Transgender Reassignment Before And After
For specialized articles on surgical procedures, see Sex reassignment surgery (male-to-female) and Sex reassignment surgery (female-to-male).
Sex reassignment surgery or SRS (also known as gender reassignment surgery, gender confirmation surgery, genital reconstruction surgery, gender-affirming surgery, or sex realignment surgery) is the surgical procedure (or procedures) by which a transgender person's physical appearance and function of their existing sexual characteristics are altered to resemble that socially associated with their identified gender. It is part of a treatment for gender dysphoria in transgender people. Related genital surgeries may also be performed on intersex people, often in infancy. A 2013 statement by the United NationsSpecial Rapporteur on Torture condemns the nonconsensual use of normalization surgery on intersex people.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) calls this procedure Gender Confirmation Surgery or GCS. Another term for SRS includes sex reconstruction surgery, and more clinical terms, such as feminizing genitoplasty or penectomy, orchiectomy, and vaginoplasty, are used medically for trans women, with masculinizing genitoplasty, metoidioplasty or phalloplasty often similarly used for trans men.
People who pursue sex reassignment surgery are usually referred to as transsexual (derived from "trans", meaning "across", "through", or "change", and "sexual", pertaining to the sexual characteristics—but not necessarily sexual actions—of a person).
While individuals who have undergone and completed SRS are sometimes referred to as transsexed individuals, the term transsexed is not to be confused with the term transsexual, which may also refer to individuals who have not undergone SRS, yet whose anatomical sex may not match their psychological sense of personal gender identity.
Sex reassignment surgery performed on unconsenting minors (babies and children) may result in catastrophic outcomes (including PTSD and suicide—such as in the David Reimer case, following a botched circumcision) when the individual's sexual identity (determined by neuroanatomical brain wiring) is discrepant with the surgical reassignment previously imposed.Milton Diamond at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii recommended that physicians do not perform surgery on children until they are old enough to give informed consent, assign such infants in the gender to which they will probably best adjust, and refrain from adding shame, stigma and secrecy to the issue, by assisting intersexual people to meet and associate with others of like condition. Diamond considered the intersex condition as a difference of sex development, not as a disorder.
Scope and procedures
The best known of these surgeries are those that reshape the genitals, which are also known as genital reassignment surgery or genital reconstruction surgery (GRS)- or bottom surgery (the latter is named in contrast to top surgery, which is surgery to the breasts; bottom surgery does not refer to surgery on the buttocks in this context). However, the meaning of "sex reassignment surgery" has been clarified by the medical subspecialty organization, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), to include any of a larger number of surgical procedures performed as part of a medical treatment for "gender dysphoria" or "transsexualism". According to WPATH, medically necessary sex reassignment surgeries include "complete hysterectomy, bilateral mastectomy, chest reconstruction or augmentation ... including breast prostheses if necessary, genital reconstruction (by various techniques which must be appropriate to each patient ...)... and certain facial plastic reconstruction." In addition, other non-surgical procedures are also considered medically necessary treatments by WPATH, including facial electrolysis.
A growing number of public and commercial health insurance plans in the United States now contain defined benefits covering sex reassignment-related procedures, usually including genital reconstruction surgery (MTF and FTM), chest reconstruction (FTM), breast augmentation (MTF), and hysterectomy (FTM). In June 2008, the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates stated that the denial to patients with gender dysphoria or otherwise covered benefits represents discrimination, and that the AMA supports "public and private health insurance coverage for treatment for gender dysphoria as recommended by the patient's physician." Other organizations have issued similar statements, including WPATH, the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers.
Different SRS procedures
The array of medically indicated surgeries differs between trans women (male to female) and trans men (female to male). For trans women, genital reconstruction usually involves the surgical construction of a vagina, by means of penile inversion or the sigmoid colon neovagina technique; or, more recently, non-penile inversion techniques that provide greater resemblance to the genitals of cisgender women. For trans men, genital reconstruction may involve construction of a penis through either phalloplasty or metoidioplasty. For both trans women and trans men, genital surgery may also involve other medically necessary ancillary procedures, such as orchiectomy, penectomy, mastectomy or vaginectomy.
As underscored by WPATH, a medically assisted transition from one sex to another may entail any of a variety of non-genital surgical procedures, any of which are considered "sex reassignment surgery" when performed as part of treatment for gender identity disorder. For trans men, these may include mastectomy (removal of the breasts) and chest reconstruction (the shaping of a male-contoured chest), or hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of ovaries and Fallopian tubes). For some trans women, facial feminization surgery, hair implants, and breast augmentation are also aesthetic components of their surgical treatment.
