The unrelenting popularity of the Big Dick Energy meme cannot have been good for anyone who believes they are less well-endowed than society wants them to be. Funny as BDE was, penis-related body dysmorphia is a very real problem among males, and Missouri State University sociologist Alicia Walker, Ph.D. was well on her way to studying the overall impact that penis size has on men’s self-esteem until a deluge of dick pics brought her study down, as the school reported Thursday.

Walker launched her survey on June 18, taking her call to the internet: She hoped to get over 3,600 photos of penises from men over 22 who also filled out a survey about self-perception and self-esteem. The response was so overwhelming that Walker shut the study down.

Missouri State’s University Communications office stated in a release on June 28 that, “In response to the public reaction to her research on penis size and self-esteem, Dr. Alicia Walker decided to discontinue the project.”

E-mail requests to Walker are currently being met with an automated response detailing her official stance.

“I made this decision voluntarily,” Walker said. “I continue to believe the relationship between penis size and self-esteem is an important site of scientific inquiry, but the public reaction to the project threatens the reliability of the survey responses. The reliability of the study as a whole has been compromised.”

She assures people that all submissions were stored in a secure research database and that all of them have “already been destroyed.” On Reddit, a call for submissions to the study (“Volunteers Needed for a Study on Penis Size and Self-Esteem!”) posted June 19 has been deleted and the user account linked to the post has been shut down.

The 'Big Dick Energy' meme, popularized by its application to Pete Davidson and his supposedly 10-inch lap hog, has underscored society's obsession with big penises.

Walker didn’t describe the exact nature of the “public reaction to the project,” but it’s not hard to imagine what it might have entailed. Unsolicited dick pics have already become one of the worst parts of online dating, and it’s not surprising that an earnest, professional call for dick pics would only elicit even more trolling.

The reasons why men send unsolicited dick pics in an online dating setting so are myriad, explained Harvard University social psychologist Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., in a 2017 article, but they can generally be boiled down to mens’ inability to tell when a partner is interested in sex or not. “I suspect that the most likely explanation is that men are simply misperceiving women’s interest in receiving photos of their junk,” he wrote.

But when sex is not the objective, as in the case of Walker’s study, the motive behind sending dick pics might be different, he argued. For those who aren’t trying to bone, “it’s likely that at least a few are doing it because they instead hope to shock and offend the recipient,” Lehmiller writes. This “exhibitionism,” he says, may be sexually arousing in itself.

It’s a shame the public’s immature response shut the study down, as it’s rare that researchers ever probe the issue of male body dysmorphia. In an interview with the New York Post on June 26, Walker said she had encountered men whose anxiety about their penis size affected their personal relationships, their health, and even their willingness to wear a condom during sex — even if they are told that their penis size is average. “They say I want to believe what you’re saying but I can’t because I’ve had decades of people tell me otherwise,” she said.

In a previous interview with Inverse, Chapman University psychologist David Frederick, Ph.D. stated that average size in the United States is “approximately 5.3 inches, and the vast majority of men fall between 4-7 inches.” As he explained in an article on Big Dick Energy, “[We] know that men who are more satisfied with their penis size, who think their penis size is larger than average, feel better about their bodies overall and are more comfortable in different romantic and sexual situations,” he says.

It’s hard to say how many men feel unsatisfied with their penis size since the research is so scarce. There’s no word yet on whether Walker’s study will ever resume, but if it does, for the sake of all the people out there suffering from penis size-related anxiety, please do the right thing and grow up.

Correction 7/3/18: This article has been changed to reflect that it was Walker, not Missouri State, that shut down the study. The language describing the study has also been changed to describe its full scope.