Do You Know: Why intactivists need to speak out, and come out?

Not a week goes by without somebody asking me: “How did you get involved in this cause (intactivism)?” I tell them I cannot abide the injustice that allows doctors and parents to remove an important body part from their infant sons.

Similarly, not a week goes by without somebody saying to me, “I want to do everything I can to protect boys, but I can’t use my real name because ….” (the reasons vary). I think to myself: How do you expect to change things if you stay anonymous?

“An activist is someone who cannot help but fight for something. That person is not usually motivated by a need for power or money or fame, but in fact is driven slightly mad by some injustice, some cruelty, some unfairness so much so that he or she is compelled by some internal moral engine to act to make it better.”

— Eve Ensler

Last month, as I was marching with our Intact America contingent at NYC Pride, I marveled at how far one cause – equal right for people, no matter what their sexual orientation – had come. I realized this was only possible because people who had suffered in secrecy, shame and fear for so long decided to speak out, to come out with their real names, their real stories, and their demands for justice.

In my own lifetime, I’ve seen racial desegregation outlawed, and interracial couples become mainstream. I’ve seen same-sex couples, first having achieved the right to marry, adopt babies and create the families that would have been impossible only a few years before.

All social change movements began as unfamiliar or unpopular causes. To oppose slavery in the United States was once unthinkable. The injustice of enslaving other human beings is what motivated persons of conscience to speak out, to come out and demand the abolition of slavery.

When American women began demanding the right to vote (starting with the Seneca Falls convention in 1848), they were attacked as unladylike, ugly and unlovable – as man-haters, or unpatriotic threats to the American way of life. Women and men so motivated by the injustice of denying half the population the right to participate in the political system marched and wrote and spoke out, using their real names, incurring ridicule and for themselves and their families. (Not coincidentally, many also fought for women’s suffrage.)

Activists who oppose FGM in African and Muslim countries have been criticized, persecuted, and disowned by their families and cultures. But it hasn’t kept them from coming out –even, in many cases, fleeing their own countries in order to continue speaking out.

Granted, pockets of fear and hatred continue to exist, and we live at perpetual risk of backsliding. But progress on the human rights front continues, and the slow but growing acknowledgment by Americans that baby boys deserve justice is evidence of this progress.

Why are we making progress? Because people who believe in justice for all refuse to stay silent. They refuse to hide in the closet. They speak out. They march, they donate to the intactivist group(s) of their choice, and they spread the word to anyone who will listen.

Freed slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was encouraged by many of his friends to hide his identity. They feared – not without reason – that Douglass would be re-captured and either killed or returned to the plantation where he’d been enslaved. Douglass realized, though, that keeping his identity a secret diminished his credibility, and conveyed fear and weakness – the antithesis of activism.

Here is what I say when somebody tells me they are committed to intactivism, but need to remain anonymous: If you cannot use your own name, who will believe in you? Who can see you as an example to follow, if they don’t know who you are?

As social justice advocate DaShanne Stokes famously said: “Only by speaking out can we create lasting change. And that change begins with coming out.”

Do You Know: About harvesting foreskins for commercial use?

Sandra Bullock’s appearance on TheEllenShow in May featured – as “comedy” – the loathsome facts about turning infant foreskins into expensive beauty products designed to make their consumers look more youthful.

This is the latest in a recurring story – which first emerged a few years ago when Oprah Winfrey pushed Skin Medica products also made from infant foreskins. This time, Intact America issued a press release, and Huffington Post published an article about the debacle. Hundreds of people wrote to TheEllenShow to protest, though more than one person felt it necessary to reminded us that “the baby was getting circumcised anyway, or “we shouldn’t forget that foreskin tissue is also used for good causes, like helping burn victims.”

This “good cause” argument doesn’t hold water; remember, stealing a wallet is illegal, even if you donate its contents to charity. Similarly, the baby’s foreskin is not yours to sell or give away.

The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking lists three types of organ trafficking:

  • First, cases where traffickers force or deceive the victims into giving up an organ.
  • Second, cases where victims formally or informally agree to sell an organ, and are cheated by being paid less than the promised price, or being not paid at all.
  • Third, vulnerable persons are treated for an ailment, which may or may not exist, and thereupon organs are removed without the victim’s knowledge.

The non-therapeutic circumcision of infants and children falls into the first and third categories of human organ trafficking.

