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Growing Pains

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There is also no consensus as to the best method to surgically enlarge a penis, either. Fat injections are the method of choice among most penis-builders because the procedure is relatively simple and quick. It's not the only way, however. Gary Alter, a Beverly Hills urologist and plastic surgeon and a clinical professor at UCLA, does penis enhancements. But instead of injecting fat, he wraps a dermal fat graft around the shaft to increase girth. Alter says it's a more time-consuming, invasive--and successful--technique.

"When you're trying to sculpt a perfectly cylindrical penis, [fat injections] are a little unpredictable," he says. Alter also does not do any lengthening procedures: He says that in his experience, the standard technique--cutting the ligament--produces no appreciable difference in size. "This is still a new field, and patients need to understand that," he adds.

Still, many physicians continue to dismiss the idea of enhanced penises. Among other doubts, there are lingering concerns over post-operative performance problems such as impotence and loss of erection.

Safford says he is laboring to overcome such unfounded biases, not only by maintaining his own quality work but also by starting (like his grandfather, the pioneering urologist) his own legitimate professional organization. He hopes the two-year-old American Academy of Phalloplasty Surgeons' thirty-odd members can inject some legitimacy and professional review into the controversial procedure.

It will be a struggle. This past fall the young organization met for only the second time, at Aspen's Little Nell Hotel. While many hours were set aside for seminars featuring scientific debate, technique sharing and professional networking, the entire Saturday of the conference was designated "Lawyer's Day." It featured a presentation titled "Evaluation & Profile of Happy People; Happy Patients, Happy Couples: Evaluation of Unhappy People; Litigious, Sociopaths, & Angry" and starred attorneys for Melvin Rosenstein.

Before he lost his license to practice medicine this past February, Rosenstein was the highest-profile and most prolific practitioner of penile enhancement in the country. Operating out of his bustling office in image-conscious Southern California, Rosenstein performed up to a dozen surgeries a day and, according to court documents, collected revenues of $7.4 million in the first six months of 1994.

He became a surgical celebrity. In 1995 he enhanced John Wayne Bobbitt's previously mangled member. He later stood by his work, literally, when he made a cameo appearance in one of Bobbitt's recent film projects, Frankenpenis.

Despite such heady success, though, Rosenstein's dissatisfied customers eventually caught up with him. By the beginning of this year, dozens of complaints had been lodged against him with California medical regulators. Rosenstein denied any malpractice, but a month later the state pulled his license.

Whether or not any of his former patients recover their money will be decided in many future court cases. But Rosenstein's work already has begun to take its place in an up-and-coming subspecialty of penile-enhancement surgery: penile-enhancement repair.

"I've had to repair some of Dr. Rosenstein's work," confides Safford.

I'm thinking of going to Florida to have Dr. Reed repair Dr. Safford's work," Glen Rains says.

"We talked about it first about two or three years ago," recalls Kathy Rains of her husband's surgery. "He just flat-out asked me, 'What do you think about me having it done?' Mostly it was just the look that he wanted that wasn't there to begin with. Also, he wanted a little more size. But not much more. Fuller, I guess, but with a little more length.

"So I said to him, 'Are you absolutely sure about this? Because it's definitely for you and not for me--it's not an issue for me.'"

It made sense for Glen to ask Kathy. Not only was she his wife of two decades; she'd also had enhancement surgery of her own. "It helped with my self-esteem a whole bunch," she says, "a whole bunch. When you look at your family and they're 'all there' and you're not, you're left saying, 'What happened?'"

The feelings of inadequacy got worse as she got older and so, in 1988, Kathy had silicone implants. "It's been fantastic!" she says. "Never had an ounce of problem."

Given that, Glen, a 39-year-old auto mechanic who recently opened his own repair business, remembers thinking his wife was harboring a double standard. "She said to me, 'You're fucking crazy!'" he recalls.

By last year, though, he'd made up his mind. "I guess more than anything else, I felt inadequate," he says. "I wanted to do it for me." After seeing an ad for Safford in the Rocky Mountain News, Rains says he "jumped on the bandwagon and went in and got screened."

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer