Why are penises in older paintings so small compared to today?

A study has examined the size of the human penis as depicted in paintings over the centuries and found that the appendix has grown significantly over the past seven centuries, particularly the 20th century.

The team wanted to evaluate the ideal penis size over the centuries and how cultural differences have changed the male ideal.

“It seems logical that these changes in perceptions of ideal penis size should be reflected in paintings depicting the penis,” the team writes in their study. “Therefore, this study examines the depiction of penis size in art and assesses perceptions of penis size in the historical context of the past seven centuries.”

The researchers first tried to find as many paintings of naked men throughout the ages as possible by searching several popular art websites for variations of “nude men” and organizing them by time frame. Fortunately, there has been no shortage of depictions of nude men since the Renaissance, and the team identified 232 paintings from 21 countries that were suitable for the study, albeit with a European bias. Any depictions of erect penises were rejected, as were paintings of children.

Because size and distance in paintings are difficult to assess (is this man’s penis huge, or is it just standing near a tiny horse?), the researchers measured penis-to-ear or penis-to-nose ratios instead, since they’re equivalent.” according to the golden ratio”. This yielded a number that could be compared across time periods, with a number less than 1 meaning the penis size was represented smaller than its owner’s ear or nose and 1 being the same.

“During the 15th and 16th centuries, although the number of nude human paintings increased significantly, the penis continued to be depicted on a rather small scale,” the team noted, noting that the length of the penis depicted did not change significantly over the next few centuries 1800s.

“From the 19th century, however, images of the penis became proportionately larger.”

Date Average penis to ear/nose ratio
1400-1499 1.0585
1500-1599 0.9545
1600-1699 0.9623
1700-1799 1.0024
1800-1899 0.9409
1900-1999 1.2074
2000- 1.5761

Why the sudden increase in penis size over the last century?

“One explanation for the exaggerated perception of penis size in paintings of this century could be the widespread use of the internet and exposure to other media, which maintain the association between penis size and masculinity, strength, and partner satisfaction,” the team suggests. Adding that porn may have changed the “ideal” penis size for men.

“With the ubiquity of porn, oversized penises and exaggerated female responses to them could lead men to compare their own penis size to that of others, including men featured in pornographic content.”

The team points out that men tend to overestimate the average penis size while also underestimating their own (you may be surprised by the average penis size), with a “significant number of men” having attempted potentially dangerous penis enlargement procedures in recent years and enlargements.

The team notes that the study has limitations, including how the paintings were found and the European focus on them. However, if the results are correct, they say it could lead to problems with men’s body image.

“Developments in artistic depiction of the penis towards a larger, potentially unrealistic ideal in contemporary media may contribute to feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with penis size in modern men,” the team concludes.

The study was published in the medical journal BJU International.

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