One rationale people give for male newborn genital cutting (aka circumcision) is “do it, he won’t remember it.” This is a bogus claim. First, it presumes circumcision is a better-do-it-now-rather-than-later birth imperative. The second rationale, a fallacy which follows closely on the first, is that the boy’s still-developing brain is incapable of creating long-term memories. But this is not entirely true. Research has shown that the more traumatic an early experience is, the more likely it will be remembered.
Over the years I’ve had a lot of conversations with men about circumcision. Out of curiosity—and because of my own night terrors I associate with my own newborn circumcision—I asked them if they have an early recollection that they think may be related to their newborn circumcision. What surprised me was that about one out of five said yes.
In 2010, I surveyed men to determine if experiencing newborn circumcision, could lead to acquiring alexithymia, the inability to identify and express emotions. It does. Out of curiosity, I asked them if they have an early recollection, a “snapshot,” or night terror that they associate with their circumcision. Of the men in the study who were cut as newborns, 20.3 percent answered yes or maybe. Recently, I conducted a survey regarding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and 23.4 percent of the men also answered yes or maybe to the same question.
Granted, it is impossible to verify if an early memory is true. But before you pooh-pooh these early memories, consider that the large and consistent percentages across these surveys strongly suggest that they are true. Regardless, listening and acknowledging these stories should be part of the circumcision debate.
By Dan Bollinger
Smegma \ ˈsmeg-mə \ : the secretion of a sebaceous gland, specifically: the cheesy matter that collects between the glans penis and the foreskin or around the clitoris and labia minora
Yes! That’s right. Smegma was recognized by the Ancient Greeks (who had a sophisticated understanding of the body and abhorred circumcision) as a beneficial and cleansing substance. That white stuff that builds up in our genitals – under the foreskin in intact males, and around the clitoris in intact females – is as natural as the saliva in your mouth. And just as helpful!
Smegma serves important functions. Fresh smegma is smooth and moist. In adult men, it helps to keep the foreskin and the head of the penis soft, and eases intromission (insertion) during sex. Understanding this makes it easy to see why men who are missing their foreskins need to use lubricants for both masturbation and sex. And it makes it easy to understand why partners of circumcised men sometimes complain of pain and dryness during intercourse.
Circumcision removes nature’s perfect lube — forever!–
Smegma also keeps the penis and clitoris from adhering (sticking) to the adjacent skin in a mature adult. Of course, in baby boys, the foreskin is naturally attached to the head of the penis – that’s for protection, too. As the boy grows and the foreskin begins to separate from the glans, smegma sometimes appears in the form of small white lumps (some people call them “smegma pearls”) underneath the foreskin. This is perfectly normal, and no intervention is required. The pearls will be discarded once the foreskin separates from the glans. Smegma will then take over to do its important work!
And remember: Nobody – not a parent or a doctor or a nurse or a babysitter – should EVER forcibly retract a child’s foreskin!
Just as no special care or attention is required for an intact baby, nothing special is needed to keep an adult’s genitals healthy. Again, nature’s best rinsing agent – plain warm water (with a mild unscented soap, if you wish) will take care of any build-up of smegma or any odor you might find offensive.
Here’s something else to think about. A study published in 2016 found that nasal mucous contains a natural antibiotic substance (called lugdunin), which is uniquely effective in fighting drug-resistant staph infections. Another natural substance that fights infection is Lysozyme, a crystalline, basic protein present in human saliva and tears, where it functions as an antibacterial enzyme. Isn’t it likely that smegma also fights infection? Could this help to explain lower rates of STDs in Europe, where relatively few men are circumcised, compared to the United States, where three-quarters of adult men are missing their foreskins and the natural protection this body part offers? Let’s hope that future research will explore this question. Sometimes the facts are right under our noses — or under our foreskins!
By Marilyn Milos, RN and Georganne Chapin, IA Executive Director
My story with circumcision began as most did: in infancy, when I was restrained against my will and mutilated. I grew up from that into a difficult child. I was easily angered and I clearly remember the more aggressive version of myself where I would hit people, not with any intention to hurt them, but just as an almost uncontrollable fit of rage. In addition to that, I had an incredible difficulty paying attention and would often get stuck in my learning. I was told I would have to be evaluated and medicated if I were to stay in school, and so, I was taken to doctors, therapists, psychiatrists and put on numerous medications so I would fit into society.
When I was around 5 years old, I found out about male genital mutilation when a friend of mine, who had an intact father, showed me his intact penis. One day, he showed me how he could roll back the foreskin to take out the glans and I instantly knew something was wrong with me since it was a natural-looking function that I could not replicate. Having found my father more difficult to deal with in those years, I went to my mother and confronted her about it. Not knowing what circumcision meant, she had to explain to me rather bluntly that they had the doctors cut off that extra skin and that it was her idea because it was cleaner.
