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Sex and Circumcision

 circumcision-blog

Barb:

I knew intuitively when I became pregnant for the first time, many years ago, that if my baby was a boy I did not want him to be circumcised.  I didn’t have any health or medical reasons for feeling this way, I just couldn’t imagine having the top of his penis cut off – at just a few hours or days or weeks old.  Hello?  Really?  People do this to their children??  Yowzaa, I knew I wanted no part of such a mentality, even if it meant that he would grow up with penile infections, look different from every other male and feel like a weirdo.

Then I did some homework.  Holy cow, suffice it to say that the only possible way that I would consider such an act would be if I was Jewish, and I’m not.  I couldn’t find any medical or health reason to circumcise.  There were some old wive’s tales floating around about penile infections, but it turns out the only reason folks were committing this act of violence on their baby boys was because….. everybody else does it and it’s just what you do.  Huh?

Once the decision not to circumcise was made, I never gave it another thought.  My two boys went through childhood and into adulthood with completely happy and healthy penises.  Turns out they had many friends who were not circumcised, and turns out they didn’t compare penises anyway or care whether theirs was alike or different.  It wasn’t until recently that I learned alot more about the long term effects of circumcision.

I happened upon a documentary called ‘Cut,’ made by a Jewish young adult who wanted to get to the bottom of this Jewish ritual and come to terms with his own circumcision. (see www.CutTheFilm.com)  Before watching Cut, I’d really had no idea how fundamentally different the circumcised penis is from the uncircumcised.  Even though it makes perfect sense to me now, I had no idea how ‘fully alive’ the adult uncircumcised penis is vs. the ‘dead’ circumcised penis and what a difference it makes not just for the owner of the penis but for the owner in a sexual relationship with a partner.  My world expanded.

Sarah:

It’s taken me a lot of thinking to put fingers to keys on this one.  Guilt is not useful.  Remorse can be if it inspires change.  In this situation, I cannot change what I did.  I had my son circumcised at one week old.  That was 9 years ago.  Much has happened in my life and mind since then.  Recap- Yes, at one week old.  I considered it a good decision to wait (despite the fact that I knew his nervous system was developing exponentially) because I had a specific pediatrician picked out to do a ‘good circumcision.’  I wavered, cried, and was horrified by the act of circumcision.  My husband never wavered until he held his baby boy.  The enculturation was still too great for us to go against the grain.  My husband is circumcised.  It was the predominant choice of the new parents where I worked.  My coworkers and mothering friends considered it a given.  I was a registered nurse at the hospital where I gave birth.  His birth changed everything.  But not soon enough to save his foreskin or me from the continued remorse.

Yes, I knew all the research.  I’m that kind of girl.  I knew it was personal choice.  Even 9 years ago the American Academy of Pediatrics’ stance on circumcision was that it was cosmetic.  That’s what I told all of my childbirth education clients and my postpartum patients.  And yet I must also share that cosmetically my son would have been perfect left alone.  His circumcision came out uneven (performed by ‘the’ doctor at the time) and was repetitively infected until he was out of diapers.  The exposed, delicate skin that remained was continually abraded and often inflamed because of contact with his excrement.

I am grateful for the recent surge of advocates for keeping infant boys intact, Intact America, and an ever-increasing awareness of parents that cosmetic circumcision is abuse.  I am interested in your phrasing of ‘fully alive’ versus ‘dead.’  My husband’s penis sure seems alive and my son seems pleased with himself.  What are we missing?

Barb:

Oh Sarah, I did not know about your mothering circumcision trauma!  As much as it hurts, it certainly provides for opportunity to grow and learn.  I bet if your daughter born later had been a boy, you would not have circumcised him, would you?  Or would you, just so their penises could look the same?!

Regarding the fully alive vs. dead reference, this was the subject matter of the Cut documentary that was so enlightening to me.  A circumcised penis is dramatically less sensitive than an uncircumcised penis.  Imagine if the head of your clitoris had been lopped off, just to give you an analogy you can probably relate to.  If you never knew any different, you just come to think that sexual pleasure is, well, what it is.  For the male with an intact penis however, their level of sexual pleasure is magnificently intensified.  According to Cut, the original circumcision procedures were consciously performed by people who consciously believed that men did not have a right to that much enjoyment, that it somehow caused them to act irresponsibly.  If the penis could be desensitized, the desire for sexual pleasure would be as well.

Hmmm… and now I am wondering if the end result of circumcision has had just the opposite effect of the intended effect.  I wonder if is true that the male spends MORE time in attempted sexual stimulation to satisfy what seems unsatisfiable.

Sarah:

There are a great many things I would do differently with subsequent children.  No, I would not circumcise another child.  There are so many different things about each member of our family, an intact penis would be the least of it!

