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Male Circumcision Circumstances
Every day for the past six months, John has been wearing two 6oz metal ball-bearings attached by straps to the end of his penis.
He's not a fetishist; he's on a course of DIY plastic surgery to correct what was, in his view, a terrible wrong inflicted on him when he was a baby.
John underwent male circumcision as an infant and he wants his foreskin back.
No ... he's not kidding.
Forty or 50 years ago, male circumcision was unremarkable and commonplace. Half of all newborn male babies were circumcised on the grounds that it's more hygienic and could protect them against conditions such as penile and prostate cancer as well as urinary tract infections.
Such claims proved to be unfounded, and the number of circumcisions has plunged to between four and six per cent, most of which are said to be done for therapeutic reasons. Recent guidelines issued by Canadian surgeons declare that "circumcision performed on a healthy infant is now considered a non-therapeutic and medically unnecessary intervention", and most doctors' associations agree.
The change is a triumph for evidence-based medicine, but it raises some tricky questions. If circumcision is medically unnecessary, is it right to subject small babies to it? Perhaps teen circumcision or even adult circumcision is far more acceptable simply because they must choose to undergo the procedure?
At the moment, parents who want to have their child circumcised on the grounds of personal choice only need to find a doctor who is willing to do it privately. The aim of Norm-UK - which takes its name from the American National Organisation for Restoring Men - is to make this unacceptable.
A particularly delicate area of this debate is the issue of religious male circumcision. Official bodies usually defend it on the grounds of religious freedom and cultural toleration, but some of the more hardline Norm members point out that such sensibilities have not prevented governments outlawing so-called female circumcision.
"Infant circumcision is one of the very few non-therapeutic operations that can be done without the consent of the person being operated on," says David Smith, the manager of Norm-UK. "It's a scandal that young boys are mutilated unnecessarily."
The main reason for a therapeutic circumcision is to treat a condition called phimosis - a tight foreskin that won't retract.
"Parents get worried and want something done even if it is not causing any problem," says Dr John Warren, a consultant physician at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, and founder of Norm-UK. "But research published as long ago as 1968 found that 90 per cent of tight foreskins resolved themselves by the age of four and 99 per cent were normal by 17."
But debates about individual rights and medical judgements miss what is for many the central objection to circumcision - that it is an assault on male sexuality. The operation removes the prepuce that covers and protects the head, or glans, of the penis, which is made up of an outer skin and an inner mucosa.
"Until the mid-Nineties, it was possible to claim that the foreskin was just a flap of skin," says Smith. "But then research showed that the inner mucosa contains up to 40,000 nerve endings that make a man more sensitive during sex."
For many circumcised men this is not a problem. Some even claim decreased sensitivity is a bonus because it allows them to "keep going" and last longer in bed. But Norm-UK claims that men experience a variety of negative feelings as a result losing their foreskins, including "low self-esteem over body image", "a sense of betrayal by parents, especially the mother" and "anger and hostility towards doctors".
Restoring more than Hope
The process of foreskin restoration can help resolve these problems. Although you can't re-create those lost nerve endings, you can recover the uncircumcised look and provide a covering for your glans which, ideally, responds by becoming thinner-skinned and more sensitive. All it takes is some straps, tapes and weights, and about three years.
There is no shortage of devices for sale on the internet. With names like "Pul-Man", "TLC Tugger", "Foreballs" and my personal favorite
"Some men have got their foreskin back in six months," says Wayne Griffiths, founder of the American Norm. "But usually you have to wear something for two years."
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