6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed

Alex woke up from the surgery without cancer, but also without a penis. We sat down with him to ask about losing an enormous (metaphorically) part of his body.
6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed

There are a number of things that your stereotypical male never wants to hear over the course of his life, like "We're out of beer," "Your wife saw you," or "That 1975 Camaro you bought in high school is finally beyond repair." But none of those even come close to the horror of hearing a doctor diagnose cancer of the penis. Well, in 2009, that is exactly what happened to Alex Duke. The good news was that doctors caught it early enough to prevent the cancer from spreading throughout his body. The bad news was that it was advanced enough that there was only one option: cutting the poor member off.

Alex woke up from the surgery without cancer, but also without a penis. We sat down with him to ask about losing an enormous (metaphorically) part of his body, and he told us ...

Your Whole Personality Changes

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
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As soon as I left the hospital (sans penis), I had hoped that my life would go back to normal, but six years later, I can say that it never did. In fact, within a few months of the surgery, everyone was telling me that I was pretty much an entirely different person. All of the changes to my personality can be traced back to my penectomy (isn't that just the worst word?), which looks like this:

There's post recovery pic at the end of that link. (NSFW, duh.)

Before the surgery I was talkative, confident, and really social. Afterwards? I felt like a second-rate member of society. People who get their penis removed deal with psychological trauma for years afterwards, and the fact that you can't get it back (more on that in a bit) only makes it worse. A lot of men have penis envy that revolves around being a size too small, but nobody tells you how to deal with Size Zero.

It got to the point where my low self-esteem began to affect the quality of my work, even though my job didn't involve using my dick in any way. It didn't matter -- I was suddenly the guy in the office who didn't talk to anyone, because I felt like a) no woman would want to talk to me, and b) that every man was "more of a man" than I was. Only when it's gone do you realize that from a very young age, males take an approach to life that boils down to, "Everything's going to be fine; I've got this penis here."

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
Jetta Productions/Digital Vision/Getty Images
There's a reason you read all those Hemingway books in high school.

And then there was constantly dealing with how people find out, reliving that moment every time. Once, during a physical, the doctor was about to check me for a hernia (the "turn your head and cough" test). He had to double-check his charts -- he'd accidentally marked me down as a woman at the beginning of the physical (despite my beard and distinct lack of boobs). Finally, he saw my testicles and fixed the whole thing, even apologizing for thinking I was transgender.

It's probably hilarious if it happens in an Adam Sandler movie; not so much when it's screwing up your medical records.

Daily Tasks Get Much More Difficult

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
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If you're a guy, you may or may not think too much about how your smaller head affects a lot of your day-to-day, non-sexual activities. After a penectomy, everyday tasks can have the potential to get way messier.

First off, you have to learn to pee all over again. Each penectomy is unique, due to where the penis is snipped off (I cringe just writing that), so there is no standard way to pee -- you have to experiment, and have towels handy. The male urethra is angled to go out in front, but with no penis, suddenly you've got a spray that's more like what you'd get from a busted water line. Urinals are no longer an option, unless you're practically dry-humping them. Sitting down is also rough, since with only the stub left, pee flies out at an angle that somehow manages to hit the back of the toilet. Eventually, I figured out a way by kneeling down at the right angle to pee "normally" into a standard toilet.

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
Tomwang112/iStock/Getty Images
So if you weren't feeling weird enough already, now you get to get to be the guy doing Pilates in the bathroom.

Even that isn't ideal, however. I had to talk to a manager at a restaurant once because from an employee's view of the stall, it looked like there was some sort of bizarrely quiet sex happening in there. Oddly enough, nobody ever doubts your claims of having no penis. When I asked that manager why he believed me so quickly, all he could say was, "I can't think of a reason you'd make that up."

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images
The same way that you, reading this, believe that exchange because you can't think of a reason I'd make that up.

It's not only urination, either. Sometimes showers become painful if the water gets too hot, because my netherworld is now very sensitive. After the surgery, I began using a partially unrolled condom to protect myself -- not from STDs, but from the stupid shower (I was able to stop after about six months).

Even dressing myself has become an issue. Thanks to the sensitivity of the stub, I have to wear pants that both a) give me enough room in the crotch and b) won't fall down. Tightness can also cause blood to rush to places I don't want it to, which leads us to how ...

Sex Gets Complicated

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
4774344sean/iStock/Getty Images

With a quarter-inch stem, I can still get erect and ejaculate, but due to the amputation, the lack of extra skin makes boners painful. And since I do have a wife, sex is still important. Not having sex would be unfair to her, and since we're monogamous, we decided against a sex surrogate. So we ended up doing couples shopping at a lesbian-oriented sex shop.

