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When a sociologist set out earlier this summer to perform a study on penis size and links to self-esteem, she was optimistic that her results could provide a valuable contribution to science.

However, she perhaps didn't think the collection side of her research through quite thoroughly enough - and she has been forced to abandon the entire thing after the general public got hold of the idea and had a practical joke field day.

Missouri State University professor Alice Walker began her study in June with a view to examine male genitalia and see if size affects sexual activity, condom usage, socialising and overall health. So far, so good.

She called for up to 3,600 male participants over the age of 22 and asked them to respond to a survey quizzing them about their size and their sex life. Importantly, the respondents were also asked to supply a picture of themselves measuring their genitalia.

This might have been where things started to go downhill, as the scientist also put requests for information out in locations such as nightclubs.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the media got wind of the story and publicised the study, although not entirely seriously - and Professor Walker was flooded with thousands of emails including dick pics.

What's more, not all of the pictures were genuine, with the sociologist's statement saying at least one was of SpongeBob Squarepants and many were of respondents' pets.

After just a week and a half of data collection, the study had to be abandoned and Professor Walker has issued a plea not to be contacted again with any more explicit photos.

In an email to Inside Higher Education, the disgruntled professor said she has been working all day, every day to field emails and criticised the media for incorrectly reporting the details of the study and therefore sensationalising it.

"Everyone wants to act as though they know everything they need to know about sexual behaviour, sexuality and sexual relationships. But the reality is there is still much to learn. Clickbait inflammatory headlines robbed these men of their chance to talk about their experiences. And while some think that it doesn't matter, it does," she grumbled.

Respondents who were genuinely trying to join in with the research have been reassured that their photos have been destroyed along with SpongeBob's, while the professor said she does intent to revisit the study in future, albeit with different methodology.

According to a previous study published by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the average flaccid, pendulous penis is 9.16 cm long and the average erect penis is 13.12 cm long.

And no matter what you might have heard, the research also found that outliers are very rare, despite 55 per cent of men being dissatisfied with their size.

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