Our Bodies, Our Choices – Part II: Men and Their Members

“A remedy which is almost always successful [to stop masturbation] in small boys is circumcision… The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice…”
~John Harvey Kellogg, physician (1852-1943)

The abuse Kellogg suggested back in the late Victorian era is enough to turn the stomach of any 21st Century parent. While “abuse” may seem too strong a word for such a common procedure, Kellogg’s description of circumcision as a “remedy” is  both a misrepresentation and a gross understatement. According to Kellogg, if you find your son touching himself, you should punish him by cutting off a part of his penis – a kind of one-slice Pavlovian training. To me, that’s psychotic.

The Victorian ideal promoted a reduction of pleasure as beneficial to the health of the soul. That influence continued into the 20th Century. Here’s another bit of anti-foreskin wisdom from the ominously-named Dr. R.W. Cockshut, published in a 1935 edition of the British Medical Journal (Br Med J 1935;2:764.1):

“I suggest that all male children should be circumcised … Nature … covers the sensitive glans so that it shall be ever ready to receive stimuli. Civilization, on the contrary, requires chastity, and the glans of the circumcised rapidly assumes a leathery texture less sensitive than skin. Thus the adolescent has his attention drawn to his penis much less often.”

Then there’s this gem:

“Another advantage of circumcision … is the lessened liability to masturbation … as a rule, pleasurable sensations are elicited from the extremely sensitive mucous membrane [the inner mucosa of the foreskin] with resultant manipulation and masturbation. The exposure of the glans penis following circumcision … lessens the sensitiveness of the organ.”
~ Ernest G. Mark, Circumcision, American Practitioner and News, vol. 31 (1901): pp. 121-126.

The ghastly motive behind the push for circumcision is clear: to interfere with male sexual pleasure. The expectation of the result was, to say the least, illogical. Boys masturbate whether they are circumcised or not – just ask one. Well, never mind asking; a teenage boy isn’t going to tell you he masturbates. But trust me on this one. My mother spent many an hour at the washing machine dealing with crunchy socks, towels and t-shirts.

Before we get to this article’s sore subject – the effect of circumcision on the adult – I should offer a caveat; I am well-aware that there are thousands of circumcised men who are perfectly happy with their penises. Noted sex advice columnist Dan Savage (whose position on circumcision has changed since the adoption of his son in 1996) put it this way:

“…most cut men are happy with their dicks… and most uncut men are happy with theirs. The thing about the unhappy cut men, though, is that they can’t get uncut, you know what I’m saying?”

This is the core of the argument against routine infant circumcision (RIC). Circumcised men cannot get back what was taken from them. My friends know that I am unhappy about my own circumcision and they often find ways of gently poking fun at my activism. Although I am vocal about my opposition to RIC, I don’t speak about the anger I carry with me and how deeply troubled I am by the fact that a part of my sex organ was removed without my consent. In preparing for this article, I interviewed men whose feelings about circumcision range from indifference to rage. Some of them are more vocal about their anger but there is one consistent thing about the expression of it: Men are supposed to put on their big-boy pants, stop whining and be glad they were circumcised because _____ (fill in the blank.)

In some ancient cultures, the exposed glans was considered vulgar. Cultures vary, but anatomical function does not. (Detail: The demure, intact penis of Michelangelo's David.)

Americans have been taught that the foreskin is a useless flap of skin: God’s mistake. There is little to no education about its function – not even within the American medical community. The foreskin, you see, is is the ONLY part of the body we routinely remove in the absence of compelling medical data. There is not one medical issue related to the foreskin in infancy which cannot first be treated through means other than surgery. The American medical community is simply ignorant of the intact penis.

The more I read about the “little flap of skin,” removed during “the snip,” the less I am able to endure the euphemisms which belittle men’s genital and sexual integrity. Why is RIC so routine in America? What is it about American culture that dictates we should remove a healthy part of the human anatomy so as to avoid talking about hygiene and (insert high pitched scream here) S-E-X? Is it really preferable to cut off a part of our sons’ genitals because it makes us uncomfortable to teach them to have confidence in their bodies as nature made them? Why are circumcising cultures like ours so desperate to believe in the dubious benefits attributed to circumcision? Why do American parents not think forward to their sons’ adult sexuality? And why, I keep wondering, is there a double standard when it comes to sexual rights?

