The Science of Sex: Sizing It Up

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Sizing it up

The young man lying unconscious on the operating table in front of me was good-looking, healthy and well built. Except for his penis, that is, which was a mess by anyone’s reckoning. It was shaped like a two-stage rocket: for its first inch from the base it was impressively thick and plump, then it suddenly stepped down to about the thickness of a crayon. It didn’t look like it would be much use for its God-given purpose, and I wouldn’t want to flaunt it in a locker room either. But now it sat in the unforgiving glare of the operating-room lights, all camouflaging pubic hair shaved away: a sad little wiener waiting to be schnitzeled.


The surgeon told me what had happened. The young man — a married Australian policeman — had started out with a very average penis, but wanted it bigger “to please his wife.” To bulk out the man’s organ, the Australian surgeon had taken two strips of subcutaneous fat from his buttocks and placed them under the skin on each side of the shaft of the penis. All seemed fine for a while, but then the fatty tissue came loose from its moorings and migrated back toward the abdomen, leading to the two-stage effect. Now the man had flown to Los Angeles to get his penis returned to some semblance of its original state, and to have the scars on his buttocks removed.


As I watched, the surgeon made an incision near the root of the penis and speedily cleared out the remains of the grafts. He put in a tube to drain the wound and then sewed it up. Then he turned the patient on his front, cut out the long scars that marked where the first surgeon had taken the fat grafts, and sewed up those incisions too. Elapsed time: about one hour. Cost: about $3,500 (plane ticket not included).


The surgeon I was visiting is something of a specialist even within the tiny cadre of doctors (many of them in Southern California) who perform penis enlargement surgery. He devotes much of his time to “rescuing” penises whose enlargement has been botched by other surgeons. During the operation, he regaled me with one horror story after another — all concerning other doctors’ work, of course. He himself, he led me to believe, was the only person who knew how to do it right.


With the first patient out of the way, the surgeon started on another, this time the owner of a “virgin” penis that just needed to be made bigger. The surgeon sliced down into the tissue above the penis and severed the ligament that held it to the pubic bone. This allowed the penis to hang further forward than it normally would. If the patient religiously followed the doctor’s instructions — which include stretching the penis with heavy weights for several hours each day — he could hope to end up with a penis a couple of inches longer than Nature intended, at least when in the flaccid state. And if he came back for another surgery, he could get the girth-enhancing fat transplants — done properly. Total cost: about $7,500.


Yet even when the surgery is done right, it may not come up to expectations. According to a study by sexologist Randy Klein (then at the Institute of Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco), men who undergo penis enlargement surgery do not end up with longer erect penises, only longer flaccid ones. Most the men he spoke to indicated no improvement in their sex lives or self-esteem, and were more likely to be dissatisfied than satisfied with the procedure.


Worst still, at least one man has died as a consequence of penis enlargement surgery, and others have developed serious infections or gross malformations of the penis. And if the surgeon I watched operate was typical, I would have other concerns. During one operation, he had a hard time adjusting the level of general anesthesia: the patient began flailing around with his hands on several occasions and had to be restrained. And before the end of the operation, the surgeon handed over the job to his assistant and left the room to see another patient. The assistant told me, as he completed the surgery, that what he was doing was illegal since he had no qualifications whatsoever.


I’m all in favor of people being allowed to do whatever they want with their own bodies. However, if you’re considering penis enlargement surgery, my advice is: get therapy instead. It’s cheaper, more effective and much safer.