Like most Americans with penises, Matt Blausch was circumcised when he was a few days old. Unlike most of his peers, however, Blausch spent years suffering after his procedure: He’d had too much skin removed, which reduced his “shaft-skin mobility,” as he describes it. The issue led to painful erections in his teen years.
That wasn’t the only problem. “Glans irritation,” he laments. “I don’t understand how most men have no discomfort with clothes rubbing up. It constantly hurts for me. I’ve noticed it since I was a child.”
Blausch is now 24 and living in Ohio. He’s one of a small minority of people whose circumcisions were “botched.” Complications from the operation are rare, but they can happen for a number of reasons: too much or too little foreskin removed, infection or incorrect healing. Blausch may even be considered lucky: There are far more extreme examples, which anti-circumcision activists often latch onto.
So what’s it like to spend your life a cut below the rest? I talked to four more men who grew up with complications from circumcision.
‘Erectile dysfunction during adolescence makes it much worse.’
Michael Parsons, 43: I didn’t even know I’d been circumcised until I was 13, 14. When I would become erect, my penis would be pulled into a downward curve. It hurt, it hurt every time. I thought this was normal because I didn’t know any better. I developed ED. Adolescence is rough for everyone. Erectile dysfunction during adolescence makes it much worse.
I still can’t comfortably wear a condom because the ring at the bottom basically ends up on my testicles. There was still a curvature, but it wasn’t as bad and the pain was way less. I first got access to the internet when I was 23, and that’s when I found out that the pain, tightness and curve were due to circumcision.
By 28, I had no more feeling in the head of my penis than I did on the top of my thigh. Sex was almost pleasure-less, it was depressing. I knew about foreskin restoration but doubted it would even work. In February 2004, I finally started restoring my foreskin.
It’s a slow, uncomfortable, frustrating process and I hate that I’ve had to do this for so long just to try to get to “almost normal.” This year, at just about the 15-year mark, I considered myself restored. I now have a foreskin that covers my glans just about all of the time.
I’ve regained the “gliding action” due to having enough mobile skin. That’s a completely new sensation; it feels amazing. I will be restoring for at least a few more years, and even though I’ve grown so much tissue, I will probably still need surgery to free up the skin on the underside of my penis.
The psychological effects will, more than likely, stay with me for the rest of my life.
‘Masturbation was a slog … I couldn’t complete any intimate acts with another guy.’
Kaleb, 32: When you’ve been circumcised and resent it, it’s not something you can put out of your mind easily. Every morning, you have an erection straining against tight skin. Every time you have to urinate, unless you’re in the shower, you have to touch yourself to aim. Every time you’re intimate, your circumcision becomes a “Kilroy was here!” that forces your parents, your doctor, your religion or your parents’ religion into the equation.
But I count myself among the physically lucky ones for a few reasons. My scar, though uneven, isn’t pronounced. I don’t have any scarring on my glans, nor do I have skin bridges or skin tags. I still have most of my frenulum intact, and between being cut loosely and my masturbation techniques during adolescence, my foreskin remnant was loose enough for me to begin with some more advanced foreskin-restoration techniques.
Before I started restoring, masturbation could become an ordeal. Sometimes I could finish up in a few minutes, other times it became a slog of nearly an hour with my penis and most of my right arm either sore or numb by the time I was through. I couldn’t complete any intimate acts with another guy without hearty hand involvement and a strong grip.
With more tissue growth, it became easier than ever to masturbate just by rolling my skin back and forth. Although I’d been cut loosely enough that I never really needed lubrication, my restoring progress has been marked by an increase in comfort in that regard.
I definitely consider myself a foreskin-restoration success story. I have full coverage when I’m soft, and although I’ve “passed” as intact when I’ve shared my photo online, I still know I have quite a while to go before I reach my goal of having erect coverage. Damn being a grower!
‘I still get rips during sex.’
Walter Fletcher, 43: When I was circumcised, the doctor took too much of the shaft skin along with the foreskin. My scar dips down and connects to the raphe of the scrotum (the line that goes vertical from front to back). When I went through puberty, I did not have enough skin to grow completely [on the] right. I would curve to one side. Erections were painful and often I would get these rips when I masturbated.
I lived in a household that frowned upon any discussion of sex, so I never went to my parents about it. As I got older and I gained weight, the curve went away, but I still would get rips during sexual activities. Each time a rip occurs, it feels like I was just sliced with something sharp. I had corrective surgery to try and fix the issues, but it did nothing.
The urologist I saw said my parents should have known something was wrong. One of the other problems is that I have pubic hair going all the way up the shaft to the scar. I have lost feeling over time. I still get rips during sex. There is nothing that can be done currently to fix it.
What happened to me still causes me physical pain and damage to this day. Many will say that I am making it more than what it is, but they are not dealing with it in the back of their minds: Will my skin rip today? With each movement, it’s painful.
‘I vowed I would die first rather than seek medical help.’
Israel Pattinson, 45: The first notable sign was chronic nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting). It happened every night from the day I was born until I was 17 and a half. The last time I wet the bed was actually the night before my first day of my senior year in high school. Be the kid that wets the bed through high school and find out what bullying is really like.
Experience shame on a daily basis as exasperated adults yell and scream at you to put your sheets and pajamas in the laundry. Wear the disposable undergarments that no one must ever know about, even family and friends. Never be able to stay over at a friend’s house for a sleepover. Scramble to think how to get out of your tent and dry your sleeping bag on scout camping trips without your peers noticing.
At age 5 or 6, the bedwetting led to my next penis-related horror show: meatal stenosis [a blocked urethral opening].
I was subjected to three procedures. First was a cystoscopy: A camera and a light on a long thin tube were forced into my urethra all the way to my bladder, where the doctor looked for signs of strictures, deformations or pathologies like cancer. The second procedure came with the little pincer at the end of the cystoscope, which the doctor used to tear away a small piece of the lining of my bladder. Finally, once the metal tube had been removed, the doctor [widened] my urethral meatus which had narrowed because of my exposed glans and presumably was causing me to have difficulty voiding my bladder.
Bedwetting solved, right? Nope. That solved itself 11 years later, no thanks to the horror show I was going through now.
Major depression, contemplating suicide, anxiety, ADHD, erectile dysfunction and obesity are all challenges that I’ve faced. Relationships have been difficult. For 20 years, I avoided any contact with doctors, dentists, nurses or prescription drugs, vowing that I would die first rather than seek medical help.