This makes total sense.  I’m not sure I agree with the ‘dead’ description but desensitized is accurate.  Circumcision is another one of those fucked up things that people do as we swim along in the stream of cultural consciousness and (supposed) homogeneity.  There is not a single shred of evidence to suggest that altering our boys’ bodies is medically or even cosmetically preferable in the grand scheme.  There is no additional care required for infants’ or young boys’ intact penises.  In fact, the continued care that resulted from my son’s circumcision could have been avoided.  Maybe the growing database and increased awareness of evidence of decreased sexual sensitivity will be influential in parents’ decision-making. 

Coming back to intuition, however, there is no discussion.

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28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amy #

    Lots of love all around; we do the best we can with the information and experience we have at the time.

    I support allowing boys/men to make this choice on their own… that’s how I distill it down without making it about me. It’s not my body so it’s not my choice. This also supports not circumcising anyone under the legal age of making such decisions.

    November 29, 2011
    • Amy, I agree that one can’t go back. What was done, was done and the best we can do is learn and change. How might a parent nurture a child that was circumcised, after sharing their regret with them? Does a simple heartfelt apology do the trick? I’ve read so much over the years from men who have experienced the full range of feelings about this from claiming not to be affected at all to feeling permanently deformed.

      November 29, 2011
    • mbh #

      Amy, you said, “Lots of love all around; we do the best we can with the information and experience we have at the time.
      I support allowing boys/men to make this choice on their own… that’s how I distill it down without making it about me. It’s not my body so it’s not my choice. This also supports not circumcising anyone under the legal age of making such decisions.”

      Thank you.

      Certainly, it is not helpful to boast of our perfect decisions (because goodness knows we all fail in some way in our parenting) or to harshly criticize people who made what they thought, at the time, was the best decision for their child. I would venture to say that virtually no one would choose to intentionally harm her child.

      It is easy to be righteous, angry and name-calling, but that doesn’t really do anything to create an encouraging and compassionate environment to promote positive change in our culture. I wonder what is the most peaceful, compassionate way we can educate people about this issue and encourage parents not to choose circumcision.

      November 30, 2011
  2. Mary Ann Wettler #

    Cutting something off from a body upon birth has always sounded completely ridiculous to me. And the reasons people have given for why they did it have been lame, at the least. Wake up parents! Why do you do the things you do? We must make conscious decisions every day for our children. Circumcision no longer needs to be one of them.

    November 29, 2011
  3. I’ve got 2 children, both boys, ages 14 and 18, neither one are “cut.” Even before I knew all the health “facts” about it, there was never even a remote chance that I would have them circumcised. My husband (their dad) is circumcised, though I didn’t make the decision for my children based on his mother’s decision, one way or the other.

    After my children were born I began teaching childbirth education classes in the tiny town we were living in at the time. During the discussion on circumcision I always borrowed one of the boards used in circumcision to bring to class to show future parents how the procedure is done. I don’t know how many parents from my classes chose to circumcise anyway, but I felt it was just common sense to provide full disclosure about something as painful, unnecessary, and potentially damaging as circumcision. To me, it was a basic requirement of Informed Consent.

    The previous childbirth educator in our little community used to tell the story about giving birth to one of her boys while living temporarily in Sweden, where circumcision was not common. She said she’d had some trouble finding a doctor who would perform one on her son, but she did eventually find one and have it done. She

    When discussing the procedure with a friend who had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy, my friend said she’d had sex with someone “intact” and thought it was “gross.” Naturally, I reminded her that she wouldn’t be involved in her son’s future sex life, which helped her make the decision not to circumcise.

    Ignorance is everywhere, and the compulsion to conform is everywhere. Circumcision is appalling, and there is no legitimate reason for it.

    November 29, 2011
    • I love calling a spade a spade here, and I agree thoroughly with your ‘appalling’ assessment of circumcision. Thank you. I must say that my revulsion was maximized during my process of research when I saw the procedure being done in a live, third party video. Holyfuckingshit, I still get goosebumps to this day when I think of the violence to a precious, trusting, newborn.

      November 29, 2011
      • A nurse friend who assisted in many circumcisions back in the day said she felt that people wrongly believe that the procedure isn’t painful or traumatic to babies, the proof being that many babies go quiet during or following a circumcision, all peaceful. My friend concluded that the reason these newborns were silent was that the event was SO horrific that it basically went to another place, out of body. She was vehemently anti-circumcision because of her experience.

        Holyfuckingshit is right! I can’t believe what we humans will do to each other in the name of tradition or conformity. Over and over again I’ve seen adults choose behavior that obviously helps them “fit in” with other adults, regardless of consequence. This is never more true than in parenting.

