Note – the below contains some graphic descriptions of surgery and an awful lot of T.M.I. for the people who know me personally. There are no gory images and no images of anybody’s penis, but please proceed with caution if you’re squeamish about operations, or about me talking about my private parts, or me just feeling sorry for myself in general.
I spent the afternoon of my thirtieth birthday sat on a bed, in a hospital, with stitches in my bellend.
On reflection, I’d say it was my fifth-worst birthday.
Getting to this point is a fairly mundane, boring story, but I’ll go through it because it’s pretty pertinent.
The Origin Story
In the latter months of 2017, my foreskin became very tight, rather suddenly. It seemed to be over the course of a week that it went from being its normal, relatively stretchy self, to having a maximum diameter of about a centimetre, or roughly half an inch.
Now, when I say “tight”, I mean there was literally no give in it whatsoever. It was too tight for me to even get my fingertip inside, meaning I had no way to clean the end of my knob. Which isn’t great.
It also meant I couldn’t retract it over the bellend, which is also not great. In fact, I was lucky that my foreskin decided to do this whilst it was still on the end of my penis. If it had somehow managed to make its way further down, then it would have been acting as a tourniquet around my bellend, which would have warranted a trip to the emergency room, and everything would have been Much Worse.
As it was, I simply found it uncomfortable to masturbate, and on occasion the foreskin would get sore if it had been stretched too much.
I was panicked, at first, because I was sure this must be the result of some form of STD. Which in itself isn’t something to be ashamed of. What really bothered me is that the only possible way I could’ve contracted an STD would be from a toilet seat: my sex life, excluding a few weeks in my mid-twenties, could be charitably described as “dormant”, and less charitably as “non-existent.”
It turns out that I had “balanitis xerotica obliterans,” or BXO, which isn’t related to any kind of infection, isn’t communicable, and basically “just happens.” Like, at random. In essence, as I understand it, it can cause dry skin, which then cracks when stretched and subsequently scars. Scar tissue is tighter than normal tissue, decreasing the diameter of the foreskin, causing it to stretch and crack more, leading to more scarring, leading to a tighter and tighter foreskin.
Essentially, shit just happens. I was prescribed a topical ointment at first to see if this had any effect (it didn’t), but pretty much from my first appointment with the doctor I was advised that circumcision was only realistic treatment.
Me and My Penis
I have a horrible relationship with my dick.
I’ve spent my entire life single. I was seeing someone briefly for a few weeks in my mid-twenties, but beyond that my interaction with romantic and sexual intimacy has been non-existent.
When this has come up in conversations, my friends have always been keen to be supportive and point out all the usual cliches – that it doesn’t matter, that everyone goes through things at their own pace, that I’m sure to meet someone right around the corner, and so on, ad infinitum. Which is nice, it’s nice to have nice friends who are friendly and nice.
But it’s actually counter-productive. Because the world isn’t as nice; the world tells you, every single moment, that sex is important, and relationships are meaningful, and that part of being a human being is engaging with people intimately, both at a physical and emotional level.
As a man, my chief lesson (others may have learned otherwise) has been that my value is based around my dick, specifically who I’ve put it into and how many times I’ve put it into people. From my parents instilling in me from a young age a need for me to find a wife and have kids of my own, my dad reminding me almost every time we meet to adhere to his idea of a smart appearance because “you don’t know who you might meet”, to simply the number of times I find myself in discussions with friends about sex and relationships and have to either remain as inconspicuously silent as I can, or otherwise fake an experienced attitude just to try to fit in and avoid any awkward conversations.
It pretty much all comes down to the dick. Men are luckier than women when it comes to social expectations – we can sleep with lots of people, or we can sleep lots of times with only one person: as long as we’re putting our dick in someone, we’re fulfilling our role as men in the eyes of society. And the fact that I haven’t been therefore means my dick serves only one real purpose – as a constant reminder of my failings as a man.
And it’s isolating. Very isolating. Growing up and seeing your friends start relationships, end relationships, sleep around, get married, get divorced – being incapable of participating in that side of life (through no one’s fault but your own) makes you feel like an alien, like a distant observer, and a complete fucking weirdo. Which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the more you feel like a weirdo, the more you act like a weirdo, as your insecurities snowball and when you’re near someone you like, you at best manage to be awkward and at worst turn into a fucking creep.
