Researchers claim link between penis size and desire for luxury sports cars
There’s no question mark at the end of the “what’s he compensating for” trope. Everyone knows what it is; a statement. A direct reflection on the size of his penis and the need to offset performance elsewhere by an eye-rolling, ostentatious display of wealth by a man to compensate for his physically plain if not unattractive appearance, and usually the man is middle-aged or later. The method of compensation is said to be often a vehicle, sometimes a large ute or pickup, but often a high performance, flashy sports car. The logic is that the man needs something beyond his physical looks to attract women, and that makes him an object of derision.
So a group of researchers decided to test the theory and have published their results in: “Small Penises and Fast Cars: Evidence for a Psychological Link“. Now there’s an immediate disconnect with the trope which is more based on outward physical appearance of the man rather than penis size – in my experience a highly attractive man is far less likely to attract negative commentary – but we’ll set that aside.
As background, while we humans like to think of ourselves as special, we’re also animals, so it’s interesting to look at what other animals do. And of course many male animals are big into what’s called courtship displays; sometimes these are displays of physical attributes such as a peacock’s tail or a deer’s antlers, or some sort of demonstration of physical prowess such as hummingbirds singing or dancing or a lion roaring, or creating something such as a nest, for examples the bower bird. So the basic idea that human males might do the same thing is not far-fetched. As the scientists say in their paper:
“The ‘conspicuous consumption’ (Veblen, 1899; Thompson, 2023) of an expensive sports
car could play the same role as a peacock’s tail (Darwin, 1871): a costly display of apparently wasted
resources that is designed purely to compete for and attract mates (Gould & Gould, 1989)”
So the question they wanted to answer was; “is there any truth to the cliche that a man driving an expensive sports car is compensating for his male inadequacy?”
I take issue with the word ‘inadequacy’ as that simply perpetuates the dangerous myth that male adequacy is linked to penis size. Anyway, you can’t just ask men about penis size and how much they want a sports car, because societal conditioning has ensured that men are so sensitive about the subject you’ll never get enough truthful answers to derive any conclusions. That meant the researchers had to get a bit clever, and yes their research was approved by an ethics review.
First, they buried their questions amongst other questions so the point of the exercise wasn’t clear to the 200 male participants in the UK aged 18-74, median age 28.4. Second, they manipulated the participants’ view of their self-esteem by splitting the group and giving them two sets of statements:
The left side of the equation is likely to make you feel you’re not doing well in life, versus the right side which makes you feel you’re above average. Of course, the reality is somewhere in between. Being a curious sort I looked up the facts – but note these are really rough Google results – and it’s 61% of adults save every month, men have 9.8 sex partners over their lifetime, charity is around 53%, close friends is more like 2 for men, BMI is 26 (note that BMI is *not* a good measure of physical health, and generally the health/fitness industry is full of dangerous fast-result myths so beware), and the erect penis size is more like 5.9 inches or 15cm.
Having primed the participants’ mental state, the researchers then asked them to rate the desirability of a various goods including a high-end sports car, and sadly they didn’t say which model it was, as I’d suggest that would have an interesting effect on the results. Anyway, the researchers found reasonable statistical proof that the men shown the low-self-esteem data were more likely to rate a sports car as desirable. This conclusion lends weight to the idea that men buy sports cars to compensate for low self esteem, of which penis size is a factor, but one study of 200 men is hardly conclusive. So it’s worth pointing out that this study really is more about the effect of lowering men’s self esteem, of which penis size is one factor, rather than penis size alone. For example, the study probably would have worked just as well had the penis size row been deleted. But that wouldn’t make for a good headline, would it?
Now there will be several reactions to this article. One is jeering; “I told you so” and “I knew it”. The other is defence; “yeah I own a sports car and it’s not true”. There is probably an element of truth to the first, and the second is definitely true of many owners – not least all the women who own such cars, the happily partnered men, and those for whom the car is something they enjoy as an object to drive, not as any form of courtship display. I count myself in that last group, but I would say that, wouldn’t I! I can however definitely say that having driven numerous sports cars, the attention you get is almost exclusively from other men and boys so the idea that women are impressed by such cars and would want to date you is, in my view a fallacy, with the exception of a specific type of woman looking for wealth. I would suggest if there is spending to be done single men are far better off splashing cash at a quality clothing shop than on a car beyond something tidy and serviceable.
I would also be interested in the type of car used in the study, but I found no mention of it. For example, new Lamborghinis are often viewed as symbols of excess and show-off, whereas a well-maintained classic less so, even though it may be worth much more.
Perhaps more concerning is a study points to a sinister lesson for the marketers of desirable cars; all you need do is lower the self-esteem of a man and he’s more likely to buy your product. The again, that lesson is already well-known to the marketing world, as it’s already used for fitness regimes, diets, women’s cosmetics and much more.
Another interesting question is whether high-status possessions actually help men attract women. There is at least one study indicating they do:
“In an ongoing project with Tripat Gill, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, we created two versions of a man’s online-dating advertisement. The only difference between the two versions was the visual depiction of the target’s stated favourite possession: an expensive red Porsche or an inexpensive red Kia. Participants were asked to evaluate the man along several metrics including his perceived height. For the Porsche version, men reduced his height (status contraction effect) and women increased it (status elongation effect). This is precisely what an evolutionary perspective would predict. Status is a primer for male-male intra-sexual rivalry, and since male height is associated with higher status, men will derogate male competitors who are exhibiting cues of social status. On the other hand, the women’s visual system is tricked into imagining that men who are associated with high-status products are taller than might be the case.” (source: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/human-animal-behaviour-courtship-displays-evolutionary-psychology)
So what do you think? Any truth to this? Will you jeer or defend?
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Elements of truth for some but not all. Well written!