People with HIV or hepatitis C may have difficulty finding a surgeon able to perform successful surgery. Many surgeons operate in small private clinics that cannot treat potential complications in these populations. Some surgeons charge higher fees for HIV and hepatitis C-positive patients; other medical professionals assert that it is unethical to deny surgical or hormonal treatments to transsexuals solely on the basis of their HIV or hepatitis status.
Other health conditions such as diabetes, abnormal blood clotting, ostomies, and obesity do not usually present a problem to experienced surgeons. The conditions do increase the anesthetic risk and the rate of post-operative complications. Surgeons may require overweight patients to reduce their weight before surgery, any patients to refrain from hormone replacement before surgery, and smoking patients to refrain from smoking before and after surgery. Surgeons commonly stipulate the latter regardless of the type of operation.
Potential future advances
See also: Transgender pregnancy, Uterus transplantation § Application on transgender women, and Male pregnancy § Humans
Medical advances may eventually make childbearing possible by using a donor uterus long enough to carry a child to term as anti-rejection drugs do not seem to affect the fetus. The DNA in a donated ovum can be removed and replaced with the DNA of the receiver. Further in the future, stem cell biotechnology may also make this possible, with no need for anti-rejection drugs.
Standards of care
See also: Legal aspects of transgenderism
Sex reassignment surgery can be difficult to obtain, due to a combination of financial barriers and lack of providers. An increasing number of surgeons are now training to perform such surgeries. In many regions, an individual's pursuit of SRS is often governed, or at least guided, by documents called Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People (SOC). The most widespread SOC in this field is published and frequently revised by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH, formerly the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association or HBIGDA). Many jurisdictions and medical boards in the United States and other countries recognize the WPATH Standards of Care for the treatment of transsexualism. For many individuals, these may require a minimum duration of psychological evaluation and living as a member of the target gender full-time, sometimes called the real life experience (RLE) (sometimes mistakenly referred to as the real life test (RLT)) before genital reconstruction or other sex reassignment surgeries are permitted.
Standards of Care usually give certain very specific "minimum" requirements as guidelines for progressing with treatment for transsexualism, including accessing cross-gender hormone replacement or many surgical interventions. For this and many other reasons, both the WPATH-SOC and other SOCs are highly controversial and often maligned documents among transgender patients seeking surgery. Alternative local standards of care exist, such as in the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. Much of the criticism surrounding the WPATH/HBIGDA-SOC applies to these as well, and some of these SOCs (mostly European SOC) are actually based on much older versions of the WPATH-SOC. Other SOCs are entirely independent of the WPATH. The criteria of many of those SOCs are stricter than the latest revision of the WPATH-SOC. Many qualified surgeons in North America and many in Europe adhere almost unswervingly to the WPATH-SOC or other SOCs. However, in the United States many experienced surgeons are able to apply the WPATH SOC in ways which respond to an individual's medical circumstances, as is consistent with the SOC.
Most surgeons require two letters of recommendation for sex reassignment surgery. At least one of these letters must be from a mental health professional experienced in diagnosing gender identity disorder, who has known the patient for over a year. Letters must state that sex reassignment surgery is the correct course of treatment for the patient.
Many medical professionals and numerous professional associations have stated that surgical interventions should not be required in order for transsexual individuals to change sex designation on identity documents. However, depending on the legal requirements of many jurisdictions, transsexual and transgender people are often unable to change the listing of their sex in public records unless they can furnish a physician's letter attesting that sex reassignment surgery has been performed. In some jurisdictions legal gender change is prohibited in any circumstances, even after genital or other surgery or treatment.
Quality of life and physical health
Patients of sex reassignment surgery may experience changes in their physical health and quality of life, the side effects of sex steroid treatment. Hence, transgender people should be well informed of these risks before choosing to undergo SRS.
Several studies tried to measure the quality of life and self-perceive physical health using different scales. Overall, transsexual people have rated their self-perceived quality of life as ‘normal’ or ‘quite good’, however, their overall score was still lower than the control group. Another study showed a similar level of quality of life in transsexual individuals and the control group. Nonetheless, a study with long-term data suggested that albeit quality of life of patients 15 years after sex reassignment surgery is similar to controls, their scores in the domains of physical and personal limitations were significantly lower. On the other hand, research has found that quality of life of transsexual patients could be enhanced by other variables. For instance, trans men obtained a higher self-perceived health score than women because they had a higher level of testosterone than them. Trans women who had undergone face feminization surgery have reported higher satisfaction in different aspects of their quality of life, including their general physical health.
