusual hair-growth, creating what's known in the trade as the "hairy-donut effect". Finally--and this is something the good doctor neglected to tell me--the American plastic surgeon who pioneered this operation, Ricardo Samitier, was convicted for manslaughter after a penis enlargement patient bled to death on his operating table. That's right--bled to death! My God, I thought. Even if I had a "micropenis" I'd think twice about exposing myself to that kind of risk.
"Okay," said Dr Viel at the conclusion of the consultation, "let's 'ave a look at your penis."
Now, I have to confess, I wasn't expecting this. How was I going to preserve my cover if I had to show him my credentials? Surely, the moment I dropped my trousers he would dismiss me with a wave of his hand: "Come now, Meester Young, you are joking with me. Stop wasting my time. There's nothing I can do for you."
In fact, when I did show him my penis he looked worryingly unfazed, as if it was about average for one of his patients. What extraordinary professionalism! To my horror, he then pulled on some latex gloves and started manhandling it with all the expertise of a 16-year-old schoolgirl on her first date. Was he getting his revenge for my Dead Ringers question? Pull! Stretch!! Bend!!! At one point, I actually cried out in pain. He then got out a tape and measured the length and width of my, by now, thoroughly demoralised little soldier. He read off the results in centimetres rather than inches, as if to cushion the blow.
"Yes, Mr Young," he concluded, peeling off his latex gloves. "I can definitely do something for you."
For a second I was tempted to go through with it, but in the end common sense prevailed. Why risk the discomfort and the expense--Dr Viel charges £5,800 for the two-part procedure--for a gain that's entirely aesthetic? Frankly, I don't care what other men think when they catch a glimpse of my pea-shooter in the shower, even if they are packing Magnum 45s. Oh, alright, I do care, but not that much. The important thing is that the operation would make very little difference to the sexual pleasure of my female partners. Indeed, I can't imagine many women being prepared to go to bed with me if I had a "hairy donut" on the end of my nob.
As I emerged from the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery, blinking into the light, I was suddenly overcome with an urge to pee. I think I wanted to make sure everything was working properly after the going over my penis had just received at the hands of Dr Viel. I slipped into a public lavatory only to be confronted by the worst-case scenario: every stall in use and only one urinal free! I inched my way along the line of peeing men and gingerly took out my penis. As I waited for something to happen--it always takes ages in situations like this--I stared intently at a spot directly in front of me. Please God, I thought. Don't let the men on either side of me glance down at my pecker. It's not usually this small. It's just feeling particularly demoralised at the moment.