If you've ever explored ways to make your penis bigger, you might have come across an ancient penis-stretching technique known as "jelqing." Hell, you might have even tried it yourself. But can you really stretch your way to a bigger penis—and is it even safe to try?

Before we wade into the world of jelqing, remember that as a society, we have an unhealthy obsession with big penises. Not to mention that porn has distorted our sense of how big the average peen actually is. In fact, the average erect penis is 5.2 inches long, and 90% of penis-owners fall within the range of 4-6.3 inches. A 7-inch dick is a rarity, and as for those 9-ers you see in porn? Those big fellas are super rare.

Still, plenty of penis owners want to change the size of their junk. According to a 2006 survey of over 52,000 heterosexual men and women published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 55% of guys were satisfied with the size of their junk, and 45% wanted it to be bigger. (Just 0.2% of respondents wanted a smaller penis.) And a 2015 YouGov Survey found that penis enlargement surgery (penoplasty) was one of the most desired cosmetic procedures among American men, second only to fat reduction.

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There are plenty of ways besides penoplasty to make your penis thicker and longer, including dermal fillers, fat injections, platelet-rich plasma injections, and penis extenders. Since many of those options are ineffective, cost-prohibitive, and dangerous, some people decide to go down the free and non-invasive path of jelqing. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

What is jelqing?

According to jelqing enthusiasts, jelqing can be traced back to ancient Arabic civilization, though cynics say it was introduced more recently by online intermediaries looking to turn a buck. The practice revolves around a series of stretching exercises designed to add length and girth.

Most guides suggest waiting until you’re almost erect. Once there, it’s time to lube up and grab the base of the penis, using just the thumb and index finger. Apply pressure, and slide your hand down the shaft, as if “milking the organ.” Release, and repeat. (Most jelqing guides recommend tapping out after around 20 minutes of exercise.)

What's the "science" behind jelqing?

There appear to be two leading principles behind the purported "science" of jelqing. Some claim the exercises can help increase the amount of blood the penis can accommodate during an erection, causing an increase in size. Others believe that the force administered by jelqing creates microtears in the penile tissue. New cells then grow to repair the tears, leading to an increase in size. The idea is that it's essentially bodybuilding for your penis.

There is one legitimate medical philosophy that appears to support the concept of organic penile enhancement. It’s called “tissue remodeling," and it revolves around the reorganization of existing tissue. Dr. Paul Turek, a leader in men’s reproductive and sexual healthcare and research, suggests we look to dental braces to demonstrate the power of remodeling. “The physics of time and pressure can lead to change in almost anything on this good earth,” he says, with emphasis on that "time" part: it would take months of pressure applied for hours per day for this principle to actually work.

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Does jelqing actually work?

Sorry, but most members of the medical community say no. “The fundamental flaw with jelqing is a poor understanding of penile anatomy by its proponents,” says Jesse N. Mills, MD, a urologist specializing in male reproductive medicine and surgery. “When a guy jelqs, he is squeezing blood into the erectile chambers and fluffing his penis. If there’s any growth going on, it’s just taking a soft penis into a semi-erection."

Anecdotally, when a Men's Health writer made the risky decision to try jelqing for two weeks, he found it didn't make a difference in the size of his package, despite a placebo effect briefly convincing him otherwise:

"At the end of the period, I became convinced that my penis had grown a little both in length and girth. ... After the second week was up, I decided to bust out my ruler and measuring tape to gather some data. Despite what I thought I was experiencing, the tape told a different tale: Nothing had changed."

(FYI, Men's Health does not endorse jelqing or any other penis enlargement technique without first consulting a physician.)

Is jelqing safe?

That'll be another resounding no. In fact, jelqing might actually do more harm than good. “Jelqing may lead to too much force applied for too little time to produce real change. Like pushing on your teeth really hard for several minutes a day to move them around, instead of just getting braces,” says Turek.

Perhaps more concerning is that applying too much pressure on the penis can lead to erectile dysfunction, among other problems. (When Men's Health did a deep dive into the online penis enlargement community, we came across a guy who tore a vein in the process of jelqing. Ouch.) "You can cause a lot of inflammation and potential scarring in your penis,” urologist Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD, codirector at the PUR Clinic in Clermont, Florida, says in Men's Health Best. Sex. Ever. “So it’s not something that I recommend.”

Some urologists have suggested that aggressive jelqing might even lead to a curvature of the penis.

So what, if anything, can lead to a larger penis?

First of all, your penis is probably fine just the way it is. In fact, according to that same 2006 study in Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 85% of heterosexual women were satisfied with the size of their partner's penis. But this hasn't stopped men from obsessing about their penises; the issue has become so pervasive that psychotherapists have started diagnosing patients with small penis anxiety or Penile dysmorphic disorder.

That said, if you’re really set on looking bigger, there are safer methods of modification than jelqing out there. Losing weight is one of them: the less fat you have around the pubic area, the larger your penis will appear. Manscaping can also help make the shaft more visible. There are numerous other ways to make your penis bigger, but they're riskier and more expensive than the two aforementioned options.

If none of the above helped resolve your insecurities surrounding size, remember: In the context of heterosexual sex, intercourse isn’t typically what leads to orgasm. Men are much more likely to help their partners reach climax by performing other sexual acts, like oral sex, than by plumping up their penis. So if you want to be better in bed, here's a tip: Try improving your swing before looking for a bigger bat.