Penis size varies amongst men, and in some cases, considerably.
In the UK, the average erect penis measures about 5.2 inches whilst a flaccid penis measures about 3.6 inches long. Naturally there’s a bell curve with extremes on either side.
Notwithstanding where we’re placed, at a point in our lives we may encounter a phenomenon called penis shrinkage. This refers to a decrease in the size of the penis, something that doesn’t really cross our minds, until it’s happening.
In most cases, the shrinkage is temporary, the result of treatable conditions or due to lifestyle habits. However, in some circumstances, it can be permanent.
Some men can lose up to an inch off their manhood for a variety of reasons. The typical causes of loss of length include aging, smoking, obesity, prostate surgery and a condition called Peyronie’s disease.
Ageing is fact of life. It reflects the slow degeneration of the body, and the penis is not immune.
As we get older, our penis is likely to lose some of its length, and our testicles are likely to get slightly smaller too.
One of the reasons for this is the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, which reduces blood flow to the region. The constrained blood flow results in a wasting of the muscle cells in the erectile tissue.
Another reason is the build up of scar tissue, caused by scarring from repeated small injuries to the penis during sex or sports activities. Again, this restricts blood flow, potentially reducing the overall size of the penis.
Smoking doesn’t just cause cancer, heart disease and increase your risk of stroke. Scientists believe that it can also cause your manhood to shrink.
This is because cigarettes contain certain toxins that are damaging to blood vessels in the penis, which restricts the blood flow to the region.
The constrained blood flow also makes it harder to get an erection when aroused, which will likely be smaller in size.
Weight gain is not just reflective of deteriorating health, but it can also make the penis look a lot less impressive.
This is because as we get fatter, the thick pad of fat at our lower abdomen envelops the shaft of the penis. In extremely obese men, the fat can enclose most of the penis.
In addition, as the erectile muscles are attached to our abdominal wall, when our belly grows and expands outwards, it actually pulls the penis inward, which again makes it look smaller.
The good news is that in the case of obesity the penis doesn't actually shrink. It's an optical illusion.
In studies, up to 70% of men who have undergone a procedure called a radical prostatectomy (removal of a cancerous prostrate gland) have reported a mild to moderate shortening of their penis.
Whilst the exact cause is still to be determined, some experts believe that muscle contraction due to nerve damage after the surgery pulls the penis into the body.
Another theory is that sexual dysfunction after surgery prevents blood from flowing easily to the penis. Similarly to the effects of aging and smoking, the lack of blood flow to the erectile tissue causes muscle wastage and penis shrinkage.
Men who experience this may lose anywhere between half to three quarters of an inch when flaccid, a not insubstantial amount.
It is perfectly normal for a penis to have a slight curve when it is erect.
However, some men experience a condition called Peyronie's disease, where the penis develops an extreme and prominent curvature.
Peyronie’s disease can be very painful and make it difficult or impossible to have sex. The condition may also cause a build-up of scar tissue which can block blood flow to the penis, causing loss of size.
The good news is that in many instances penis shrinkage can be reversed, albeit in some cases it may be harder than in others.
A key aim should be to maintain erectile function. This is important because erections fill the penis with oxygen-rich blood, preventing muscle wasting, and by extension, the likelihood of shrinkage.
Erectile function can be maintained by the usual recommendations for remaining fit and healthy, namely, keeping physically active, eating a balanced and nutritious diet, not smoking and avoiding alcohol over-consumption.
If the penis has shortened because of removal of the prostrate, then this may be temporary, and the shortening may reverse within 6 to 12 months. If not, there is the option of penile rehabilitation, which aims to increase blood flow to the region.
Penile rehabilitation can include taking erectile dysfunction treatment such as Viagra or Cialis (you can purchase here) or using a vacuum pump which fits over the penis.
Unfortunately, any shrinkage from Peyronie's disease is irreversible. There are surgery options to correct the bend and remove scar tissue, but any damage done beforehand is likely to be permanent damage.
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Written by Mike Firth, GP and Medical Director
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.