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Photography Herb Ritts for Calvin Klein

What happens when penis enlargement surgery goes wrong?

Men are speaking out about their nightmarish experiences with the Penuma implant

Matt* got a penis implant fitted in late August 2021. He’d spent $16,000 on the implant, hoping that it would boost his confidence and improve his sex life too. As he puts it: “I wasn’t happy with my size.” But just three months after the surgery, Matt was on the operating table once more, having paid a further $2,000 to have his implant removed.

He knew something was off from the minute the doctor took the bandages off after fitting his implant. “I could tell it wasn’t right,” he tells Dazed. The list of issues he experienced with the implant in the following months is long and harrowing: he experienced the implant ‘flaring’ out and rotating, making his penis look misaligned. He also experienced trouble urinating, extreme pain, and lots of bleeding.

The specific device Matt had inserted was the Penuma (now rebranded as the ‘Himplant’), a silicone implant shaped that can be inserted just under the skin of the penis to increase its girth and length. The Penuma was invented in the early 2000s by Dr James Elist, an American urologist and self-proclaimed ‘pioneer’ of penis enlargement surgery. In 2004 it gained FDA approval, and Elist began fitting men with implants.

The Penuma comes in three sizes: large, extra large, and extra extra large – because, as Elist told GQ in 2016, “nobody wants a small”. It’s true that a lot of men really don’t want ‘a small’: whopping 45 per cent of men feel dissatisfied with their penis size, while ‘penis dysmorphic disorder’ is increasingly recognised as a legitimate condition. In reality, only 0.6 per cent of men have a micropenis, which is defined as a penis which is 2.75 inches when erect.

“There’s a huge amount of pressure on men,” explains Gordon Muir, a consultant urologist at King’s College Hospital who researches genital anxiety in men. He explains that things like social media, locker room jokes and porn can potentially dupe men into thinking their penises are abnormally small – despite the average erect penis size being around 5.16 inches long. “Most heterosexual men have not seen another erect penis except for in porn – and most porn actors don’t get the job if they have an average-sized penis,” Muir explains.

“Most heterosexual men have not seen another erect penis except for in porn – and most porn actors don’t get the job if they have an average-sized penis” – Gordon Muir

He adds that men in straight relationships are also often concerned about making their partner “happy”. But, as Muir points out, most women – around 80 per cent – can’t orgasm through penetration alone anyway. “And when asked, only around 15 per cent of women say penis size has any importance at all,” he says.

Given the proportion of men who feel dissatisfied or anxious about their size, it’s no surprise that approximately 5,000 Penuma devices have been implanted – especially considering it’s FDA-approved and marketed as totally reversible. But it’s by no means a quick fix, nor Matt is an anomaly. It’s not hard to find Reddit posts expressing pretty serious concerns about their Penuma implant. “I’m in the absolute most pain in the world right now [...] I haven’t been able to have sex in over 4 years,” one post reads. “This procedure has significantly changed my life for the worse [...] Anyone getting this procedure is literally gambling with their dick,” says another. There’s even a dedicated subreddit for men who’ve had issues with Penuma.

Dan* shelled out $17,000 for a Penuma implant in March this year. “I decided to get Penuma because I always felt insecure about my flaccid length,” he tells Dazed. “I’m gay, so penis size is always spoken about – if you are a grower instead of a shower, people think you have a small penis.”

But, like Matt, he ended up experiencing a range of issues which impacted his ability to go about his day-to-day life. “I was in immense pain and discomfort the entire time I had the implant,” Dan says. “I couldn’t sit, stand, or walk for more than 15 minutes before the pain became unbearable.” The implant made it difficult for him to urinate, caused swelling, and made his nighttime erections so painful that he could hardly sleep at all. “I followed all of the post-surgery instructions perfectly and still had issues,” he says. Dan felt he had no choice but to shell out $11,000 to get the implant removed – just 28 days after getting it fitted.

@goodnight_mate Replying to @josephhartman656 here’s your answer, from the founder of #Penuma ♬ Say So (Instrumental Version) [Originally Performed by Doja Cat] - Elliot Van Coup

Muir published research in 2019 which concluded that procedures to make penises bigger are “ineffective and risky”, and should “almost never” be done. “You can’t make a five-inch penis into an eight-inch penis. It’s not possible without completely destroying the penis and then restructuring with penis implants,” he tells Dazed.

He’s performed several Penuma removals himself. “The first one I took out, I just couldn’t understand what I was looking at,” he says. “It’s an utterly bizarre concept [...] It’s just staggering to imagine how anybody who knows anything about penile anatomy would have invented this thing. It’s just a disaster.”

Unfortunately, for both Dan and Matt, their problems didn’t end once their Penuma implants were removed. “My penis is still shorter and nearly completely numb. The problems that I was told would be temporary are turning out to be permanent,” Matt says. He says that he’s been on multiple different antidepressants since having the implant removed, but adds that “they’re not working very well” and he has been experiencing daily suicidal thoughts. “I’m in the worst mental state I’ve ever been in,” he says. Dan is in a similar situation. “My penis is 2.25 inches shorter when erect. [...] Touching my penis hurts,” he says. “I am extremely depressed and anxious about this disaster of a situation.” He adds that he has to wear a weighted condom for six hours a day as part of his recovery, and wouldn’t be surprised if he had to “pay more for treatments or surgeries” in the future.

“I think the great majority of these surgeons are charlatans,” Muir says. “These guys are just out there to make a buck – they don’t care about patients at all.” He likens extreme cases of penis dysmorphic disorder to having anorexia or bulimia: “offering an anorexic liposuction would be criminally negligent, and thus trying to do penile surgery on these guys who have a genuine psychiatric disorder is entirely the wrong thing to do.”

“My penis is still shorter and nearly completely numb. The problems that I was told would be temporary are turning out to be permanent” – Matt

A Penuma spokesperson tells Dazed that “the vast majority” of Dr Elist’s patients are “highly satisfied”, but this doesn’t negate the fact that in rare instances when things go wrong, they go very wrong. Arguably just one case where a patient experiences total loss of sensation and suicidal thoughts is one case too many. Both Dan and Matt stress that in their view, it’s just not worth the risk. “Don’t ruin your life,” Dan urges anyone thinking of getting the implant. Matt’s message is similar. “Unless you want to be conned out of $16,000 and lose length and sensation [in your penis] … don’t do it.”

Penuma cannot comment on Dan and Matt’s specific cases without their consent, but a Penuma spokesperson told Dazed: “Dr Elist is a highly-skilled, world-renowned surgeon and inventor who pioneered the Penuma implant and penile enhancement procedure. Thousands of men have travelled from around the globe to his Beverly Hills clinic to undergo cosmetic surgery. As a result, men have regained their self-confidence in and out of the bedroom. As with any cosmetic surgery, there are potential risks and rare complications.”

They continued: “It is unfortunate when any media outlet chooses to cherry-pick and sensationalize those few and conveniently ignore the vast majority of Dr Elist’s highly satisfied patients.”

*Names have been changed

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