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Patrick Moote's Unhung Hero: Penis size has been a hot topic in recent weeks - but does length really matter?

Simon Usborne asks the experts – including a man who's made a film about his shortcomings
  • @susborne

Patrick Moote knows what it's like to be ridiculed for having an allegedly small penis. At school, his tormentors brandished hooked little fingers, the international symbol for phallic deficiency, and called him "Paddy pickle dick".

The tag stuck, but the American comedian has hit back with a film, in a prominent week for diminutive organs. The other belongs to Max Clifford, who will be sentenced tomorrow for indecent assault. His crimes must not be trivialised, but what does the coverage of his trial, as well as Moote's documentary, reveal about society's obsession with size?

Assessments of Clifford's penis were presented as evidence at Southwark Crown Court, eliciting sniggers from jurors and journalists. One witness described it as "freakishly small". The defence attempted to claim these memories were false – proof that the women were lying. A witness described the accused as "enormous", while a doctor put his penis at 5.25ins, or about average. Clifford lost the case.

That Moote has a small penis is not in dispute. A urologist confirms as much in his film, Unhung Hero, classifying the 30-year-old as "low normal". Moote took the brave decision to make what he calls a "cockumentary" in response to those bullies. The insecurities they left him with came to a humiliating head in 2012 when, in a clip that went viral on YouTube and then on TV, his girlfriend fled his public marriage proposal at a basketball game. He later discovered the reason for her rejection: his penis was too small.

Patrick Moote's 'cockumentary' examines modern male anxiety

Setting out to fix his problem, Moote travels the world in search of pills, pumps and – potentially – implants. He plays it for laughs, drinking turtle-testicle liqueur and meeting a porn star called Dale DaBone, but the film becomes a broader examination of modern male anxiety. "From the beginning, I knew this was something a lot of guys felt," he says by phone from the US. "By going out and disarming the topic with information, I thought that it would have a positive effect."

Why are we so hung up in the first place? Phillip Hodson is a psychotherapist and agony uncle. "You start with the fact that men like to measure everything, which ultimately derives from the competitive struggle to be top dog," he says. "We are the mensuration not menstruation sex." There are also evolutionary theories about penis size. In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins writes: "It is not implausible that, with natural selection refining their diagnostic skills, females could glean all sorts of clues about a male's health… [from the] bearing of his penis." Perhaps as a result, Hodson says, Freud got it wrong on penis envy – "it's men who suffer from it, not women".

Popular culture, porn, and schoolboy humour only reinforce the idea that big is better. There is an irony, he adds, in the fragility of the male organ. He cites Gay Talese, the American author, who wrote: "It is very vulnerable even when made of stone, and the museums of the world are filled with Herculean figures brandishing penises that are chipped, clipped or completely chopped off."

Moote blames inner fragility on a new prudishness in the school changing room, which limits the exposure to other penises of many boys to images on computer screens or their imaginations. “It was horrible and extra confusing growing up because I didn’t know if what people were saying was even true,” he says. “I didn’t know what average was and the insecurity makes you second guess other things. Maybe I’m not as tall as I should be, not manly enough.”

Tracey Cox is a sex therapist and author who for several years used to run anonymous online clinics for men. “They could ask me anything they wanted but the same questions came up and number one was always, is my penis big enough? It’s still a symbol of manhood we cling to, and we still associate bigger with being a better man. Yet guys with below-average penises are often better in bed because they perfect other techniques. Men with large penises are the ones we should run a mile from.”

We may never know the truth about Clifford, and that's a good thing. Moote, meanwhile, says that he still wonders if making a film about his penis was sensible, but is happier now. He has a girlfriend who is happy, too, and says that since the film came out in the US earlier this year, "plenty of guys have hit me up on Facebook saying the movie made them feel better about themselves." To those who would still make fun, he offers: "I've already made a movie about my penis so you can't joke any more, it's bulletproof."

'Unhung Hero' is released today on iTunes