Looking specifically at transsexual’s genital sensitivities, trans men and trans women are capable of maintaining their genital sensitivities after SRS. However, these are counted upon the procedures and surgical tricks which are used to preserve the sensitivity. Considering the importance of genital sensitivity in helping transsexual individuals to avoid unnecessary harm or injuries to the genitals, allowing trans men to obtain an erection and perform the insertion of the erect penile prosthesis after phalloplasty, the ability for transsexual to experience erogenous and tactile sensitivity in their reconstructed genitals is one of the essential objectives surgeons want to achieve in SRS Moreover, studies have also found that the critical procedure for genital sensitivity maintenance and achieving orgasms after phalloplasty is to preserve both the clitoris hood and the clitoris underneath the reconstructed phallus.
Erogenous Sensitivity is measured by the capabilities to reach orgasms in genital sexual activities, like masturbation and intercourse. Many studies reviewed that both trans men and trans women have reported an increase of orgasms in both sexual activities, implying the possibilities to maintain or even enhance genital sensitivity after SRS.
Psychological and social consequences
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After sex reassignment surgery, transsexuals (people who underwent cross-sex hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery) tend to be less gender dysphoric. They also normally function well both socially and psychologically. Anxiety, depression and hostility levels were lower after sex reassignment surgery. They also tend to score well for self-perceived mental health, which is independent from sexual satisfaction. Many studies have been carried out to investigate satisfaction levels of patients after sex reassignment surgery. In these studies, most of the patients have reported being very happy with the results and very few of the patients have expressed regret for undergoing sex reassignment surgery.
Although studies have suggested that the positive consequences of sex reassignment surgery outweigh the negative consequences, It has been suggested that most studies investigating the outcomes of sex reassignment surgery are flawed as they have only included a small percentage of sex reassignment surgery patients in their studies. These methodological limitations such as lack of double-blind randomised controls, small number of participants due to the rarity of transsexualism, high drop-out rates and low follow-up rates, which would indicate need for continued study.
Persistent regret can occur after sex reassignment surgery. Regret may be due to unresolved gender dysphoria, or a weak and fluctuating sense of identity, and may even lead to suicide. During the process of sex reassignment surgery, transsexuals may become victims of different social obstacles such as discrimination, prejudice and stigmatising behaviours. The rejection faced by transsexuals is much more severe than what is experienced by LGB individuals. The hostile environment may trigger or worsen internalised transphobia, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
Many patients perceive the outcome of the surgery as not only medically but also psychologically important. Social support can help them to relate to their minority identity, ascertain their trans identity and reduce minority stress. Therefore, it is suggested that psychological support is crucial for patients after sex reassignment surgery, which helps them feel accepted and have confidence in the outcome of the surgery; also, psychological support will become increasingly important for patients with lengthier sex reassignment surgery process.
The majority of the transsexual individuals have reported enjoying better sex lives and improved sexual satisfaction after sex reassignment surgery. The enhancement of sexual satisfaction was positively related to the satisfaction of new primary sex characteristics. Before undergoing SRS, transsexual patients possessed unwanted sex organs which they were eager to remove. Hence, they were frigid and not enthusiastic about engaging in sexual activity. In consequence, transsexuals individuals who have undergone SRS are more satisfied with their bodies and experienced less stress when participating in sexual activity.
Most of the individuals have reported that they have experienced sexual excitement during sexual activity, including masturbation. The ability to obtain orgasms is positively associated with sexual satisfaction. Frequency and intensity of orgasms are substantially different among transsexual men and transsexual women. Almost all female-to-male individuals have revealed an increase in sexual excitement and are capable of achieving orgasms through sexual activity with a partner or via masturbation, whereas only 85% of the male-to-female individuals are able to achieve orgasms after SRS. A study found that both transmen and transwomen reported that they had experienced transformation in their orgasms sensuality. The female-to-male transgender individuals reported that they had been experiencing intensified and stronger excitements while male-to-female individuals have been encountering longer and more gentle feelings.
The rates of masturbation have also changed after sex reassignment surgery for both trans women and trans men. A study reported an overall increase of masturbation frequencies exhibited in most transsexual individuals and 78% of them were able to reach orgasm by masturbation after SRS. A study showed that there were differences in masturbation frequencies between trans men and trans women, in which female-to-male individuals masturbated more often than male to female The possible reasons for the differences in masturbation frequency could be associated with the surge of libido, which was caused by the testosterone therapies, or the withdrawal of gender dysphoria.
Concerning transsexuals’ expectations for different aspects of their life, the sexual aspects have the lowest level of satisfaction among all other elements (physical, emotional and social levels). When comparing transsexuals with biological individuals of the same gender, trans women had a similar sexual satisfaction to biological women, but trans men had a lower level of sexual satisfaction to biological men. Moreover, trans men also had a lower sexual satisfaction with their sexual life than trans women.
Main article: Sex assignment § Assignment in cases of infants with intersex traits, or cases of trauma
Infants born with intersex conditions might undergo interventions at or close to birth. This is controversial because of the human rights implications.
