One of the most shocking, upsetting, and frustrating things I deal with as an intactivist on a constant basis is the incredible number of expectant parents I encounter who are determined to have their sons circumcised because they think the foreskin must be "icky."
Now, as frustrating as this is, I must admit that I can empathize with the myth. A few years ago I was there too, and not surprisingly as I was a product of U.S. culture – a cutting society where the foreskin has been vilified in popular television shows, parenting circles, and locker rooms alike. Where intact men have been made, at times, to feel embarrassed about the natural state of their body. Where we consider a normal body part that every single mammal is born with to be some sort of defect.
When my first son was born, I honestly was not fully informed on the issue. And I'm not sure what I was expecting. I had never actually seen an intact penis in my entire life – not on a baby, not on a man. I guess I was expecting it to be gnarly, or to somehow look wrong. I expected there to be an obvious part of the penis that looked as if it did not belong - one which begged to be cut off.
The reality was that my baby was perfect just the way he was. Nothing looked out of place and I wasn’t grossed out. It was kind of shocking, actually. I hadn’t been educated on the foreskin and I didn’t realize that it would be tightly fused to the head of the penis in infancy. I was fortunate to learn from our foreskin-friendly pediatrician that I should just leave it alone and never try to retract it. This was a relief! When we said “NO” to the circumcision question I thought I might have a long road ahead of me having to retract and inspect and be some sort of detective to seek out any dreaded smegma. Instead, I learned I would never have to do any of that – just leave it alone you say? Wipe like a finger? AND I don’t have to deal with caring for a festering surgical wound on the most sensitive part of my baby’s body? WIN!
For those who've never seen the difference between a perfectly intact baby boy vs. a circumcised newborn, here is one example:
Later on, in my first son’s toddlerhood we moved to Europe, where I learned that routine infant circumcision is not performed outside the USA. I began talking to European mothers about the issue and found out they were literally shocked that Americans would do such a thing to their babies – just as shocked as we are that knives are needlessly taken to girls’ genitals in other countries. But what was more surprising than this was when the discussion would turn to the subject of circumcision status on adult males. Their eyes would get big and wide and they would say things like, “I have never even seen a circumcised penis! What does it look like? Is there a scar? What does it feel like?”
This got me thinking about how the appeal of such things really just comes down to one very simple factor: what we are accustomed to. Everything about the discussions are exactly the same no matter which side of the pond you’re on – the only difference being which state of the penis is being talked about.
A comparison that comes to mind is that we are accustomed to all other mammals remaining intact. Consider how people giggle or get silly when they see a dog's "red rocket" for example (an internal organ typically hidden by the foreskin)... Wouldn’t it be strange if it was always just hanging out there? Scarred and callused for the world to see? This is how I’ve come to think of the human body. It is so utterly strange to see tiny penis heads just hanging out there…exposed. Wounded.
At the time, with nothing to compare it to, I couldn’t really enlighten my European friends. But I looked into the subject a bit further and discovered that a study in New Zealand found that 9 out of 10 women who had experience with both intact and circumcised male partners prefer sex with an intact man. Reading this absolutely stunned me. Wasn’t it just a "useless flap of skin?" Apparently not. I learned that it provides a gliding motion and a rippling effect. It keeps things soft and supple. The head of the penis is meant to be internal – not exposed to the elements, not rubbing against fabric all day, every day for years as it calluses over (the circumcised penis builds up layer upon layer of skin thickness due to callusing in an effort to protect itself). The glans (head) becomes dry and the skin becomes thick, and it loses sensitivity and natural reflex. The result is that the circumcised man needs to work harder to feel something good, and has less control over how things happen. This is a simplified version of the mechanics of natural sex. For more information, please see Marilyn Milos’ video, Penis 101, here.
As I read about this, and began to talk to women who have had intact partners, my ideas about foreskin began to change. Foreskin wasn’t so icky anymore. It was becoming…alluring. There also grew a bad nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. What are we doing to our boys? To our girls? I have heard the line so many times in online debates: “His wife will thank me someday.” I wouldn’t be so sure. I’m not thanking my mother-in-law! And I’ve begun to understand the sense of loss that the thousands of men who have gone through foreskin restoration must feel. There are millions of us who will never know what sex is supposed to feel like - the way it was designed perfectly to be.
If there is anything I would like today’s parents to know it is that the U.S. circumcision rate has dropped so low in recent years (32.5% in 2009) that by the time today's babies are sexually active, this will all be common knowledge. The functions of the foreskin are already making their way into American consciousness. By the time they are adults, boys who were circumcised at birth today will understand what they are missing. And so will their partners.
Read more from Bryk:
Why All the Circumcision Posts?
For additional resources on the prepuce (foreskin), circumcision, and intact care see: Are You Fully Informed?
