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The long and the short of penis enlargements

28 Feb 2003

In January, a surgeon was struck off for botching penis enlargement operations, and just two weeks later, media reports suggested the procedure was the most popular form of cosmetic surgery for UK men. So what’s the real story?

Despite perceptions that penile enlargements are safe and successful, the truth is that professional bodies see the operation as experimental and unsatisfactory.

Furthermore, despite recent reports, it is extremely unlikely that penis enlargement is the most popular cosmetic op for men. A press release by an organisation offering the operation – the Harley Medical Group – listed the top five male procedures with penis extensions coming top, but ambiguously failed to number them.

Subsequent media claims that a “new breed of man” was vouching for penis enlargements over everything else made good copy but is heavily disputed by Dr Shirley Williams of the Medical Protection Society. “I would be extremely surprised if that were true,” she says.

But with the links between penis size and virility, it also appears there is no shortage of men willing to undergo this expensive, painful and potentially dangerous operation in their bid to increase their manhood – and no shortage of companies willing to play on men’s insecurities to offer them such a service.

Nothing new

You would be entirely wrong if you thought increasing the size of your penis or surgical efforts to make it more appealing were anything new, however. In 1999, Dr Randy Klein revealed in one of the very few studies into penis enlargements that the practice has been going on for centuries.

Ancient Indian and Peruvian tribes (the Sadhus and the Cholomecs) used weights to manage lengths of 12-18 inches, but while impressive, the penises were purely for show and couldn't be used sexually. A less-severe form of the method is still offered today.

Borneo’s indigenous tribe, the Dayaks, attracted women by the number of “decorations” they had. They would force needles through the penis and leave them until a hole had formed. Then various items would be inserted in the hole to stimulate the partner.

Perhaps most remarkable of all though, the Topinama of Brazil, who date back to the 16th century, would encourage poisonous snakes to bite them. The pain apparently receded after six months but left the man with a hugely inflated penis that proved popular with the womenfolk.

Modern-day methods

Modern methods are less drastic but also less successful – there is no way to actually increase the size of the penis.

Any increase in length achieved is almost entirely while the penis is flaccid, explains plastic surgeon Mr Brent Tanner who is based in south-east England. “There is extra when it is flaccid, which can look better, but erect it is not much better,” he says.

There are two basic types of penis enlargement operation. One makes the flaccid penis longer by cutting the suspensory ligaments attached to the pubic bone. This allows the penis to drop forward and so appear longer, but only by up to an inch.

This will, however, have almost no effect when the penis is erect and leaves a noticeable scar at the base of the penis. Mr Tanner adds, “Because you’ve cut the ligaments that hold it in place, it tends to go out at right angles and you have to use your hand to control it.” The erect penis may also not manage the same angle as previously.

The second type of operation injects or implants fat from elsewhere in the body (usually the “love handles” or the buttocks) into the penis itself. This adds bulk to the penis, giving it more girth.

Love rocket

However, a good proportion of the size is lost in the months following the operation as some of the fat is dissolved back into the body. It’s not exactly a uniform increase either.

“If you inject fat, the penis looks fat but it’s not hard, and when erect, the penis can look like the Cape Canaveral rocket, with the Apollo shuttle at the bottom,” says Mr Tanner. He calls the operation “useless”, adding that people often get the fat removed later.

The operation also comes with a high rate of associated problems (50 per cent in one of the few independent surveys) including scarring, bending and infection. In the case of the struck off surgeon, one man’s penis actually ended up smaller than before the operation.

There are two more recent operations. One uses skin from a dead body. Surgeons lay it the penis’s own skin and stitch that back over. However, this only gives 2-3mm extra girth and costs £1,000, says Mr Tanner. In the US, “thick skin” is used although this has been banned for use in penis transplants in the UK.

Another method pioneered by an Italian doctor sees a vein removed from the leg and placed into the penis. Because the vein is larger in size, it swells more, giving a larger penis. However, this leads to a loss in erection strength.

Mr Tanner says he has stopped doing penis ops, having completed about 30, after most patients reported dissatisfaction and a third needed adjustment surgery. He says he will wait for the techniques to improve.

Go see a psychiatrist

He is not alone. Few cosmetic surgeons carry out the procedure now, it seems. A spokesman for the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons says he doesn’t know anyone in the association who offers penile enhancements. Instead, he suggests, most surgeons would advise patients talk to a sexual therapist or psychiatrist.

Indeed, psychological issues with penis size are behind the majority of enlargement requests. Purveyors of pills, suction pumps, weights and surgery also purposefully quote average lengths and girths for penises above the real values in order to provide the psychological trauma of “less than normal”.

Mr Tanner says of his patients, “There are the normal ones that don’t need it and when I explain what is involved, say, ‘No thanks.’ Then there are the people with micropenises that have trouble peeing through their trousers. Obviously an extra inch to them is nearly doubling what they have, so it is a very good op.” The group in between tend to need psychosexual counselling.

The case for penis extensions seems pretty slack, but if you’re convinced it’s still for you, Mr Tanner’s advice is simple: go to the US, spend $12,000-$14,000, and learn all about wearing weights on your penis (eight hours a day for six months).

And if that sounds too much like hard work, there’s always the old-fashioned route – buy yourself a Ferrari.

Further information:

Harley Medical Group
Medical Protection Society
Dr Randy Klein’s penis surgery report

Link to this story on Discovery Health

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