Society and culture
The Iranian government's response to homosexuality is to endorse, and fully pay for, sex reassignment surgery. The leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa declaring sex reassignment surgery permissible for "diagnosed transsexuals". Eshaghian's documentary, Be Like Others, chronicles a number of stories of Iranian gay men who feel transitioning is the only way to avoid further persecution, jail, or execution. The head of Iran's main transsexual organization, Maryam Khatoon Molkara—who convinced Khomeini to issue the fatwa on transsexuality—confirmed that some people who undergo operations are gay rather than transsexual.
Thailand is the country that performs the most sex reassignment surgeries, followed by Iran.
India is offering affordable sex reassignment surgery to a growing number of medical tourists.
In 2017, the United StatesDefense Health Agency for the first time approved payment for sex reassignment surgery for an active-duty U.S. military service member. The patient, an infantry soldier who identifies as a woman, had already begun a course of treatment for gender reassignment. The procedure, which the treating doctor deemed medically necessary, was performed on November 14 at a private hospital, since U.S. military hospitals lack the requisite surgical expertise.
In Berlin in 1931, Dora Richter, became the first known transgender woman to undergo the vaginoplasty surgical approach.
This was followed by Lili Elbe in Dresden during 1930–1931. She started with the removal of her original sex organs, the operation supervised by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. Lili went on to have four more subsequent operations that included an unsuccessful uterine transplant, the rejection of which resulted in death. An earlier known recipient of this was Magnus Hirschfeld's housekeeper, but their identity is unclear at this time.
On 12 June 2003, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Van Kück, a German trans woman whose insurance company denied her reimbursement for sex reassignment surgery as well as hormone replacement therapy. The legal arguments related to the Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Article 8. This affair is referred to as Van Kück vs Germany.
In 2011, Christiane Völling won the first successful case brought by an intersex person against a surgeon for non-consensual surgical intervention described by the International Commission of Jurists as "an example of an individual who was subjected to sex reassignment surgery without full knowledge or consent".
As of 2017 some European countries, mostly eastern, require forced sterilisation for the legal recognition of sex reassignment.
- ^Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, February 2013.
- ^Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law; Washington College of Law; American University (2014). Torture in Healthcare Settings: Reflections on the Special Rapporteur on Torture's 2013 Thematic Report. Washington, DC: Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law.
- ^"Gender Confirmation Surgeries". American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
- ^"About ASPS". American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
- ^ abcdefghijklDe Cuypere, G.; TSjoen, G.; Beerten, R.; Selvaggi, G.; De Sutter, P.; Hoebeke, P.; Monstrey, S.; Vansteenwegen, A.; Rubens, R. (2005). "Sexual and Physical Health After Sex Reassignment Surgery". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 34 (6): 679–690. doi:10.1007/s10508-005-7926-5. PMID 16362252.
- ^Boyle, G.J.(2005). The scandal of genital mutilation surgery on infants (pp. 95-100). In L. May (Ed.), Transgenders and Intersexuals, Bowden, South Australia: Fast Lane (imprint of East Street Publications). ISBN 1-9210370-7-5ISBN 9-780975-114544
- ^Colapinto, J. (2002). As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. Sydney: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-7322-7433-8ISBN 9-780732-274337
- ^"Sexual Identity, Monozygotic Twins Reared in Discordant Sex Roles and a BBC Follow-Up". Milton Diamond, Ph.D. Retrieved 1 August 2011.
- ^Diamond, Milton; Sigmundson, H. Keith (October 1997). "Management of intersexuality. Guidelines for dealing with persons with ambiguous genitalia". Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 151 (10): 1046–50. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170470080015. PMID 9343018. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
- ^Diamond, Milton; Beh, Hazel. (2008). "Changes In Management Of Children With Differences Of Sex Development". Nature Clinical Practice Endocrinology & Metabolism. 4 (1): 4–5.
- ^see WPATH "Clarification on Medical Necessity of Treatment, sex Reassignment, and Insurance Coverage in the U.S." available at: "Archived copy"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
- ^See discussion of insurance exclusions at: http://www.hrc.org/issues/transgender/9568.htm
- ^AMA Resolution 122 "Removing Financial Barriers to Care for Transgender Patients". see: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/15/digest_of_actions.pdf
- ^See WPATH Clarification Statement
- ^APA Policy Statement Transgender, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression Non-Discrimination. See online at: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/policy/transgender.pdf
- ^NASW Policy Statement on Transgender and Gender Identity Issues, revised August 2008. See www.socialworkers.org
- ^See WPATH Standards of Care, also WPATH Clarification. www.wpath.org
- ^Doctors plan uterus transplants to help women with removed, damaged wombs have babies. Associated Press.
