Growing up in a single parent family with no father figure (and with a pisspoor sexual education from school), I was never taught adequate personal grooming. I was uncircumcised as a child but was always under the impression from watching porn that only guys who were circumcised could reveal their glans and show *the head*.
I grew up never feeling anything against my glans bar its fleshy turtleneck shell. Without giving too much of a visual diagram, I’d only stretch it past the pee hole (commonly known as the external urethral orifice) and accepted that it wouldn’t reach any further. As a result, my penis, completely untouched and alien to human senses, became incredibly sensitive and I grew increasingly anxious about said sensitivity, to the point of discomfort.
While there was nothing wrong physiologically, I accepted it was just part of male genitalia and never gave myself time to address it. Or else, I’d feel inferior to my fellow cis male friends at school, who I assumed all had perfectly normal and healthy penises – because lord knows boys don’t talk about themselves or their insecurities as teens.
When I was sixteen I told my Mum, who in a motherly panic that could only run in a wog family’s DNA, took me to a urologist. During the appointment, the specialist forcibly pulled my foreskin down to investigate and I fell apart from the newfound feeling. I was told that nothing was wrong with me (this time from a medical specialist rather than Google), but left thinking that perhaps I had an undiscovered medical condition he wasn’t aware of. The sheer shock of my bare self exposed and another person’s hand against it left me mentally bruised and battered for weeks.
During sex, I felt like some kind of freak of nature. And, given how sex positive and inviting the queer community’s nightlife can be, I still felt like an alien that didn’t belong, in an environment I was told was made for freaks like me.
If I were dancing against someone at a club and they’d try to grab my dick, I’d feel a sharp sense of pain against my glans and lose interest. If my exposed head ever touched another body or my own flesh, I’d feel it stick to it like glue and flinch. I couldn’t top, because either with or without protection I’d feel something against it. If I came across a boy I liked on Tinder or Grindr, but saw they were a bottom or liked sucking dick, I’d tip my hat in defeat and keep scrolling. If a boy offered to give me a blowjob, I’d fluster, gesture their hand away and kindly say, “oh it’s okay, you don’t have to do that.”
But, over the last few years and after various conversations with friends and a desire to overcome my fear, I started exploring. One night, after a long day of work, little sleep and a few communal puffs from my housemate’s joint, I decided to have a shower.
To this day, I regret having that shower and not just going to bed.
With the hot water running down my chest and waterfalling down my groin, I relaxed and slid my hand towards my waist. I had been trying to recoil my foreskin back over the last few months with simple stretching exercises and creams, and, almost instinctively, decided to pull my foreskin as back as I could. High as a kite, singing and muttering to myself, it awakened something in me as if I had unlocked a third eye in my body. The frigid safety grip I had previously was gone, just a nice, smooth hand like a wave gently splashing into the sand. Only, the wave didn’t go back to the sea.
I looked down. Oh. Below me was my head entirely exposed. The kind that you’d see in porn but newly alive and taking its first few breaths. It was a new sensation I hadn’t experienced before so I stood there, admiring it for a bit. Cool, now how do I get it back, I thought.
Wow, as Owen Wilson would say. And then, ouch.
Suddenly I started to feel a series of constant quick jabs and pricks. Electricity jolted straight through my body and I flinched uncontrollably.
Oh no, I thought. I can’t pull it back. Oh shit. It hurts to move. Oh fuck. I’m gonna die.
With one hand I flimsily held my penis up and with the other tried to force the foreskin over the glans, but it was stuck and my body was collapsing at the stress and pressure.
My friends heard me in the room next door. One of them told me to keep talking or he’d assume I passed out. Great, I thought. I’m gonna pass out with my dick out.
I tried to wrap a towel around me, and with about two fists length between my body and a towel I waddled to my room. With one hand still on my dick, I called up an after hours doctor. I explained my situation.
“Well we’ll need a sterile environment to fix it so you’ll have to come in [to the hospital],” the lady told me over the phone.
“Oh god, oh god. I’m not gonna lose my dick, am I?”
“It’s okay, as long as we just get this done in the next six hours.”
“What happens in six hours?”
“WHAT HAPPENS IN SIX HOURS?”