Cut it off? How dare they? It seemed so perfectly suited in both form and function, and the shiny glans in particular looked a lot better than what I had. I asked her if it could grow back and she replied it won’t. I punched her in the shoulder as hard as my little fist could in a fit of rage. This seemed to upset her, but not enough for her to admit she had done anything wrong. Instead, she suggested it was a “boy thing” and that I should speak to my psychiatrist which I didn’t.
Eventually, when I was growing up in middle school, I had yet another problem with my genitals. I had what felt like a bag full of swollen worms drooping down by my left testicle. Not trusting doctors or my parents, I waited a year or two before telling them. When I did finally see a urologist, it turns out I had a varicocele which, if not operated on, might prevent me from having kids by bringing too much heat into the scrotum, crippling production of sperm. To this day, I’m still not sure if there is a correlation between the varicocele and my violent circumcision. Not wanting another doctor near my genitals, but realizing the implications I consented and had a nervous breakdown the day of the procedure, talking a thousand miles per hour until I finally calmed down.
I’ve remained on medication to manage anxiety and depression, have had numerous sleep issues, nausea, and other stomach problems that went with all that, some of which made it difficult if not impossible to perform my job on certain days. Also, I would have existential crises and thought about ending my life more than once so I would be in a better place, or maybe have better luck being reborn into a family that wouldn’t mutilate me so I could experience a proper life as an intact male. I think often of how much more I could be capable of both at work and in my personal life if I didn’t have the internal turmoil to fight with or the drain in self-confidence holding me back.
Circumcised infants create dysfunctional children and adults in more ways than American society and the world realizes. Without a shadow of a doubt, I am sure that my psychological problems were caused in large part by MGM. Nobody should be denied the right to be intact, no matter their race, religion, gender, or country of origin. Right now in the world, being intact is a privilege that comes from the stars aligning to put you in the right family or being born into fortuitous situations that spare you what can be a lifetime of pain. It is my hope in sharing this story that readers can understand just how bad circumcision really is and refuse it for their children so they don’t have to go through the problems I did. Trust me when I say from experience that this procedure often billed as just a quick snip can permanently ruin lives.
Becoming a dedicated intactivist at a young age I made a promise to myself to do whatever I could to speak out against this procedure and try and turn the trajectory of a society that had been culturally conditioned against neonatal ethics and male bodily integrity. While I had known about Intact America for a while it was seeing Sarah Zeimet or Mom4Intact as she is known on Twitter coming forward with her story that finally inspired me to have courage to do the same. It is my hope that the United States of America can join Europe and the rest of the intact western world in rejecting circumcision and realizing that knives and surgical instruments have no place near baby boys or young mens’ penises.
— Brad Christensen
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When I began my work in 1979, gay men were coming to San Francisco so they could come out of the closet safely. By the early 1980s, I was becoming known in the San Francisco Bay Area as the nurse who was telling the truth about the harm of circumcision. Bud Berkeley, the editor of Foreskin Quarterly, a magazine about the normal penis, invited me to have lunch with him. That was the beginning of an extensive education about the penis and its functions from the gay men who were willing and eager to talk to me. Until then, I was simply trying to stop the screams of babies. Now I was listening to the screams of men, too.
Bath houses in San Francisco were in full swing and gay men had an opportunity to see lots of penises and the scars of circumcision on most penises. Men were shocked by the damage they saw. They told me about the extensive scarring, skin bridges, curvatures, and missing hunks and slices. Many recognized their own scars and shared their reactions to the realization of what a doctor or mohel had done to them. This openness is something most straight men had never experienced; instead of witnessing the harm, they often tout the benefits of circumcision and chose to pass the scars on to their sons. As gay men began to educate themselves and others, that began to change.
I asked Paul Tardiff, a gay man who had been circumcised as an adult, if he’d be willing to talk about the differences he felt for a mini-documentary we were making to air during Dr. Dean Edell’s medical segment on the televised evening news. Paul agreed, and on the show, he said the difference between being intact and then circumcised is like first seeing in color and then only seeing in black and white.
With those men as my teachers. I learned more than I ever knew was knowable about the male organ of pleasure and procreation. I’m grateful to all who came out of the closet first regarding being gay, and second regarding the damage circumcision causes. Their stories continue to be a reminder of the importance of protecting all children from genital alterations and amputations. Let them grow up and decide what parts of their own body they want to keep or not. It is their body and should be their choice!
— Marilyn Milos, Intact America board member
Circumcision hurts babies! It leaves a raw, open wound on the penis that takes days to heal and is exposed to urine and feces in the baby’s diaper. The foreskin keeps the baby’s penis clean and dry! Stop cutting baby boys now!
