April 1999





Most men, gay or straight, have a sneaky interest in the question of cock size, but generally speaking, only gay men have done a large enough sampling in the matter. So if you're straight, and wish to have some insight into the facts, it's time to get to know a few gay friends.

But before we get too carried away, let me clarify that this essay is really about condom size.

I have noticed that in Singapore, almost all the brands of condoms on sale have the 'nominal width' specification of 52mm. In Thailand, almost always, it is 49mm. Puzzled by what 'nominal width' meant in the first place, I searched the internet for more information regarding condom specifications, and opened two condoms (one from Thailand and one from Singapore) to compare.

'Nominal width' is the width of the condom when you unroll it and lay it flat. It is the same as a half-circumference. The sample I brought back from Thailand indeed came out to 49mm width when measured midway along its length, while the one from Singapore measured 52-53 mm. So it was true that the Singapore sample was wider.

(In case you're wondering, both were the same length, about 180mm long, excluding the reservoir tip, though the length of a condom is less crucial in terms of fit.)

This finding led to 2 further puzzles which dogged me for a while: Firstly, why is the standard condom sold in Thailand smaller than the standard found in Singapore? Secondly, why is there even a standard size in each country? Why isn't there a variety of sizes available?

I don't claim to be an expert on cock sizes. I haven't done, what you might call, a large sampling, and I have certainly never whipped out a measuring tape on anyone. But it doesn't take a lot of experience in "manhandling" to be quite certain of the following: that whether among Thais or Singaporeans, cock sizes vary quite a bit, the biggest ones perhaps twice as large as the smallest (both in the erect state). The variation is large enough to make any 'average' size a meaningless concept. In other words, I can't see how one standard size can serve the entire Singapore market, or the entire Thai market. And I certainly cannot see why the Thai standard should be 3 mm less than the Singapore standard.

In America, different sizes are available. You can visit this Consumer Report website at http://www.sexuality.org/l/safersex/crcond.html. The condoms listed there ranged from 50mm to 56mm, with the majority around 53 or 54 mm. Those that were 55mm or 56mm width were labelled Large or Magnum.

So, what was behind the standard of 49mm and 52mm for Thailand and Singapore respectively? Did researchers go out to measure a large number of Thai and Singapore men to arrive at those standards? Did the researchers find so little variation within their populations, that no alternative sizes were felt necessary?

My little investigation leads me to believe they did no such thing. The brands found in our markets were merely following prescribed international standards. Whether these international standards reflect reality is another matter.

Leading condom specifications

There are three widely-recognised international standards bodies: the ISO (International Standards Organisation), the European CEN and the American ASTM. They each have their own quality standards for condoms. In addition, there are two major procurement bodies, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and USAID. They have their own procurement standards, and because of their purchasing power and influence, their standards are also widely used.

Quality standards for condoms refer not only to dimensions, but to other important aspects like leakage, expandability, deterioration rate from storage and packaging integrity. However, in respect of dimensions, these are their standards:

Length, mm 160 min 170 min 160 min 180 min 170 min 170 min 160 min
Width, mm 50-54 50-54 54 max 51-55 47-51 50-54 47-51
Thickness, mm N.A. N.A. 0.03 0.04 to
0.04 to
0.05 min 0.05 min

You can read more about condom test standards at: http://www.fhi.org/en/fp/fpother/conom/conmon10.html.

As you can see from the table, WHO and USAID have two different specifications each. They both have a smaller-size specification meant primarily for Asian populations.

It is quite obvious then, that the condoms sold in Singapore are manufactured to the ISO standards while those in Thailand are probably made to the smaller WHO standards. The ISO standards call for a width of 50-54 mm, i.e. average 52 mm, while the smaller WHO standards call for a width of 47-51 mm, i.e. average 49 mm.

It's no coincidence that condoms in Singapore are 52 mm while those in Thailand are 49 mm.

Are the condoms here too big or too small?

Alright, so we have explained the mystery, but it still does not answer the question, does it reflect what the market needs? I sincerely believe it does not.

For some people in Singapore, 52 mm nominal width is too big. This nominal width equates with a circumference of 10.4 cm. There are some men whose erect penile circumference is slightly less than that, so for them, the condom will slip out too easily.

Fortunately, if you look hard enough, you can find 49 mm wide condoms in Singapore, in particular, the Lifestyles brand made by Ansell. This is made in Thailand, and it is based on the Thai specification. I have seen this brand in certain pharmacies. Forget about 7-Elevens though, they only stock Durex, which are all 52 mm.

Can the standard of 52 mm be too small for some Singaporeans? Yes, definitely. Singapore is a cosmopolitan place; we have people of all racial types here.

But surely, condoms are very elastic, they should be able to expand to accommodate the big ones?

In theory, yes. The standards set up by the reputable quality organisations include an "airburst test", in which the condom is to be inflated with air. The ISO, ASTM and USAID standard calls for the condom to be filled with 16 litres of air (that's more than half a pail!) without bursting. WHO and CEN have even tougher standards of 18 litres of air.

This should ensure considerable flexibility, you might think. Yes and no. I have heard a few well-endowed people complain that while the condom can expand to fit, it does not feel comfortable. They feel constricted and it's rather distracting.

More serious is the complaint from a handful of persons that they can't even get it on. This is because when the condom is fresh out of the pack and in the rolled-up form, its expandability at its opening is considerably reduced. Obviously so, when it's rolled-up! If one has a large cockhead, it's a bit of a struggle getting it on.

The only sensible solution is to have a variety of sizes in a marketplace. Yet we don't. I wonder, though, if it is an indication of how stuffed up we are about the whole subject of sex that even sellers of condoms haven't gotten around to realise this. Is it too difficult to even ponder the question and ask consumers for some feedback?

But then there is another problem. Suppose condoms are available in different sizes: small, medium and large. Will anybody buy the small? Short of wearing disguise?

Cock size, at last

Men often have this great big hang-up about cock size. I don't know if it is more pronounced among gay men. There is this ridiculous association with virility, which implies status. Worse still, Asian societies are exposed to Western cultural references, and a "six-incher" is an absolute minimum. Gay men, in particular, are exposed to male-to-male porn, with actors in them specially selected for seven-inches and more.

It's quite laughable when you think about it, how so many men shovel onto themselves these images and references, and suffer lifelong inferiority complexes.

Even funnier is the fact that, in truth, most men know cock size is of little importance. But private knowledge is one thing, the enduring need to compare is another. And while we're at it, let's also say it: We all want to compare ourselves against others, not to let others compare themselves against us. Just in case ....

[This paragraph revised in May 1999] - I don't have any hard (pardon the pun) data for you. All I can do is to hazard a guess, and boy, is this hazardous territory! Personally, from my own informal observations, I think the majority of East Asian males would have something between 12.5 and 15.5 cm length, though from my memory, individual beauties could be anything from about 10 cm to 18. However, in the last month or so, I have been asking around some of my friends what they estimated the range was for Chinese Singaporeans. Most of them told me it would be around 10-13 cm, erect. This is rather different from my own estimate. I guess it's time for someone to do a proper study.

You, perhaps?

Yawning Bread