Back in December, a groundbreaking procedure made headlines around the world. South African surgeons performed the world’s first successful penis transplant. The recipient of the donor organ, a 21 year-old man whose identity is being held for his privacy and protection, has just announced that he is going to become a father. The news has given hope to men around the world who have suffered a birth defect, a terrible infection or serious injury to their penis. Now these men have hope. But questions remain. One of the most common, Is there any difference between a transplanted penis and a natural one? An interesting thing to note is that urination and even ejaculation doesn’t require a penis at all. For ejaculation is controlled not by the sex organ but the spinal cord. When the pelvic muscles contract in a certain rhythm, ejaculation occurs.
In South Africa, traditional circumcision is sometimes botched, as with the case of the young man who received the transplant. Other reasons for this kind of operation include amputation due to serious infection or penile cancer, birth defect or an injury where a significant trauma to the groin makes the penis unrecoverable. In America, surgeons have discussed performing penile transplants for returned veterans who have sustained such injuries in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is an extremely complicated procedure. The South African surgery took nine hours. Nerve endings and tiny blood vessels need to be reattached. Also half of the hardware resides inside the body, the other half outside, making the procedure more complicated. When transplanting other organs, surgeons don’t need to worry so much about the aesthetics of the organ itself. A transplanted kidney for instance doesn’t need to look pretty on the inside. But with a penile transplant, aesthetics are an important issue. These South African surgeons have reported that the young man can urinate and ejaculate normally. But experts say there is no guarantee that it looks and feels just like one’s natural penis.