Going Back to Square One
CIRCUMCISION REVERSAL GAINS IN POPULARITY
By Greg Toppo
It may have taken him a year but Paul Russo got his foreskin back.
The 31-year-old technical support representative for a Boulder, Colo. software company has been working since November 1995 to restore the flap of skin removed when he was circumcised as a newborn.
And he's got pictures to prove it. Just check out his site on the World Wide Web. Russo is one of a small but growing number of circumcised men, both in the United States and abroad, who have elected to restore their foreskins - at home and for the most part, without the help of a doctor.
"I'm far from over, but I'm very happy with it," said Russo, who anticipates spending another year to 1 1/2 years to complete the process.
The improbable - some would say unspeakable - procedure is virtually unheard of outside medical circles, but it has its advocates. And while nobody can say for sure how many men are currently "restoring" the numbers of men looking for information, both in print and on the Internet, is growing, Russo said.
Most men give two reasons for their decision. The first is that they are trying to regain - often with a fair degree of anger - something taken from them without their consent.
"It's my body and I should have a say in it," Russo said. "They didn't bother to ask me and they didn't bother to use an anesthetic."
The second reason men give is their restoration of the skin over the head of the penis restores a large amount of sensation, making for greater sexual pleasure.
According to Marilyn Milos, a San Anselmo, Calif. registered nurse who runs NOCIRC, the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, men who restore say the increased sensation is comparable to "the difference between seeing in black and white and seeing in color."
The restoration process is time-consuming and generally takes anywhere from a year to five years of nearly continuous attention and care. In most men the entire process takes from one to two years. There are number of methods used including the following.Taping the existing shaft skin with surgical tape and stretching it as far as possible over the head of the penis. This tape is worn virtually all day and night and is seldom removed.
Wrapping a ring of tape snugly around the bunched skin of the shaft, stretching it farther.
Using a weight or tension device that pulls the skin even farther.
Another method uses a length of tape connected to a suspender clipped onto a sock, around a belt or over a shoulder. Most device sell for around $100.00, and can be mail-ordered.
All of the men interviewed for this story said the single hazard in "restoration" lies in pulling the skin too forecfully or with too much weight.
"If you are doing something that's painful you're doing it wrong," said R. Wayne Griffiths, 63, a retired engineer construction inspector in Concord, Calif. Griffiths began restoring in 1987.
"If you're doing the restoration properly then you're aware of your body and you're not going to do damage to it. - it works just fine," Griffiths said.
In 1989, Griffith, a father of five with 13 grandchildren, co-founded NORM, the National Organization of Restoring Men, a support group that helps men get information about restoration.
Griffiths, who began restoring his foreskin after becoming dissatisfied with his diminishing sensation, said he saw results in just a few weeks.
"At that point, I said, `I'm never going to stop restoring,' because the pleasure was just too wonderful for me."
Griffiths said the glans is now "delightfully sensitive to the touch." He added, "The glans is an internal organ just like the tongue. Circumcision denudes the glans."
Griffiths, who spent 10 years restoring is satisfied with the results. "I've fooled doctors he said with a laugh.
Milos, like others in the so-called "restoration movement," said the urge to bring back one's foreskin shouldn't be scoffed at.
"If a woman has a mastectomy, no one thinks it's odd or peculiar that she would want to have a prothesis. But if men want to restore their bodies to the way that they were born, people find it peculiar. It's not peculiar," she said.
Milos pointed out that skin stretching techniques are used regularly in other areas of medicine besides breast reconstruction, such as skin restoration in burn victims.
Dr. Dean Edell, a San Francisco-based general surgeon and host of a popular radio show on medical issues agreed.
"It can work. You definitely stretch skin voluntarily all over the body. We do it in medicine all the time," he said. "Its not so strange for men to want to restore something that was removed against their will. Frankly, I think body piercing is weirder.
He added, if this was women, everyone on every street corner would know about it."
Edell, who has hosted his show and syndicated television new health feature for 17 years, said he's "flooded with mail" every time he mentions foreskin restoration.
