Making The Cut: An Investigative Report On Reverse Circumcision
INCH BY INCH, MEN IN THE U.S. HAVE STEADILY BEEN ROLLING BACK MALE CIRCUMCISION. AND WHILE SOME ADULT MEN ARE STRETCHING THEIR OWN BOUNDARIES IN AN ATTEMPT TO REVERSE THE PROCEDURE, THERE ARE OTHERS WHO VOLUNTARILY HIT THE CHOP SHOP. HERE, VIBE GIVES YOU A SLICE OF LIFE FROM BOTH SIDES OF THE FORESKIN REVOLUTION
Words: CHLOÉ HILLIARD | Illustration: MISHA TYUNTUNIK
A MAN STANDS BEFORE A CAMERA alone and completely naked holding his junk. He’s shot conveniently from mid-chest down, and he’s clearly on a mission. No, this isn’t a porno clip, and there will be no “money shot” at the end. This video is intended for educational purposes. The lesson: How to restore your foreskin.
There is no talking, but he slowly gives a step-by-step tutorial on how to apply the Dual Tension Restorer device (DTR), one of several popular utilities credited with helping to stretch the skin of the penis shaft, giving the appearance of a foreskin on an uncircumcised penis. He places a firm white rubber cap, called a “bell” on the tip of the penis. Next he rolls the shaft’s skin over the bell and rolls the “gripper,” a clear flexible rubber sleeve on top to keep the skin in place. The rod attached to the end of both pushes down the bell and lifts the gripper, stretching the skin with the use of suspension bands. It’s a gruesome looking procedure, but it shows the lengths some men will go in an attempt to restore their foreskin lost in circumcision.
Society puts great importance on the male genitalia. But at birth, the penis faces its first true test: to circumcise or not to circumcise. For generations, the question was a no-brainer because most fathers want their sons to “look like them.” At the peak of its practice in the 1970s, an estimated 80 percent of American parents circumcised their newborn sons, removing what would be nearly four inches in adult foreskin and 20,000 nerve endings.
Like the man in the video, Eddy, 38, is also restoring. He said he suffered from a “growing lack of sensitivity” after being “modified” as a child. His online research into the matter led him to this skin stretching method. “I wear the Dual Tension Restorer under my clothing for roughly nine hours a day and more if I can,” he says. “I usually give it a rest on the weekends.” Eddy’s decision to restore his foreskin won’t bring back what was removed when he was a newborn, but is enough to give him a better sense of confidence and comfort. Since he began restoring 19 months ago, he’s grown roughly 3/8” of new skin. The men who opt to restore do so because, like women who were circumcised, they didn’t have a choice and feel their bodies have been altered for the worse.
OVER THE YEARS, the procedure has declined in popularity in the U.S. In 2011, an estimated 54 percent of American boys were circumcised at birth (down from 80 percent in 1970). Parents are deciding to break from tradition. Medical research has proven that the foreskin is more than just an extra flap of skin. It’s a natural shield, lubricant and erogenous zone. “Since 1979 there has been a lot of research done that has established the actual value of the male foreskin,” explains Richard Russell director of communications for Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC). “And the costs of its loss, in terms of sexual sensing and performance.”
Other reasons for the dropping rates, according to Russell, is the extreme amount of pain the child undergoes, deaths due to complications and doctors admitting it’s nothing more than cosmetic surgery.
DOC estimates that there are 117 deaths due to complications caused by circumcisions. Last year, there were two publicized cases of child deaths in New York. Jamaal Coleson, was 2 when he was admitted for a routine circumcision, but died 10 hours later due to—according to his family—grave issues from the wrong analgesic. Another case involved a newborn that died after contracting herpes during his orthodox bris. The Jewish ceremony called for the rabbi to use his mouth to suck the blood from the penis after the foreskin was removed.
Fatalities like these add to an anti-circumcision sentiment. In the Philippines, a mass circumcision was held in May 2011, at which an estimated 1,500 boys were operated on in a single day with the hopes of making it into the Guinness World Records. Guinness officials rejected the entry stating that they “do not recognize the number of medical procedures within a set period of time or in a mass group due to hygiene considerations and risks.” Circumcised men are vocal opponents, some comparing the procedure to genital mutilation and using the Internet to spread their message. Anthony Losquadro, executive director of Intaction.org is what the anti-circumcision community calls an “intactivist,” people who advocate for education and giving boys the right to decide for themselves. “The medical community is concerned about the money,” Losquadro says. He tallies the average cost of a baby’s circumcision between $800 and $1,200, while, he says, the detached foreskins are often kept by the hospital and sold for medical research. “Hospitals retain ownership of the tissue and sell it to companies to use in artificial skin grafts and antiwrinkle cosmetics.”