Adam Z., a handsome 30-year-old in the computer industry, is an Intactivist, one of thousands of men (and women) nationwide who fight against RIC. Many Intactivists also fight for worldwide genital integrity and are vocal about their support for women and the intersex who also suffer choices imposed on them by others. Adam attends demonstrations and symposiums on circumcision and speaks out about it one-on-one when the opportunity seems right. He is straightforward, erudite and seemingly at ease with the most discomforting of subjects. Even when discussing his own anger at being circumcised, he remains reasonable – an impressive feat for someone who says he became “enraged” when he learned that he had lost a part of his body. In a long and compelling interview, he told me:

“…no one feels sympathy when you tell them you were harmed by circumcision… We vehemently oppose the cutting of female genitals but men’s genitals are sent to the chopping block in infancy… the sexist double standard regarding genital cutting in this society is absolutely staggering.”

A female acquaintance of mine has said, regarding the pro-choice movement, “Men have no rights when it comes to women’s bodies.” She also indicated that religious motivation should have no bearing on reproductive choices but she hesitated when asked if the same applied to men in regard to circumcision, which is part of her own religious heritage.

Men have feelings too – about a whole bunch of stuff (shocker!) and their regard for their genitals is almost universal. Men protect their manhood, metaphorically and physically. Freud’s “castration anxiety” follows us around, even unconsciously. But when it comes to circumcision there seem to be two camps: the “man up” camp and those who refer to their circumcisions as a betrayal, robbery, mutilation and even rape.

Thirty-one-year-old intactivist Jonathon Conte is open about his anger but finds it a difficult subject to revisit. He channels his feelings into “the human rights movement to abolish non-therapeutic, non-consensual genital cutting. I believe that all individuals – male, female and intersex – have a fundamental right to bodily integrity.”An events coordinator for Bay Area Intactivists, Conte wants people to understand that “circumcision negatively impacts a man and those around him throughout life.” With Americans in denial that the foreskin serves a necessary function, the job of activists like Conte becomes doubly difficult, struggling with their own resurfacing feelings while trying to educate.

Another Intactivist, here referred to as “Leo” asks, “Why do you think the foreskin covers the head of the penis? Why does it exist? Why does it move the way it does? One moment of scientific thought should get you thinking.” Leo tries to get people to understand that there are no mistakes in nature’s design.

Genetic anomalies and deformities notwithstanding, why do Americans consider the foreskin an evolutionary mishap? Like every part of the human body, it is functional. The foreskin, or prepuce, protects the glans, which is meant to be an internal organ (look at the penis of any mammal). It also provides a natural “gliding mechanism” which eliminates the need for extra lubricant during penetrative sex. It is this gliding mechanism which makes sex more pleasurable for men and women. It is also loaded with nerves (some 10,000-20,000 of them in 12-15 inches of tissue) which provide additional stimulation and then there are the blood vessels needed for proper flow to and from the penis during erections.

“Why?” Leo says, is one of the first things a child learns to ask but they are quickly taught to stop asking because there are some things parents and society don’t want to acknowledge. “I kept asking ‘why’ about my circumcision and when I found out the answer, I was disgusted that something so delicate would be cut from a baby’s body. It was mine. What right did anyone have to take a part of my sex organ!?”

The foreskin protects the glans penis (the head) - just one of its many functions.

Visually at least, the glans penis and the clitoris seem correlative, but a 2006 study led by Morris L. Sorrells determined that the foreskin itself, not the head of the penis (the glans), is the most sensitive part, making the foreskin more analogous to the clitoris in terms of its nerve function. The study also concluded that the head of the penis is more sensitive in the intact male. The clitoris, which is protected by a prepuce embryonically analogous to the foreskin, remains hyper-sensitive because it remains covered.

“The glans of the circumcised penis is less sensitive to fine touch than the glans of the uncircumcised penis. The transitional region from the external to the internal prepuce [the muco-cutaneous junction] is the most sensitive region of the uncircumcised penis and more sensitive than the most sensitive region of the circumcised penis. Circumcision ablates [the muco-cutaneous junction], the most sensitive parts of the penis.”