Having your first kiss at 25, losing your virginity at 26 – just typing those words out is painful, almost nauseating. It feels like some great, shameful secret. It is a shameful secret. In this interview, a 62-year-old John Cleese physically writhes revealing that he didn’t lose his virginity until he was 24 – and he is a founder of one of the world’s most influential comedic groups of the last few decades. He is not an incredibly mediocre man stuck in an incredibly boring job with an unpaid sideline as a nerd-rage blogger.
And whilst it’s flattering to compare yourself to someone like Isaac Newton, he had invented calculus by the age of 21, at which point I was most of the way through failing my engineering degree.
Which leads to the great irony that my penis, basically ornamental and one of the chief sources of my persistent misery and depression, had spontaneously and despite its lack of use developed a mildly uncomfortable disfigurement which now required me to attend hospital for the first time as a patient, and undergo my first ever surgery.
(There’s a larger discussion here about how the portrayal of sex in the media as an achievement and a goal causes straight men to devalue and objectify women, the same way that target-driven salespeople devalue and objectify potential buyers, and leads to the kind of misogynistic “incel” communities that are rife in certain corners of the internet, but I’ll leave that for better minds to discuss.
It’s also worth pointing out that if you can’t convince someone to consider you as a sexual or romantic partner by just being yourself, then you are the person that needs to change, not them. Which isn’t always a nice thing to hear if you have no idea what it is about yourself that you need to change. For me, I’ve been told that I need to not be a fat, ugly arsehole, but I was just as much of a failure before I gained all the weight, so who knows.)
Under the Knife
Anyway, moving past my wallowing in self-pity like a scouse hippopotamus bathing in salty muck, and onto the matter at hand.
I am lucky enough to never have needed surgery before. I am also lucky enough to live in a country that provides free healthcare to its citizens. Neither of these things helped ease my anxieties on my way into hospital, given that the next few hours were to feature a variety of sharp implements being used to carve pieces off my penis.
The local hospital to which I was admitted was pretty modern and very clean. The staff were helpful, generally friendly and reassuring. I had my blood pressure taken more than it has been in the entire rest of my life, I think. Twice before the surgery, twice during the surgery, and twice after. I was given some paracetamol before hand, as well, to preemptively soften any pain response.
Despite the fact that I’d already agreed to go under a local anaesthetic rather than a general, there still seemed to be some confusion just before the operation as to which kind of anaesthesia I’d be subjected to. I don’t know if this was normal or not, but it meant a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over how I should prepare. I had assumed that this is something that would be decided long in advance, but apparently not, as the surgeon consulted me about half an hour before the op, recommended a local, and I made the decision then to follow his advice.
Normally, local anaesthetics are the best option, as they are less risky and require less recovery time. Apparently, the surgical staff prefer general anaesthetics, as it means anxious patients are completely unconscious and therefore easier to handle.
In my case, this already being a penis surgery, on my thirtieth birthday, for a penis that was barely out of the packaging from a sexual perspective, matters were obviously special. I faced an intense but very brief pain as the surgeon stuck the needle into my dick. This wasn’t too bad. Sadly, my nerve cells apparently had Wolverine-like resilience, because the left half of my penis didn’t respond to the local. This confused and frustrated the surgeon.
What followed was roughly fifteen minutes of visible annoyance on the face of the surgeon, reassuring vocalisations from the other surgical staff, and occasional hard tugs and presses on my stubborn member as the surgeon tried to massage the anaesthetic into working. Intermittently, he would stab my bellend with something sharp and ask if I felt it. On the right side I felt nothing. On the left side, I felt Everything. The surgeon concluded that this was “weird.” I concluded that the day had already overstayed its welcome.
All of this as I lay naked from the waist down, in a brightly lit room, surrounded by half a dozen strangers, with my groin stained with dark brown cleaning fluid. At this point, the surgeon and his assistant were the fourth and fifth people, other than myself, to ever touch my penis. The second and third were my GP and the consultant urologist a few months earlier.
So I got another injection, on the left side of my penis. Fortunately, this took effect after a few more minutes (and after a few more stabs to the bellend to confirm), and the operation could begin.
I have no idea of the exact procedures used to remove the problematic foreskin, as a sheet had been strategically piled on top of my belly to conceal any of the activity below. So instead, I had a chat with the staff, mostly about upcoming films and weekend plans.
Whilst I couldn’t see anything, I could feel it. A local anaesthetic is a peculiar thing. As advised by the surgeon’s assistant, I could feel pulls and tugs and physical movements, but I couldn’t feel anything sharp. When the knife was cutting, it felt like someone drawing on my foreskin with a marker pen (after they had already drawn on it with a marker pen to sketch out the cuts and so on).
