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Is ‘XL 4 XL only’ gay app culture making size queens cockier?

The impersonal nature of apps means we’re more upfront about our desires than ever. But is an increasingly naked obsession with big penises an expression of sexual freedom – or is it turning us into a bunch of pricks? Jamie Tabberer investigates.

2022-04-29

Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Pexels

My penis size is a bit above average. When erect. I think.

I’d know for sure if the NHS-stated UK average (5–7 inches) wasn’t so ambiguously broad. (The global average, by comparison, is a curiously precise 5.16, as per a 2015 Guardian report.)

Some guys I’ve slept with, I hope, would say I’m undershooting myself. More still, I fear, would say I’m grossly exaggerating. Or so says my “inner saboteur”, to quote RuPaul. (Stay with me; my fascination with my own penis will last a little longer, then I’ll get to the point.)

Suffice to say, I’ll never be ‘XL’ — no penile implants for this cosmetic surgery sceptic, thanks — and I’m OK with that. Most of the time.

Perhaps I’ve just been coldly rejected by one too many size queens, including one recently with whom, I later discovered, I share mutual friends. What prompted me to write this article, however, was a Scruff profile I stumbled across last year, and the discrepancy between the man’s inclusivity-preaching bio (‘no racists, no Tories, no transphobes’) and his display name (‘XL 4 XL’).

‘Isn’t this self-satisfied, shallow individual,’ I asked myself, a feeling of inadequacy overcoming me, ‘contradicting himself?’

But why should a stranger care about my feelings? Why would he when he doesn’t know I exist? Scarier still, could I truly say, for all my own inclusive ideologies — for all my railing against the objectification of women’s bodies — that I’ve never rejected someone (online, never IRL, and only indirectly) over the size of their penis? Am I therefore any better than anyone who’s rejected me for having less than a 10-inch rager? And what about the dick-size preferences apparent in our global porn consumption? The most popular videos on tube sites say it all.

Are we, fundamentally, a community of body-shamers — or do we simply like what we like?

For me, anecdotally, size queenism is on the rise. But it’s not a new thing, says famed sex columnist Dan Savage, who’s been helping people work through sexual dilemmas in a frank and direct manner since 1991.

“I’m always a little frustrated when younger people complain about Grindr as if it’s brought out a different type of behaviour than existed before — it’s just not true,” he says when I ask about the candour unleashed by app culture.

He cites the popularity of the handkerchief code in the 70s. (I never liked the colour mustard anyway.) “I know a lot of younger gay men who express nostalgia for what the bars and bathhouses of the 60s and 70s must’ve been like,” he says.

“‘More camaraderie!’ ‘Human beings!’ ‘A band of brothers fucking each other!’ I was there. It wasn’t like that. It was just as dehumanising as Grindr. But instead of ghosting you, you’d talk to somebody for a minute, then they’d ignore you! Blocking you but standing right there. And picking somebody else up in front of you.

“It was just as transactional; just as much made you feel [like] a commodity as Grindr does.”

"I’m militant because guys lie about it"

Using the breeding ground for discourtesy that is Grindr, I tapped up some London-based size queens to get their (anonymous) take, half expecting to be blocked the moment I declared my intentions.

Instead, I was surprised by how considered and detailed some of their responses were. “I’m militant because guys lie about it,” 38-year-old bisexual man Greg (he/him) tells me. He has no intention of ever coming out of the closet about his interest in men — he’s into mutual oral only — but one place he’s extremely upfront about who he is is on his Grindr profile.

In it, he states his categorical disinterest in anyone below eight inches: his own size. It’s an infallible negotiating tool that gets him laid to his chosen criteria on the regular, he claims.

“It’s the feeling of being overwhelmed, debased — anything less than eight inches just doesn’t instigate that feeling in me,” he explains.

He decodes his desire as being informed by his first sexual experience as a teenager.

“I hooked up with a friend who I suspected was huge. The anticipation was almost better than reality. He didn’t disappoint.”

He makes no apologies about what he likes. When I question whether it’s arguably wrong to “police other people’s desires”, he replies: “Precisely.”

But surely, I counter, his punishing standards mean he could be missing out on the best sex of his life, or finding his soulmate?

“I wouldn’t rule out seeing a guy again who was less than eight inches, if I really liked him and had a really good time with him,” he concedes.

“But that’s based on the assumption that I’d meet him in the first place. I wouldn’t.”

"I find it fascinating that it’s something that’s sort of weaponised"

Mike Rizzi, a Canadian content creator, is uniquely positioned to comment on the phenomenon. Specialising in educational sex content for a predominantly LGBTQ+ audience, he has 168k YouTube subscribers as well as 127k followers on Instagram and 110k on TikTok. 

“I’ve been doing it for a decade,” he says, “and content in general has become [more] sexualised. Any visual of the penis, whether underwear, crotch, performs so much better.” 

He adds of 2022’s large-penised adult stars: “I find it fascinating that it’s something that’s sort of weaponised. You could have a body sculpted by Greek gods, but if your penis size is average or below average, it’s something people [discuss] about you online, in comments sections. Or gossip about celebrities on online forums — it does objectify men.” 

It’s not just LGBTQ+s dealing with penis politics. One of Rizzi’s most successful YouTube videos is ‘Straight Guys React to Andrew Christian Underwear’, in which four of his friends discover the Wonderbra-esque lifting structures of pouch support in real time. “It was such a foreign concept to them — they couldn’t stop laughing,” he remembers. This was 2014: in other words, simpler times. These days, tech-savvy Gen Z are, regardless of sexuality, all about “loose-fitting sweatpants, showing the outline of your penis” as the mere implication of well-endowment is all it takes to optimise social content. “They’re smart when it comes to how to portray penis size in a way algorithms can’t capture,” says Rizzi. “On YouTube you have content with someone wearing very revealing underwear, and algorithmically, it can scan that and tell it’s a half-naked individual.” 

Read the full feature in the Attitude May/June issue, out now.