Furthering my panic, the lady on the phone never told me what was happening, but said that an ambulance was on the way. I anxiously surmised that because the foreskin was cutting the blood flow to my dick, they’d have to amputate it.
Oh fuck. Oh fuck. I’m gonna lose my dick.
I stood there, still wet and wrapped in nothing but a towel. I took a Panadol to calm my nerves. One fell to the floor. I couldn’t bend down and get it or risk my foreskin touching something. My phone needed to be charged and I couldn’t bend down to charge it. I began to cry.
When the paramedics arrived, they were confused about my situation. A woman and a circumcised man, neither of them had ever experienced getting their foreskin stuck under the head of their penis, and the sheer feeling of it experiencing the outside world for the first time, especially while its human host is delirious, high and stressed as balls.
“It’s alright mate, let’s just put some clothes on,” gestured the male paramedic.
“If you’re gonna leave the house, you’re gonna need to hide your junk,” the female paramedic reminded me. “It’s public indecency.”
“I know what public indecency is. I. Can’t.”
I resorted to wearing baggy stretchy pants and, with my spare hand, stretched it out so my boy had some breathing room. I gingerly bounced outside and into the ambulance. On our way there, one of the paramedics did some googling.
“It looks like you have paraphimosis.”
“What do you mean looks like?”
We arrived at the ambulance and I entered the emergency room. It was filled with nurses in blue, medical stations, beds and trays of plastic containers. Still in tremendous pain, I had my hand in my pants holding my junk and the other pulling the waist strap of my pants out to keep it from touching my junk, cowboy walking around like a wounded outlaw. Inside I saw a burly looking man in a security uniform with an actual cowboy hat on, sitting on a milk crate. He shouted to his friends, “yeehaw.”
“Um, are you alright there mate,” asked one of a team of confused nurses, thinking I must have been a random drunk exhibitionist.
“He’s got paraphimosis,” said the female paramedic.
Paraphimosis is a condition that according to a pair of medical scholars, affects about 1% of all adult males over the age of 16. It occurs when the foreskin can no longer be pulled forward over the tip of the penis, which in best case scenarios leads to the foreskin to swell and get stuck, and in worst cases, stops or slows the blood flow of the penis – meaning, bye bye Butterfree.
“Oh fuck. Sorry.”
“Please, just help me,” I remember saying out loud.
I sat down as the nurses gathered in a circle and talked about the operation. I asked if it would hurt and if they could put me under. Gesturing me to a patient bed, they sat me down and asked me to lay on my back. They rubbed my exposed unit with numbing cream. Whenever the nozzle touched my head, I flinched. I began to claw the bed sheets. It was horrible.
And then, nearly instantaneously, they pulled the foreskin back up. I was saved.
Feeling limp and weak, I didn’t touch my dick for nearly two weeks, afraid that I would recreate that night’s events. Even now, a year afterwards, I have my reservations about sex and my own penis.
Shortly after I nearly lost circulation to my dick, I considered getting a circumcision. And, naturally, turned to the internet for advice. In a Reddit thread about men who got circumcised as adults, many said they did it for medical reasons (read: paraphimosis) but claimed that sex wasn’t as exciting for them now. For Alex Hardy, a boy from the UK the same age as me, the newfound sensitivity that came from being circumcised was so overwhelming that he became chronically depressed and committed suicide. For most of these men, while they may be able to freely explore their penis and not have an abnormally unbearable hypersensitive penis like me, the fact that they can’t go back and reverse their decision terrifies me.
While I’m still struggling with my condition and the trauma from that night, I’m beginning to accept that this condition is a part of who I am rather than something I can cut out of my life. To make things better, and when I can remember to, I’ve tried to incorporate some penis and foreskin self-care into my daily routine: stretching my foreskin a little bit anytime I’m in the shower, using a cream recommended to me by my doctor and occasionally, allowing my sexual partners to *very delicately* touch me. In a world where men are raised to not care about their feelings and talk about their problems, this experience has helped me be more open about my condition and talk to my sexual partners and male friends about their own experiences.
And hopefully, after doing all these little steps everyday and being more conscious and caring for my penis, I might not have another incident like this ever again.
Julian Rizzo-Smith is a freelance pop culture writer. You can follow him on Twitter @GayWeebDisaster.