Feeling the stitches going in was a weird one. I couldn’t feel the needle, but I could feel the thread being pulled through, from the bumpiness of it as it was pulled tight. This was strange. Not exactly unpleasant, and definitely not painful, but absolutely disconcerting.
From the point that the anaesthetic took full effect, the entire procedure seemed to last about twenty minutes. As best as I can tell, it all went according to plan. However, there was one moment where the surgeon jerked backwards, as though he’d just seen something that He Did Not Expect To See. It was the sort of movement someone makes when something that they think is dead suddenly moves. I didn’t ask him what was wrong. I was confident there was no answer he could give that I would like.
I never saw my foreskin again. It was put in a container (I presume) and sent off to a lab, for testing and research. Possibly to further medical knowledge. Most likely not in any significant or uplifting way.
I was wheeled out on a gurney back to my bed station on the ward. I was tended to quite attentively by the nursing staff, who brought me toast, water and coffee. This wasn’t to make me feel better, so much as it was to make sure I could keep food down. They also needed to check that I could still urinate. I could. The damp dressing and been so tightly bound around my penis that I could pee EVERYWHERE. I pretty much coated the toilet. It sprayed out at ballistic velocities in multiple directions, like an agricultural water sprinkler.
With my watersports qualification awarded by the staff, I was discharged to leave the hospital, roughly an hour after the surgery completed, and roughly four hours after I arrived. I left in loose-fitting jogging trousers, loose boxers and an old t-shirt, and was driven home by my parents. I spent the rest of the day doing not very much at all.
So, what now?
Well, it’s nearly a week on.
It’s still sore. The extra local anaesthetic I received seemed to dull the pain for the entirety of the rest of the operation day. When it wore off the next day, I still didn’t experience much pain at all.
Twenty-four hours after the operation, I was able to shower and remove the dressing. This wasn’t painful, but it did expose my newly de-fringed member to more contact with my clothes and my bedsheets, which made it uncomfortable.
Removing the dressing also revealed the aesthetic results. They were not pleasant. Whilst there is still a lot of healing to do and swelling to go down, even now it looks like something out of John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. Although I dreamed of having a neatly-trimmed, porn-ready dong after all of this, at the moment I’m just hoping to end up with something that doesn’t look like a piece of ’80s body horror.
In the last few days, the pain has increased. Specifically around the more exposed stitches. In the last 48 hours, a pungent smell became evident, and earlier today (the fourth day after the operation), I noticed small amounts of yellowy discharge from one side of the wound. Which led to a trip to the GP, and now a course of antibiotics to fight the infection. This is despite consistent care as advised when I left the hospital, including regularly washing the area with salt water and changing underwear two or three times a day. Sometimes, you get bad luck in runs.
Everything around the cut area has swollen, badly, causing the swollen flesh of the rest of my penis to push up and engulf the bellend. This leads to the ends of the stitches digging into the swollen parts, leading to stinging and further discomfort.
Erections used to be fun. Sometimes, I’d wake up with morning wood and just enjoy having it. Erections, in a weird way, used to feel almost powerful, or rather potent, like you’d just been handed a gun. Now, my erections are totems of anxiety. For the first few days, they weren’t painful, but they did feel tight, like everything was being stretched, presumably due to the stitches, which I worried were going to burst open. Over the last couple of days my erections have been truly agonising, feeling like something is going to tear at any moment.
I still have to pee sitting down. Two days after the op, with the dressing gone, I tried peeing into the bathtub, just to test it. The stream came out at Mach speeds. I reckon I could have peed across a distance of eight metres, easily. Sadly, there was still some spraying, and nothing approaching control. Hopefully, this is just a result of the swelling. I would like to return to peeing standing up. It was one of the few privileges of being part of the patriarchy that I didn’t feel too guilty about, and was happy to just enjoy.
I was told I wouldn’t be able to have sex for a month after the surgery. I was like, “Hah! Make it a year, see if I notice!” Then they told me that included masturbation and I nearly cried. As it is, exactly one month after the op is a Saturday. If I had a partner, I’d probably try to spend all day with them, with the curtains drawn, giving the newly refurbished dick a test-drive. As it is, I intend to spend the day with my internet connection, and the curtains drawn, having the most emotionally profound wank of my entire life.