The removal of the specialized mucosal tissue which protects the glans also causes, over time, keratinization, a process through which skin cells lose moisture, making them tougher and less sensitive. Keratinization is the process referred to by Dr. Cockshut. The more leathery surface of the glans makes it less sensitive.

The Sorrells study graphs the areas of sensitivity in the circumcised and intact male. The areas in purple and red are the most sensitive and are entirely removed in circumcision. Also note the loss of sensitivity in the coronal ridge.

A Belgian study released just this year concluded the same thing as the earlier study; a circumcised penis is less sensitive than an intact one. (Bronselaer GA, Schober JM, Meyer-Bahlburg HF, T’sjoen G, Vlietinck R, Hoebeke PB., Department of Urology, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium.) A loss of sensitivity may not seem important – to some – but the question of how that loss affects sexual function is the subject of a Danish study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in October 2011 (Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M.) In that study, circumcised men reported various types of sexual dysfunction 3x more often than intact men. According to Morten Frisch, who led the study, “there were differences… the circumcised men reported orgasm difficulties much more frequently than the [intact] men.” The most common problem was unnaturally delayed ejaculation and even anorgasmia (inability to achieve orgasm.) Female sexual partners of those men were 10% more likely to report incomplete sexual fulfillment.

Frisch is careful to point out that his study does not indicate all circumcised men have problems. Anecdotally, anyway, we know this just isn’t true but cut men are more likely to report dysfunction. Even in the absence of sexual dysfunction, circumcised men report changes in sensation after surgery. Dragging a scalpel through the flesh is bound to cause damage. You’ve surely heard of it happening in face lifts, caesarian sections, and hair transplants. The difference with circumcision is that once the tissue is amputated – along with its connecting nerves – it is discarded. The nerves are permanently severed and cannot be regained.

Peter C., a Filipino man residing in New Zealand after being raised in the Philippines, was circumcised in adolescence. He says there was a notable change after his circumcision. Before, he says, the tip of his penis was so sensitive it made him pleasurably “…weak at the knees.” That changed after he was cut. Then, he says, he ceased to produce any noticeable pre-seminal fluid and lost much of the pleasure in masturbation. “Getting cut,” he maintains, “didn’t really stop me from [masturbating.] It only made it less enjoyable.”

Immediate complications from infant circumcision also occur though there is no adequate study data to tell us the numbers. (An Intactivist might argue that a denuded penis IS a serious complication.) Some of these require direct medical attention and follow-ups for years.

In a Savage Love column from 2004, a young man wrote to Dan Savage to say, “I am 24 years old and lost my entire glans penis, the head of my dick, in a botched circumcision. Basically I have a shaft but there’s no head at the end…” (As a man, I can think of nothing more horrible happening to my body than damage to my genitals as a result of someone else’s flawed decision.) Savage used this young man’s example in response to a reader’s inquiry about circumcising her  infant:

“…even if the odds are low–even if they’re infinitesimal… I would rather teach my son to wash under his foreskin than assume even the tiniest risk of him losing the head of his penis in a botched circumcision.”

Dr. M. David Gibbons, Associate Professor, Pediatric Urology at Georgetown University School of Medicine (who has an impressive list of affiliations in his field) says:

“In my practice, as a pediatric urologist, I manage the complications of neonatal circumcision… in a two-year period, I was referred greater than 275 newborns and toddlers with complications of neonatal circumcision. Forty-five percent required corrective surgery – minor as well as major, especially for amputative injury. [With] 300 pediatric urologists in this country who have practices similar to mine… one can do the math.”

Jonathan Friedman was circumcised in a bris, the Jewish religious ceremony which is performed on the eighth day after birth. As he matured, he realized that his “shaft skin was very tight. I always injured myself and had to stop masturbating or having sex,” because of it. “I don’t feel anything when I have penetrative sex,” he says, “and I orgasm unexpectedly or not at all.”

Loss of sensation, lack of sensation, flesh on the penis too tight – none of this is normal. The knowledge that parts of the sex organ have been removed without their consent and, possibly, that the highest quality of sensation has been lost is partly what fuels the frustration of the Intactivist movement and a connected offshoot: foreskin “restoration.”

