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What is cockfishing? Why some men lie about their size on dating apps

It’s a running joke (and let’s be real, there’s truth in it) that men lie about their height on dating apps. It’s a trend so pervasive that pals of mine on the dating scene have developed tactics for spotting a liar, from looking at his shadow in a photo, or comparing his height against objects in the background. We’re all used to this happening by now, but when you swipe right on a match and enter the talking stage, lies about…other measurements…can pop up, too.

During dirty talk, or straight in the dating app bio on occasion, some men can’t help but bring up their penis size. And they may, shall we say, exaggerate — or outright lie — by adding a few bonus inches.  

But why bother lying about your penis size, especially when, if all goes well, your partner will find out anyway? Does anyone actually care about the precise measurement of their partner’s member? Do any of us even really know how big inches are?

Speaking to dating and relationship experts, Mashable got to the bottom of this phenomenon, which has been dubbed “cockfishing,” to find out how common it is and why people lie about their penis size. 

How common is cockfishing?

One 2023 study by Innerbody Research tells us one in four men lie about their penis size, including on dating apps. Meanwhile, researchers in Denmark found in another 2023 study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, that the average man exaggerates the length of his penis by around a fifth. They also add around two centimeters to their height (around 0.8 inches), another common fib many straight women who use dating apps will be familiar with.

It might seem like there are bigger things to worry about on dating apps — rejection, breadcrumbing, ghosting — but this commonplace lie says a lot about how society views penis size, and the pressures some people with penises might be dealing with in the dating world.

Sex therapist Melissa Cook at used underwear marketplace Sofia Gray says there are several reasons why men might misrepresent the size of their penis, and it often comes down to psychological or cultural reasons. The average penis size is around 5.16 inches when erect, but Cook notes there’s pressure to keep up with unrealistic standards that go (far) beyond what’s average. 

“Expectations set by pornographic content — and then society — means that some men exaggerate their size, in an attempt to align with these perceptions of masculinity,” she explains. Not to mention porn’s influence on mainstream TV as well, with the use of big prosthetic penises.

She adds that some men also lie about their penis size being smaller, so that partners may be pleasantly surprised when they see they’re a bit more endowed than they led on — similar to the concept of “reverse catfishing.” 

Mashable After Dark

“Those who under-exaggerate their penis size could also be doing so to manage expectations, so that their partner’s experience surpasses the anticipation,” Cook says.  

Do people actually care about penis size?

The question of whether people care about their partner’s penis size depends on individuals. Cook explains that while some people might have preferences regarding size, factors like emotional connection, skill, and intimacy are more important for others. “If someone is obsessed over genital size, it could indicate an underlying insecurity or even a misdirected focus on physical characteristics rather than the quality of the sexual and emotional relationship,” she adds. 

When it comes to the quality of sex, penis size actually doesn’t matter. Cook notes that the vagina is really adaptable and can accommodate lots of sizes. Various forms of stimulation provide pleasure, as well. Clitoral stimulation is usually important for women, so in relationships involving a vagina and a penis, penetration isn’t the be-all-or-end-all anyway. 

“Foreplay, oral sex, and sex toys can also be used to improve sexual pleasure, without using a penis. Sexual experiences can also be enhanced with creativity, connection, communication, and mutual respect,” she adds. “A focus on emotional intimacy combined with the skills and desire to please a partner is a sure-fire way to create a more fulfilling experience, no matter the size of the penis.”

So, why lie about penis size then?

If size doesn’t matter to most — and sexual pleasure isn’t dependent on it — you’d think people with penises would lie about it less. But Jessica Leoni, a sex and dating expert at Illicit Encounters, a UK dating website for married couples, thinks the pressure to look masculine outweighs all of that. 

“It’s no secret that there’s so much pressure to look and seem a certain way on social media and dating apps these days,” Leoni says. “That pressure, combined with the sheer ease of downloading photo-editing apps, is likely to be driving a rise in cockfishing.”

She explains that much like younger generations’ fixation on intense appearance-editing apps like Facetune, people can edit themselves mercilessly when exchanging nudes. 

“It’s just easy to just swap out a picture of your penis for one that’s perceived as ‘more attractive’ — for whatever reason,” Leoni says. Maybe you edited it, maybe it’s just a super-flattering angle with generous positioning. It’s all too easy to make ourselves look “better” (read: what society deems conventionally attractive) so that temptation to cockfish is always there. 

Leoni adds, “Now that we’ve seen so many AI-generated models on platforms too, it’s even possible that we’ll see a rise in AI-generated cockfishing. So, yes. I think the pressure we put on ourselves and the ease of making slight alterations is sadly a perfect recipe for this type of misrepresentation.”

But cockfishing leads to awkward revelations when your partner eventually sees your real penis at best, and a reduction in self-esteem and confidence at worst. Lying about your penis size will never make you feel good long-term. 

How can people stop cockfishing?

If you feel uncomfortable about sharing a picture of your penis with someone, ask yourself why that is. Leoni says that if it’s simply because you don’t feel comfortable sharing these images or fear exposure, you have every right to feel that way. No one should feel pressured to sext or send nude images at any stage of a relationship or dating encounter. If this is your situation, she says, “perhaps consider a different dating website and/or turn down moves to sext that make you feel uncomfortable.”

However, if you are feeling self-conscious about the colour, size, or shape of your penis, take time to reflect on your confidence. “While being your authentic self can feel very vulnerable, honesty is the best policy when it comes to dating. If your confidence concerns are hard to cope with, please reach out to a therapist or someone you can talk to,” she recommends. Lying about the appearance of your penis size is definitely not the answer.

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