Dr Roberto Viel and twin brother Dr Maurizio were among the first to offer penoplasty in the UK. More than two decades on from their first operation, Roberto tells Theo Merz why business is better than ever
We’ve been skirting around the issue for five minutes when Dan just comes straight out and says it. “My d— is really big now.” At eight inches erect and, in his words, roughly the thickness of a Coke can, the boast is perhaps justified. “Women tell me it’s the fattest d— they have ever seen.”
What Dan doesn’t tell women is that he is one of a growing number of men who have turned to enlargement surgery to achieve these results. The Middlesbrough-based graphic designer, 50, originally visited a London cosmetic surgeon three years ago to have liposuction on his back – he had recently lost a large amount of weight but found the fat from this area impossible to shift.
“He was talking me through the procedure and said that sometimes the fat could be transported somewhere else, like the face or the penis,” he remembers. “At first I thought, ‘ouch, that seems painful,’ but then, ‘waste not, want not’. I decided to have it done.”
Dan was awake for the duration of the hour-long operation, which set him back around £3,500. After removing the fat from his back, the surgeon turned him over and made a small incision at the base of his penis, injected the fat using a syringe and smoothed it out, adding around an inch in width. With a single stitch to close the incision, the procedure was over.
“I asked to see it all happening,” says Dan, who had a girlfriend at the time of the operation, but is now single. “For me, it was just fascinating. And I wanted to check that everything was going to be all right. I’m fond of my penis; I want to take care of it.”
While he admits the operation was “not something I would have thought of before,” Dan is just one of more than 200 men who have visited the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery in the last year, either to increase the length or girth of their penis.
The procedure to increase length also involves making an incision to the base of the pubis, then cutting a ligament so the penis hangs up to 2.5 inches lower. After four weeks’ recovery time, its sensitivity should not be affected, though its length when erect is not increased. The operation costs upwards of £4,000.
Figures released earlier this year from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) suggested that fewer than 12 men in the UK had undergone these procedures – known as penoplasty – in the last 12 months, while German men topped the world rankings with 2,786 such operations recorded.
But Dr Roberto Viel, who founded the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery with his twin brother, Maurizio, in 1990, says these figures are much lower than the reality because a number of major cosmetic surgeons in the UK are not members of the ISAPS.
“In the last year there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of men coming to me here for surgery,” Viel says when we meet at his Harley Street practice one evening. His morning had been dedicated to reducing the puffiness around a female patient’s eyes, while his afternoon was spent extending and widening a German man’s penis. The German said his size had affected not only his sex life but also his social life; he was embarrassed to strip off at the gym and was uncomfortable even using a urinal.
“For me, nowadays, it’s a standard procedure,” says Viel, who speaks English with a strong Italian accent despite a quarter of a century in the UK. He is a youthful 55 and dressed in a colourful, sailing-boat print shirt; you can imagine he has a good bedside manner (if you overlook the slightly unsettling fact that he has operated on his non-identical twin’s face – giving him a nose-job, filler and botox – so the pair look more similar.)
He sees men of all ages, from their twenties to their seventies and, he says, from all walks of life. “Compared with the past, men are much more aware of the possibility of doing something to increase the size of the penis. They know about the operation, they’ve searched on the internet, they come in prepared.
“Nowadays there’s a lot more pornography around. Men compare themselves with men in the porn industry and that can create a feeling of insecurity. Look at the advertisements for male underwear, too. The men in them are always bigger in size.”
While Viel insists the procedure is largely painless – one week of bed rest, a further week of minimal activity, about five weeks before penetrative sex can be resumed – a small percentage of his patients do require further treatment. “You may have infection, opening of the scars, formation of small lumps, absorption of fat, but all of that can be corrected. It is our duty to correct this.”
But he has also seen men who have had the operation botched elsewhere, often abroad, and who cannot be helped. “I’ve seen penises where too much silicone has been injected,” says Viel, who does not operate with implants – and says he has never had any sort of cosmetic surgery himself. “Those are awful to look at and sometimes impossible to correct. It doesn’t look like a normal penis any more, it’s just like a big, swollen cylinder.”
And the doctor insists he is in the business of helping men increase their self-confidence rather than profiting from their insecurities. “I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. It’s not my job to help them in a psychological aspect. What I understand is that these men need help.”
In what may or may not be welcomed as a step towards gender equality, Viel adds: “It’s similar from women with their breasts. The organ is different, but the mentality is similar.”