Foreskin “restoration” is the process of applying tension to the skin of the penile shaft in order to induce mitosis – a subdivision of cells which produces more skin. Mitosis is used in post-mastectomy reconstruction and to create skin grafts for burn victims. Men looking to “regrow” their foreskins apply manual, non-surgical stretching techniques periodically throughout the day or wear a specialized device for many hours which accomplishes the same thing. A cottage industry has sprung up around the movement, with private manufacturers making devices just for this purpose. The process takes years and is only partially successful in that there is no way to regain the specialized parts of the intact penis. At the very least, it can restore some of the lost sensation in the glans penis by bringing it back to its previous state of suppleness.

It may seem desperate, or crazy or just kinda weird to think of men trying to re-grow their foreskins. But re-empowerment is part of the allure. Some restoring men, who gather in internet groups online and in support groups such as NORM (the Nationwide Organization of Restoring Men), report physical as well as psychological recovery through restoration. Jim K. from Arizona insists that he has experienced new sensations since his restoration. Circumcised at 5 years old, Jim believes his restoration has been successful. “It was like having the lights turned on…I had no idea of the vast increase in sexual sensation that a foreskin provides.” Jim also reports, “…it is highly empowering changing something that was done without my consent.”

“Ian” has been restoring as well. Having been cut at birth, restoring is “as much a psychological healing process as a physical one… The closer I get to calling myself restored,” he says, “the more whole I feel.”

Ian, like most of these men, has battled the negative feelings that come along with the recognition of loss. “I’ve had to work past the feelings of betrayal and the acknowledgment that I have suffered…” Betrayal is a theme repeated by men who feel they have been awakened to their body’s true functions. Ian emphasizes “It was mind boggling to me how it could never occur to someone how cruel, barbaric, and tortuous a procedure it is… that parents still believe this is beneficial and swallow the medical establishment’s party line without question especially in this age of readily available information.”

The movement toward gentle beginnings to life drives Ryan McAllister, a biophysicist, Assistant Professor of Physics and Oncology at Georgetown University, and the Executive Director of www.notjustskin.org, a non-profit organization which supports childbirth education, female and male genital integrity and intersex rights.

Over the last 10 years, McAllister has been studying the medicalization of childbirth in U.S. hospitals. His site provides a vast array of data on all aspects of parenthood, and the organization provides local talks and an extensive lending library. He is soft-spoken and patient, choosing his words carefully. (At various points in our conversation he was careful to check in and see if I understood his points.) He has lectured about the foreskin in an attempt to curb RIC. Understanding some people will be squeamish, McAllister maintains an easy tone, despite his passion on the subject. His excerpted lecture, “An Elephant in the Hospital,” available at YouTube, is an example of his ability to put people at ease with an uncomfortable subject. (The full version is also available for viewing here.)

McAllister came to his work through an interest in interpersonal relationships which led to studies of power and attachments dynamics in situations like childbirth which, of course, involves relationships not only between the new mother and her child but also between patient and physician.  “You can dissect obstetrics into set of attitudes and procedures. For example, I have compiled a list of 20 odd procedures which are unnecessary, often even harmful.  And one of them obviously – to me a very major one – is circumcision.”

I asked McAllister what he thinks happens to the mother/child bond if one of the child’s first events after birth is for the mother to turn the child over to someone else, allowing this very painful thing to happen. Circumcision, I proposed, disrupts the attachment cycle.

“I have certainly talked with a lot of moms who say that when they receive their child back that it then hit them what they had allowed to happen, because their child was upset. The child is bandaged, bleeding and crying.”

McAllister then went on to make a point I had not considered:

“…[the mother] hadn’t been prepared for that. I think it’s subjecting a parent to something to even approach them with the idea of doing this. There’s a broken informed consent process.”

In his lecture, one of McAllister’s slides quotes Michelle Storms, an MD who stopped performing circumcisions in 1988:  “Any person who wants to subject a child to this should be required to witness one first.”

The long-term, psychological effects of circumcision can only be examined, at present, through anecdotal evidence, since no high-profile studies have been published. In my own interviews, I was amazed to have other men articulate for me things I have been feeling for almost 3 decades: that a part of my body was taken without my consent. In the past I’d thought, “Maybe I’m making too much of it. Is it possible that these feelings are misdirected from somewhere else?” But Jonathon Conte was able to point out, “when victims such as myself do speak out we are often ridiculed or our pain is minimized.”

The combination of dismissal and misinformation affirming the foreskin as “just a little bit of a skin” instead of the sexually functional part that it is, leads many men to silence. They simply don’t know there is something missing. But those who have conducted their own research believe infant circumcision is wrong.

Adam Z., in his erudite way, brought the humanity of it home;

“It took a long time to come to grips with the fact that someone had taken something so obviously valuable from me in the name of cultural aesthetics. My feelings have never changed. I will always resent that this was done to me. I will always be upset that I can’t experience sex the way that it was meant to be experienced. I will always feel ripped off by society. I will always feel inferior to women whose genitals are adamantly protected throughout the world. I can’t walk around angry all of the time … I have come to peace with it and don’t walk around angry (as much as I used to).”

Adam is, like most of us, unable to completely let it go. Every time we look down, we see that part of our genitals was removed.

“My wheels can spin for hours trying to make myself feel better about it — but in the end the only escape is to accept that it was done and try to keep it from happening to the boys that are being born today.”

 

Tom Gualtieri

About Tom Gualtieri

Tom Gualtieri (@TomGGualtieri)is a theatre artist with his hand in many disciplines: lyricist, playwright, performer, director, knitter. He maintains an ongoing collaboration with composer David Sisco. His solo play, That Play: A Solo Macbeth, was nominated for a 2013 Drama Desk Award.
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33 Responses to Our Bodies, Our Choices – Part II: Men and Their Members

  1. Michelle says:

    Tom,
    Another great post. I stopped circumcising infants (I am a family medicine physician) many years ago after confronting my own growing discomfort with the procedure and a medical system that allowed such a thing to be done on non-consenting healthy children. But I see infants now who have had so much penile skin removed that there is absolutely no way these males will be able to function in a normal way sexually. It sickens me to realize that the physicians and nurses complicit in this mutilation fail to recognize the damage done. When I was trained, very little foreskin was removed, not that this in any way makes it acceptable. But nowadays, the goal seems to be to remove as much skin as possible thereby almost skinning the penile shaft. And it is such an accepted part of the health care routine. I often have to step back and put the barbaric nature of this procedure into perspective because it is so easy to get sucked into the mindset that this is “normal” and just another “procedure” done in the medical field. But if I sit in a quiet place and force myself to be in the position of the infant being circumcised, I am overwhelmed by horror. I am very sorry and guilt-ridden for having done this to those innocent babies. It has changed me in many ways, so I do what I can to stop it.

    • Michael Dulin says:

      Michelle, I always wonder what it is like for a medical provider after they have become enlightened to the harm MGM causes, the child, parent, and doctor. What brought you your present understanding and how can we enlighten those who are still mutilating little boys?

      • Michelle says:

        I was raised without any knowledge or prior discussion of circumcision, pro or con. I grew up with a bunch of sisters, one brother, and a mom. Circumcision, or anything sexual, was not a topic of discussion. It was like I came from another country or planet when I first was exposed to male circumcision in medical school and residency. So for me, it was extremely alien, and therefore much easier for me to recognize it as harmful, unnecessary, bizarre (even though I had been sexually active with circumcised males.) It was clearly painful to the child. I tried to talk parents out of it, but they never listened to a young intern who looked like a high school student. The doctor that trained me to do circumcisions told me there was no medical reason to do them; they were done for cultural reasons at parental request. Though my brain told me I had to do them to get through residency training, my physical body revolted every time I was to do a circumcision. My heart raced and I started sweating profusely. I finally had to face the fact that this was a procedure that was the opposite of any other medical procedure: it did not diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. It was definitely painful to the child and served no purpose that I could see. I think that because I was female, I may have had strong maternal feelings towards the infants. I have always been a bit too sensitive. I never allowed it to be done to my children and am thankful I had the knowledge in advance to know what it involved, unlike many parents. People must have an epiphany about circumcision. This is most easily done by having them place themselves in the position of being circumcised. Or having them witness a child fighting and screaming while being circumcised. People have to remove the cultural blinders. Something that is socially accepted is difficult to eradicate. We have an obligation to educate calmly and rationally. No other issue has captivated my attention so strongly as this one because I know without a doubt that it is wrong.

