INTACTIVIST OF THE MONTH: Brian Leaf
One of Intact America's greatest strengths is the diverse and supportive intactivist community. Our "Intactivist of the Month" series highlights some of the most ardent opponents of infant and childhood circumcision, whose tireless efforts will ensure a future where all babies are kept intact.
JUNE 2014: Author and educator Brian Leaf is the director of The New Leaf Learning Center, a holistic tutoring center in Massachusetts. As an advocate of "conscious parenting," he's become known for his ability to blend research and humor, as evidenced in his most recent book, The Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting—which includes an entire chapter on circumcision. Earlier this month, his essay "Why I Didn't Choose Circumcision" (excerpted from his book) was featured in the Parents section of The Huffington Post.
In his chapter titled "The Myth of Smegma," Brian tackles the issue of circumcision head-on (so to speak). "In the 1800s," he writes, "germ theory was gaining attention and people believed circumcision could fight the ultimate germ demon, smegma. Sounds like a Batman villain... Smegma is actually found in most animal genitalia and serves, in fact, to clean and lubricate the genitals. The word smegma itself is Greek for soap. Where the hell was Freud for all this? What would he have said about these wealthy white doctors all happily enjoying their foreskins while recommending that new babies lose theirs? Circumcision was the new snake oil."
Ultimately, Brian and his wife decided not to circumcise their son. He explains: "People ask me, 'What will you tell your son when he asks why his penis is different from yours?' I don't understand this concern. Why must his penis match mine? Our hair color is different. We have different noses and his teeth are better than mine. Should he get braces and a retainer to mimic my overbite?"
He also discusses what it was like growing up within a Jewish culture, but not necessarily a religious one. "Ironically, for me, the decision actually came down to God. I trust her, and I don't think she designed the human body with throwaway foreskin, like an Old navy tag we're supposed to remove before wearing. I think the human body is holy and magical and perfect as is."
Brian also credits his decision to leave his boys intact to the work of Intact America and Mothering Magazine. "When my wife was pregnant with Noah, our midwife gave us Intact America pamphlets, a photocopied Mothering article about circumcision, and later a book about circumcision. All of this opened my eyes. I hadn't realized that I had a scar on my penis. I just thought that was what a healthy penis looks like. I had no idea, honestly, even what circumcision really was. I just accepted it and assumed it was nesessary. Now, years later, I am so proud to support the work of Intact America and to help other new parents get the facts."
“Brian Leaf just oozes common sense – about circumcision (not doing it), about parenting (love your baby and have fun), and about life (be conscious and don’t take yourself too seriously)," says Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. "He even demystifies smegma! Intact America is fortunate to have this parenting expert among our ranks.”
Visit our Intactivist of the Month Archive page to read about previous intactivists we've highlighted.