My baby boy was circumcised when he was born two years ago. Once the wound healed, it’s been easy to keep his penis clean. But my friend says that her son’s intact penis is easier to keep clean. Who is correct?
Your friend is correct. A baby boy’s natural penis is protected by his foreskin, which is fused to his glans, or the head of the penis. Although the foreskin has a small opening so urine can pass, it is designed to protect the glans from foreign elements and bad bacteria. All mom or dad needs to do is wash what can be seen, and never force back the foreskin to wash under it. When the foreskin retracts on its own (the average age of retraction is around 10 years old), then the boy can pull it back, rinse the glans (head of his penis), and replace the foreskin over the glans again.
In contrast, keeping a circumcised baby’s penis clean is a lot more work, beginning with the circumcision wound itself. You can’t bathe the baby while his wound is open. You have to cover the wound with petroleum jelly and gauze to protect it from the urine and feces in the diaper. After the wound heals, the exposed glans is constantly rubbing against the diaper (there are many complaints online of the diaper sticking to the wound)—again in an unsanitary environment. The constant abrasion can cause rawness around the urinary opening, which can then cause additional problems.
The foreskin provides physical protective as well as antimicrobial secretions that protect the urinary tract from infection, too.
If you do have another baby, and the baby is a boy, please read about the functions of the normal foreskin and consider keeping him intact.
You wouldn’t remember me, but we met many years ago at a conference. I’m an intactivist. I donate my time and money to the cause as much as I can. I am writing to ask you how you have managed to keep going for so long. You see, I am very angry at having been cut. I blame everyone involved for not standing up to protect me when I was just days old. Some days the pain is unbearable. And then there are good days when someone listens to what have I to say when I comment on Facebook. I have lost friends and family from my stance. I am struggling to stay involved in the movement. How do you do it? How do you stay sane amidst this insanity?
—Struggling in Colorado
I truly understand the anger you feel for not having been protected from circumcision. The difficulty is, who exactly do we blame? I’m a regret mother because my culture and my doctor lied to me. I didn’t even know what the word circumcision meant, and my doctor didn’t explain. Instead, he said, “it doesn’t hurt, only takes a minute, and will protect your son throughout life.” I’m pretty sure your parents were pressured and lied to like I was, too. They surely had no way of knowing the pain it was going to cause you.
I will always feel terrible for not protecting my sons. What has driven my intactivism over the decades is working to stop circumcision so that other mothers and their sons won’t experience such pain. I encourage you to continue to speak out, too, about your experience. If some people don’t want to listen, it’s probably because they are defensive or in denial about what happened to them. But while they might reject your arguments, they cannot reject your experience, your truth.
I think a lot about friendship these days. Becoming an intactivist eight years ago really changed how I interact with the world—not because I fear rejection, but because I know what I believe is sound and resolute—and this has had a profound impact on my friendships.
First, a little background. I became an intactivist after my first son, Paxton, was born. Despite knowing in my gut I didn’t want to have him circumcised, I let the advice and opinions of those around me convince me that it was the right thing to do. But right from the start Paxton was in a lot of pain from wounds that wouldn’t heal. He developed a painful ulcer, adhesions and other complications in the first few years of his life. It broke my heart that he shrank from any touch.
I was full of guilt and regret. I sank into a depression so deep I thought about killing myself. I pulled away from everyone. At the same time, even my husband wasn’t hearing me. In those days he didn’t understand the intensity of my grief, and I was really low.
It wasn’t until I joined a Facebook group for moms with similar experiences that I started channeling my grief into action to help other babies and their families. I attended rallies and met my Facebook community in real life. We formed a bond of support while speaking out and shining a spotlight on this atrocity.
I noticed that some moms would join the cause for a while and then drop off, eager to get back to a more normal life rhythm. It was a little sad to see those friendships drop off one by one, but I pressed on. Fighting to end circumcision was just a hill I was willing to die on. That’s when I started sharing what I had learned about circumcision with friends on Facebook. I had to be heard, so I was posting pretty regularly. Every time I came across new information, I’d put it up there. Some of my long-time friends were there for me and supported me all the way.
But staying with the cause dropped a bomb on my friendships. Right away, friends I had known for years pushed back. Some shot off angry replies. Others complained I was pushing my views on them or posting inappropriate material. Many unfriended me or stopped responding to calls and texts.
I used to think I didn’t care what others around me thought, and then I climbed on that hill and stood on it. It hurt for a while. Sharing what I knew was part of my healing and my journey, and my whole village around me was walking away. It took a very long time to allow myself not to be individually invested and angry.
I can see now that fear drives anger; my posts probably made them question their own decisions, and there was nothing they could do about it. I’ve also come to realize that there are people who just don’t want to understand. When it comes to friendship, it’s more important than ever to nurture mutual respect with folks who don’t agree with us.
To move through regret and grief, we don’t ever get over it. We learn to grow a life around it. If we don’t, we’ll sit in the pain forever. I’m still as passionate as ever to save baby boys from mutilation, but I’m learning to let go of the outcome. I offer my best and keep going.
— Elise Wicklund
Interested in lending your voice? Send us an email, giving us a brief summary of what you would like to write about, and we will get back to you.
This may fall into the category of TMI, but we are a sex-positive household, and no topic is taboo. My 14-year-old son is going through puberty and is worried that his foreskin pulls back only about half-way. He told me that it sometimes hurts if he “goes too fast” when he masturbates. Is this something we should be concerned about? Is it time to visit a urologist?
—Sonia, Grand Rapids, MI
I am happy that you and your son can talk candidly about sex. You can explain to him that, just as you cautioned him not to forcibly retract his foreskin, he needs to be careful with his foreskin when he masturbates. Here’s why: One or two millimeters under the penile skin is a smooth muscle sheath called the dartos fascia. The dartos fascia covers the shaft of the penis and extends to the tip. The dartos fascia muscle fibers near the tip of the foreskin form a sphincter-like structure—or a ring—that acts like a one-way valve and shields the urinary opening.
The muscle fibers of the ring will become elastic over time as your son’s foreskin loosens with the hormones of puberty and eventually fully retracts. Until then, tell your son to masturbate gently to slowly widen the opening. If he masturbates too vigorously, he can force the head of the penis through the opening and tear the ring, causing bleeding as well as pain. Gentleness is always important when the genitals are involved.
Since Intact America’s founding in 2008, our organization’s stated goal has been to “change the way America thinks about circumcision.”
Our Vision statement says:
Intact America envisions a world where children are free
from medically unnecessary surgeries carried out on them without their consent
in the name of culture, religion, profit, parental preference, or false benefit.
The genital cutting of any child in the absence of life-threatening or seriously health-threatening pathology violates not only that child’s body, but also his/her/their autonomy over their own sexual future. This position is immutable. No parent or guardian has the right to waive a child’s right to be protected from any type of tortious interference, or physical or sexual assault, with regard to genital cutting. The right that governs is that of the child.
Intact America was founded in 2008 by a coalition of individuals and intactivist organizations who wished to see the intactivist movement grow into a mainstream human rights cause. The new organization, as well as its founders, were guided by widely-accepted secular bioethical principles adopted in Western human rights and political discourse in response to atrocities committed against persons of many religions, races, and cultures during World War II. Our position is also supported by common law and the objective fact that having normal genitals, including a foreskin, is not a condition requiring surgical intervention. Furthermore, intactivism places no inherent value in following a particular common or traditional practice nor in capitulating to the current (but always-evolving) status quo, if those traditions and practices compromise the physical integrity and sexual wellbeing of children and the adults they will become.
Thus, neither religion nor “culture” should ever be invoked to support child genital cutting. At the same time, opposition to child genital cutting is not rooted in anti-religious sentiments. To tie ourselves up in such accusations is to lose focus on the true intent of the intactivist movement, as expressed in the fundamental goal and vision of Intact America, restated from above: a world where children are free from medically unnecessary surgeries carried out on them without their consent.
As a human rights organization that respects all persons regardless of their race, religious or cultural affiliation, it is also our duty to refute expressions of bigotry when expressed by people outside or within the intactivist movement. To leave no doubt, in 2022 Intact America’s adopted a new position statement against bigotry and hate speech:
Intact America rejects all forms of ethnic, racial, and religious stereotypes and bigotry. We condemn any form of hate speech based on ethnicity, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or irreligion. The incorporation of anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim expressions into criticism of male (or female) circumcision only serves to undermine our movement and potentially derail our work to protect all children from genital cutting.
I fervently believe that adherence to the logic and principles outlined above will ensure our success in protecting future children and the adults they will become.
Everything about my son’s birth was great. Except for one thing that keeps bugging me. Even though we knew early on that we’d keep him intact, people kept asking us if we wanted to circumcise him. I told my OB/GYN we didn’t want to, but on the next visit she asked. In the hospital, just about every nurse asked me even though our choice was written on my chart. This happened over and over before and after the birth. I was so angry I wanted to scream. Why do they keep asking? It made me begin to question our decision. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we didn’t, but geez, why weren’t they listening?
—Alice, Fort Myers, FL
Congratulations for having the strength to protect your son’s right to his own body and withstanding the pressure of those who tried to coerced you to cut off the most sensitive part of his genitals. Circumcision is BIG business—a $2 billion-dollar-a-year industry for an unnecessary and harmful amputation, which is why doctors and nurses “sell” it so hard.
Doctors and nurses won’t admit it, but they know that circumcision is excruciatingly painful and traumatic. That’s why they do their genital cutting behind closed doors and prevent parents from hearing the screams or watching their babies suffer.
By keeping parents in the dark, health professionals can convince vulnerable and exhausted parents, right after their child is born, to circumcise their baby. If more parents knew what circumcision involves, they could stand strong and resist the pressure.
For example, a colleague and I videotaped a circumcision at the hospital where we worked. A childbirth educator showed the circumcision video to her class, and not one of the mothers circumcised their sons as a result. The educator showed it again to a second class of mothers. They didn’t circumcise their babies either—except for one doctor who was taking the class. Even worse, the doctor insisted that our video be censored. That’s how much doctors dread letting the truth slip out.
Fortunately, several anti-circumcision movies are available now that include actual circumcisions. I suggest watching The Circumcision Movie. Not only will you see that you and your husband were correct to protect your son, you’ll also learn that you are not alone in denouncing this anachronistic blood ritual.
Some of my friends tell me they are bitter because they were circumcised as babies. They say they feel like they were robbed of ever experiencing full sexual pleasure. I don’t understand them. I am circumcised and enjoy sex very much. Honestly, I can’t imagine it being any better. Am I missing something?
—Samuel in Greenville, South Carolina
You are not the only cut man who feels this way. If your foreskin is missing, it’s hard to imagine how it would feel to have sex with an intact penis. But the truth is that sex is better—yes, more complete—when your genitals are intact.
The foreskin is the most erogenous part of the male genitalia. It has tens of thousands of nerve endings that respond to the lightest touch. When the penis is erect, the foreskin slips back from the glans (the head of the penis) and folds into ridged band that is ultrasensitive. During intercourse, the ridged band of foreskin works to stimulate both partners as the glans glides smoothly in and out. Here’s how it works.
Although many cut men are willing to publicly talk about how circumcision has affected them emotionally, physically, and sexually, far more cut men find it hard to acknowledge that their genitals aren’t complete. They also are reluctant to admit that their parents—who were supposed to protect them—allowed a doctor to amputate healthy, normal tissue from their genitals.
I’m glad you are enjoying good sex. However, without a foreskin to protect it, your penis will likely lose sensitivity as you get older. Also, sadly, circumcised men are three to four times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than intact men.
I hope this helps you to understand what your friends are saying, and that you will join with us at Intact America to end the cycle of circumcision that has caused so much harm to American men.
I just finished my freshman year at college, and I dated two women who were turned off by my intact penis. One refused to have sex with me. I’m happy I’m intact, but I want to stop surprising and being rejected women. Do you have any advice for me?
—Bob in Boston
I am sorry that you have encountered women who do not know how wonderful it is to have sex with an intact man. Most American women are ignorant when it comes to the normal penis. Simple education is a good way to overcome their hesitancy.
Start talking about your normal penis when you think the relationship is likely to become sexual. Tell her: “I have a normal penis, the one I was born with, just like Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. And Elvis Presley was intact, too.”
Acknowledge that she might be hesitant to sleep with an intact man because so many lies have been told about foreskins. If she seems interested in knowing more, tell her that circumcision grew popular in this country as way to stop little boys from masturbating. Explain that the foreskin is highly innervated and makes sex more pleasurable for men, and that the gliding action of the foreskin makes sex more gentle for women. You can also add that foreskin gives you more control over your orgasm. 😊
One more thing. Women worry they don’t know how to handle an intact penis during foreplay and oral sex. So help them out. Tell them or show them what you like. In the end, good sex is rooted in good communication, whether you are intact or cut.
We cannot deny that the increasing violence being perpetrated in America today is carried out by boys and men. “Mental illness” is invoked as an explanation, and “more mental health services” are proposed as a solution. Bigotry and hate – perhaps even more complex than mental illness – are also cited as “motives” for many mass shootings and individual crimes against particular racial or ethnic groups.
We shake our heads and ask, “What is making these guys so angry?”
We posit answers like “broken homes,” “bad parenting,” “lack of opportunity,” social and economic disadvantage when compared to other groups or races or cultures… or we throw our hands up in the air and label the killers as “cowards” or “just plain evil.”
Maybe it’s time for us to look at the deepest roots of this violence. Why are boys and men committing mindless mass murder against people they don’t even know, and taking their own lives at unprecedented rates? Where does this all come from? How far back does it go?
For nearly eight decades, American doctors have been engaged in the routine sexual maiming of American boys, carried out (to emphasize the obvious) without boys’ consent, and without regard for their future wellbeing.
Furthermore, until recently, circumcision has been practiced with no pain relief for the child, despite the fact that it is mostly occurs in a medical setting where pain management is given for other surgeries. Even now, though the use of local anesthetic has become more common, it’s not obligatory or particularly effective. And even after the physical wound has healed, the boy must live with scars on his penis and his psyche, and dismissal of his concerns by the same establishment that violated his rights and his body.
