Circumcision is an extremely polarizing topic these days. The American Academy of Pediatricians still argues that the benefits of chopping off the foreskin — including the prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections like HIV — far outweigh the risks. On the flip side, anti-circumcision activists are vigorous in their condemnation of what they deem to be a dangerous and unnecessary procedure, emphasizing also the fact that infant penile circumcision occurs strictly without consent from the patient (since babies can’t consent to anything).
It’s this extremely timely question of consent — rather than the perceived medical benefits — that has lit such a fire in some of the protesters, with anti-cutting group Intact America starting their “I Did Not Consent” campaign in 2012. Debates about campus assault, the punishment given to convicted rapists and Anthony Weiner’s sentencing for sexting a 15-year-old have forced Americans to deeply contemplate what consent really means — and in this case, whether or not it should apply to a newborn baby’s penis.
Rinke Feenstra, however — the creator of Ynside Underwear — consciously tries to remove himself from this political debate. Instead, he focuses simply on a solution for those who feel that they’ve been robbed of a better sex life along with their foreskin. His brand of underwear, he claims, can help circumcised men regain the alleged benefits of being uncut — namely, increased penile sensitivity — in the hopes that this fix will be something that both sides of the circumcision debate can agree upon. Here, he tells us what went into the underwear’s creation.
I was circumcised in 1988. I was a young kid, but I remember the pain — specifically how painful it was to take a hot bath after the procedure.
I grew up in the north of Holland, where there aren’t a lot of circumcised men. I was the only one who was circumcised on my soccer team, which made me aware of the fact that I was different. This was also when I first realized circumcision wasn’t natural. I experienced a lot of friction and excess movement while playing soccer, which made it clear that I lacked the natural protection my body had provided me.
As a circumcised guy, I wanted to be like every other guy. Our penises are a big part of our being — our sexuality and our ego, and I felt like I was missing something.
So I began to look into how I could protect myself. I stumbled across some strange-looking products [NSFW!] that weren’t cut out for me, and I discovered foreskin restoration procedures. I considered them, but in the end, I didn’t want an ugly-looking result or to experience even more negative side effects resulting from the procedure. With this in mind, I realized that there weren’t enough convenient, well-made products meant to protect a circumcised man’s penis.
In school, I was a different learner — I’m dyslexic, so I preferred to create stuff. I saw beauty in images, rather than literature, which led me to become an architectural engineer. Using this skill and the little knowledge I had of the fashion industry, I started designing and creating products meant to act as a foreskin substitute. I tried lots of different things; I even cut condoms open to see if there was any way to wear them throughout the day.
That’s when I decided to look inside my underwear, and I saw a few things — namely, a rough stitch that went directly down the middle of the crotch area and rough fabrics like cotton and polyester.
Here’s an example I often use to explain what this harsh environment does to a circumcised penis: When you work with your hands, they develop calluses and become rough to adjust to that work. This is exactly what happens to the mucous membrane on the tip of the penis when it’s exposed to a harsh environment of cotton and polyester — it adapts to that environment by becoming thicker, drier, and as a result, less sensitive.
Our genital skin and the exposed mucous membrane is also very absorbent, and it will take in chemicals and toxins found in non-organic materials (which make up most run-of-the-mill underwear).
To combat that, I first developed organic silk sleeves, because I wanted to give guys the opportunity to upgrade the underwear brands they already valued. I had a few circumcised friends try them out, and while they enjoyed the sleeves, they mentioned that they were one more thing to put on in the morning. That’s when I integrated the sleeve concept into underwear (that don’t have a stitch running down the middle of the crotch area; instead, this underwear contains a silk pouch that holds the genitals).
It was around then that I named my brand Ynside, which means “in silk” in Frisian, a very old language we use in the north of Holland. Of course, it also hints at this idea of looking inside your underwear. I strictly use organic and animal-friendly silk (the “Queen of Fibers”) in my products for a few reasons: For starters, silk is made up of a protein called fibroin, which eliminates moisture, but doesn’t dehydrate the skin. It also has a pH value comparable to our skin (pH neutral). On top of that, the smooth structure of a silk thread reduces friction and irritation more so than any other fabric.
Wearing such a fabric all day, every day will allow the now-rough membrane to adapt by becoming more vulnerable (and sensitive) again, much like the hands would if you were to stop doing manual labor. Skin softness and sensitivity will noticeably increase after about a month, since skin cells are fully renewed approximately every 30 days.
This is why our underwear is the price it is [typically around 50 euro] — and for those who call it expensive, I’d compare the price of our underwear to the price of female lingerie.
Our underwear is also available for those who aren’t circumcised, because it’s the best organic underwear out there, and anyone’s skin and body can benefit from wearing it. Almost 30 percent of our sales are to uncircumcised men, since silk reduces skin irritations, too.
Which brings me to this point: I try to avoid the politics surrounding circumcision altogether. While developing Ynside, I quickly learned that there are so many people with different cultural background and strong ethical opinions regarding circumcision. But that’s not my field of expertise — that’s for organizations like Intact America to host open discussions about.
I don’t know if being circumcised is right or wrong. I’m just here to help everyone, circumcised or not.
—As told to Ian Lecklitner