(Men’s Health does not endorse jelqing—or any penis-lengthening technique—without first consulting a physician.)
From the very start, I knew that jelqing was probably not the smartest—or safest—idea I’d ever had. Jelqing, for those unaware, is an ancient stretching technique that purportedly helps men add size and girth to their penises. Most of the evidence supporting it is strictly anecdotal, and there are no reliable studies to support its effectiveness. Let’s get that out of the way first.
Urologists, it must also be said, generally do not recommend trying jelqing to lengthen your penis. “My familiarity with jelqing comes mostly from people arriving at my office with damaged penises as a result of [it],” says Seth Cohen, MD, a urologist at NYU Langone Health. “Telling someone that they’ve permanently damaged their penis this way is one of the least fun aspects of my job.”
I’m disclosing this rather strident tidbit here because I don’t want to bear responsibility for anyone’s dinged-up ding-dong. So, one more time: Trying this technique for yourself can end badly, and is not recommended. As a guy who writes about sex, however—and who has an average-sized penis—however, I’m interested in the subject of penis enlargement, and I decided to accept the risks as an experiment while writing this story.
Under the auspices of “work,” I’ve already tried a penis pump, a weight system, pills, and several other methods that promised to result in a longer and/or thicker penis. None of these enlargement methods worked. In fact, the only two things I’d tried that resulted in a penis that was visibly—if not actually—larger was dropping my body fat percentage from 18 percent to 9 percent, and then manscaping.
I’d heard about jelqing for many years, and after recently seeing some encouraging results using a more modern penis stretching device called RestoreX, I thought it might be a worthwhile gamble. This supposedly ancient massage technique is thought to have originated in the Middle East, but has more recently begun to gain traction globally. (For instance, one very NSFW YouTube video by Billy Berigman, in which he demonstrates the technique in eye-popping detail, currently has 23.5 million views.)
While you can easily find many tutorials that detail as many as 30 different jelqing exercises, the fundamental move is simply this: After the generous application of coconut oil, you make a circle with your thumb and forefinger—the “O.K. sign”—and hold it tight at the base of your penis. Then you make another tight O.K. sign with your other hand and—over the course of five to seven seconds—slowly squeeze your penis from the base to the tip.
Most tutorials that I watched advised doing 20 to 50 strokes while mildly—but not fully—aroused. Over time, they claimed, I could expect to gain about an additional half an inch in length. While it sounds a lot like masturbating, jelqing feels more like milking a goat—only it’s your own manhood. Over the next two weeks—the time I’d allocated for this experiment—I did the exercise daily.
Usually, I watched distracting TV to ensure that I stayed in the zone while performing the routine, which I found helped. At the end of the period, I became convinced that my penis had grown a little both in length and girth. Before taking an actual measurement, I checked in with Landon Trost, M.D., a Mayo Clinic urologist based in Rochester, Minnesota, to tell him what I seemed to be noticing.
Dr. Trost informed me that most therapies have a 30 percent placebo response. Without a control group, he added, it’s difficult to assess any technique’s effectiveness. The wealth of anecdotal evidence about jelqing online could also be attributed to people wanting to validate what they’re already doing, Trost says. Further complicating things is that many men who use one tactic to increase penile length are often trying multiple tactics at once, he says, which makes it impossible to parse out which factor actually led to the growth difference.
In fairness, Trost didn’t necessarily dismiss the efficacy of jelqing outright. “Without good studies, we just can’t say for sure,” he says. 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. Some people, of course, will say that I should have persevered. Perhaps given another week or two, and incorporating different techniques, I would have seen different results.
Another conversation with Dr. Trost, however, convinced me to quit while I was ahead. While the penis can handle a certain amount of force without causing any temporary or permanent damage, Trost explained, you can cause still cause lasting damage to nerves, blood vessels, skin, or erectile tissue. It’s hard to intuit how much force is too much—and too much can result in permanent impairments in sensation, the ability to orgasm, and erectile function. You could also damage the urethra.
Translation: Despite the encouragement of anonymous internet commenters, I decided to regard my brief flirtation with jelqing as a narrow escape. Better to take the advice I’ve given men for years: Get comfortable with what you’ve got. It’s likely enough, and trying to change it isn’t likely worth the trouble.