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7 min

Taking back the foreskin

Rebuilding stolen erogenous tissues

OWIE!: Thousands of men walking around with weights hanging from the ends of their cocks is the stuff of high comedy. Instead of an iron ball and chain, most restorers recommend something smaller. Credit: James Loewen photo

If someone told you there was a drug-free, all-natural way to increase the pleasurable sensitivity of your cock and the intensity of your orgasms by an order of magnitude, wouldn’t you want to know about it? If there were a non-surgical, do-it-yourself way to actually extend the length of your penis, if even only by a centimeter or two, wouldn’t you at least be curious?

If there were a whole set of sexual possibilities, things you could do with your cock alone or in the company of others, that you’ve never heard about or considered, wouldn’t your ears prick up?

Despite what our parents may have told us, circumcision radically changes the anatomy of a man’s cock. Losing the foreskin means losing thousands of highly sensitive nerve endings, the protective mucus membrane that covers and protects the head of the penis, and most of the mobility of the skin on the shaft of the penis. Losing this tissue from the ends of our cocks, whether we’re aware of it as adults or not, changes the way we feel, have, and enjoy sex for our entire lives.

And of course, virtually no cut men were ever consulted about whether they’d prefer to have parts of their cocks sliced off and thrown away, or whether they’d rather keep their dicks intact into adulthood.

There is, however, a tradition among cut men that is as old as circumcision itself but that few people ever seem to talk about. That is the tradition of restoring or reclaiming lost foreskin by slowly, over months or years, stretching the existing skin on the shaft of the penis so that it covers the head.

“It’s a closet interest,” says James Loewen who calls himself an “intactivist” and who started restoring his foreskin in 1993. “It’s one of those things that is not really discussed too much. I’ve been surprised sometimes by people who come to me and say ‘I’ve been doing this for years.'”

“I had no idea anyone was doing this sort of thing, but I noticed I was losing a lot of sexual sensation,” says Steve McManus, who has been restoring for over 20 years. “I was 30 years old back then. There are probably a lot of cut men out there who are wondering why they are losing sexual sensation.”

McManus says his loss of sensitivity was becoming so serious he was starting to have trouble getting hard. But as he began to restore his foreskin, his sensitivity increased so much he now has no trouble getting a boner and he finds sex much more enjoyable.

“I used to be able to get a fair amount of pleasurable sexual sensation just from the shower,” he says. “Well now I’m so sensitive, hot water from the showerhead hurts like hell.”

McManus says, getting fucked with a cut cock “feels like a dildo. It doesn’t feel natural.” The penis moving within the foreskin is something you can perceive anally if it’s happening, he says. It’s a function that’s lost completely by circumcision.

For Loewen, spiritual and ethical considerations associated with circumcision and restoration are at least as important as maximizing his sexual possibilities. But, he says, the increased mobility the stretched skin provides makes for “fantastic masturbation and intercourse.”

Clark Nickolai, who also started restoring in the early ’90s, says his sex life also improved dramatically as soon as he started the restoration process. “It was just amazing, mind blowing. Within a month I had some gliding shaftskin action starting. That was enough to make sex so much more amazing.”

For some men, that gliding shaftskin action means less need for artificial lubricants when they’re fucking.

“I hate lube,” says Dean Ryrie, who had been restoring for 13 years. “My body is very sensitive to chemicals. Almost all lubes burn. The first time I was able to use just skin, it was a great feeling for me.”

And restoration of a cut cock is non-surgical, drug-free, requires no medical supervision, increases sensitivity of the cockhead and the intensity of orgasms, expands sexual options and possibilities, and for some men, can even add a tiny bit of length.

There are many different ways to stretch the existing skin on a cut cock. Some men use a method called T-taping in which surgical tape is used to gently stretch the skin forward to the head. Over time, that stretch becomes permanent. The tape can be worn under clothing and can be applied in a way that allows the man to pee freely.

There are also special weights of various sizes and configurations, and other more complicated contraptions, that gently pull and stretch the skin. The result, depending on how much the skin is stretched, is a fold of skin that covers and protects the cockhead of the soft dink, and allows the hard cock to slide around within its own skin, much like a natural foreskin does.

“Most people just start with tape,” says McManus. “Guys have been really creative with devices. Film canisters, fish weights, ball bearings, all kinds of strange things and a lot of imagination has been employed.”

