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The Bloody Rise of DIY Circumcision Videos on YouTube

A growing number of young men are attempting to circumcise themselves at home with the help of Google and YouTube. But the end result is usually a medical disaster, urologists warn

A few years ago, urologist Judson Brandeis was called to the emergency room for an urgent penile bleed. The 17-year-old who arrived in an ambulance with a “mountain of bloody gauze” covering his groin had attempted to circumcise himself with a pair of household scissors. “He sterilized a pair of scissors with rubbing alcohol and started cutting,” Brandeis recalls. “He was trying to follow a YouTube video but didn’t plan very well.”

According to a number of case studies, this teenager isn’t exactly the exception to the rule. Indeed, for all the intactivists infuriated that their foreskin was taken without their consent, there are at least a few uncircumcised young men who feel the opposite. And whether it’s out of shame or anxiety around a medical professional operating on their junk, or simply because circumcision isn’t always covered by insurance — the procedure can cost up to $3,000 out-of-pocket — some guys are taking matters into their own hands.

In one example, a 25-year-old electrical engineering student — described as having above-average intelligence — studied the process in detail. He used proper suture materials, sterilized stainless galvanized wires and a vasoconstrictor rubber ring to minimize foreskin bleeding. But after making a small incision with a boiled razor blade — and even with ethylene oxide spray for numbing — he also wound up in the ER. 

If you were to search the internet for “how to circumcise yourself?” It would turn up well over 2 million results on Google, along with another million on YouTube. Many of these are accompanied with disclaimers like, “This is an educational video for surgical trainees,” and “This video is for entertainment purposes and is not intended for actual trial.” However, Google also turns up a number of self-circumcision tools designed for men in countries like Africa and China, where they may not have easy access to medical care. So it’s not entirely surprising that some guys might eventually DIY things, regardless of the warnings. 

But it’s obviously not without consequences. The risks of at-home circumcision include “excessive bleeding, infection, taking too much skin and even taking part of the head of the penis, especially in pediatric cases,” Brandeis notes. 

In the case of the 17-year-old, once Brandeis got the bleeding under control and stitched him up, he asked his patient, “Even if you’d been able to remove the skin, what was your plan for putting the skin back together?” 

“I hadn’t gotten that far in the YouTube video,” the teenager replied.

That said, Brandeis doesn’t blame YouTube or recommend censoring such content. “It’s usually the person’s judgment,” he tells me. “I could rewire my house by watching YouTube videos, but I could also burn the whole place down in an electrical fire. That’s why I call a licensed and bonded electrician.”

The thing is, while a house can be rebuilt, with circumcision, “you only have one chance to do it right,” Brandeis warns. “Circumcision in an adult is a reasonably complicated procedure with potential for disastrous outcomes if not done properly.”

No matter what your penis looks like, mangling it with a pair of kitchen scissors certainly isn’t going to help. So please, stop playing doctor and leave the circumcisions to the professionals.