Those types of shops had the best range of artificial cocks, and the saleswoman noted how unusual it was to see men in there. After striking up a conversation as to which fake dicks worked best, she suggested a strap-on. The trick would be finding a way to get it on there so that I could both control the thing and not feel a lot of discomfort.

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
California Exotics
For me or her.

The lesbian sex shop employee actually gave me more help than my doctors did with this. After a fitting session in one of the back rooms, we found the solution: a strap-on that would center on top of the pubic bone, close to the belly button.

It's really sacrificing one type of pain for the other, but it's worth it for my wife. Thrusting is different when your temporary penis is three to four inches above where it's supposed to be, and it causes me some back pain. But in the long run, it's better than a sore dick, and it helps my marriage.

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Lightwavemedia/Getty
At least I'm the guy who tweaks his back helping his wife, instead of the dipshit who did it playing golf.

And speaking of pain ...

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed

The Phantom Penis (Is Not A Star Wars Porn Parody)

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

A phantom limb is a condition in which someone who is missing a limb continues to feel it hanging around as if it were attached to the body. A lot of amputees will admit to feeling pain in the non-existent appendage. It turns out that my ex-penis has the same problem. Sometimes, it's something as simple as going to pee at a urinal, grabbing at air where my penis used to be, and sighing. Other times, it feels like it is there, but with a tingling sensation not unlike the feeling of your foot falling asleep.

But most often, I swear it's like it's still there because of the sharp pain.

One arm amputee I talked to prior to the surgery said his missing arm felt like it was constantly broken. I remember scoffing at the idea, but shortly after surgery, I woke up feeling like my penis had been tied up like a balloon animal. I went to the bathroom, looked down, and felt a painful throbbing in an area where there was to be no more throbbing, good or bad, ever again.

Once again, there's post-recovery pic at the end of that link. (NSFW, double duh.)

This happened a lot, but like most people who suffer from phantom limb, it gets better with time. The painful bursts still happen, but thankfully only a few times per year. Unfortunately, the "phantom" pain only gives way to real, actual pain, which is why ...

You Need Protection

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
remast/iStock/Getty Images

Well, not condom-style protection. Ever notice how people will say "punched in the dick" and "punched in the balls" interchangeably? We probably shouldn't do that. Being punched in the penis is a whole other ballgame (excuse the pun) from being punched in the testicles.

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
furtaev/iStock/Getty Images
Try it out to compare if you don't believe me. I can wait.

See, there's a bit of an evolutionary logic behind the positioning of our penis. Getting punched in the penis hurts somewhat less than getting punched in the balls, so having it lay on top of the testes provides a measure of protection -- a measure that I no longer have. Some men choose to put in a prosthetic to serve that purpose, but again, because my quarter-inch stub is super sensitive (and not in a good way), I can't use a prosthetic without a lot of discomfort.

When I visited the doctor about this, he said that the best option was a jockstrap and a protective cup like the ones athletes use. Ask any baseball player -- that little sonovabitch is going to chafe. And they don't have to wear one all day, every day.

I was effectively left with three shitty options: I could deal with semi-regular jock itch from the cup, I could wear the prosthetic and be uncomfortable all the time, or I could take the huge risk of testicular damage and not wear anything. I chose the cup, which also makes pants shopping even harder, unless my goal is to draw attention to my crotch (and it's not). Maybe codpieces will come back in style soon?

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
Giovanni Battista Moroni
Past time, if you ask me.

There Is No Way To Get My Penis Back

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I'll be blunt here. Once the penis is gone, it's never going to come back. If you accidentally cut it off while making sushi in the nude, you have about 24 hours to get it stitched back on. But my kind of cancer made that impossible. If there is any cancer left hiding like a ninja in my nether-regions, it can spread to any new tissue that would get sewn in down there.

Penis transplants aren't an option, either. Even if I got the guarantee that I was cancer-free, there's only been one successful penis transplant ever, and it's still in the experimental phase. As any amputee will tell you, prosthetics are nowhere near the same thing, and I couldn't wear one anyway. Modern medicine doesn't like to get into penis-related things (especially replacements), the lone exception being helping old dudes get erect.

6 Things I Learned Having My Penis Surgically Removed
Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"We have an entire wing at your disposal."

Phalloplasty is an option, but it's stupidly expensive, I'd need to disfigure another part of my body in order to get the necessary skin and tissue, and it would be just be an odd lump. Even if I got one, I wouldn't be able to feel anything due to the lack of nerves, and cancer could still wreck the thing.

So I had to make the choice between my dick and my life. It's not the best situation, but it did force me to realize that life is about more than boners, so there's that.

For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Things I Learned Cutting My Boobs Off To Avoid Cancer and 6 Things You Learn When Your Penis / Vagina Doesn't Work .

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