The protection offered by the restored foreskin allows the cockhead to shed dead skin cells that build up in layers over time as a result of exposure to air and friction with clothing. It allows the cockhead to stay moist and to begin to regain the mucousal properties that uncut cocks have.

Some baby boys are circumcised so tightly-too much of their foreskins are removed or scar tissue causes the skin to shrink-that at maturity, a boner is painful or even unachievable. Aside from the physical, these men can carry a serious psychological burden through their whole lives because they learn to associate sex and their cocks with pain. Restoration can ease that pain and some men even claim that it actually makes their dicks longer because tight skin never allowed their cocks to hang or rise to their full lengths.

Although the nerves lost to circumcision are irreparable and irreplaceable, and restored foreskin isn’t likely to hug the cockhead quite as tightly as a natural foreskin does, the sensitivity of the cockhead increases radically and very quickly during restoration and sex can become more pleasurable with more available options for sexual play.

But isn’t hanging weights or contraptions from your tallywhacker painful or at least uncomfortable?

“It depends on how aggressively you go,” says Ryrie. “I was very aggressive in the beginning. I had very sensitive, raw skin for about three months. Then I learned to back off.”

“[Restoration devices are] not uncomfortable to wear. The sensation of that gentle pull is very, very pleasurable,” says Loewen.

What about those who are genuinely creeped-out the by the idea of wearing weights taped to the ends of their cocks? What about those who see restoration as a weird obsession gay men have with their own dicks?

All the men who agreed to tell Xtra West about their restoration wince at those suggestions.

“They should be creeped-out by circumcision,” snaps Loewen. “The obsession is in a medical community that is obsessed with cutting off foreskins. Do you have an obsession with your eyes because you enjoy a beautiful sunset? Do you have an obsession with sex because you enjoy your penis?”

“[The obsession argument] categorizes into a very vanilla, conformist idea,” says Ryrie who has worked at various Vancouver bathhouses over the years. “I deal with a lot of segments in our gay community in a very sexual manner. If I mention the word watersports to some people, they’re like ‘eew!’ Just grow up. Really.”

Ryrie says he can actually guess pretty accurately just from talking to other men whether they are cut or not.

“It sounds a bit crazy and it’s a bit of a generalization,” he says. “For example, if someone has been circumcised, and they are for circumcision, then very often they are going to be less inclined to support an individual’s right to choose because that right has been taken from them.

“For me, restoration was lifting the oppression of having somebody else’s imposed physical scar,” continues Ryrie. “There is a psychological impact which is really about dominance. Circumcision is a very dominating act that says, ‘This is forever. You can’t change it.’ When the subject of restoration came up, I was relieved that I could finally take it back.”

And Ryrie is right. Reasons for circumcision in recorded history have almost exclusively had something to do with power politics. Lower caste, humiliated, or enslaved men and boys were most likely to have their cocks mutilated in some way. Although the practice has never been universal, some tradition of circumcision appears in the historical records of virtually every civilization.

Egyptian tomb art from as long ago as 2,300 BC, depicts ritual circumcision and examination of Egyptian mummies shows some ancient Egyptian men were circumcised while others were not.

In the modern Western world, we have Dr John Harvey Kellogg, the same man who championed a high-fibre diet and whose name adorns cereal boxes today, to thank for associating bogus health benefits to routine circumcision and encouraging the mutilation of infant boys.

“A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision,” he wrote in 1888 in his Treatment for Self-Abuse and its Effects. “The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anaesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment. In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement.”

A generation ago, an estimated 60 percent of Canadian men and 85 percent of American men were circumcised as infants. Years of scientific research has shown there are no significant health benefits to routine circumcision, and the Canadian Medical Association recommends against it. Most provincial health plans had stopped paying for routine circumcision by 1985, so today, fewer and fewer infant boys are circumcised.

For Nicolai, reclaiming his foreskin was empowering but bittersweet. “After about six months or so of restoration, I went through a depression from realizing I had been left out and deprived of good sex,” he says. “All these years when I was in my sexual prime, not only was I deprived of having sex because I was in this little town where straight folks had all kinds of sex while gay folks got nothing, even masturbating wasn’t very good. All this stuff is stuff they took away from me. I think circumcision is really just a power trip. The biggest turn-on is power.”