Oh my goodness, the photo of the wounded boy is heartbreaking. I have seen a circumcised baby and a circumcised man, but both times were after the wound had healed and the glans began to fade.ReplyDelete
It makes me feel sick to my stomach to imagine my little newborn boy with a wound like that.
Great article Audrey. And likewise labia are not icky... although some think they are! Consider, had history just taken a different turning it could easily have been little baby girl bits which were the subject of 100 years of brutal surgical 'cleansing'....ReplyDelete
Lippy Girl, the sexually warped American docs who pushed circumcision on upper middle Victorian and Edwardian parents, often also advocated removing the clitoris of girls, and in a few cases this was done. Medical historians have not sussed why the practice never caught on, but we are all very grateful it didn't! My surmise: British and American mothers, rightly, did not like the idea of a male surgeon spending 15-30 minutes staring intently at their daughters' private parts. Circumcision is grounded in the patronising view that human sexual desire is surplus to requirements and hence should be curbed.Delete
Towards the end of the article, the author says, "I'm not thanking my MIL" for circumcising her then-newborn son. I just had to say that both my mother and my MIL were not given a choice, nor were they even told beforehand that their sons would be cut. One time the babies were returned to them with the news that they had been circumcised. It was just what was done at the time, so why should they ask? Sigh...ReplyDelete
I pray that when the time comes my two older sons realize the implications of what I naively had done to them as infants, they will forgive me. And I thank God I am no longer as naive as I was back then and will not do this to my unborn son.ReplyDelete
Kathy - my grandmother said the same about her sons' births - born in the late 1940s/early 1950s. She was never even told they would be cut or given the opportunity to protect them (and she was drugged during/after birth so never saw them intact). Her husband was not allowed in the birthing area or to see the baby until later in the day (again, post-MGM). Her babies were simply cut and brought to her when her meds wore off. :(ReplyDelete
How tragic. At least we've come far enough from the time when it first started to be the 'thing to do' in the U.S. and now parents have the option of becoming informed and protecting their children - especially thanks to mediums like the internet making research and experience quick and easy to share.
My grandmother says, "Thank goodness they don't do that awful thing anymore!" I almost didn't have the heart to tell her that 32.5% were still subjected to the knife in 2009.
Kathy, I understand. While I would not thank her, I don't blame her, either. But the fact is, whatever was happening in hospitals at the time, it would have happened to my husband anyway because she was Jewish and did it for that reason. I never had the opportunity to meet her, she passed long before I met my husband. I am just lucky my husband didn't have a strong opinion because I was not fully informed and if he had pushed, I very well may have just gone with it.ReplyDelete
Regarding the "I'm not thanking my MIL" comment, I, too, felt that way about my MIL. That is until she confided in me that in 1979, just one day after her Cesarean, the hospital pediatrician came to her room to let her know that the circumcision had just been done. Minutes after he left the room, the nurse came in with the consent form for the procedure. She wishes now that she had taken legal action, but back then, mothers were given so few rights as it was, and she felt she didn't have the right to question what was done. She wishes she had been able to keep my newborn husband intact. They were both victims 31 one years ago and it makes me furious.ReplyDelete
For decades, I lived in deadly fear of smug provincial American women who believed that foreskin was thoroughly "icky." Very recently, I read a passage in a book by Chelsea Handler dismissing all things British because British men do not have the "good sense" to get themselves circumcised. This is why I am elated by the growing groundswell of American women who risk TMI and reveal on the internet their personal journey of disccovery of the male foreskin. Young mothers valuing foreskin can and will end the American Foreskin Holocaust once and for all. Re foreskin, America is in transition from hatred to connaisseurship.ReplyDelete
Circumcising newborn boys by default, without asking for the mother's consent, is a dark chapter in American medical ethics and obstetrics. My reading of internet intactivism has convinced that it is also a closed chapter. I believe that my younger brother was circumcised in 1954 without my mother ever having been asked about it. I am intact because my mother gave birth to me in continental Europe, where routine neonatal circumcision was not an option.
@Lippy Girl: You are spot on. A mindset that hates foreskin can very easily come to hate women's inner lips. In recent years, thousands of adult young women have had their inner lips shortened because the owners of those lips suffered from deep seated feelings that their lips were sexually embarrassing. Such women remind me of American men who have themselves circumcised because they fear that American women reject intact men as sexual partners.
@Audrey: you are lucky that your husband is not emotionally attached to circ despite his Jewish ancestry -- to my thinking, Bryk is a very Jewish name.
That was the first penis I eer saw that was not "intact". I live in Spain and have a daughter. But as I always loved babies I was here to see how to change a nappy.ReplyDelete
To me it's like a hoto of a finger with n nail and the skin gone, just raw flesh... gore b-movie kinda thing, that's what came to my mind. And afterwards torture. I had to literaly put a hand in front of the picture to continue reading.
