What It’s Like to Reconstruct Your Own Foreskin

Illustration: Eugenia Loli

Atypical is a series about the people who live on the margins of experience. Here, a 59-year-old man tells Alexa Tsoulis-Reay about his years-long quest to restore his foreskin to correct the damage he believes was caused when he was circumcised as a baby.

I’ve seen both sides of circumcision. Not many men can say that.

When I was born I had to stay in the hospital because I was underweight. One day, the doctor met my parents in the hallway and said, “Your son is ready to go home, oh and by the way, and we just circumcised him.” They hadn’t consented. My mom was so upset she never went back to that doctor again.

Growing up I’d look down at my penis and see that scar and wonder what it would look like if that doctor had never touched it. Whenever I went to the bathroom I’d stare at the two different colors of skin. It felt calloused. Whenever I took a shower at the gym I wanted to cover myself up immediately. It’s hard to articulate; I guess I felt exposed.

By the time I reached 40 years old, I started losing sensitivity. It just got worse and by the time I hit 50 my penis was as numb as a broomstick. I could pinch the head and feel nothing. Intercourse was painful for my wife — she said it felt like sandpaper. I had no sensitivity, so I was rubbing the ridge of her vagina raw with every stroke, even with lube.

I was cut real tight, when I got erect my skin broke open and bled. As the years wore on it dried out completely. I explain it like this: Stick your tongue out of your mouth for five minutes and then put it back and see how calloused and dried out it feels. That’s how my penis was.

Often, I’d give up before climax because it took forever. There was no sensitivity. I’d get frustrated and feel incomplete because I couldn’t finish; it was like, what’s the point? I just got anxious when I was having sex, and then I would be overthinking what was wrong and nothing would happen. I felt so inferior.

The homemade foreskin restoration device.

In 2005 I was watching TV and two men who were against circumcision were being interviewed. One of them dropped his pants and showed his restored foreskin. When I saw that I knew I had to correct the wrong that was done to me. I had no idea that this was something I could fix. That’s when I started my restoration journey.

I went online and read about how to gain enough skin to accommodate a professional tugging device, which would give you results like that guy I saw on TV. I learned that you could put a spark-plug socket on the head and pull skin over it (which you secure with medical tape) to start skin growth. I didn’t tell my wife right away — I wanted her to take the process seriously so I didn’t want to get her fully involved until I proved that it could work.

I started out using those homemade techniques to pull the foreskin forward for a few minutes each day. I tried the spark-plug socket, I also used a weight. From what I was reading online it seemed like men have fully restored using those methods, but I found it was too painful. So I made my own device with a baby nasal aspirator, a toilet tank flapper, a clip for holding tarps, an elastic bungee, and an alligator clip. I clipped it on to my boxer briefs, and let it tug the skin.

I wore that for two–three years usually during the day for about five hours each time. It hurt some, a dull pain, but no pain, no gain, and also, when I felt the pressure I knew that it was working. If it hurt too bad I would loosen the clip to relieve some of the tension or just take it off. I saw some skin growth but I wasn’t sure if it was temporary or permanent.

Then I ordered myself a DTR device. I’d read about it online so I knew that it was designed by a man who had fully restored his foreskin. You have to have grown some skin back to even be able to use it, because it has to have something to grip onto. That’s when I came out to my wife as a restoring man. She was very supportive; she understood that my penis had been a problem for both of us.

When I got that DTR I used it for 12–16 hours every single day for about seven years.

Restoring is a very slow turtle race. You go months without seeing any progress. First, you want to get wrinkles of skin and then you want them to roll over the edge, restoring what men call that a “plateau.” When you see that roll over, it gives you hope. So I just kept pushing myself, pushing myself waiting for those roll-overs. I never gave up.

When you first start out it’s more of a challenge to pull your skin forward and get enough under the gripper. I probably only had enough skin to cover half of the head to flip the grip and have some skin to grip. After about six months I started to grow more — at that point I had enough to push over the bell and push the gripper in. Once you get used to it it’s a matter of 30 seconds, just put it on, pull the skin over, flip the gripper over, pushing the rod in and tightening it up, you know?

It became part of my routine, like putting on your socks and shoes before you go to work. Then, I’d wear it until it started to hurt too much and go to the bathroom and take it off, give my skin a 30-minute break. At night I’d use shea butter lotion or coconut oil to moisturize the skin and help skin growth.

I will never grow back the nerve endings lost during circumcision but I did get back some sensitivity. After a while my calloused skin peeled off just like a sunburn and I saw fresh newborn baby skin with pure sensitivity. The amount of skin from the time you are circumcised to when you are restored is an index card. I have almost grown back that index card.

Today I call myself restored but I still use the DTR to tug some, mainly on my days off from work. I don’t know if you can ever have too much. Once you get enough growth so that you don’t see your head when you get an erection without retracting, I think of that as restored. I can’t see the scar anymore unless I pull the foreskin back completely.

Sex is so much more enjoyable now. I’m not jackhammering all the time. My wife says it’s like night and day.

I recently changed doctors and during my first appointment he asked if I wanted my prostate exam done. He said, “Also, do you mind if I retract your foreskin?” He said it looked great, and I was about to bust loose inside jumping for joy because, finally, I pass.

What It’s Like to Reconstruct Your Own Foreskin