Traumatic Surgery at Age 6

I was born with a mild (coronal) case of hypospadias. I went through the first six years of life with my original, uncorrected penis before having surgery. To the best of my recollection, there were no major problems before surgery–no chordee and a fairly complete foreskin, just a urethral opening lower than it should be. Of course, my penis seemed completely “normal” to me, since it was all I had ever known.

Surgery at age six was traumatic. Fortunately, much of the detail has faded from my memory, but I remember extreme embarrassment about the entire ordeal. I’m sure that much of the embarrassment stems from the way my parents handled things (though they meant no harm, they had little information from small-town doctors and therefore did not make the wisest decisions). I remember my parents privately telling my teacher about the surgery and encouraging the teacher to lie to the class and say I was having surgery on my arm. Obviously, the full truth would not have been appropriate, but it sent a signal to me that it was something of which to be ashamed. I also remember lying in bed in the hospital after surgery (I was in the hospital for several days) on my back with my legs propped up in some sort of contraption so I couldn’t damage the sutures. I was completely naked underneath, except for a blanket draped over the contraption, exposed to nurses, relatives or anyone who walked into the room. I felt vulnerable and somewhat violated in that position. I also remember the catheter and my refusal to obey the nurse and just “let it go” and pee while I was lying in bed. Primarily, I remember the DRAMATIC change in appearance once I finally got the see the finished product after surgery (I can imagine the surgeon could have said something like, “it ain’t pretty, but it works”). That caused a sense of confusion, shame, and even a sense of loss for what I no longer had. To a large extent, those feelings remain with me 20 years later.

I went into all the above detail about surgery to help people understand that age six is not a good time for surgery. A six-year-old is old enough to retain most of the ordeal in his long-term memory, but not old enough to really understand what is going on. I often wonder if I would have gone through childhood with better psychological health if the surgery had been performed when I was an infant or toddler, or if surgery had never been performed at all. I suspect the answer is yes, though I’ll never know.

Following surgery, I became intensely curious about other boys’ penises. I think I wanted to see if anybody had a penis similar to mine. I compared with all the other boys in the neighborhood, but nobody had one like mine. At adolescence, friendly comparison progressed to sexual activity, though it took several more years before I would admit that it was no longer just curiosity and I was in fact gay. Nonetheless, I have long suspected that hypospadias was a contributing factor toward my sexual orientation.

Now, at age 26, I have adapted fairly well to the situation. There are some physical problems, but they are relatively minor. I am able to urinate standing, but occasionally urine comes out in multiple streams or at a weird angle, making it nearly impossible to accurately aim. Surgery left me with an abnormally large urethral opening; without exercising great care in the shower, soap or shampoo can easily enter the opening and cause extreme burning. Additionally, the underside of the glans sometimes hurts if my penis gets constricted just so. I think these problems result partly from a suture that eventually came undone after surgery. The follow-up did not extend long enough to catch this problem, and I was too shy and embarrassed to bring it up as a child. Now, I don’t know that I would trust a surgeon to touch my penis.

Since the physical problems in my case are relatively minor (thankfully), I’ve dwelled more on the cosmetic appearance, which I find very unappealing. Fortunately, I’ve had enough positive experiences with sexual partners to gradually gain more confidence that it’s not as big a deal as I think it is. One time I did experience rejection, but the guy never saw my penis; he simply rejected me when I told him about it. But otherwise, my experiences have been positive and I am happily involved in a committed relationship that is both emotionally and sexually fulfilling. However, I still cannot shake the sense of loss for the natural, albeit imperfect, penis with which I was born.

Name Withheld