As a term, Penis Envy is quite well-known, and as a concept, it’s an easy-to-grasp one, as it’s right there on the tin: being envious of a penis, as in a penis that is not yours. Among men and penis-having individuals, this is simple enough to understand, as who hasn’t at least wondered about the ways in which their Penises could be more effective, strongerOr perhaps even bigger?
From where did it come, you ask?
It may surprise you, however, to find out that its original meaning wasn’t intended for men and their desire for a better penis. Sigmund Freud, a psychoanalyst, proposed that girls and those who are given female gender at birth get fixated on their penis and envy the fact that men derive more pleasure out of their penises that they do their clitorises.
This “phallic stage” was Freud’s psychosexual development theory in which he claimed that everyone of all genders (at the time considered as a binary male or female) was fixated on their penis or their lack of a penis. In females, this would play out in a daughter’s attachment to their father and desire to have a son, as these would be as close as a woman would get to having a penis–something they truly desire, whether they know it or not.
It sounds absurd.
It gets better, but you should just keep waiting. Freud also claimed that their envy of phalluses would cause girls to resent their mothers for birthing them as a female and thus being “castrated” by their mothers.
However, do these people actually believe the above? Still?
It’s not true. Much of Freud’s work has been debunked or challenged sufficiently enough that it’s not a leading concept in the field. It does serve as a metaphor. Think about it: a male’s position inherently comes with more power and opportunity when compared with that of most females. To envy a penis, or envy having one, would perhaps likely be a conflation of being powerful with having a penis–the feature that physically makes one “a man.”
One of the main arguments against Freud’s Penis Envy theory is its very rigid and outdated views of human sexuality, not to mention gender and family configurations. As it is now, “Penis Envy” would not be considered by a psychoanalyst as even a real or observable phenomenon as far as Freud’s definition went.
But what about Penis Envy among women? It must exist, right?
Yes. It is possible for any man to tell you that they are unhappy with their penis. Research as recent as 2017 This idea is supported by numerous studies. The Archives of Sexual Behavior conducted a survey of 4000 men and found that nearly 30% were unhappy with their penises while they were flaccid. Nearly 20% were unhappy with the way they look while erect. A total of 15% dissatisfied were with their penises.
However, it isn’t clear how this dissatisfaction manifests. While there do exist surgeries for getting a bigger penis, these measures are quite drastic when it comes to a perception of one’s penis that, most likely, no one else shares.
Colin Hanna is a Volonté contributor and freelance writer who lives in Shanghai, China with his wife. He’s written extensively about sex and human sexuality for LELO since 2010.