I Want My Foreskin Back!
Aug. 21, 2000 -- Some adult men so lament their parents' decision to circumcise them when they were infants that they go to great lengths to correct the deed. Some do it for aesthetic reasons and others to enhance their sexual experience.
R. Wayne Griffiths is 67 years old. He was circumcised as an infant and remembers feeling envious of boys with foreskins, even as a Cub Scout. Later, as an adult, he heard that sex with a foreskin was better and began to wonder if there was anything he could do. Thirteen years ago, he finally decided to take action. He tried a number of methods for stretching his foreskin, but had little success. "In those days you were pretty much on your own," Griffiths says.
Then he devised his own technique that he says worked very well. Now that he is "restored," Griffiths says, and his glans (the head of the penis) is insulated from dryness and chafing, his penis is far more sensitive than it used to be. Sex is "more intense," he says, "and just a lot more pleasurable." The transformation was so profound for Griffiths that he went on to found the National Organization of Restoring Men (NORM), a nonprofit group that supports men who are considering or engaged in foreskin restoration.
There are two basic options for "restoring" foreskin. The most popular method is a "do-it-yourself" approach that costs little money and doesn't involve surgery, though it can take a while to get results. This technique requires stretching the skin from the base of the penis over the glans and holding it in place long enough to allow new tissue to grow.
There are a number of commercially available systems for holding and stretching the skin. Some involve silicon or metal rings that stretch the "foreskin"-to-be. Others employ cones to accomplish the same thing. And still others use metal balls or other weights hung off the end of the penis to facilitate stretching. Strange as it sounds, some men prefer to modify tuba or trombone mouthpieces and fasten them over the glans with tape, stretching skin from the base of the penis over the outside of the mouthpiece.
Griffiths, a construction inspector in Atherton, Calif., invented a restoration system called Foreballs, which employs two stainless steel ball bearings. Other systems have names like Recap-ez, Tug-ahoy, and Tugger/Pud.
Because all restoration-by-stretching goes on outside of the medical establishment, there are no official statistics on the number of men who apply these techniques. Based on sales of restoration devices and people joining NORM, however, Griffiths estimates that there are about 20,000 men worldwide who have been or are actively engaged in foreskin restoration.
There is really no medical consensus on the safety of stretching penile tissue, or whether it actually enhances sexual pleasure. But that's because doctors haven't paid attention to the issue, says Griffiths. Indeed, most doctors interviewed for this story said that though they saw no particular risks, they were not familiar enough with the procedure to offer an opinion on its safety. One Atherton, Calif., physician, Morris Sorrells, MD, has seen a number of men undergoing foreskin restoration by stretching, and he does not consider the procedure risky as long as men don't hang too much weight from their penises, use stretching devices that restrict the flow of blood, or persist if the procedure becomes painful.
"Depending on how much 'coverage' a man wants to achieve," says Griffiths, "the entire process takes between eight months and a year and a half."
Those who can't wait can consider surgical restoration, which usually involves a plastic surgeon grafting skin from the scrotum onto the penis. The procedure is very rare, costs between $10,000 and $50,000, and leaves a noticeable scar, according to Griffiths. Martin Resnick, professor and chairman of the department of urology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says that if a patient came to him wanting a surgical restoration, he would try to talk him out of it. "I don't think it's worth it," he says.
Griffiths warns against impatience and also discourages men from going the surgery route. Even while employing the stretching method, impatience can lead to trouble. "We've found that hanging more than 16 ounces can cause tissue damage," he says. "If it hurts, by all means stop."
"Some people suggest keeping the stretching device on 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Griffiths. "I don't go for that. If you keep it on five days a week, that is usually sufficient," he says. "It's important to be able to do other things with your penis, too, sometimes."
Gordy Slack is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health, and the environment. He is a contributing editor to California Wild, the science and natural history magazine published by the California Academy of Sciences.
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