Image by Dainis Graveris
In an ideal world, all of us would feel confident of every part of our body.
Not true, of course (sadly) – but especially when it comes to our genitals it seems.
A new study (by Bespoke Surgical) found no matter what sexuality or gender you identify with, body confidence about our most private parts isn’t something that comes easily.
The first thing this impacts on is your sex life.
If you’re worried about how your partner is going to react when they see your genitals for the first time – or really have a good look – there’s little chance you’ll relax and allow yourself to be aroused.
Instead of anticipating a potentially delicious sexual encounter, you’ll be anxious about it. Desire falls, distress rises and instead of enjoying having sex, you spend it desperately scanning your partner’s face for any signs of disgust, disappointment, revulsion or ridicule.
Lots of people write to me, asking for reassurance about their genitals. Do they smell right? Do they look OK? Are they the right size, shape, colour?
The movement away from stick-thin models seems to be marching nicely towards a healthier, more representative body shape. Anxiety over our genitalia seems to be moving in the opposite direction, fuelled in part by our consumption of porn.
Here’s how *men feel about their penises
Brace yourselves: I found it upsetting that men feel this way.
Around 23 per cent of men wish their penis was larger.
Around 38 per cent are uncomfortable with others seeing their genitals at a urinal.
Roughly one quarter of men have had someone make a direct, negative comment about their genitalia.
One man contacted me recently, terribly distressed about the lyrics of Cardi B’s song WAP.
I don’t blame him.
Lines like ‘not a garter snake, I need a king cobra’ certainly aren’t helping, when I’m trying to reassure men that penis size really doesn’t matter.
Here’s how women* feel about their vaginas
Around 49 percent of women worry their vagina is abnormal in some way. Forty one percent worry their labia is abnormal.
Around 15 per cent have had something say something negative about their genitals
Around 48 percent say their vaginal discharge makes them feel less confident in bed.
About 23 percent feel the appearance of their genitals impacts negatively on their confidence during sex.
Not great, eh?
The thing that surprised me most about this study’s results was that gay women had even less confidence about their genitals than straight women did.
Lesbians consistently trump straight women in lots of sex studies: they tend to have longer and better orgasms, for instance.
Not in this instance.
The largest disparity in genital confidence in this study wasn’t between men and women but between heterosexual and homosexual.
70 per cent of gay women worry their genitalia is abnormal compared to 40 per cent of straight women.
“If we had to guess, maybe this is because same-sex relationships leave more room for immediately comparison,” the researchers speculate.
(They also noted that the study was limited in that trans, non-binary and other gender non-conforming people weren’t surveyed.)
It was the same with homosexual men.
Nearly 30 percent of homosexual men felt the appearance of their genitals negatively impacted on their overall confidence. Only 11 per cent of heterosexual men agreed.
Here’s the facts
Lots of you will find this information depressing.
I am one of you!
But distress over the appearance and function of our genitals is widespread and needs to be talked about.
The facts need to replace the myths.
Tattoo the following on your foreheads.
Our genitals are as individual as every other part of our body.
Take a look at how many different nose shapes and sizes there are and you’ll get a good idea of the numerous variations in vaginas and penises.
This article talks about nine different types of labia, that are completely normal. The labialibrary gives full colour photos of labia, to show you the many different shapes and sizes.
I liked this article on the 20 different kinds of penises you may encounter in life. And this one, from The Book of Man showing lots of photos of different penises.
Far more important than genital size or appearance is how you feel about it.
You can make a big deal out of your perceived imperfections and become paranoid. Or you can accept what nature has given you, work with it and get on with having a great sex life.
People don’t fall in love – or lust – purely with body bits. The person they’re attached to figures in there as well!
What you see on porn isn’t an accurate reflection of real life
Both men (46 per cent) and women (32 per cent) in the study got their perception of what their genitals should like from porn.
Other studies have shown a correlation between how much porn a man watches and how satisfied he is with his penis size.
One in five women said they had considered altering the appearance of their vagina through labiaplasty or vaginal bleaching.
I have been gently reminded by some lovely people in the porn industry that not all porn stars have genitals that have been bleached or ‘tidied up’ by labiaplasty.
But some do and, if you’re paranoid about something, you do the whole ‘confirmation bias’ thing, where you look at the images which support your beliefs.
Yes, there is porn featuring natural looking women but you don’t need to look far to find women with ‘perfect’ genitals either.
Be discerning in your porn tastes. Watch amateur porn for a more realistic spectrum, or, if the visuals disturb you, try some audio porn.
Remind yourself: this is entertainment, not sex education of how people’s genitals look in real life.
The only time you need to worry is if something about your genitals is causing pain or discomfort.
If that’s the case, then a visit to a GP is absolutely in order.
You’re normal. I promise.
* These were cis men: people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth
* Ditto for the women in the study