TALLY, 56, HAS been restoring for nearly four years. He employs a method similar to the DTR, but without the use of a device. “Every time I go to the bathroom, I’ll tug for a minute or two,” he explains. “Tugging” is the process of holding the penis at its base and using an upward sliding grip to elongate the skin over the head. “It’s a habit,” he says. While the process he describes sounds like another “habit” lonely men might enjoy, Tally says that it produces results. “Most men that go all the way through with it, their doctor will say they look the same as an uncircumcised man.”
Since launching his site RestoringForeskin.org, Tally has become a vocal intactivist. He can often be found commenting on many mommy blogs about the hazards of infant circumcision. “What we try to do is educate people,” says Tally. “They think if you are circumcised you are cleaner.”
With nearly 6,000 members, RestoringForeskin.org is a space for men to share their stories and tips on regaining what they see as part of their manhood. “As I started restoring my foreskin, I started changing,” says Tally, who believes that he’s now more in touch with his feelings as a result. “I noticed about eight to nine months after I started restoring, I felt emotions I never felt before.”
IN AFRICA, CIRCUMCISION is all the rage. It’s being touted as a way to help prevent the spread of STDs, especially HIV. Over the last few years, African men by the thousands have been rushing to get altered, oftentimes at the hands of amateur operators, leaving some with infections and botch jobs. However, like in the States, there are rising voices challenging the need for surgery. “Many African men are saying they believe they have a vaccine against HIV with circumcision and do not need condoms,” explains Russell. “It is doubtful that circumcision will make a man safe from disease or infections.”
While organizations like DOC are against childhood circumcision everywhere, many African countries are encouraging men to undergo the procedure. According to the World Health Organization, Kenya has circumcised nearly 290,000 men in the past three years. The government of Tanzania has announced plans to circumcise at least 2.8 million men over the next five years. Swaziland, which has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, plans to circumcise 152,800 men. A statement released by the U.S. embassy in Swaziland estimated that the circumcision plan there could prevent nearly 90,000 new infections and save more than
$600 million over the next decade.
Mugabo, 34, grew up in Kenya and took it upon himself to get circumcised as a teenager. “I woke up one day, went to a doctor in the ’hood and paid him to do it.” While his mother was out of town,
Mugabo, then 17, paid a friend’s father who was a doctor the equivalent of 50 cents to do the surgery. Mugabo’s family didn’t practice circumcision, but some of his friends did and he took notice. “Where I’m from we don’t even care about that,” explains Mugabo, a native of Rwanda. “But I grew up in Kenya, and in Kenya certain communities you got to [be circumcised]. There is no way around it.”
Pleased with his results, Mugabo, who now lives in New York, says he will also have his sons circumcised. He also supports the push for circumcision in Africa. “I would advocate it on a national policy level for local community reasons. You are a cleaner human being. I know, I’m a man, [for me] it’s not hearsay.”
Like Mugabo, 27-year-old Troy also went under the knife as a teenager. The practice wasn’t common in his native Belize, and it didn’t become an issue until he moved to the States and started having sex. One partner made a big deal of his uncircumcised penis. As the two undressed, her eyes were fi xed on his junk. She had never seen an uncircumcised penis before. The teenage tryst turned into a full-on interrogation.
“She looked at me like I was an alien,” says Troy, who is now a soldier based in Afghanistan. The baffled young woman shot off rapid-fire questions: How does it work? Why does it look like that? Does it hurt? “That certainly ruined the moment and was embarrassing, so I decided I’m not going to continue life like this.”
At 14 years old, Troy got the surgery done during summer vacation. “Doing it at an older age is very painful,” he says. “It’s all stitched up, and you’re not supposed to get erections. As a teenage boy do you know how hard it is to not get erections?”
Pain and all, Troy says he is glad he made the call. “I noticed a difference in performance,” says
Troy. “Before, that extra skin would sometimes get peeled back kind of like a banana and was uncomfortable. It’s bad enough that condoms take away half the feeling.” After the surgery, and many weeks after healing, Troy says his first sexual experience felt a lot better.
Happily circumcised, Mugabo and Troy agree that their sons will follow in their footsteps, which upsets intactivists like Russell and Tally. Outrage over male circumcision may never compare to that surrounding female mutilation. “[Male circumcision] is completely different,” says Dr. Lisa Jackson, an OB/GYN who performs circumcisions. “If circumcision prevented men from having good sex or caused medical damage like female mutilation does, it would have been stopped.
It’s like getting a [baby] girl’s ears pierced… They will feel some pain, but won’t remember.” Meanwhile, some men won’t ever forget.