  2. Michelle,

    It’s wonderful to hear that you are doing what you can, as a physician, to stop this practice.

    I’m aggrieved at what I perceived to be either the American medical community’s lack of knowledge or just plain willful ignorance. There is also the lack of foresight into potential issues which may arise later in life if too much flesh is removed.

    In any case, we can only educate and keep talking about the subject.

    Thank you for reading.

  3. Chuck says:

    I was circumcised as an infant, and have hated it and those who did it to me since the day I knew. Do you know what it’s like when every time you shower, use the restroom, change clothes, even make love, you’re reminded that you can never be whole again? Do you know what it’s like when you go through your youth and teen years, discovering sexuality, yet being reminded of this every single time? Yeah, it does some damage to some of us. I no longer speak to my parents, and never will again. I just wish they were in jail for what they’ve done.

    And plenty of other men are angry about circ as well. This is a significant issue; many such men have formed organizations against it, including as activism, international support groups, and a charity to fund stem cell research for the purpose of repairing the damage, to whatever extent may be possible.

    A charity formed to fund foreskin regeneration: http://www.foregen.org/

    • Thanks for reading, Chuck.

      I hope that I was able to bring some of the issues you mentioned to light. The more it’s discussed, the more educated people become.

      Facing anger is one of the worst parts. Finding a positive means of channeling anger is one of the things some cut men struggle with.

      I’m not convinced that foregen is a legitimate organization – tissue regeneration seems a long way off and a bit like science fiction in this arena but one can still hope.

  4. Janel says:

    What a GREAT post. My husband and I had a son a little over a yr ago and at first we didn’t know how we felt about circumcision. During my pregnancy we began to research and it blew us away. RIC is a tragedy in our society. Obviously once we knew what circumcision really meant, we kept our son intact. My husband however, realizing what was done to him, definitely has some residual anger and has even expressed some jealousy that our son is whole and he is not. More men need to be brave enough to talk about it openly. Not to shame their own parents, but rather to make new parents aware of the choice they may be making for someone else’s body. I know it’s hard… some of our male friends get very defensive every time it is mentioned. But we have to stop this from continuing in future generations.

    • Michelle K says:

      You are right. It’s not about what happened in the past. We must move forward for our children. Our house is like yours – our son is intact. I’m proud we can stop the cycle. I do wish that it had been stopped generations ago but no better is the present. I know that my son will keep his sons (if he’s blessed with them) intact just as we did for him. Educating parents should be our highest priority.
      -Michelle

      • Siverly says:

        Excellent article, Tom. Well written.
        When I hear or read sentiments like ‘not to shame their own parents’, or we mustn’t ‘blame’ parents… I always think to myself, ‘is there no justice to be had for those of us who were raped by circumcision? Are legal guardians and parents not at all ever culpable to the crime committed against their sons?’ No, sorry. The past is not left in the past just yet. Their has to be some justice for the crimes that parents were an accessory to. Or is the idea of ‘parenthood’ just too sacred to question? The obgyn and nurses don’t steal infants- they’re handed over to them- by parents. Is there more culpability here than the cutters? I think so. Parents are often held up to god-like status, as if we’ve never grown up. And they are excused of so many mistakes. Always at the expense of the child- even the adult child.
        But maybe I have to reread my books by Alice Miller.

        • Siverly says:

          Sorry: ‘there’ for ‘their’.

        • Blame, shame and revenge are often conflated with justice. The former does as much damage to the victim as to the perpetrator. Forgiveness, on the other hand, heals and still gives the perpetrator time and impetus to consider their own actions.

