Size does matter

August 7th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, herbal remedies | 2 Comments »

Size does matter

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 7, 2003
The Guardian

Talk bad science

· I wouldn’t want you to think that I am in any way worried about the size of my penis. But since the bad science email address now seems to be overflowing with “scientifically proven” ways to improve my “visual impact” and “give her more than ever”, I thought it was about time we put these chaps to the test.

VigRX, a herbal preparation whose name might possibly remind you of another drug, have a “laboratory team of Albion Medical Doctors” to tell you “how VigRX works”. I presume they’re the guys with no name in the white coats with the stethoscopes at the top of every page. They have a nice little graph of their own study of four men (four, count them) with an increase in girth, length, and mass, and then list the eight herbs they use. Although they don’t even bother – weirdly – to claim that any of them will increase the size of your penis, only one (ginseng) has any evidence even showing an increase in arousal. One convincing study, they claim, for ginkgo biloba (“78%…”) doesn’t seem to exist on MedLine: there are two studies for muira puama and ginkgo biloba showing an increase in libido – but that is in women – and neither study could apparently be bothered to fuss with a placebo control.

· Many companies offer expensive books detailing exercise regimes, on the grounds that repeated vigorous stretching of the connective tissue in the walls of the two big [coughs] chambers that run up either side of the penis will give them a greater volume, which intuitively makes sense. Although there’s never any data of course, only gushing testimonials. Several companies claim to sell pills that increase erectile strength, which will then also stretch the chambers over time. No data to support this, again, although I did find one paper where a monkey died after its 56th injection of the impotence drug papaverine, so be careful.

In fact, the only method I could find that was validated by peer-reviewed literature was surgery, which seems a bit extreme, although plenty of centres are offering it for “penile dysmorphophobia”, where you just think you have a small willy. The penis is opened up, and bits of vein from elsewhere are sewn in as an annexe to the two chambers that run up either side. Although I’ve not seen that offered in return for your credit card details in spam emails. And do please be careful where you go for your operation: one published case report from last year described a man who came back from Saudi Arabia having paid to have four large stones embedded subcutaneously. The pictures are exactly what you’d expect.


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