This story is over 5 years old.


Why Burmese Men Are Pumping Their Dicks Full of Coconut Oil

Koko is a medical student who was volunteering at a refugee camp on the Thailand-Burma border. Sometimes she had to operate on guys who had tried gaining an inch with a tub of oil and a syringe.
Illustration by Ben Thomson

Have you ever looked at a tub of coconut oil and drunkenly considered injecting some into your dick to make it larger? No? Well this is a thing people do. Specifically this is something people are doing in Burma and Thailand, where my friend Koko encountered the phenomenon in a refugee camp.

Koko is a med student who was attending to Karen refugees in a camp on the Thailand-Burma border. The Karen people are an ethnic minority trying to escape centuries of persecution in Burma, for the slightly more tolerant Thailand. In these camps, Karen people require medical attention for a range of ailments, including this rather weird thing some of the guys get into.


It's called "Karen Viagra," and any description of it will etch itself onto your frontal lobe like the ultimate Cronenberg nightmare. Koko took me through what she saw.

VICE: Hi Koko, you've explained this to me a few times now, and I'm still having trouble getting my head around it. What is happening exactly?
Koko: Basically, Karen men inject their penises and sometimes their testicles with coconut oil, which makes the penis look and feel bigger.

And why do they do this?
I wish it was some complicated cultural thing, but really, it's just because these men have small penises, and they want them to seem bigger.

But there's a catch.
Yes. That's putting it lightly. The "effect" can last anywhere between two and three years. Then things get bad.

Go on…
Oh boy. Well, firstly, the coconut oil solidifies around the penis—the actual penis—so between the skin of the shaft and the organ itself. Then after a few years your penis just stops working. Difficulty peeing, reduction in sensitivity, pain, and no erections, so no sex. Basically, it makes the whole thing pointless. I think shame plays a large part in them delaying medical attention.

Has Karen Viagra ever worked?
Well there must be some success stories, otherwise, why would they do it? But they're doing it when they're drunk a lot of the time. They're just filling syringes with coconut oil and putting it under the skin.

So what happens when they do seek medical attention?
They come onto the operating table, which is literally just a table with some plastic on top of it. All they have in the surgery is local anesthetic. You just inject the local anesthetic in different points around the penis. These men are just so sad. The ultimate result of the surgery is that you're going to have less of a penis than you began with [before injecting the coconut oil].


Can you run us through the surgery?
What they do is they use a scalpel to cut around the penis—this is after the local anesthetic—down to the level of the actual organ. Effectively, you're giving a circumcision until you're cutting around the base and basically just pulling a layer of penis off. Then you're trying to tug the coconut oil off, while also whittling at it with a scalpel. It's just a really brutal surgery.

This sounds horrifying.
The worst part is that when you're doing this, you can actually hear the crunching of the coconut oil. Because the coconut oil is injected as a liquid and solidifies. So imagine just cutting through wax or coconut. That's what you hear and see. And these are mainly female medics. They're not nurses or doctors; they've had no formal education and only two years of training. And now they're doing this… coconut dick surgery.

How do the patients respond?
I mean, they're crying. They're given enough local anesthetic to numb it, but that goes away after about twenty minutes. And you can feel the procedure, like that feeling when you have stitches removed. It's not so much the pain I guess so much as being conscious while your penis is flayed in front of you. Occasionally, you'll hit an artery and blood just squirts everywhere. I'll just always remember that little snip, snip, snip sound.

They used to make me bandage these penises up every day, because they'd come in to get them dressed every singly day. The nurses would take photos of me bandaging these penises. Because they are so ulcerated. I think the medics loved the fact that a white woman in her twenties was dressing all these ulcerated penises.

Does this happen all over the world? Or is it specific to this region?
I think it's quite specific to the Karen community.

I never managed to get an answer. The most I got out of the medics was that these men wanted to be thicker and bigger.

So it's really just that universal anxiety that runs in most men, taken to an unbelievable extreme.
I guess so.