        For my part, I’ve tried to follow my heart as a parent to my two boys and, while there are things I now regret, I know I made the “right” decision by leaving their bodies intact.

        Thanks so much to you, Barb, and to everyone else for this discussion! It’s flat out reassuring to know that there are like-minded people in a world where one can so easily feel isolated.❤

        December 2, 2011
        • thanks for that real life nursing story mlesoing. Has your friend ever been able to ‘come to terms’ with her role in this heinous act of violence?

          December 2, 2011
        • I’m heartened that there are so many that are following their hearts in making their parental decisions. Yes, mlesoing, a great deal of parenting is picked up in the current rather than from our instinctual knowing of how to protect and nurture our children. My hope for this next generation of children who are supported in self awareness and whose independent choices are respected throughout childhood is that they won’t require the kind of deprogramming and baggage inspection that many of us do to reconnect with that knowing.

          December 2, 2011
  4. Ellen #

    My story is very similar to Barb’s. My girls are 32, 25 & 20. My boys are 29, 22 & 16, all born at home and uncircumcised. I got a lot of flack for our decision, but have never regretted it and my boys are very happy that they are intact. We never had any issue with infections or looking different. I would strongly encourage new mothers to not choose elective surgery for their newborns!

    November 29, 2011
  5. When I was a urology resident, long before I became a mother, I did my own research on male circumcision and it rapidly became clear that it was purely a cultural phenomena. Many of my professors continued to claim medical benefits that had been disproven, I think because they themselves were circumcised and wished to justify it. The same arguments aren’t made by physicians in countries with lower circumcision rates, such as Canada and European countries.

    When I was a pregnant urology resident, many were interested in whether or not I would have my child circumcised. Although I knew my first child was a girl early in my pregnancy, I’d also done lots of research on female circumcision and knew that gender had nothing to do with it. My answer? No, I’m not circumcising her, and I wouldn’t if she were a boy either.

    November 29, 2011
  6. nadja #

    This is a great discussion! I remember my serious boyfriend in college and I discussing this. He actually had a very tight circumcision so much so that it bent to one side. I told him that I would never let anyone cut my child, again like Barb mentioned, I didn’t “know” why, it just seemed crazy to me (and my boyfriend prior was whole or intact). During the discussion I also said to this same boyfriend that I would never choose to give birth in a hospital, stating “the fluorescent lights are just so bright and unnatural” ha ha… He thought I was crazy!!! Now I have more information about why those decisions are in alignment with my being🙂 He now has a one year old boy that is intact because we revisited the subject months before the birth and the information I shared with him made sense❤

    I do think that a lot of this "penile dysfunction" that is happening to men later in life is due to circumcision. A lifetime of callous desensitizing the glands, instead of have a protective sheath keeping the head moist, young and sensitive. So sad.

    For those interested there in a huge movement of men that are "restoring" their foreskin. Though the thousands of nerves that were cut can never be restored… slowly gently tugging the skin to cover the glands restores a tremendous amount of sensitivity and makes masturbation and sex, for the partner as well, more pleasurable. If any of you out there have had sex with someone who is intact, I find it to be a much more pleasurable experience.

    My partner is cut and interested in restoration. He is also quite the "intactivist". He has spoken against the religious "right" to circumcision on many blogs & websites. Considering to be a human rights violation.

    I agree that we do our best with what we know/have at any given moment. In my opinion regret is not helpful.

    Peace

    November 29, 2011
    • Nadja, you know I can’t help but wonder myself about the rampant penile dysfunction, pornography and erectile dysfunction we see in our culture and whether it has to do with either repressed trauma from circumcision or the lack of penile sensitivity (again, due to circumcision) and the desire to increase it or increase pleasure. Anthropologically, I wonder how prevalent these are in cultures that do not circumcise. Does your intactivist partner know anything about this?

      November 29, 2011
      • nadja #

        I meant “erectile dysfunction”… as for pornography, etc. I think there are many contributing factors i.e. sexual repression in our culture in general, but I think circumcision plays a role. I do not know of any studies done for an anthropological comparison, but I have my best guess. Certain peaceful societies that I have read about do not practice this…

        November 29, 2011
  7. Great to have this sort of open discussion!
    Many thanks,

    Eric

    The Mariposa Group Community

    November 29, 2011
  8. I am doing a research right now about this topic for my class! neither my husband, or my son, or any males in our family were circumcised, so naturally the choice for us was easy. But I am reading the studies from Africa and they show 60% decrease in HIV , HPV, and other STDs in circumcised man and it makes me think that i really don’t know how many sexual partners each of my kids will have and how partners those partners will have…

    November 29, 2011
    • interesting! It’s almost as if that flap of skin provides some protection, doesn’t it. HIV is so prevalent in Africa, or so I have been educated to believe, so I am really curious about this.

