More men are trying to get back what the surgeon once removedJan. 12, 2001 | 4:26 p.m.
Greg Beirise of Chicago has never quite forgiven doctors for circumcising him 32 years ago, nor his parents for requesting the procedure.
``It always bothered me,'' said Beirise, a Web page developer. ``I just wanted to be whole.''
Beirise is one of what many estimate are several thousands of men in the United States and other countries who are taking back what doctors cut away at their birth.
Brought together mainly over the Internet, these men are young, retired, straight, gay, blue collar and professional and say they are growing back their foreskin, transforming themselves from circumcised to near natural in a few years for better sex, general comfort and emotional ``healing.''
Beirise has worn a pair of men's tall-size suspenders under his pants for the past four and a half years. The suspenders are attached to various devices -- from first-aid tape to a contraption made of halved plastic Easter eggs and copper wire -- that gently stretch the skin on his penis.
His goal: to grow back skin that resembles the foreskin he lost when he was circumcised.
Doctors say men like Beirise, who call themselves ``tuggers,'' won't likely do himself any harm. Dr. William Reiner, a psychiatrist and urologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said trying to regrow foreskin is safe, so long as men avoid cutting off their blood supply, piercing their skin or causing themselves any pain.
Experts say that the extent to which the skin grows back depends upon how much was cut away in the first place. They also say the new skin may not have the same sensitivity as the original would have.
But Reiner says that may not matter to some.
He says men who try to regrow their foreskin may be trying to restore ``some sense of sexual function or maleness they think they've lost.''
``And some are (trying to) restore something that was done to them when they were a baby and didn't have any say,'' Reiner said.
``These issues are more psychological than physical, and there's probably some placebo effect that's very helpful to them,'' he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 reversed its support for routine infant circumcision, citing questionable benefits and medical and anecdotal evidence that circumcised men have less penile sensitivity.
It was a move welcomed by R. Wayne Griffiths of Concord, Calif. The construction engineer and friend Tim Hammond put ads in local newspapers more than a decade ago inviting men to a support group for those hoping to restore their foreskins. The first meeting attracted 12 men, Griffiths said. And the response grew from there.
``We got 25 calls a week for the first few months,'' said Griffiths, a 67-year-old divorced father of five. Not bad for a subject most men were afraid to mention, he said.
Today, Griffiths says as many as 7,000 men of all descriptions have contacted him online or on the telephone about restoration. He now heads the National Organization for Restoring Men, or NORM, a group that has chapters in 20 states and six countries.
``It used to be hush-hush,'' said Leo Freyer, a retired engineering drafter in Spokane, Wash. ``Now it's mainstream.''
Those interested now buy books written on the topic -- the most popular of which, The Joy of Uncircumcising, has gone through two editions and is on backorder at Amazon.com. Some 13,000 copies have been sold so far.
Guided by online instructions, many men make ``uncircumcising'' devices themselves, using adhesive-backed foam rubber, plumbing washers, empty pill bottles and rubber O-rings, among other things.
They also buy equipment designed for the purpose, including the $100 Tug Ahoy, which includes plastic Easter egg halves, and the wares of retired motorcycle dealer Roland Clark of Huntington Beach, Calif., who sells three patented products online for as much as $450.
Above all, men interested in the subject are computer savvy. One 3-year-old online discussion group on restoration has 400 to 650 members at any given time based in the U.S. and 16 other countries, said its moderator, Gary Burlingame. And Freyer, who edits an online directory, counts 69 Web sites and four chat rooms devoted to the topic, most of which he said have appeared within the past couple of years.
They trade ideas and support because doctors often want no part of it, said Dr. Morrie Sorrells, a retired pediatrician in Atherton, Calif., who is on the board of NORM and who practices uncircumcising techniques himself.
``The medical profession is conservative and tends to look askance at anything that is lay-oriented, or not originated by medicine,'' Sorrells, 62, said.
Reiner, the Johns Hopkins psychiatrist, agrees that physicians, for the most part, are not usually comfortable discussing sexual issues with their patients and tend to steer clear of such topics. For that reason, he said, foreskin restoration remains very much a quiet topic.
Though they are talkative with each other, many of those individuals -- no matter how mainstream they believe the practice is becoming -- say they're not likely to mention their activities in polite company anytime soon.
They say many people don't understand why they do it.
``Knowledge is the key,'' Freyer said. ``They just don't know what they're missing.''
On the Net: http://www.norm.org/ AP-CS-01-12-01 1715EST
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