“One Happy Family”, drawn by Robert Johnson
Several years ago a young Hispanic couple moved into temporary housing in our neighbors’ basement in Northern Virginia. Neither my wife nor I had a chance to speak to the couple in the first few days after they moved in, but one morning I noticed that the very pregnant young woman was leaning against their pick-up truck across the street, holding her bulging abdomen as if fearful she might give birth any moment. I decided to introduce myself and asked if she was having a boy or girl. She looked at me sadly and said, “A BOY!” I said “Wonderful! Are you going to have him in a hospital?” She looked at me desperately. “Yes, but I worry because they want him circumcised. My mother says ‘No!’ And I don’t want it too. But nurses at the hospital keep saying ‘He is in America now! You should let a doctor circumcise him to keep him healthy and be like American boys.'”
“You are right to say ‘No!'” I said. “It isn’t necessary to circumcise him and it is harmful. The hospital people are wrong.”
“I would have him with my mother’s help in her trailer,” she said, “but he is so big I worry if there could be a problem with birth!”
“Well, the hospital has to get your informed consent to circumcise. You have the right to say ‘No.’ No one can make you say ‘Yes.’ And circumcision will harm your baby. I know because I’m circumcised and it harmed me. If you could wait a minute, I can get you some information to show the hospital that you have the right to say ‘No!'”
I ran into our house, turned on my computer, looked up Intact America, and found a statement in both English and Spanish explaining that circumcision is unnecessary and harmful to a baby and mustn’t be performed without the parents’ informed consent. I printed the statement, dashed across the street, and gave it to the woman. She read the Spanish version eagerly and said, “Thank you! I will show it to my mother and take this to hospital. Gracias!” She took the paper, eased herself into the driver’s seat, and drove off.
For several days I didn’t see either the woman or her husband. Then one morning I noticed the familiar truck parking across the street. Eager for news, I rushed outside. The young woman, much thinner now, opened the passenger door and got out carrying a large, healthy-looking baby boy. Before I said a word, a short, older woman, who turned out to be the young woman’s mother, scurried around her daughter, beaming, and said, “Thank you, sir! My grandbaby is happy baby boy!” The young mother also thanked me and added, “At hospital they ask me ‘Are you SUUURE you don’t want him circumcised?’ I said, ‘Yes! I am sure!’ They ask this NINE TIMES! And I say, ‘Yes, I am sure!’ nine times. And when we show them the paper you gave me they at last agree not to circumcise my big little boy.” As the mother, grandmother, and baby got back in the truck, I noticed the woman’s husband giving me a thumbs-up and a smile before the family drove off.
I never saw this family again. I learned the next day that they had moved to another temporary home in a different part of the county. Knowing the baby was born in an American hospital and that to some degree my own intervention helped prevent his being circumcised made me happy for a while, but not so happy as to prevent an all-too-familiar, deeper, darker feeling from nudging its way back into consciousness.
I was not so lucky when I was born in Methodist Hospital in Peoria, Illinois in 1945. My father, who knew very well that my mother might be giving birth to a baby boy within a few days, decided to go on a “business trip” to Milwaukee, Wisconsin instead of playing an important supportive role on my mother’s and my behalf. Years later, my mother told me she “never forgave” him for leaving her, forcing her to depend on a neighbor to take her to the hospital when it was time for me to be born. Four years earlier, he’d taken her to the hospital when my brother was born, so why did my father go on a needless business trip on the important occasion of my birth? As it happened, I was born at 3:30 in the morning from a sedated mother, “attended to” by a doctor, then whisked away to a maternity ward. As far as I know, the attending doctor circumcised me that very night, bandaged me up, and sent me to a maternity ward to cry myself to sleep… if I slept at all.
I would say I have no conscious memory of that night, but that is not entirely true. Sixty years later, while practicing primal therapy exercises on my own at home, part of a decades-long quest to uncover the sources of life-long feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, depression, terror, and rage, I suddenly felt a sharp cutting sensation around the shaft of my penis. I stopped the exercise immediately as I realized the sensation was my body’s way of telling me that I was re-experiencing my infant circumcision in 1945.
Why had my father, who was born in rural Indiana in 1907 and left intact, chosen to be away on a “business trip” rather than to take steps to protect me from the circumcision that, without strong intervention, was sure to happen to me after I was born in 1945? I could only guess, since my father was no longer living, that it was because he was caught off guard when my older brother was circumcised in a hospital four years earlier. My father was a first-born child when he was born and always seemed, like many fathers of his era, to place special concern on the welfare of his first-born son. I may be wrong, but I strongly suspect he couldn’t allow his second-born son, by NOT being circumcised, to have an advantage in life over his first-born son. Could this explain his mysterious decision to go on a “business trip” at this special time?
Of course, I’ll never know for sure, but I do believe that was the case, and I suspect that my strong feelings about the wrongness of allowing an infant boy to be traumatized and sexually wounded by circumcision may be what prompted me to run out of my family’s house toward a distressed, very pregnant stranger to do whatever I could to help a baby boy have a happier life than mine had been.
— Robert Clover Johnson
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