      November 29, 2011
    • nadja #

      http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/info/HIVStatement.html another perspective on the African study.

      November 29, 2011
      • That is a fascinating study, Nadja.

        “Male circumcision removes nerves from the penis and causes significant loss of sexual sensitivity and function. For this reason, many circumcised men are reluctant to use condoms. A program of mass circumcision may reduce condom usage and have an adverse effect on the overall HIV infection incidence.”

        I hadn’t thought of this but it certainly would have a significant influence on STD transmission and unplanned pregnancy.

        November 29, 2011
  9. I so appreciate this blog post! It upsets me greatly that our culture continues to pressure parents into believing that mutilating a little boy’s penis, removing a natural, beautiful part of his body, is acceptable. Parents want to do the right thing and unless they research, aren’t generally informed by doctors and nurses of the trauma to the child, the horrifying medical risks to the baby or the devastating loss to the child’s body and sexuality of this practice. I find it dismaying that women who fight for women’s rights to their bodies do not seem to raise an eyebrow about a boy’s body.

    I personally find an intact man more attractive because his penis is in its natural, healthy state; the scar tissue of cut men deeply saddens me- There is an energy of trauma to the cut man’s penis that I can sense and it causes a sadness about the sexual relationship to an Empath like myself.

    As part of our ongoing discussions about sex, the human body and human rights, I talk with my teen son about the harms of circumcision and he is adamant that he will not subject any of my grandsons to this trauma.

    December 9, 2011
  10. Bethany #

    I am wondering if anyone has had problems with their uncut boys?? I have two boys 8 & almost 4, and another one due in May. They both had to see a urologist, bc their pediatrician was concerned, and the urologist is telling us that unless we can “torture” our boys everyday by forcing them to pull their skin back, they are going to have to be circumcised. But I don’t understand where we went wrong. My husband is not cut and we wanted none of our boys cut as well, not only for the all looking the same reason, but also for health & safety reasons we thought it was best. I also had a friend that had to get her little boy circumcised around the age of 3 bc his skin would not retract. I am just wondering how common this is, and if there is a better solution to the problem.

    April 22, 2012
    • Can you tell us why your pediatrician was concerned? I am wondering if your doctors are not just part of a network of doctors that support each other here. Assuming you have done nothing to your boys’ penises thus far, have you noticed any kind of discomfort or infection or malfunction? Have the boys complained of any discomfort?

      April 22, 2012
      • Bethany #

        Thanks so much for all the wonderful feedback!! The pediatrician and urologist both just kept saying that my youngest (not 4 until May) had adhesions and they probably wouldn’t go away. They also both said that my older son’s (8yrs) skin sis not retract enough. Luckily, I have not really been pleased with this same pediatrician during other circumstances, so knew there had to be another way and really have just been putting it off til we move in July to get a second opinion. I now have realized that from all the resources I have been given and read that everything is more than likely perfectly normal. As weird as it sounds I do kind of wish I had some pics to compare them to, but I am much more comfortable just letting nature take its course and definitely will not be getting the new baby cut when he arrives as well.
        The last thing that I’m really curious about, is…. when is it to the point that I should start worrying, or should I only worry if they complain of being uncomfortable??
        Thanks again for all the help!!

        April 23, 2012
        • I tend not to go to or trust “experts” in deference to my own ability to observe, intuit and communicate. In the absence of pain or discomfort, why would I question what appears to be well being? Assume wellness, trust wellness, support wellness. Your beliefs about the natural supreme wellness of your children will help them trust and support the same. Continue to thoughtfully do your homework on this issue as long as angst or concern exists but you only need to act if your child comes to you asking for help. We do all really enjoy being in charge of our own bodies… in fact that’s the only thing we CAN be in charge of! I suspect others with more “expert” knowledge will respond as well!

          April 24, 2012
    • Bethany,

      Your sons should NOT be retracted. Many boys cannot retract their foreskin until their late teens and some not at all. Most medical doctors are ignorant about the functions of the foreskin. Do not allow anyone to talk you into mutilating your sons’ penises! Do some research online. This is an excellent resource: http://circumcisiondecisionmaker.com/foreskin-facts/development/

      April 22, 2012
    • I’m a urologist and very often was referred little boys with completely normal penises because the pediatrician was misinformed that the foreskin should be retractable by age 4 or so. Not true.

      I did occasionally see problems in boys with intact penises–these usually could be directly attributed to misguided attempts at retraction, which led to scarring or infection.

      In Canada, where cosmetic circumcision is not routine, an article was actually published in a medical journal to educate pediatricians on the difference between physiologic and pathologic phimosis.

      April 22, 2012

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