Sex Ed

Is It Possible to “Undo” a Circumcision? Here’s What We Know About Foreskin Restoration

July 21, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller


A reader asked the following question:

“If you’ve been circumcised, is there any way to get your foreskin back?”

Some circumcised men lament the removal of their foreskin, wishing to be “uncircumcised.” This has led to the emergence of several products and procedures designed to restore men’s foreskin; however, they remain quite limited in what they can accomplish.

Before we describe them, it’s worth mentioning that guys have been seeking foreskin restoration for millennia. Ever since people starting removing foreskin, some have been trying to put it back. In fact, the earliest known writings on foreskin restoration appeared 2000 years ago [1]! Why were people seeking foreskin restoration back them? For some, it was a way of concealing a stigmatized religious identity, whereas for others, it was sought in order to improve penile appearance in cases where one’s foreskin had not fully developed. In those days, “the circumcised penis was considered deformed and disfigured” [1].

However, the primary procedure used back then isn’t thought to have worked very well. Basically, a doctor would make a cut in the skin the entire way around the penis, and then pull that skin all the way back to cover the glans. Not only does that sound incredibly painful, but in the view of modern day urologists, “it is difficult to see how this technique had any success at producing a cosmetic or functional [foreskin]” [1]. Why? Because if you remove the skin from the shaft of the penis, it’s just not going to be the same afterward in terms of either appearance or sensation.

In light of this, later physicians modified the procedure by attaching skin grafts to the portion of the shaft that had been removed in order to enhance cosmetic appearance. However, scrotal skin was often used for this purpose, which led to an entirely different problem: a hairy shaft.

Variations and modifications of this surgical technique have been used in modern times (see here for an example, which also includes some helpful diagrams). However, these surgeries aren’t performed very often and, as discussed in a scientific review article on this topic, “surgical methods for restoration of the [foreskin] are not standard, and reports in the literature are primarily anecdotal, with poorly documented follow-up” [1].

In other words, we don’t have very good data on how well these surgeries work or how men feel about the results.

It is thought that non-surgical approaches to foreskin restoration are far more common–indeed, you can easily find a ton of them with a quick Google search. These can take a number of forms, but they all involve stretching the penile skin over a long period of time (usually a couple of years). The goal is to expand the skin to the point where it ultimately covers the glans. For instance, weights might be attached to the penis for several hours per day for months on end in order to create stretching tension (with the thought being that this stretching will stimulate new cell growth).

However, it’s important to note that, just like with the surgical procedures, we are currently lacking data on outcomes. As a result, we don’t know how well these procedures work or how satisfied men tend to be with the outcomes.

With all of that said, there may be more–and better–options for foreskin restoration available in the future, especially if circumcised men are eventually able to regrow their foreskin from stem cells. In fact, at least one company is researching this possibility. However, they’ve been working on it for years and it’s unclear when–or if–it will ever make it to market. If it does, it probably won’t be any time soon.

So, in short, there do seem to be a few options available for foreskin restoration and, while they’re better than the ones used in the past, they’re still limited in many ways and they have not been subject to much scientific testing. As a result, a lot of caution is warranted if this is something you’re actively seeking. However, if you can wait, science may one day offer the possibility for true restoration.

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[1] Brandes, S. B., & McAninch, J. W. (1999). Surgical methods of restoring the prepuce: A critical review. BJU international, 83(S1), 109-113.

Image Source: iStockphoto

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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