- ^Fageeh, W.; Raffa, H.; Jabbad, H.; Marzouki, A. (2002). "Transplantation of the human uterus". International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics. 76 (3): 245–251. doi:10.1016/S0020-7292(01)00597-5. PMID 11880127.
- ^Del Priore, G.; Stega, J.; Sieunarine, K.; Ungar, L.; Smith, J. R. (2007). "Human Uterus Retrieval From a Multi-Organ Donor". Obstetrics & Gynecology. 109 (1): 101–104. doi:10.1097/01.AOG.0000248535.58004.2f. PMID 17197594.
- ^Nair, A.; Stega, J.; Smith, J. R.; Del Priore, G. (2008). "Uterus Transplant: Evidence and Ethics". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1127 (1): 83–91. Bibcode:2008NYASA1127...83N. doi:10.1196/annals.1434.003. PMID 18443334.
- ^"Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on September 20, 2012. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
- ^"WPATH Standards of Care". Tssurgeryguide.com. 2003-12-17. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
- ^See WPATH Clarification Statement, APA Policy Statement, and NASW Policy Statement
- ^Gómez-Gil, Esther; Zubiaurre-Elorza, Leire; Antonio, Isabel Esteva de; Guillamon, Antonio; Salamero, Manel (2013-08-13). "Determinants of quality of life in Spanish transsexuals attending a gender unit before genital sex reassignment surgery". Quality of Life Research. 23 (2): 669–676. doi:10.1007/s11136-013-0497-3. ISSN 0962-9343. PMID 23943260.
- ^Castellano, E.; Crespi, C.; Dell’Aquila, C.; Rosato, R.; Catalano, C.; Mineccia, V.; Motta, G.; Botto, E.; Manieri, C. (2015-10-20). "Quality of life and hormones after sex reassignment surgery". Journal of Endocrinological Investigation. 38 (12): 1373–1381. doi:10.1007/s40618-015-0398-0. ISSN 1720-8386. PMID 26486135.
- ^Kuhn, Annette; Bodmer, Christine; Stadlmayr, Werner; Kuhn, Peter; Mueller, Michael D.; Birkhäuser, Martin (2009). "Quality of life 15 years after sex reassignment surgery for transsexualism". Fertility and Sterility. 92 (5): 1685–1689.e3. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.08.126. PMID 18990387.
- ^Ainsworth, Tiffiny A.; Spiegel, Jeffrey H. (2010-05-12). "Quality of life of individuals with and without facial feminization surgery or gender reassignment surgery". Quality of Life Research. 19 (7): 1019–1024. doi:10.1007/s11136-010-9668-7. ISSN 0962-9343. PMID 20461468.
- ^ abcdSelvaggi, G., Monstrey, S., Ceulemans, P., T'Sjoen, G., De Cuypere, G., & Hoebeke, P. (2007). "Genital sensitivity after sex reassignment surgery in transsexual patients". Annals of Plastic Surgery. 58 (4): 427–433. doi:10.1097/01.sap.0000238428.91834.be. PMID 17413887.
- ^ abHage, J. J., Bouman, F. G., De Graaf, F. H., & Bloem, J. J. (1993). "Construction of the neophallus in female-to-male transsexuals: the Amsterdam experience". The Journal of Urology. 149 (6): 1463–1468. doi:10.1016/S0022-5347(17)36416-9. PMID 8501789.
- ^ abcdefWierckx, K.; Van Caenegem, E.; Elaut, E.; Dedecker, D.; Van de Peer, F.; Toye, K.; Hoebeke, P.; Monstrey, S.; De Cuypere, G.; T’Sjoen, G. (2011). "Quality of life and sexual health after sex reassignment surgery in transsexual men". The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 8 (12): 3379–3388. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02348.x. PMID 21699661.
- ^Smith, Y. L. S.; Van Goozen, S. H. M.; Cohen-Kettenis, P. T. (2001). "Adolescents with gender identity disorder who were accepted or rejected for sex reassignment surgery: a prospective follow-up study". Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 40 (4): 472–481. doi:10.1097/00004583-200104000-00017.
- ^Lawrence, A. A. (2003). "Factors associated with satisfaction or regret following male-to-female sex reassignment surgery". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 32 (4): 299–315. doi:10.1023/A:1024086814364. PMID 12856892.
- ^Monstrey, S.; Vercruysse Jr., H.; De Cuypere, G. (2009). "Is Gender Reassignment Surgery Evidence Based? Recommendation for the Seventh Version of the WPATH Standards of Care". International Journal of Transgenderism. 11 (3): 206–214. doi:10.1080/15532730903383799.