          • Siverly says:

            It sometimes feels that when people use terms(especially unsolicited) like ‘blame’, ‘shame’ and ‘revenge’ they are trying to shut down an uncomfortable argument. I don’t know, Tom, if that is true for you. Words I prefer to use with concepts of justice are ‘culpability’, ‘obligation’ and ‘responsibility’ to name a few. Society gives very explicit privileges to mothers and fathers over all other adults. The buck ultimately stops with them in the care, upbringing and safety of ‘their’ children.
            I would like to be a part of discussions where those of us who’ve been raped can discuss issues surrounding ‘justice’, since perhaps a great majority of us will never have access- which should be our human right- to a day in court of law. And yes, parents will have to be present in that justice in some capacity, perhaps unwillingly. I think the guiding principle should always be focussed on what the rights of the child were/are and that focus invariably, constantly and perhaps unconsciously reverts to what the parents’ rights and feelings are as more important. A severe conflict, in my view. The fact is so many of us have not only been betrayed by our uninformed, powerless or the malign motivations of parents(how can we know for sure what their intentions were unless they admit to the harm?) but they were betrayed by a medical profession that abused their trust, too.
            I prefer the search for truth rather than spare adults who are a party to this grievous crime their delicate feelings. As children we deserved nothing less. The medics failed us and our parents failed to protect us from mutilating harm. The brutal truth. I’d rather it be dealt with honestly, like adults.
            A term like ‘forgiveness’ sounds so peaceful and relieving- but I don’t know. It almost seems deceitful. Should parents of mutilated girls be forgiven so easily? What do those harmed women feel about ‘forgiveness’?

          • “Should parents of mutilated girls be forgiven so easily?”

            Yes, they should. But only the victim can do that when and where she is ready. Difficult or easy has no bearing on the discussion.

            Do you believe forgiveness is a way of releasing a culprit from blame? I don’t. Forgiveness doesn’t negate investigation, debate, education and discussion.

            With my own story, it would be easy for me blame my parents for the harm caused me but that’s simplistic and not “true.” The truth is that the culture of cutting is too complicated to weed out a single culprit. Yes, my parents agreed to have me circumcised but I was also born at a time when there was no contrary information available; a new mother did what her doctor said.

            In Eastern philosophy there is such a thing as “righteous anger” – this is the anger used for change. Pernicious anger is the anger that turns inward and festers. The only valuable anger is the former which is born of the need to change rather than punish. I have made peace with my parents and my past and that enables me to move forward as an activist to see that this harm is not done to other children.

            Finding routes and methods of education mean determining where the choices are made but the pervasiveness of cultural influence is vast and can only be changed through education: one parent at a time.

            My basic point is: it’s not ONLY a parent who carries the blame, though it is possible to stop circumcision by educating expectant parents.

  5. Alex says:

    Excellent article. This is very thought provoking and I hope it is widely read. With all the confusing messages about circumcision and supposed health benefits, it’s refreshing to read about how genital cutting really effects the baby and the man he will grow into.

  6. Pingback: Learn about circumcision | Coffee and Kids

  7. Gregory S says:

    I think the FGM law needs to be amended to equally protect males and adhere to the 14th amendment.

    • don cintura says:

      Agreed! The fact that it protects girls only seems to make it discriminatory rather than provide the equal protection that this amendment is supposed to. What we need to do is a little homework on its history. Who sponsored the bill? What committee did it come out of? What interest groups were active? How did they manage…and so on. This will give us some idea of how to proceed.
      FGM seems to apply mostly to Muslims who may not have offered any resistance to the passage of this law in 1996 and just simply took their children “on vacation” to foreign countries where the practice is common and totally legal.
      In January of this year the law was amended to make illegal to take a girl out of the US for FGM.
      Amending the law to give protection to boys will not be so easy.
      The Jews will object wrapping their arguments in religious beliefs. Opponents will argue that female FGM is “not the same” as male circumcision. And the good doctors will inject their same old propaganda. How will all this crap be dealt with successfully?
      I don’t have the answers. But let’s start with our homework and then post our findings here and in all of our blog posts. As more of us get tuned to this possibility the closer we’ll be to knowing how to proceed. As men we should be outraged that that our sons have been excluded from this 14th Amendment Human Rights Protection. How dare they… How dare they?
      MGM protection for our sons now!

    • Violet Rose Ifans says:

      i think that would be a strong way to step forward and away from the barbaric practice of RIC.

  8. Rood A says:

    Hell, amend the law? The US Government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars circumcising men, boys, and infants in Africa, yesterday, today, tomorrow and on and on and on. The goal of PEPFAR (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) is to circumcise 80 million African men and boys by 2025 … at a cost of 3 BILLION dollars. Efforts of the PEPFAR campaign have been joined by WHO (The World Health Organization), and by the Clinton and Gates Foundations. (That’s Bill and Hilary Clinton, by the way).

