The day he turned 50, Ken Weisler had a full head of hair and a trim physique. His wife, Karen, was still a knock-out. For his birthday, she made him an elegant dinner and surprised him with a slice of his favorite coconut cake—which she served wearing stilettos and lacy lingerie.
“I blew the candle out,” he recalls, “and it was like I was blowing out my sex life, too.”
Weisler, now 54, experienced erectile dysfunction for the first time. That night, the Rancho Santa Fe resident chalked it up to the two glasses of Champagne he'd downed. But it kept happening—not always, but often. Karen urged her husband to look into Viagra, which he learned he couldn't use because it conflicted with a medication he took for a hereditary heart problem. The other medical interventions for ED—injections at the base of the penis, suppositories, surgery—freaked him out.
Weisler's done his research; he knows he's not alone. “Something like 30 million men in the U.S. have problems with erectile dysfunction,” he says. “It may not seem that serious compared to other issues like cancer or heart attacks, but ask my wife: It's a big deal. The thing is, aside from the occasional Viagra joke, none of my friends were talking about it.”
That's when Weisler decided to start a nonprofit, which he cheekily named Save a Stiffy. The idea was to raise money for researching non-pharmaceutical ED cures. “I eat organic and exercise and take great care of myself,” he explains. “I don't want to pump chemicals into my body if I don't have to.”
It seemed untoward to solicit charitable donations for such a cause, so Weisler turned to another source: “Male pride,” he laughs. Inspired by the local nonprofit Keep a Breast, which supports breast-cancer research by auctioning off plaster-cast women's torsos painted by famous artists, Weisler decided to raise cash with perfectly preserved peckers.“I thought it would be cool to have plaster replicas painted gold and mounted like trophies,” he says. “Obviously, no one would display them in their living rooms. But in the privacy of the bedroom, it could be a fun and sexy piece of décor.”
He wasn't the first to think so. In the 1960s, a rock groupie named Cynthia Plaster Caster set about immortalizing famous men's members. Her biggest (literally) coup: Jimi Hendrix.
“I wish I had known about Cynthia when I started Save a Stiffy,” says Weisler. “I could have saved myself a lot of time and embarrassment. Turns out these casts are very hard—pun intended!”
To begin with, creating a mold requires an erection. The plaster, which is cold and wet and the furthest thing from sexy, takes a full minute to stiffen.
“I tested it out on myself,” Weisler explains. “If I was even able to get a hard-on, I kept losing it when I applied the plaster. Watching porn helped, but I started to describe the process as an iffy-stiffy situation.”
When Cynthia Plaster Caster went to work, she hired a team of fluffers to fellate her subjects, and while the cast was setting, topless women would prance about. Weisler knew that wasn't in the cards for his nonprofit.
“Save a Stiffy could be more accurately titled Save a Marriage,” he says. “I'm trying to help guys like myself, who are older and happily married and not ready to give up on a great sex life. So I couldn't exactly turn the procedure into something straight from a porn set. Even if the guys were into it, their wives would never go for it.”
The organization that inspired Weisler, Keep a Breast, relied on women to cast other women's torsos.
“A couple of my gay guy friends told me that they'd let a good-looking guy cast their privates in plaster for a good cause. But the straight friends I asked were not into that idea at all. So women were out. Men were out. Who was going to deal with the plaster? Save a Stiffy suddenly seemed like a disaster.”
Then Weisler's wife Karen, an avid crafter, suggested creating a DIY kit.
“I can't say Martha Stewart would be proud,” Karen jokes. “But I'm really pleased with how the kit turned out.”Included with each $30 Save a Stiffy kit (available online: www.saveastiffy.org) is a small bottle of baby oil for prepping the skin, a generous supply of dental plaster (the easiest to use) and an instructional DVD. Once the user has made his mold, he can send it back to Save a Stiffy headquarters in a non-descript package addressed to S.A.S. Industries. (“We are adamant about privacy,” promises Weisler.)
Men (or their significant others) can choose from a wide variety of artistic treatments for their plaster treasures, ranging from “Greek God” (gold-gilded and mounted on a base carved with a laurel wreath) to “Onyx” (lacquered in black). Some are wacky (“Wild One” features a cheetah print) and some are classy (“Au Natural” coats naked plaster with a flesh tone). Prices, on top of the kit, range from $50 to $500. All proceeds go to the Save a Stiffy Foundation. Weisler admits that his idea doesn't appeal to everyone. “Well, I wouldn't tell my 80-year-old mother. We don't have kids, but if we did, I'm not sure I'd want them to know, either.”
And though he's sold more than 400 kits, public relations has been a problem, too. “I was listening to NPR the other day, and they had a whole segment about these Brits who had a mustache drive to raise awareness for prostate cancer. Men were actually sponsored to grow mustaches! I think Save a Stiffy is more clever than that, but you'll definitely never hear it on public radio or read about it in The New York Times.”
But considering erectile dysfunction is 30-million men strong—“and men become obsessed with their penises at a very young age”—Weisler is hoping his charity will catch on.
As for his own, er, little problem?
“You know, it's funny, but since I started Save a Stiffy, it hasn't been a problem at all.”
This story was part of our April Fool's Day issue of 2009. Don't believe it.