In performing a phalloplasty for a FTM transsexual, the surgeon should reconstruct an aesthetically appealing neophallus, with erogenous and tactile sensation, which enables the patient to void while standing and have sexual intercourse like a natural male, in a one-stage procedure.17,18 The reconstructive procedure should also provide a normal scrotum, be predictably reproducible without functional loss in the donor area, and leave the patient with minimal scarring or disfigurement.
Despite the multitude of flaps that have been employed and described (often as Case Reports), the radial forearm is universally considered the gold standard in penile reconstruction.17,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28
In the largest series to date (almost 300 patients), Monstrey et al29 recently described the technical aspects of radial forearm phalloplasty and the extent to which this technique, in their hands approximates the criteria for ideal penile reconstruction.
For the genitoperineal transformation (vaginectomy, urethral reconstruction, scrotoplasty, phalloplasty), two surgical teams operate at the same time with the patient first placed in a gynecological (lithotomy) position. In the perineal area, a urologist may perform a vaginectomy, and lengthen the urethra with mucosa between the minor labiae. The vaginectomy is a mucosal colpectomy in which the mucosal lining of the vaginal cavity is removed. After excision, a pelvic floor reconstruction is always performed to prevent possible diseases such as cystocele and rectocele. This reconstruction of the fixed part of the urethra is combined with a scrotal reconstruction by means of two transposition flaps of the greater labia resulting in a very natural looking bifid scrotum.
Simultaneously, the plastic surgeon dissects the free vascularized flap of the forearm. The creation of a phallus with a tube-in-a-tube technique is performed with the flap still attached to the forearm by its vascular pedicle (Fig. 8A). This is commonly performed on the ulnar aspect of the skin island. A small skin flap and a skin graft are used to create a corona and simulate the glans of the penis (Fig. 8B).
(A–D) Phallic reconstruction with the radial forearm flap: creation of a tube (urethra) within a tube (penis).
Once the urethra is lengthened and the acceptor (recipient) vessels are dissected in the groin area, the patient is put into a supine position. The free flap can be transferred to the pubic area after the urethral anastomosis: the radial artery is microsurgically connected to the common femoral artery in an end-to-side fashion and the venous anastomosis is performed between the cephalic vein and the greater saphenous vein (Fig. 8C). One forearm nerve is connected to the ilioinguinal nerve for protective sensation and the other nerve of the arm is anastomosed to one of the dorsal clitoral nerves for erogenous sensation. The clitoris is usually denuded and buried underneath the penis, thus keeping the possibility to be stimulated during sexual intercourse with the neophallus.
In the first 50 patients of this series, the defect on the forearm was covered with full-thickness skin grafts taken from the groin area. In subsequent patients, the defect was covered with split-thickness skin grafts harvested from the medial and anterior thigh (Fig. 8D).
All patients received a suprapubic urinary diversion postoperatively.
The patients remain in bed during a one-week postoperative period, after which the transurethral catheter is removed. At that time, the suprapubic catheter was clamped, and voiding was begun. Effective voiding might not be observed for several days. Before removal of the suprapubic catheter, a cystography with voiding urethrography was performed.
The average hospital stay for the phalloplasty procedure was 2½ weeks.
Tattooing of the glans should be performed after a 2- to 3-month period, before sensation returns to the penis.
Implantation of the testicular prostheses should be performed after 6 months, but it is typically done in combination with the implantation of a penile erection prosthesis. Before these procedures are undertaken, sensation must be returned to the tip of the penis. This usually does not occur for at least a year.
The Ideal Goals of Penile Reconstruction in FTM Surgery
What can be achieved with this radial forearm flap technique as to the ideal requisites for penile reconstruction?
A ONE-STAGE PROCEDURE
In 1993, Hage20 stated that a complete penile reconstruction with erection prosthesis never can be performed in one single operation. Monstrey et al,29 early in their series and to reduce the number of surgeries, performed a (sort of) all-in-one procedure that included a SCM and a complete genitoperineal transformation. However, later in their series they performed the SCM first most often in combination with a total hysterectomy and ovariectomy.
The reason for this change in protocol was that lengthy operations (>8 hours) resulted in considerable blood loss and increased operative risk.30 Moreover, an aesthetic SCM is not to be considered as an easy operation and should not be performed “quickly” before the major phalloplasty operation.
AN AESTHETIC PHALLUS
Phallic construction has become predictable enough to refine its aesthetic goals, which includes the use of a technique that can be replicated with minimal complications. In this respect, the radial forearm flap has several advantages: the flap is thin and pliable allowing the construction of a normal sized, tube-within-a-tube penis; the flap is easy to dissect and is predictably well vascularized making it safe to perform an (aesthetic) glansplasty at the distal end of the flap. The final cosmetic outcome of a radial forearm phalloplasty is a subjective determination, but the ability of most patients to shower with other men or to go to the sauna is the usual cosmetic barometer (Fig. 9A-C).
