Last week, it was announced that doctors in South Africa had completed the first successful penis transplant in the history of medicine. The operation, which had been conducted in December and took place in South Africa, involved a team of surgeons replacing the penis of a young South African man whose dick had been tragically severed in a circumcision gone awry. The surgery was actually the second in which another person's penis was put on someone else's body—in 2006, Chinese doctors attached a donor's penis onto a man whose original had been severed and left him unable to urinate, but the man and his wife were so traumatized by the whole thing that the new penis had to be cut off. The South African man, meanwhile, has successfully been able to maintain an erection and achieve orgasm with his new penis. Hooray!
Silly as it may sound, successfully taking a penis off of one person and putting it on another is an extremely complicated and dangerous procedure, one that can be life-changing in very real ways. I'm sure you have a lot of questions right now (especially if you're in the market for a new penis), so I've taken it upon myself to answer all of your important questions about penis transplants.
Why do I want a new penis?
In all likelihood, if you're looking for a new penis, it's because yours got chopped off.
Why yes, my penis did get chopped off, but honestly I felt a little self-conscious about saying it.
There's no need to be self-conscious about your severed penis! People get their dicks chopped off all the time, especially in rural South Africa, where it's estimated that 250 men get de-penised each year, usually due to botched circumcisions. According to Richard Santucci, a reconstructive urologist who has seen a "non-zero number" of penisless patients at the South African hospital where the transplant took place, circumcision is not considered a medical procedure but instead an initiation ritual in which a boy must be circumcised by a village elder before he can become a man.
"You'd think the guy who did the circumcision would be good at it," Santucci tells me, "but they're apparently very bad at it, and they often use ritual knives which are very dull." Despite multiple protestations on the part of the South African government, the villages refuse to use scalpels and instead stick with the inefficient and often unclean ritual knives.
If you weren't the victim of a dull-knife circumcision ritual, then you probably made someone very, very angry. Penis removal has been a form of punishment for adultery and sexual assault since the days of ancient Japan, and became something of a trend in Thailand in the 1970s, where an estimated 100 Thai women lopped off their partners' penises either for cheating on them or abusing them.
There are other, even more gruesome examples of de-penising. Last year a rapper named Christ Bearer, a member of the Wu-Tang affiliates Northstar, was high on PCP and chopped his dong off before jumping off his balcony in an apparent suicide attempt. Do not do any of those things.
Too late, I don't have a penis. What can I do now?
Can you or a friend retrieve your penis? If so, good news! According to a 1993 New York Times article about penis reattachment, penis tissue can survive for as long as 18 hours as long as it's kept cool. "[Reattachment] is a fairly common problem," Santucci says, "and it's not half as difficult as a transplant." If you can retrieve your severed penis and put it on ice until you can get to the hospital, then you'll probably be fine... well, fine-ish.
"Technically, it's not that tough," Santucci says of reattaching a penis. "You put the urethra back together, you put the corpora (the part that helps you get an erection) back together, and a plastic surgeon puts the fine artery and nerves back together." Still, don't just go around cutting your penis off like it's some party trick. Santucci warns that reattachment "doesn't always give you the penis function you had before."
Besides, do you really need a new penis? Santucci says that it's possible to make a fashion a penis-esque configuration out of the skin you already have. All it takes, he says, is a "small operation to bring out the urethra a little further and sew it outwards so it will stay open." BOOM. Instant sorta-penis.
That sounds like a creature you'd kill in Final Fantasy. I seriously want a new penis. But also, I can't find mine.
Well, it looks like you're going to need someone else's, in which case, you get a penis from the same place you get any other organ: a donor. But you're going to have to wait for the right cadaver with a skin color that matches yours so you don't look weird naked.
OK, I've got a penis. How do I get it reattached?
At this point, attaching a transplant penis is fairly similar to putting someone's penis back on them. Urethra, corpora, arteries, nerves, etc. The real problem pops up afterwards, when you're going to have to take up to 37 medications that Santucci says "have crazy side effects." Why? Well, your body is smart, and it can tell when there's something attached to it that's not... it. The human body, Santucci says, "has this amazing system that's supposed to fight the 'faux.'" In other words, "It's supposed to attack and destroy things that are not you." To combat that, you have to take medication to trick your body into thinking the penis it was born with is attached to it.
On top of all the medication, Santucci tells me, you're going to need a "little luck." He explains, "The blood vessels to the penis are never very good. If you've got some inflammation or some narrowing, it could easily clot off and die."
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