I knew of the pain, the complications, the health risk and all other stuff but never ever seen this horrible thing.
POOR BABY!! poor babies.
As my intact boys run naked on the beach I have only one thought, they're so beautiful just as the are and how could anyone want to cut their boys. I'm grateful I was informed that I had a choice.ReplyDelete
omg that looks horrific :0 i had to quickly scroll down how could some wilfully have that done to their babies :(ReplyDelete
I have 3 sons and I am so glad that I decided to keep them intact ... why subject them to an unnecessary surgery at such a young age?ReplyDelete
I have to agree, as someone who has had a few sexual partners in her life, that the intact men have been far better, more sensual lovers. Alas, my husband is not intact, and it was a fight to make him understand the importance of leaving our sons intact (I actually used our daughter as an example, would he have that done to her, before he realised how much sense I was making)
I do find it bizarre that he is not intact though, as his parents are European and migrated to Australia in the mid '70's. I guess Australian hospitals and doctors did as they pleased back then too.
I also think that circumsised men are selfish for wanting their sons "to look like daddy" - that is a pathetic (yet very common here - I have friends who even in this day and age do it) excuse for messing with your child's anatomy.
My husband, who is British, had never seen a cut penis until he was in the room with my older brother (cut) changing his toddler son (also cut, despite all of my best efforts).ReplyDelete
He had always been happy with being intact and thought the fact our boys were intact was just the way it was done... but he became MUCH more vocal about it after seeing my nephew. Simply could NOT understand why someone would mutilate their child.
I read this great post with my two intact sons (3 years and 1 year) in my lap. When my oldest saw the first picture he happily exclaimed "penis!" and when I scrolled down to the second he sadly said "sore". I think that pretty much says it all.ReplyDelete
This is wonderful! Thank you for what you are doing. Because of resources like this my son is like his dad.ReplyDelete
I agree with this post 100%. I live in illinois and am proud of having two intact sons! where I live it's common to circumcise and I personally never saw an Intact penis untill my first son was born. It looked natural, like it is supposed to. I would never let a dr. cut the any health living part of my childs body off, unless there was some disease/cancer of prob. and circ. was last resort!ReplyDelete
I'm dutch and uncut, but my boyfriend is American and cut.ReplyDelete
And he gave me the usual "cut-propaganda" about how it was cleaner and looked better, which is when I showed him the facts about the whole circumsision thing.
and I was completely shocked about the fact that he didn't even know there WAS a difference, hell, that there were people with foreskins!
But I guess it's just another thing that won't dissapear, why? because people make money off it.
And using religion as a way to sweet talk it... really recite me the part where it says "and thou shalt cut the foreskin of your boys".
I could go on and on about it, it's just not right to do!
Just my 2 cents on this.
I don't know much about this subject. When I had gotten pregnant with my oldest, I was asked by several people if I wanted the baby to have a circumcision. I didn't know what I wanted, as I didn't have any idea what the difference was. I asked my mother if my brothers were. They were. My husband had been cut. My nephews have all been cut. I don't have any religious beliefs about either cut nor intact males, but I can say this much, I don't see anything wrong with either. I say moms know what they want for their sons. I still can't see what the big deal is.ReplyDelete
Anonymous, 50-70% of USA doctors still do it with no anesthesia, even though it hurts like hell. Circumcision can also detract from the quality of sex life. Women blog their sex lives nowadays, and more than a few women who have driven both models definitely prefer the one with all the factory installed moving parts. Sexual intercourse and foreplay simply work better when the penis is encased in loose movable skin. Many women admit privately that intercourse is sometimes, sadly even often, less than fun. His having no foreskin can be a factor here.ReplyDelete
The best way to find out why Americans are so much into circumcision is to find out the profit chain behind circumcision. People need to find out how much doctors are paid for the surgery itself and how much an infant's foreskin that's full of fibroblast worth in the cosmetics market, then you'll know why the circumcision propaganda has been going on for so long. Also, look at countries like UK and Australia, and notice how their circumcision rates plunged after the implement of government Universal Healthcare. Then compare them to the American market healthcare and you'll really find out something nasty going on here in the States.ReplyDelete
The really sad thing is that American circumcision was not based on any profit but on a fear of masturbation. Yes, really!ReplyDelete
Karen Erickson Paige writes: "In the United States, the current medical rationale for circumcision developed after the operation was in wide practice. The original reason for the surgical removal of the foreskin, or prepuce, was to control 'masturbatory insanity' – the range of mental disorders that people believed were caused by the 'polluting' practice of 'self-abuse.'"