(A–C) Late postoperative results of radial forearm phalloplasties.
The potential aesthetic drawbacks of the radial forearm flap are the need for a rigidity prosthesis and possibly some volume loss over time.
TACTILE AND EROGENOUS SENSATION
Of the various flaps used for penile reconstruction, the radial forearm flap has the greatest sensitivity.1 Selvaggi and Monstrey et al. always connect one antebrachial nerve to the ilioinguinal nerve for protective sensation and the other forearm nerve with one dorsal clitoral nerve. The denuded clitoris was always placed directly below the phallic shaft. Later manipulation of the neophallus allows for stimulation of the still-innervated clitoris. After one year, all patients had regained tactile sensitivity in their penis, which is an absolute requirement for safe insertion of an erection prosthesis.31
In a long-term follow-up study on postoperative sexual and physical health, more than 80% of the patients reported improvement in sexual satisfaction and greater ease in reaching orgasm (100% in practicing postoperative FTM transsexuals).32
VOIDING WHILE STANDING
For biological males as well as for FTM transsexuals undergoing a phalloplasty, the ability to void while standing is a high priority.33 Unfortunately, the reported incidences of urological complications, such as urethrocutaneous fistulas, stenoses, strictures, and hairy urethras are extremely high in all series of phalloplasties, as high as 80%.34 For this reason, certain (well-intentioned) surgeons have even stopped reconstructing a complete neo-urethra.35,36
In their series of radial forearm phalloplasties, Hoebeke and Monstrey still reported a urological complication rate of 41% (119/287), but the majority of these early fistulas closed spontaneously and ultimately all patients were able to void through the newly reconstructed penis.37 Because it is unknown how the new urethra—a 16-cm skin tube—will affect bladder function in the long term, lifelong urologic follow-up was strongly recommended for all these patients.
Complications following phalloplasty include the general complications attendant to any surgical intervention such as minor wound healing problems in the groin area or a few patients with a (minor) pulmonary embolism despite adequate prevention (interrupting hormonal therapy, fractioned heparin subcutaneously, elastic stockings). A vaginectomy is usually considered a particularly difficult operation with a high risk of postoperative bleeding, but in their series no major bleedings were seen.30 Two early patients displayed symptoms of nerve compression in the lower leg, but after reducing the length of the gynecological positioning to under 2 hours, this complication never occurred again. Apart from the urinary fistulas and/or stenoses, most complications of the radial forearm phalloplasty are related to the free tissue transfer. The total flap failure in their series was very low (<1%, 2/287) despite a somewhat higher anastomotic revision rate (12% or 34/287). About 7 (3%) of the patients demonstrated some degree of skin slough or partial flap necrosis. This was more often the case in smokers, in those who insisted on a large-sized penis requiring a larger flap, and also in patients having undergone anastomotic revision.
With smoking being a significant risk factor, under our current policy, we no longer operate on patients who fail to quit smoking one year prior to their surgery.
NO FUNCTIONAL LOSS AND MINIMAL SCARRING IN THE DONOR AREA
The major drawback of the radial forearm flap has always been the unattractive donor site scar on the forearm (Fig. 10). Selvaggi et al conducted a long-term follow-up study38 of 125 radial forearm phalloplasties to assess the degree of functional loss and aesthetic impairment after harvesting such a large forearm flap. An increased donor site morbidity was expected, but the early and late complications did not differ from the rates reported in the literature for the smaller flaps as used in head and neck reconstruction.38 No major or long-term problems (such as functional limitation, nerve injury, chronic pain/edema, or cold intolerance) were identified. Finally, with regard to the aesthetic outcome of the donor site, they found that the patients were very accepting of the donor site scar, viewing it as a worthwhile trade-off for the creation of a phallus (Fig. 10).38 Suprafascial flap dissection, full thickness skin grafts, and the use of dermal substitutes may contribute to a better forearm scar.
(A,B) Aspect of the donor site after a phalloplasty with a radial forearm flap.
For the FTM patient, the goal of creating natural-appearing genitals also applies to the scrotum. As the labia majora are the embryological counterpart of the scrotum, many previous scrotoplasty techniques left the hair-bearing labia majora in situ, with midline closure and prosthetic implant filling, or brought the scrotum in front of the legs using a V-Y plasty. These techniques were aesthetically unappealing and reminiscent of the female genitalia. Selvaggi in 2009 reported on a novel scrotoplasty technique, which combines a V-Y plasty with a 90-degree turning of the labial flaps resulting in an anterior transposition of labial skin (Fig. 11). The excellent aesthetic outcome of this male-looking (anteriorly located) scrotum, the functional advantage of fewer urological complications and the easier implantation of testicular prostheses make this the technique of choice.39
Reconstruction of a lateral looking scrotum with two transposition flaps: (A) before and (B) after implantation of testicular prostheses.