The next time you hear somebody promoting a “foreskin facial,” be sure to remind that person that she or he is promoting a crime. Explain that because the foreskin was taken from a person who did not consent and who was not compensated (no matter how “small” and how “far away” that person was), he was a victim of human organ trafficking. Use it as an opportunity to promote “His Body, His Rights.”

Do You Know: About Forced Foreskin Retraction – Part 2

Despite the warnings of experts – including the American Academy of Pediatrics – nearly half of intact American boys under 6 years old have had their foreskins forcibly retracted. It’s true. In the Spring of 2018, Intact America conducted a national survey of parents of children under the age of seven, and found that 43% of intact boys had experienced the painful and totally unnecessary forced retraction of their foreskins, most of them at the hands of physicians.

A 2017 brochure published by HealthyChildren, a program of the AAP, states unequivocally: “… foreskin retraction should never be forced. Until the foreskin fully separates, do not try to pull it back. Forcing the foreskin to retract before it is ready can cause severe pain, bleeding, and tears in the skin.” Unfortunately, messing with a boy’s foreskin can also cause infection and scarring, leading too often to doctors suggesting circumcision as a remedy for a problem they themselves created.

As more and more boys are kept intact, it’s critically important that parents, childcare workers, and medical professionals understand that a boy’s foreskin will separate naturally over time (the age of retraction varies considerably), and that only the boy himself should touch his foreskin.

Note: If your son’s foreskin was forcibly retracted, the best advice is to bathe him in plain warm water, to ease his discomfort – especially when he urinates. Do NOT continue to retract his foreskin; let the wound heal over time. A foreskin that cannot be returned to its natural position, however, could constitute a medical emergency, so seek care immediately, and inform any medical provider that you do NOT consider circumcision to be an option.

Watch for details of Intact America’s Foreskin Protection Campaign – to be announced in our July newsletter. In the meantime, if you have a story about forced foreskin retraction – either of your son or another child close to you – you can write to us at [email protected]. Please include details about the age of the child, where the forced retraction occurred, and (if you wish) the name of the medical professional(s) and/or the facility where it took place.

Do You Know: About Intact America’s national surveys?

If you’ve been listening to the news lately, you know that data rules! And Intact America is working hard to get the data we need to change the way America thinks about circumcision.

Intact America conducted its first nationwide opinion survey in 2014. That survey found that only 10 percent of the American public disapproved of “routine” circumcision. The survey also revealed that neither human rights nor children’s rights arguments were persuasive for the vast majority of people surveyed. As a consequence of that survey, we changed our messaging considerably, focusing on the positive aspects of being intact and on the foreskin’s value. Now, Intact America is about to conduct a follow-up survey to measure whether Americans’ attitudes have changed since 2014. We need your help to accomplish that, and, of course, we’ll share the findings with you!

Whether you’re selling a new energy drink, recruiting young people to join the military, or peddling the latest weight-loss fad, having good information about the characteristics of your target audience is all-important. That’s what market research is all about — essentially, surveying the current behavior, thinking and preferences of your target audience.

Market research also is critical when you are “selling” an idea or concept. For instance, when you are trying to change somebody’s beliefs, first, you need to know what they believe NOW, what shapes the decisions they make, and what would motivate them to change their preferences. THEN, based on that research, you can craft persuasive arguments and messaging for that audience.

Later, to know if you’re making a difference, you can look at any number of indicators. In the commercial world, you’d look at sales numbers: did the sales of your energy drink increase since you started your advertising campaign? For military recruiting, you’d look at enlistment trends — but you might also want to know whether your campaign changed people’s minds about serving in the military; after all, potential recruits will be influenced by their families and friends opinions, too. For an idea or concept — like Intactivism for example, you will want to know what your audience thinks about circumcision and the intact male penis — and you’ll want to compare those results since the last time you conducted your survey.

The goal? We are aiming to reach a tipping point — that time when a critical mass (20-25 percent) of Americans believe that the intact male body is normal, and that keeping babies intact is normal and desirable.

But survey research is expensive, and we need your help. Please support Intact America’s survey initiative. Help us shape and measure intactivism’s progress toward the tipping point!