The roots of this astonishing lack of compassion for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society include extreme ignorance and denial (e.g., the assertion that “babies don’t feel pain”), greed (“I can do more circumcisions, more quickly, if I don’t have to wait for anesthetic to take effect”), and mindless disregard, if not contempt, for future physical and psychological consequences (“it’s harmless,” and “anyway, he won’t remember”).
And now, even as more and more boys are being protected from circumcision shortly after birth, they have become targets for another type of violation and act of physical violence – forcible foreskin retraction. Parents are increasingly reporting taking an intact son for medical appointments that have nothing to do with his genitals and being blindsided by a doctor or nurse intent on forcing back the boy’s foreskin, causing great pain and trauma.
Explanations for mass violence, as for all social phenomena, are necessarily complex, and we must resist the impulse to toss out overly-simplistic observations and solutions.
But we need to listen to the growing number of men speaking out about having been violated as babies when an essential (i.e., of its essence) part of their penis was forcibly severed. And we must ask ourselves whether the nearly ubiquitous violation of baby boys as a class of people and the assembly-line acts of violence carried out upon individual newborns might be responsible for at least some of the rage, pain and feelings of impotence that underlie the epidemic of mass killings we are witnessing today.
I will conclude with a quote from my dear friend and fellow intactivist Shelton Walden, who called me as I was writing this introduction:
“We need to treat each other well. We need to stop doing things that make people crazy.”
– Georganne Chapin
This essay was originally published on June 13, 2022, in the Intact America May/June newsletter.
I was circumcised twice—first when I was born and again as a revision when I was about 5 years old. This has haunted me ever since.
I clearly remember the second circumcision—surrounded by doctors all looking at me. I was scared and cold, and my mom had left the room. This was not a pleasant experience. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Looking back at my teenage years, I noticed that I had a few experiences that were not normal. I did not know that without the foreskin, the glans and shaft can become dry, which results in small painful tears and chafing.
Fortunately, I’ve learned to do some of what a missing part of my body ( the foreskin) is supposed to do: keep things moisturized. But the scar is a daily reminder that I was robbed. I have never had any complaints from partners in the past, but that is not the point. Even in a world where this is considered the norm, I have always been conscious that something wasn’t quite right.
I wanted to know why circumcision was considered necessary, so I started to do more research. I found out how common circumcision and mutilation are for children and young adults all over the world, and how hospitals sell foreskin to tissue banks, and somehow this ultimately becomes facial creams and cosmetics. I was shocked and felt sick when I read this. I got so angry, a friend told me to look for organizations that are fighting against it, so I could find people who share my anger and aren’t afraid to speak out about it.
That’s when I found Intact America online and saw what they are doing to change things. I want to make a difference any way I can. I want people to recognize that this is a business. Tell me why the hell a single foreskin can sell for upwards of $100,000? In fact, I think they owe me $200,000 since they did it twice. They did it twice and I still have part of my frenulum, a sensitive band of tissue that helps contract the foreskin over the glans. Medical professionals learn to perform circumcision by actually doing it. There is no infant penis model for them to practice on. Was I a test subject? The whole thing is absurd.
What hits me the hardest is knowing I will never have the full experience of being intact. My solution is tissue expansion. It’s a non-surgical method that, when done properly, can yield many benefits. Essentially it creates a neo-foreskin through gentle stretching exercises over a year or two. It won’t have the same nerve endings as the original foreskin, which is still sad, but it will provide every other function, including improved sensation, a more moist and supple glans surface, and protection. This is a permanent and long-term investment for me. I am even considering a tattoo to symbolize the journey my body and I have been through.
There are things I have experienced that I just do not want to share. This, however, is something I am brave enough to fight for. All of these negative experiences imbued my aura with an eternal flame of darkness. A dark flame sounds very contradicting, like an oxymoron, and that’s because it is. It’s still fire. It’s still fuel. Is it light? Nope. But I will use it to propel me throughout the rest of my life. If I can fight for myself, I can fight for others. If I can love myself, I can love others.
I am only 20 years old. I feel like I have been through too much already. But I am still breathing. I am still standing. I am still here. I grieved the person I was as a child full of innocence. I have shed my skin many times. Nothing really fazes me anymore; I am often disappointed by things most people think are scary. I have no fear because I know I can face anyone or anything. This little journey I’ve been on with my body has been horrible yet liberating. I am conquering one thing at a time. Deconstruction and reconstruction. Death and rebirth. This is my story.
— Vance Rocco
Interested in lending your voice? Send us an email, giving us a brief summary of what you would like to write about, and we will get back to you.