    • I sincerely believe this effort to circumcise in order to “prevent” HIV is a disaster in the making and will, in the end, increase the spread of HIV.

      However, the main thrust of this series, which focuses on RIC, is a related issue. The demonization of the foreskin is one of the many results of the contested Sub-Saharan HIV/Foreskin studies. No matter what any adult chooses to do, we should not be circumcising our children.

  9. j. c. says:

    In the illustration, I think the coloring is off in the ‘below’ version of the cut/mutilated (“circumsized”) penis.

    • j. c. says:

      If u study the ‘Below’ colorings, u will likely know what I am talking about. Compare the colors in the Above and Below, etc..

      • Actually, the Sorrells study shows a slight decrease in fine-touch pressure thresholds in the ventral shaft of the circumcised male, making that specific area of the circumcised male slightly more responsive than that of the intact male. So, the chart is correct. This may the result of the type of test procedures – it is impossible to know but the chart is accurate with study numbers. In all other areas, however, touch-pressure thresholds increased in the circumcised male, with the conclusion that the most sensitive parts of the penis are ablated in circumcision, for a total loss of all areas with touch-pressure thresholds of less than .4 grams. (In other words, the cut male has lost his most sensitive parts.)

  10. Pingback: Circumcision: Our Bodies, Our Choices Part 2, Men and Their Members — The Good Men Project

  11. Jeremy says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! The Internet is where this battle will be fought — and where genital autonomy will prevail. Such a well-articulated defense of foreskin can only serve to protect more infants from unwarranted mutilation.

    The U.S. is at a tipping point: around half of all boys currently born in the States are left intact, and in some regions intact foreskin has become the norm. The “locker room” and “looking like Daddy” excuses for genital cutting will soon carry less and less weight. By offering new parents ever more reasons to doubt the circumcisors, you empower them and their children to defuse the institutionalised ignorance and cultural bias that perpetuates this crime against the body.

    Well done!

    - Jeremy Proctor (Mérida, Yucatán)

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  13. Keith says:

    As a man whose penis was cut by an ignorant doctor, I confirm what the other men have said. No foreskin means that most of the nerves are gone, masturbation badly affected (just what 19th century moralists wanted) and by 40 years old diminished pleasure in intercourse, my wife repeatedly asked me not to push in so deeply, but it was the only way I got any sensation; to the point at 60 when I could no longer orgasm, no sex since 2006!

    My answer to a deluded, ignorant American woman on a forum:If that is what you want for your boys and the men they become, then you are going the right way.

    Thankfully, more and more right-minded men and women either know, or are learning the truth, and leaving their sons intact, as mine was.

  14. Scott says:

    Just getting around to reading this after having it bookmarked for a bit. Really appreciate your thoughtful perspective. Also a Family Physician who does not perform circumcisions, and finding that recent headlines are convincing more and more parents to ask about circumcision “to protect” the male children they already have. Science over marketing is a tough sell, but that’s really the situation we are facing currently.

    • Yes, the over-marketing of the “product’s” supposed medical benefits has created a difficult situation with the Sub-Saharan HIV studies. I fear the results of that faulty experiment will be a horrific increase in HIV rates.

      Nonetheless, the potential for adult disease should not influence permanent choices for our children if those procedures show only marginal benefit, if any at all.

  15. Thank you for writing such a direct and powerful article. I had a botched circumcision as a neonate in a military hospital in Georgia; which the doctors covered up. The reason why I say it is botched is because there is a giant rip 1-2 inches from the base of the scrotum to the top of the shaft; along with the amputated foreskin. I want to sue, but friends tell me that Georgia has laws where the parent has to sue, and the child is not allowed to speak up once he or she is 18 years of age; especially if it’s the government. I wish Foregen was a reality…. but it’s not. Anyways, thanks for writing such an article. I get really pissed off when I see bull shit articles about the false propaganda of HIV prevention. I made a YouTube video regarding circumcision if you would like to check it out.

  16. rolf says:

    great quotes and information. Pretty much sums it up how i see it. A disgusting barbaric act of sexual abuse.

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