A new type of cosmetic surgery has Thailand firmly gripped: penis whitening.
Ever wished your family jewels were more moonstone and less… smoky quartz? Then you might want to look for the next flight to Bangkok, Thailand, and join the over 100 men who visit the Lelux Hospital every month to get their privates whitened.
Over the years, the clinic has built a solid reputation among its patients for providing quality cosmetic surgery. Its penis-bleaching days, however, started six months ago when a male customer came in complaining of "dark parts" on his groin. It was smooth if somewhat unassuming sailing for Lelux until Thursday, when the hospital released images of a man undergoing the treatment.
The great white hope
After that, fame and renown hit the clinic's white-washed walls, with the story going viral on social media and eventually getting wide coverage on Thai television broadcasts.
"These days a lot of people are asking about it. We get around 100 clients a month, three to four clients a day," said Bunthita Wattanasiri, a manager for the Skin and Laser department at Lelux Hospital, in an interview with AFP.
Most of the clients, she adds, are between 22 and 55 years old. Many of them are also part of Thailand's LGBTI community. The procedure involves laser whitening for which the doctors use a "very small laser", Wattanasiiri assured AFP.
"We have to be careful because it's a sensitive part of the body," she confesses.
According to skin-care product company Skintrium, laser lightening works by concentrating energy in the form of light of a specific wavelength and focusing it on the blemish. The energy delivered to the tissues results in heating of water molecules as well as direct damage to the tissues, which eventually results in the dark spot becoming obliterated.
They detail that laser lightening works on small areas at a time, so if you're trying to lighten several spots or a larger area, "you might need to either go for more laser sessions or have a much longer single session than usual". It's not without risks, either. Some of the possible side-effects include pain, burning sensations, scarring or changes in skin texture, and there's always a risk of infection developing.
All in all, a new penis-do at Lelux will cost some $650 (roughly 21,000 in the regional currency, the Thai baht) and five trips to the clinic. That being said, similar services are offered pretty widely in other countries as well. They're increasingly popular, coat-tailing on several high-profile celebrities (think more Kardashians and less Hawking) that have admitted having these procedures done.
However, they have become highly sought-after in Thailand. Partly because of a cultural association between darker skin and outdoor labor in Asia, partly because of the procedure's novelty on the market.
But it has also cleft Thailand's social media presence in twain. There seems to be little room for shades in this black-and-white debate, with one side asking "why not" while the other is worried that it's just another example of imposing unnatural body standards, even going so far as to consider if the procedure is racist or not.
One 30-year old patient, who had undergone the treatment two months before, told BBC's Thailand service that he did it "to feel more confident in [his] swimming briefs".
"The obsession […] people nowadays can't embrace their own skin colour," one Facebook user commented on the clinic's post, which raked in over 19,000 shares in two days.
It's not the first time Lelux takes to hot waters, either. Last year, the clinic stirred controversy for promoting a cosmetic procedure called "3D Vagina", in which the customer's body fat was used to make their genitalia plumper.
In the end, we should all remember the color and fluff doesn't really matter - it's all about having a good time. My favorite commenter says she's "not that serious about the color", being "more concerned about the size and the moves".