The History of NORM

R. Wayne Griffiths (Co-founder of NORM), Jim Bigelow (Author of The Joy of Uncircumcising) and Dr John Warren (Founder of NORM UK)
Pictured from left to right: Wayne Griffiths (NORM co-founder and Executive Director), Jim Bigelow (Author of The Joy of Uncircumcising) and Dr John Warren (Founder of NORM UK)

Written by R Wayne Griffiths, NORM Co-founder

The first known support group of its kind in the nation — perhaps in the world — for men desiring to restore their foreskin, was begun in San Francisco in November 1989 by Tim Hammond and myself. Tim and I met through NOCIRC (National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers) earlier that year.

I had been practicing the BUFF stretching method of foreskin restoration, and Tim had started to use this method. Despite periodic encouragement from me, Tim felt isolated in his attempts and frustrated at the seemingly limited techniques available to accomplish restoration. Tim suggested the possibility of forming a support group. We pooled our financial resources and placed classified advertising in two San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, the San Francisco Sentinel and the Bay Area Reporter. The gay community was targeted first for this outreach since Tim felt that gay men, in general, tended to be more open than their heterosexual counterparts about matters concerning sexuality in general and their genitals in particular. The response was nothing short of overwhelming. We each received over 200 telephone calls within the first few months of the ad’s appearance.

The first meeting was held on February 5,1990 at Tim’s apartment with 12 people in attendance. Subsequent monthly meetings were held either at Tim’s or my apartment. Each meeting regularly has an average of 12 to 17 men, with more (37) in attendance when special speakers were invited. Speakers have included:

  • Marilyn Milos, R.N., the National Director of NOCIRC;
  • Richard Steiner, who had a full scrotal graft;
  • Drew Okun, who had a surgical foreskin tuck; and
  • Dr. Ira Sharlip, who did Drew’s surgery.

The group is a peer-facilitated support meeting arriving at decision through group consensus. A meeting room was rented on a monthly basis from the Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco. No formal dues are paid by members, although participants are encouraged to make generous contributions in order to cover basic expenses such as postage, classified advertising fees, and the rental of a meeting space. The group soon became too large for apartments. In early 1991, the group was named RECAP (the acronym for RECoverAPenis). It is now known a NORM – the National Organization of Restoring Men.

Almost all the men are in some stage of restoration. We advocate the use of the stretching method versus surgery to achieve restoration of the foreskin. It is the least intrusive and provides the most long-lasting results. The group is aware of all the known surgical techniques and doctors willing to perform various procedures. However, these procedures are usually expensive, and the results are not guaranteed. There have been failures. Restoration by stretching is proportional to one’s commitment and persistence. The medical journals’ reports on “skin expansion” demonstrate that skin can successfully and permanently be stretched. When you do it yourself, as many men in the group have done, it is not painful, it works, and it is permanent.

During the Second International Symposium on Circumcision (held in San Francisco, April 30 to May 3, 1991), Jim Bigelow and I presented a seminar on foreskin restoration. The history of foreskin restoration through the ages was presented. Slides of the results of recent restorations of several men were shown, with both stretching or surgical techniques. Preliminary results of a survey of circumcised men was also presented. This study by Wayne is still in progress. A similar workshop was presented at the Third International Symposium on Circumcision, held May 22-25, 1994, at the University of Maryland. Jim wrote The Joy of Uncircumcising: Restore Your Birthright and Maximize Sexual Pleasure. The book was made available in the Spring of 1992 through national distribution. The second edition of the book was published in 1995. The book is now available as and e-book or in print form from NORM.

Since its inception, the group has received inquiries from men around the world, demonstrating that this type of support group is indeed timely and necessary. There are now more than two dozen groups, with groups in London, Belgium, France and two in Australia. Many men have expressed an interest in organizing or attending groups in their areas. Groups can be established by following the NORM Guidelines.

At the group meetings, which last about two hours, we open with introductions and current news of things going on in this movement. The last part, usually an about an hour, is devoted to group discussion of concerns and questions about restoration and how to deal with them. We also provide help and support to those who are trying to figure out how to perform various taping techniques, when descriptions and diagrams don’t explain well enough.

In the summer of 1991, the Tucson Citizen published a small article written by Dan Sorensen as a sidebar to a longer “to circumcise or not” article. Considerable response was generated from Dan’s article. On October 8, 1991, when the San Jose Mercury News printed a Living Section cover story written by Michael Oricchio, immediately calls were received for information. On October 17th, a few of us were guests on the “People are Talking” show on San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV channel 5.

The coverage by the media has been moderate. Jim Bigelow’s book has been reviewed by several medical journals here and in the United Kingdom. Jim has assembled a list of citations on the book alone for the last two years. (It fills 6 pages.) Every time one of us is interviewed on radio, television or for a newspaper article, we receive calls and letters requesting information, whether the presentation is pro or con.

In December 1992, Tim and I decided to separate the responsibilities of activism and support. Tim founded NOHARMM (National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males) as an organization dedicated to stopping routine infant circumcisions through activism and protest. He has had good success in putting before the public and the medical community the long term harm of circumcision. In June 1994, Jim Bigelow decided to incorporate UNCIRC under NORM so that there will be a network of three major organizations — NORM, NOCIRC and NOHARMM — to serve all facets of this great movement. We are excited that more men are feeling comfortable about speaking out in various ways to educate others about the long term consequences of circumcision and the ability to recover from it both physically and emotionally.

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