The Foreskin Restoration Movement
This Chicago-area man is like others across the country who are enduring a non-surgical, do-it-yourself procedure called foreskin restoration, in an attempt to re-grow foreskin lost to circumcision. The “faux skin” has the feeling of a foreskin, and offers the protection to the glans (head of the penis) that a foreskin gives. These men cite many reasons—from sexual benefits to self-confidence and even activism—for going to such lengths to reverse their circumcisions.
Once a male (infant or adult) is circumcised, he can never grow it back. What these men are doing is stimulating skin growth via tension (a method likened to stretching ear lobes). “Once the skin is stretched, it’s going to stay; for the most part it won’t stretch back,” says Dr. Harold Reed, Urologist and diplomat of the American Board of Urology.
He cautions, however, the new skin created won’t be actual foreskin. “The inner skin that’s been removed during circumcision can never be [restored. It’s] replaced by outer skin from the shaft advanced forward. It’s going to resemble a foreskin in a way, but covering the shaft with some scrotal skin is different then penile skin because it has a certain amount of goose flesh and hair follicles,” Dr. Reed explains.
When Ron Low told his wife of 14 years, Alice, on April 1st of 2001 that he was planning on manually restoring his foreskin, she just laughed. He showed her photos from the Internet of men wearing ridiculous looking devices on their penises, including some with little weights and caps. It made what she was convinced to be an April Fool’s joke even funnier. However, as the weeks went by, and he continued to talk very seriously about the procedure, the joke died. Alice realized that her husband was serious—and nothing could stop him.
Restoration can be a lengthy process, but there’s a lot of technology available to lend a hand. Low began using a taping method. On the Internet, there are restoration photo diaries filled with men proudly wearing their tape contraptions resembling crotchless undies with a strap that stretches the penis to one side so that it rests—looking a bit strained—on the leg or hip. “The taping method is probably the most popular,” says Low. “You put your trousers on over it, and hope nobody notices the bulge.”
Low decided to restore after his wife surprised him with an erotic encounter at a romance hotel. “I realized that sex was getting better for her, but that it not for me. So I started looking in earnest at what could be the cause.”
Low went to his doctor, complaining of keratonization. “Kertonization is a callous,” explains Dr. George Denniston, MD, MPH and President of Doctors Opposing Circumcision. “The mucous membrane (glans) gets irritated, and the skin responds by toughening up.”
Wayne Griffiths, founder of NORM (National Organization of Restoration for Men) also experienced keratonization. “Over years, nerve endings that didn’t get cut off get buried in dead skin and you have very little feeling,” he says.
Low’s Doctor told him that he had no option but to stick with his “tough, leathery” penis. Not satisfied, he went home to research and found restoration.
Many of the pro-restoration Websites talk up the sexual benefits. This is what drove Griffiths, Low and countless other men to give it a try. Restorers rave about the increased level of sensitivity. As someone who now sells his own devices, Low receives a lot of feedback. He says the first thing restorers usually report back is how quickly their skin becomes softer and more sensitive. “The big improvement is the state of the skin above and below the scar as it’s covered. Men are surprised to realize how responsive that skin can become when it is no longer exposed to clothing and bedding,” Low reports.
Low expected that his glans would become more sensitive, and while it did, that wasn’t what really wowed him. “The biggest surprise was the way the loose skin feels rolling up and down,” he says. “There’s almost no way to describe it. It allows for a whole new mode of stimulation, for the skin to be gripped and rolled along the shaft with a deep kneading action. I thought I knew what sex was like before, but it was like seeing in a whole new color.”
Alice Low couldn’t agree more. Initially, she saw restoration as just part of her husband’s natural curiosity about sex, but reports that she also felt a change between the sheets. “The circumcised penis is kind of like a finger, hard and dry. During sex it feels like it’s poking at you. When you have that soft skin, rubbing and curling up over and forward, it has the feeling of a ribbed vibrator. They retain their moisture and you retain yours; it’s not just this dry thing dragging in and out. I am so glad he restored,” she says.
“I have talked to quite a number of partners who couldn’t believe what their husbands were doing it at first. Months later, I’d get e-mails saying the couple had started a new era in their intimate relationship, and that it’s just wonderful,” says Griffiths.
The sexual benefits reported by restorers go generally unrecognized by the medical community. As the American Academy of Family Physicians stated in Circumcision: Position paper on Neonatal Circumcision (2007): “No valid evidence to date, however, supports the notion that being circumcised affects sexual sensation or satisfaction.” While Dr. Reed acknowledges that some studies have found no difference in sensitivity, he also says, “There’s no question that a glans that is covered with skin and exudes oil will be softer and moister.”
The benefits that restorers claim to experience have been written off by some as placebo effects. “A lot of sexuality is in the head, it’s not between your legs, but rather from ear to ear,” says Dr. Sam Kunin, a board certified Urologist and mohel, who, with 35 years experience, has performed over 9,000 infant and 1,000 adults circumcisions.
Many men who restore are emotional about the topic and quite angry. Dr. Denniston agrees in this case that there could be a placebo effect. “These men are so happy that they are doing something to fight what’s been done to them. They feel better about it, they feel better about themselves. [It’s] an understandable intellectual effect,” he says.
Greg Beirise, director of NORM Chicago is one of the men who feels his restoration was about an emotional change as well as a physical one. “When I first realized I’d been circumcised, I was so upset. No one could rationalize the reason. I knew some people weren’t, so I was like, ‘Why me?’” Since restoring, Beirise has felt much more stable. “I just feel more whole,” he says.
NORM Chicago gathers once a month. Their meeting place is secret. Members remain anonymous. People from all backgrounds, with ages ranging from 19 to 70 attend. The average meeting usually draws about 10 guys (the largest turnout they’ve had is 16). “I want our meetings to be a safe place where people can talk about their feelings. It’s just amazing that in our society, there is no place to talk about these things,” says Beirise.
In addition to newcomers who want to learn about restoration, or ask for tips and help, core members come to chat, but also to formulate bigger plans. “A lot of us have moved out of restoration itself, but still come because we’re involved [on the activist side],” says Beirise. Many in the restoration movement consider themselves “intactivists”—activists passionately working toward ending routine infant circumcisions.
The restoration movement is also an Internet phenomenon that speaks to a diverse community. Just as with NORM meetings, those involved online come from all walks of life. “In the restoration community, there are young teens to men in their 80s, gay and straight, black and white, there are people from every country,” says Low. “Diversity is key.”
While the sexual benefits of restoration may remain controversial, it’s brought interesting—and perhaps previously silent—voices into sexual the conversation. Restoration not only teaches men about their bodies and the penis’s sexual function, it can be a starting point for them to talk openly about their emotional and sexual experiences, across borders of race, age and orientation. So uncircumcised, circumcised or restored, the message should be to find a way to love the penis in your life.