Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Locker Room Anxiety

By Stephen Luntz

Men who are bothered about the size of their muscles, or their penises, are more anxious in the locker room than the bedroom, a Victoria University study has found.

Dr Annabel Chan Feng Yi explored body anxiety to test her theory that men who felt most insecure about their physical attributes would be more likely to use online dating sites, where they could get to know potential partners before their muscularity was revealed. Her sample of 738 men largely rejected her hypothesis, but revealed a number of potentially more interesting results.

Chan had participants measure their own physical characteristics, from height and weight to chest size and penis length, and then report online. “I thought they might inflate the measurements but they were very similar to the average of other studies,” she says.

She also had them describe their feelings about aspects of their body and methods for coping with anxiety and depression. “There was not a very strong correlation between being small and being worried about it,” says Chan, but men who were bothered about their lack of muscular development were generally the same men who considered their penises too small.

“Men’s pre-occupation with size was rarely to do with pleasing sexual partners or even appearing as a better sexual partner,” Chan says. “It was often more about competition with other men. Many felt most insecure about their size in environments where other men might see them, such as gym change rooms.” This observation held true for both gay and straight men in the survey.

Chan admits that some of the men expressing their locker room anxieties commented in the feedback section that their concerns were about their penis size when flaccid, which would seldom be a concern when with partners.

Despite the much wider research on women’s body anxieties, Chan says she is not aware of any studies comparing whether this is driven by competition with peers rather than the perceptions of potential sexual partners.

In regard to her initial hypothesis, Chan, a clinical psychologist who conducted the research as part of her PhD, found there was a very weak correlation between poor body image and the use of online dating sites. The main predictor for use of these sites was sexuality, since gay men found it much easier to find potential partners online.