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Martin Foreman

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Fang Mook
Penile modification in young Thai men

Thailand, August 2008: A couple of months ago in Chiang Mai I went for a massage in the all-male establishment I usually frequent. Feeling decadent, I decided to go for the four-hander, choosing Lek, a 24 year old with a soft voice and manner who had given me an expert massage a few months before, and Jom, a younger, slighter figure with a serious face and couple of tattoos.

My reasoning was that if one man's hands were relaxing, two would be doubly so. I was wrong. A four-handed massage only works if the masseurs are in the rhythm, working opposite sides of the body at the same pace. Instead of which I felt that I was being pulled and pushed in opposite directions.

Ok, I said, this isn't working. Let's move to the Happy Ending. What had been suggested now became explicit, except there was another problem. Jom's flaccid penis had a lump in it.

Other clients would probably stop everything, switch on the lights and make a close examination of the offending organ. And I have done that in other circumstances. But I was - perhaps naively - reluctant to offend Jom. Switch on the light, point to the lump, which I assumed was a wart, and ask him to leave? No, I couldn't do that. Instead of which, I whispered in his ear while fondling him: "An-nee aray?" What's this?

I got an answer, and of course I didn't understand it. But soft or hard, it wasn't something I was going to enjoy, so I asked him to leave and stayed with Lek. Unfortunately, the good feeling had gone. My hand felt dirty, Lek seemed bored, quite unlike our previous time, and it was not long before I was showered, dressed and on my way out. 2,500 baht had gone into the boys' and manager's pockets - much better value than in London, but not, I considered, value for money.

I headed for The Peak, where I usually drink in Chiang Mai. As I expected, Meo, part-owner of the massage house was there. I told him that there was something strange on Jom's penis, on the assumption that he wouldn't want one of your employees passing on warts or other STDS. Oh that, Meo said, unconcerned, it's his fang mook. I looked puzzled. Some of the guys think girls like it, Meo went on. Ah, an implant, I realised. Girls may like it but this gay man doesn't. It comes across as a deformity...

You learn something new every day. Four and half years in Thailand and I'd never come across a fang mook. Less than a month later, I was reading an academic paper with the yawn-inducing title of "Penile modification in young Thai men: risk environments, procedures and widespread implications for HIV and sexually transmitted infections".

The paper (full citation: Sex Transm Infect. 2008; 84: 195-197, N Thomson et al) offers a fascinating glimpse into butchered penises in northern Thailand, which such as "the insertion of ball bearings, glass, marbles and pearls." Reasons for modification included "perceived enhanced female sexual pleasure, peer influence and penile enlargement."

Penises have been modified and scarified across the world for generations. In Thailand, it stretches (forgive the pun) back as far as the fourteenth century, when it was apparently popular with members of the aristocracy. Today, it's mostly commonly undertaken by prisoners, army recruits and the working class.

It's mostly common practised by drug addicts, with one in two of the Chiang Mai methamphetamine users interviewed for the paper reporting they had either scarred their penis (4 young men had either a Mercedes-Benz or Volkswagen logo, inserted a fang mook (plastic or glass ball - 60% of practitioners), or injected their penises with oil or wax. (In other parts of Thailand, the paper reports, and my experience is, very few guys have fang mook or penis scars.)

"Participants ... described the insertion of one or more muks into the penile shaft. The soft penis is stretched and a small incision is made often using a sharpened toothbrush handle. The incision is then covered with bandages, if available, and the muk(s) are moved around beneath the skin to break down connective tissue and allow them to move freely."

As might be expected, such operations undertaken clandestinely in prison or army camps often result in infections and unwanted scars. There is also a risk of HIV infection if several young men undergo the process at the same time with the same instruments. And the fact that fang mook tend to hurt women partners rather than enhance their pleasure (according to interviews in the same paper) defeats the whole purpose - not to mention the fact that they frequently lead to condom breakages.

So, let's hope that this is a fashion that quickly runs its course. It may seem like the manly thing for a tough young Thai to do when he's banged up in prison for drugs or petty theft, but when he comes out, he's going to find that his girl-friend is turned off by the idea and the men to whom he sells sex are not that impressed by his mutated manhood.

As for you foreign readers of this column... Here's a tip; before you enter into any commercial transaction with a young man off the streets, ask him if he has a fang mook to ensure there are no surprises later in the evening.

PS Why the picture of the tattooed young man top right? Because such religious and totemic symbols, which are intended to protect the bearer, have been a tradition for Thai warriors for centuries and they continue to seen as an emblem of masculinity today among working class Thai men.

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