He admitted that the procedure, which is not endorsed by the American Urological Association, suffers because of a lack of scientific studies.
"It is not ideal, with no controls, no real studies - and yet, you know if you're doing it wrong you're going to get pain, you're going to get bleeding. So in a sense it's self regulating."
E. Douglas Whitehead, a New York urologist and the director of the Association for Male Sexual Dysfunction, said there's "tremendous resistance" to the practice from his colleagues.
"I don't think you'd find one urologist out of 100 that would begin to get involved in this," he said, adding that he supports men who take up restoring their foreskins, even if most doctors blanche at the idea.
"They don't understand the anguish," Whitehead said. "You're not doing this for a medical reason per se, you're doing this for an emotional and psychological reason."
Babies have been circumcised as part of religious rituals for thousands of years; including those of the ancient Jews and Egyptians. Circumcision also is practiced by Muslims, usually anytime from a boy's birth through age 14. It also serves as an adolescent rite of passage in various cultures. The traditional Jewish bris or religious circumcision, takes place on the eight day of a boy's life.
In the United States, medical circumcision became popular around 100 years ago. Studies showing that the procedure prevents penile cancer, some sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer in the female partners of men have made circumcision almost universal in the United States and many other western countries in the past half-century.
Recently, however the practice has come under serious scrutiny. Some studies maintain that the medical benefits of circumcision are not as apparent as previously thought.
An October 1995 study of babies born in 1990 and 1991, which was published in the Journal of Family Practice, found that 85 percent of male babies in four states studied had been circumcised at the time of their birth, and that parents who were covered by heath insurance were 2.5 times more likely to allow the procedure than uninsured parents.
The study continued, "Although circumcision is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in the United States, there is no clear evidence for routinely performing it on newborn male infants."
As of 1994, the circumcision rate was at 60% nationwide down from 85% in the 1980s.
In England, circumcision rates dropped from about 85 percent to near zero in the 1950s, after the National Health Service stopped covering the procedure.
The textbook of the foreskin restoration movement is The Joy of Uncircumcising! a 200-page how to guide first published in 1992, authored by Jim Bigelow, a former evangelical minister, who like Milos, lives in San Anselmo, Calif.
Bigelow pointed out that men have restored their foreskins for a number of more serious reasons than the merely cosmetic or sensual, including painful erections and tearing or bleeding during intercourse. For his part, Bigelow recommends that men work with their doctors while restoring - if they can get the doctor to support their decision.
Tim Hammond, another restoration movement leader and founder of the San Francisco-based NO HARM, the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males, said the group has collected about 500 "harm documentation forms" of men who have written describing the injuries that they've suffered as a result of being circumcised. He said those injuries include meningitis, infections and hemorrhages as well as the more common loss of sensation.
People have said, `Get a life,' but my response is, `Get a clue.' There are some very serious consequences to this. Losing the most erogenous part of your genitals is a serious issue," he said.
It's difficult to say how many men have restored their foreskins or are currently undergoing the procedure, but Bigelow's book has gone through two editions and sold nearly 10,000 copies. NORM has a mailing list of more than 3,000 men and operates about a dozen groups in the United States, with another dozen world wide.
Russo recently said he's getting 200 "hits" or people logging on to his Web site every day. As of last week, more than 11,000 people had found Russo's site in the past six months.
I'm getting a lot of really good, positive response," he said of his "restoration journal," a year-long illustrated account of his efforts to bring his foreskin back. "The phones ringing off the hook its crazy."
And the slow process of restoration may soon be a thing of the past.
Whitehead, the New York urologist, is developing a tissue expander for foreskin restoration that could cut the time required for the procedure down to a matter of months.
Placed under the skin, the device - essentially a balloon similar to those use for breast augmentation - could produce enough skin for complete foreskin recovery within three to six months. Whitehead expects to begin testing the device next month.
For more information on circumcision issues and foreskin restoration, call Marilyn Milos at NOCIRC: (415) 488-9883 or R. Wayne Griffiths at NORM: (510) 827-4077.
Paul Russo's restoration Web site address:http://www.indra.net/~shredder/restore
Return to CIRP News Page