Derek, a 32-year-old in New York, was in the throws of “some overzealous sex” with his college girlfriend when he felt a sudden, acute pain in his penis. “It was like when you pull a hangnail really fast, but it was on my dick,” he tells me. “I looked down and there was blood — not hers.”
The pain became intense enough that Derek, despite a valiant attempt, couldn’t continue on. “That was where my road to frenulum surgery began,” he says. “I took a trip to the urologist the next day.”
The frenulum is the small piece of tissue connecting the foreskin to the shaft and head of the penis (here’s a visual aid). According to Derek’s urologist, the pain he experienced was his frenulum rupturing. Derek, it turned out, was born with what’s called “frenulum breve,” which means he had a small frenulum that restricted the movement of his foreskin (making aggressive thrusting never a great idea).
Per urologist Alex Shteynshlyuger, frenulum breve is “a fairly common problem that affects many guys, but causes occasional problems in five to 10 percent of men.” However, he adds, “Many men aren’t aware that the pain, tightness and lacerations on the penis caused by frenulum breve is a treatable condition, and as a result, they don’t seek treatment.” Instead, some opt to let it heal before tearing it again during sex, and then repeat the cycle.
Much like Derek, 29-year-old Dave says his frenulum always felt tight, but he never considered that it might tear outright. “Then, one night my girlfriend and I were having sex, and I had this feeling like a razor was slicing the underside of my [penis] head,” he tells me. “I looked down, and there was blood. When we inspected it closer, there was a small, slight tear in my frenulum, like a little v-shaped nick.”
Both Dave and Derek were given the option between topical creams and exercises or surgery. The former would “make the skin more flexible and less likely to tear, which I tried, but ultimately, I kept tearing it even when taking special care to be more delicate,” Derek explains.
Fearing a buildup of scar tissue and continued pain, each eventually chose to undergo a “frenulectomy of the penis,” where the piece of tissue is removed. “A frenulectomy of the penis or ‘frenuloplasty’ takes about 30 minutes to perform,” says Shteynshlyuger, whose office performs 200 to 250 frenulectomies a year. It’s typically an outpatient procedure performed with local anesthetics, he adds, and “once the pain medication is given, most men report minimal to no pain.”
This was pretty much the case for Dave, save for the fact that his urologist used a needle to apply the anesthetic. “That was the only scary part of the whole ordeal,” he says. “Getting a needle to the dick is unpleasant, but it’s pretty much the same thing as getting a novocaine shot at the dentist.”
Otherwise, the surgery was over before he knew it. “They just go in, cut the frenulum out and stitch you back up,” he explains. “Overall, it was totally worth it, especially because I didn’t have to deal with the pain of a stretched or torn frenulum again.”
“Men can go back to work, take a shower and do usual activities the same day of their frenulectomy,” Shteynshlyuger says. “But no going to the beach or swimming for two weeks, and sex isn’t allowed for four weeks, or until the area heals completely.”
For Derek, abstaining from sex was easy. It did, however, take some time to psychologically feel ready for sex again. “I actually waited about two full months to really let it really heal, which was totally worth it,” he says. “I’m still cautious to make sure there’s enough lubrication to avoid any issues in the future, but for the first time in a long time, sex is great and pain-free again.”