Sizing up your sex life

How do you compare to the Joneses? Should you care?




By Brian Alexander
Updated: 12:09 p.m. ET April 28, 2005


Doris Richards is very concerned about my sperm count. I know this because just today I received an e-mail from her telling me that for a small fee she could boost my boys by 500 percent! Imagine, I thought, scads more swimmers wriggling their way through the triathlon of reproduction.

As grateful as I am to Richards, and all the other spammers who show such concern for the state of my penis, my hairline, my testicles, my sexual stamina and even my bra cup size (!), I’m pretty satisfied, thanks very much. Nobody has complained, at least not out loud, and as far as I can tell, everything seems to work.

But many people are not satisfied, or at least they’re worried. Sexploration gets many e-mails from readers, as you might imagine, and an awful lot of them want to know “Am I normal?”

When I see these e-mails, I want to ask the sender “Why do you care?” So what if your neighbors are rutting twice a day? Nobody says you have to.

There is money to be made in anxiety. Advertising, both on TV and the Web, promises to improve you sexually in ways you never knew you should. I ran across one the other day called, a combo porn site and “research” outfit that purports to know the dimensions and appearance of the “perfect” vagina and vulva. Penis enlargement ads make men feel insecure about their package.

So maybe it will help if Sexploration provides you with a little data about some of the questions you most frequently ask.

Is my penis normal?
Suddenly everybody is fretting about penis size. Women are even getting more aggressive about stating their preference for big ones, at least on TV. In real life, many women tell me they prefer something in a medium. A 2002 study of 52 men younger than 40 found that the average length of a stretched, flaccid penis was 4.8 inches. Another study of 80 men found the stretched flaccid length was about the same. The unstretched state was only 3.5 inches. An Italian study agreed. Just this month, another study, this on Chinese men, confirmed these findings.

How often should we be doing it?
Should be? Or would like to be? You should be doing it as often as you’d like to be doing it. If that’s every time a Democratic administration is elected, fine. If it’s every time you see a Cialis commercial, fine. In a survey of over 3,000 men and women between the ages of 29 and 31, the average frequency of intercourse was between 6.6 and 7 times per month — less than twice per week. This jibes with similar reports. Other studies have shown that frequency decreases with age to about once or twice per month in your 60s. Couples with newborns use negative numbers. By the way, people lie about this stuff so much that even experts treat these results with caution.

Is my vagina the “right” size?
If you’re dating Mr. Ed, you ought to hear your echo in there. Otherwise, take heart. According to a study just out in a British obstetrics journal, “women vary widely in genital dimensions.” In other words, variety is normal. Vaginas tend to mirror body type. Bigger, taller women tend to have somewhat larger vaginas. And of course, age and child-bearing affect dimensions. The older you get, the more kids you have, the bigger you become. (But remember, Kegel exercises can do a lot to help return vaginal muscles back into pre-kid shape.) In a 1996 study of 39 women, doctors found the length of the vagina varied between 2.7 inches to 5.8 inches. Width varied from 1.9 inches to 2.5 inches.

Do I have enough sperm?
If you make enough to do the job, you make enough sperm. Average count per milliliter is around 50 million to 100 million sperm. This varies a lot according to age and between men (Did your mother smoke?) as does the number of sperm that can still swim the channel. At least 50 percent of them ought to head in the right direction.

My clitoris seems too big/small. Is it?
In a study of 200 women, the average total length of the clitoris was about 16 millimeters, about half an inch. The transverse diameter was 3.4 mm. No wonder we men have a hard time finding it.

Do I make enough semen?
What is it with guys and semen? We want more, more, more. Aargh! (Imagine man flexing here). But ask a woman sometime. She’d be just as happy to minimize the mess. According to the World Health Organization, a man is just fine if he makes something over 2 ml of semen (slightly less than one-tenth of an ounce). A normal range is somewhere between 2 ml and 3 ml, a teaspoon or so.

Are my testicles too small?
Do bigger balls make you more of a man? Sort of. Size is related to sperm production and testosterone, but it’s not like most guys are walking around with a couple of Titleists down there. Ouch! One study comparing Japanese and American men showed that Japanese testicles had a normal range of volume greater than 14 milliliters (slightly less than half an ounce), while Americans had a slightly higher range, greater than 17 ml (slightly more than half an ounce). Other studies from around the world show about the same results. You may be interested to know that doctors measure this size with a device called an orchiometer. How about that?

How long should I last?
One interesting study showed that men think they ought to last forever, but women are just as happy to have them last just long enough. Other research suggests the typical “ejaculatory latency” time ranges from over 7 minutes to around 10 minutes. But remember, guys, this has a lot to do with style. You could make it last longer if you just weren’t in such a hurry.

The lesson from all this? There aren’t many spectacular physical specimens or sexual performers out there. The norms, at least as far as research has been able to figure them out, are, well, pretty normal. And even if you fall outside the norm, so what? As long as it works, you’re fine. When Lincoln was asked how long legs should be, he said, “long enough to reach the ground.”

Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books).

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive
© 2005