"Self-abuse" was a term commonly used to describe masturbation in the 19th century. According to Paige, "treatments ranged from diet, moral exhortations, hydrotherapy, and marriage, to such drastic measures as surgery, physical restraints, frights, and punishment. Some doctors recommended covering the penis with plaster of Paris, leather, or rubber; cauterization; making boys wear chastity belts or spiked rings; and in extreme cases, castration." Paige details how circumcision became popular as a masturbation remedy:
"In the 1890s, it became a popular technique to prevent, or cure, masturbatory insanity. In 1891 the president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England published On Circumcision as Preventive of Masturbation, and two years later another British doctor wrote Circumcision: Its Advantages and How to Perform It, which listed the reasons for removing the 'vestigial' prepuce. Evidently the foreskin could cause 'nocturnal incontinence,' hysteria, epilepsy, and irritation that might 'give rise to erotic stimulation and, consequently, masturbation.' Another physician, P.C. Remondino, added that 'circumcision is like a substantial and well-secured life annuity...it insures better health, greater capacity for labor, longer life, less nervousness, sickness, loss of time, and less doctor bills.' No wonder it became a popular remedy."
At the same time circumcisions were advocated on men, clitoridectomies (removal of the clitoris) were also performed for the same reason (to treat female masturbators). The US "Orificial Surgery Society" for female "circumcision" operated until 1925, and clitoridectomies and infibulations would continue to be advocated by some through the 1930s. As late as 1936, L. E. Holt, an author of pediatric textbooks, advocated male and female circumcision as a treatment for masturbation.
One of the leading advocates of circumcision was John Harvey Kellogg. He advocated the consumption of Kellogg's corn flakes to prevent masturbation, and he believed that circumcision would be an effective way to eliminate masturbation in males.
Yup, male circumcision and cornflakes, two American institutions people still think is somehow 'healthy' but have forgotten that the 'health' benefit lies supposedly in the 'warding against the EVILS of MASTURBATION'!!
Good article. If only human stupidity wouldn't be of galactic dimensions.ReplyDelete
Once I've found this somewhere. Reasons for circumcision in the USA history, written by freedom0f5peech"ReplyDelete
1832: prevents nocturnal emissions
1845: prevents masturbation
1855: prevents syphilis
1865: cures epilepsy
1870: cures epilepsy
1870: prevents spinal paralysis
1871: Jews are immune to masturbation
1873: cures bed wetting
1875: cures curvature of the spine
1875: cures paralysis of the bladder
1875: cures clubfoot
1879: cures nocturnal seminal emissions
1879: curse abdominal neuralgia
1881: cures eye problems
1886: prevents crossed eyes
1888: prevents masturbating
1890: cures blindness
1890: cures deafness
1890: cures dumbness
1891: "foreskin constitutes a harbor for filth"
1891: "foreskin is a constant source of irritation"
1891: conduces to masturbation
1891: adds to the difficulties of sexual continence
1894: circumcising Blacks prevents them from raping White women
1894: cures urinary incontinence
1894: cures rectal incontinence
1900: needed to desensitize the penis
1901: needed to desensitize the penis
1902: foreskin causes epilepsy
1914: Dr. Abraham L Wolbarst demands compulsory circumcision
1914: prevents tuberculosis
1926: prevents penile cancer.
1930: Dr. Norton Henry Bare claims that he has cured a boy of epilepsy by circumcising him
1932: prevents penile cancer
1935: promotes chastity
1941: blunts sexual sensitivity
1941: foreskin must be forcibly retracted and scrubbed daily
1942: prevents prostate cancer
1949: prevents venereal disease
1949: prevents cancer of the tongue
1949: elimination of circumcisions in the United Kingdom
1951: Abraham Ravich invents the falsehood that circumcision prevents cervical cancer in women.
1953: creates immunity to all mental illness
1954: prevents cervical cancer in women
1969: cures masturbation
1969: cures nervousness
1971: prevents cancer of the bladder
1971: prevents cancer of the rectum
1973: "all who disagree with circumcision are mentally ill"
1985: prevents urinary tract infections
1986: prevents AIDS
1988: prevents strept throat
1989: Edgar J. Schoen declares circumcision is necessary
1991: Edgar J. Schoen tries and fails to convince European countries to institute mass circumcision.
1991: Aaron J. Fink declares mass circumcision is necessary to prevent sand from getting under soldiers' foreskins.
1993: Gerald N. Weiss declares that Langerhands cells in the foreskin lead to HIV infection.
1997: Edgar J. Schoen tries and fails once again to convince European countries to institute mass circumcision.
2003: Edgar J. Schoen steps up pressure on American Academy of Pediatrics to reverse its policy on circumcision, claiming that circumcision prevents AIDS.
More absurdly claimed foreskin related illnesses:
Wow...and only a few of those things are even remotely foreskin-related. Lol.ReplyDelete