Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Masculinity and Embodiment in the Practice of Foreskin Restoration

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Masculinity and Embodiment in the Practice of Foreskin Restoration

Article excerpt

Male circumcision is one of the most widely practiced surgical procedures in the U.S. Thus, it may come as a surprise for some to learn that there is a movement of (mostly) men fighting against the surgery, and a portion of these activists advocate methods of foreskin restoration. For men dissatisfied with their circumcised state, foreskin restoration, especially of the do-it-yourself, nonsurgical variety, offers an opportunity to reconstruct the altered body. The aim of this paper is to explore the body politics and aesthetics of men who pursue foreskin restoration, the organizations that support them, and the tools they use. Ultimately, I hope to lay bare what restoration really is and does for the men who practice it.

Keywords: embodiment; foreskin; foreskin restoration; male circumcision; masculinity

Male circumcision is one of the most widely practiced surgical procedures in the U.S. Although its prevalence is declining, it is still widely considered normal, even normative in some parts of the country and among certain segments of the population. Thus, it may come as a surprise for some to learn that there is a movement of (mostly) men fighting against the surgery, and a portion of these activists advocate methods of foreskin restoration. There are two categories of foreskin restoration: surgical and nonsurgical. Surgical restoration involves grafting skin from another part of the body to the penis as a replacement foreskin. Nonsurgical methods vary, but the basic principle to which they all conform is that by stretching whatever skin remains, one can encourage new skin growth. For men dissatisfied with their circumcised state, foreskin restoration, especially of the do-it-yourself, nonsurgical variety, offers an opportunity to reconstruct the altered body. The aim of this paper is to explore the body politics of men who pursue foreskin restoration, the organizations that support them, and the tools they use. Ultimately, I hope to lay bare what restoration really is and does for the men who practice it.

Foreskin restoration is almost as old a practice as circumcision itself. Methods of "decircumcision" arose nearly alongside circumcision (Gilman, 1997; Money, 1991). At least two procedures for foreskin restoration were developed during the Roman Empire. Circumcised Jewish males, culturally Othered by their genital marking, sometimes sought to "pass." During periods of persecution, this was probably even more important. Even without intense persecution, Jews under Roman rule may have felt pressure to conform to the aesthetic standards of the time. Beginning with Greek culture, male bodily aesthetics demanded not only that the foreskin was intact, but also that it was long enough to fully cover the glans of the penis. Men with exposed glans were forbidden to compete in the Olympics (Gilman, 1997; Money, 1991). So, these ancient techniques developed not only for those individuals whose foreskin had been removed, but also those whose foreskin was deemed insufficient.

Modern foreskin restoration can still involve similar surgical techniques, but foreskin surgery is considered by many restorers, and their supporting organizations, dangerous, aesthetically unappealing, and functionally inadequate. Perhaps because of their connection to the political movement against male circumcision, foreskin restorers are often wary of medical, especially surgical, interventions on their genitals. As such, restorers have turned from wishful thinking to creative ingenuity, developing a number of products for their personal use, and marketing these devices online to others. The questions which remain are: How do restorers envision the final result, the restored foreskin? In other words, is there a normative aesthetics of the foreskin operating among restorers, or is this process as autonomously driven as its proponents might think? And what does the practice of foreskin restoration say about masculinity, sexuality, and the body? …

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