In a radial forearm phalloplasty, the insertion of erection prosthesis is required to engage in sexual intercourse. In the past, attempts have been made to use bone or cartilage, but no good long-term results are described. The rigid and semirigid prostheses seem to have a high perforation rate and therefore were never used in our patients. Hoebeke, in the largest series to date on erection prostheses after penile reconstruction, only used the hydraulic systems available for impotent men. A recent long-term follow-up study showed an explantation rate of 44% in 130 patients, mainly due to malpositioning, technical failure, or infection. Still, more than 80% of the patients were able to have normal sexual intercourse with penetration.37 In another study, it was demonstrated that patients with an erection prosthesis were more able to attain their sexual expectations than those without prosthesis (Fig. 12).32
(A,B) Phalloplasty after implantation of an erection prosthesis.
A major concern regarding erectile prostheses is long-term follow-up. These devices were developed for impotent (older) men who have a shorter life expectancy and who are sexually less active than the mostly younger FTM patients.
Alternative Phalloplasty Techniques
A metoidioplasty uses the (hypertrophied) clitoris to reconstruct the microphallus in a way comparable to the correction of chordee and lengthening of a urethra in cases of severe hypospadias. Eichner40 prefers to call this intervention “the clitoris penoid.” In metoidioplasty, the clitoral hood is lifted and the suspensory ligament of the clitoris is detached from the pubic bone, allowing the clitoris to extend out further. An embryonic urethral plate is divided from the underside of the clitoris to permit outward extension and a visible erection. Then the urethra is advanced to the tip of the new penis. The technique is very similar to the reconstruction of the horizontal part of the urethra in a normal phalloplasty procedure. During the same procedure, a scrotal reconstruction, with a transposition flap of the labia majora (as previously described) is performed combined with a vaginectomy.
FTM patients interested in this procedure should be informed preoperatively that voiding while standing cannot be guaranteed, and that sexual intercourse will not be possible (Fig. 13).
Results of a metoidioplasty procedure.
The major advantage of metoidioplasty is the complete lack of scarring outside the genital area. Another advantage is that its cost is substantially lower than that of phalloplasty. Complications of this procedure also include urethral obstruction and/or urethral fistula.
It is always possible to perform a regular phalloplasty (e.g., with a radial forearm flap) at a later stage, and with substantially less risk of complications and operation time.
There have been several reports on penile reconstruction with the fibular flap based on the peroneal artery and the peroneal vein.27,41,42 It consists of a piece of fibula that is vascularized by its periosteal blood supply and connected through perforating (septal) vessels to an overlying skin island at the lateral site of the lower leg. The advantage of the fibular flap is that it makes sexual intercourse possible without a penile prosthesis. The disadvantages are a pointed deformity to the distal part of the penis when the extra skin can glide around the end of fibular bone, and that a permanently erected phallus is impractical.
Many authors seem to agree that the fibular osteocutaneous flap is an optimal solution for penile reconstruction in a natal male.42
NEW SURGICAL DEVELOPMENTS: THE PERFORATOR FLAPS
Perforator flaps are considered the ultimate form of tissue transfer. Donor site morbidity is reduced to an absolute minimum, and the usually large vascular pedicles provide an additional range of motion or an easier vascular anastomosis. At present, the most promising perforator flap for penile reconstruction is the anterolateral thigh (ALT) flap. This flap is a skin flap based on a perforator from the descending branch of the lateral circumflex femoral artery, which is a branch from the femoral artery. It can be used both as a free flap43 and as a pedicled flap44 then avoiding the problems related to microsurgical free flap transfer. The problem related to this flap is the (usually) thick layer of subcutaneous fat making it difficult to reconstruct the urethra as a vascularized tube within a tube. This flap might be more indicated for phallic reconstruction in the so-called boys without a penis, like in cases of vesical exstrophy (Fig. 14). However, in the future, this flap may become an interesting alternative to the radial forearm flap, particularly as a pedicled flap. If a solution could be found for a well-vascularized urethra, use of the ALT flap could be an attractive alternative to the radial forearm phalloplasty. The donor site is less conspicuous, and secondary corrections at that site are easier to make. Other perforator flaps include the thoracodorsal perforator artery flap (TAP) and the deep inferior epigastric perforator artery flap (DIEP). The latter might be an especially good solution for FTM patients who have been pregnant in the past. Using the perforator flap as a pedicled flap can be very attractive, both financially and technically.
Penile reconstruction with a pedicled anterolateral thigh flap. (A) Preoperative and (B) postoperative results.