Jonathan is one of a growing number of men who are out to reverse that first and unkindest cut of all. They gather in groups like the National Organization of Restoring Men (NORM), which has seen its membership rise steadily. The Circumcision and Information Resource Pages estimates that tens of thousands of men are restoring or have already restored their foreskins. Some want to regain sensitivity and create a more pleasurable experience for their partners and themselves. Others do it for the sake of appearanceto get the virile, heavy-hooded look they see in European or gay pornor simply to share a bond with their uncut sons. Still others see it as a way to fight back against what they believe is a violation of human rights.
The foreskin-restoration movement is a subset of the intactivist movement, the community of doctors, parents, and embittered men who believe that circumcision is not only unnecessary but harmfula ritual akin to the female-genital mutilation practiced by some African cultures. Intactivists lobby against the routine circumcision of boys at birth and, though they generally claim to respect Jews who honor the traditional bris, they rail against our propensity for snipping, blaming it on everything from misguided tradition to a regressive, Victorian-era fear of male sexuality to a multimillion-dollar industry that uses foreskins in cosmetics and medical research (they're a leading source of stem cells).
When a penis is circumcised, the glans, originally covered by the mucous membrane of the foreskin, is left exposed, causing the skin to toughen and desensitize over time. The restoration process re-covers the glans with skinnot foreskin, exactly, but an approximation of itencouraging the hardened skin to peel away and leaving the glans moister and, according to advocates of the procedure, more sensitive. There are two primary restoration methods: DIY devices for tissue expansion, like Jonathan's, which can take several years, and surgical reconstruction. In the latter, a surgeon cuts the skin on the shaft of the penis and stretches it over the head; the denuded shaft is then pinned down and tucked into slits cut in the scrotal skin, which in time fuses back over the shaft. "It looks like a toad in a blanket," says Dr. Robert Stubbs, a Toronto-based plastic surgeon who has performed several reconstructions. A month or so after the initial surgery, the patient returns to have the penis detached from the scrotum.
Very few doctors in North America advertise surgical reconstruction. "The demand is very small. For as many anti-circ individuals as there are, not that many will go for surgery," says Dr. Harold Reed, of the Reed Center for Genital Surgery, outside Miami. "The operation is a type of cosmetic surgery, as I see it, where someone wants some adornment, like putting jewelry on the penis."
But the surgery is also uncommon because it's flawed. Even when successful it leaves the shaft with a darker and hairy patch, covered as it is in scrotal skin. And failed operations can cause scarring, infection, a retracted foreskin, and even the loss of all penile function.