Do You Know: About Forced Foreskin Retraction? – Part 1

Unfortunately, parents who have taken a stand and said NO to the circumcision of their baby boys now have another worry: an iatrogenic* epidemic of Forced Foreskin Retraction (FFR), fueled by the same ignorance and phobias that have perpetrated the uniquely American infant circumcision industry. (I talked about forced foreskin retraction in Intact America’s October-November newsletter.) Preliminary results of a new national survey commissioned by Intact America, and conducted by the reputable polling firm Qualtrics, show that two out of five intact boys under the age of six years has had his foreskin forcibly retracted.

As part of our ongoing work, Intact America has been fighting this epidemic, publishing information about care of the intact penis, and answering personal inquiries from parents whose sons have been victims of over-zealous doctors or nurses. Another intactivist organization, Doctors Opposing Circumcision, has filed numerous official complaints on behalf of parents and their sons to state medical boards.

Now, the battle is escalating. In January 2018, Atlanta attorney David Llewellyn filed an important lawsuit against a major pediatric hospital in that city, describing that organization’s defiance of current pediatric care guidelines, and its nursing staff’s systematic violation of patients’ rights.

Alleging battery; nursing malpractice; intentional infliction of emotional distress; willful, wanton and reckless misconduct; and negligent failure to protect a patient, Park v. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta details the actions of a nurse at Children’s, who – without conversation or warning – ripped away the foreskin of an intact toddler in order to insert a urinary catheter, causing him severe pain, bleeding and emotional distress. The complaint also describes the defiant attitude taken by other hospital staff, who insisted that the hospital’s protocol calling for nurses and doctors to forcibly retract all intact boys’ foreskins was derived from current established medical recommendations, erroneously claimed that the child’s foreskin put him at risk of disease, and shamed his parents for not having had their son circumcised.

The medical literature, including guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, is clear: An intact boy’s foreskin should NEVER be forcibly retracted.

If your son has been a victim of forced foreskin retraction at the hands of medical professionals, we encourage you to complain in writing to the doctor who performed the retraction and the facility where this took place. At a minimum, you should provide them with factual information, such as this article by Carmack and Milos and this information sheet. You should also file a complaint with your state’s medical board or office of professional discipline. Finally, you may wish to file a lawsuit. Should you choose to do so, Intact America can help you or your attorney with the pertinent resources. Contact us at [email protected] or write to Georganne Chapin directly at [email protected]

* Caused by the medical system. Iatrogenesis refers to any effect on a person, resulting from any activity of one or more persons acting as healthcare professionals or promoting products or services as beneficial to health that does not support a goal of the person affected.

Do You Know: How to protect your son from forced foreskin retraction?

Congratulations! You gave birth to a baby boy, you protected him from circumcision, and you took him home whole, happy and peaceful!

So – we’re good! That should be the end of it, right?

Unfortunately, too often that’s NOT the end of it. Most North American health care professionals are woefully uninformed about the anatomy, functions, development, and care of the normal penis. And, also unfortunately, many of them are ready, willing – and even insistent – on trying to turn your boy’s healthy, normal foreskin into a problem.

Every few days, either via Facebook or email, Intact America hears from a parent who’s taken their baby to the doctor for a well-child visit, and encountered unexpected trouble.

Before I knew it, she grabbed my son’s penis and forced his foreskin back. It’s swollen and raw, and he’s been crying for hours. What do I do?

My son’s pediatrician has diagnosed our 2.5 year old with Phimosis and performed a retraction. I feel very uneasy about this…

We also hear from parents who have taken their baby to the Emergency Room with a fever and have faced a doctor or nurse who zeroed in on his foreskin as the culprit – insisting that it needs to be retracted to insert a catheter for a urine sample.

My son was at the ER and they wanted to cath him. [They told my wife] they couldn’t do a clean catch because he had foreskin and his foreskin cells would interfere and eventually threatened to call CPS [Child Protective Services] because she refused to forcibly retract him.

What you need to know:

  • A baby’s foreskin should NEVER be forcibly retracted! “Phimosis” (a tight or adherent foreskin) is normal in babies and boys, and the foreskin will loosen and separate naturally from the head of his penis over time. The average age of spontaneous foreskin retraction is actually around 10 years of age, which means that many boys’ foreskins separate sooner, and many separate later. Forcibly pulling back a boy’s foreskin is painful, and can cause swelling, bleeding and infection. Nobody but the boy himself should handle his foreskin.
  • “Catheterization is an intervention that carries risks…, [including] discomfort and introduction of bacteria into the urinary tract, which could actually lead to infection…,” as pointed out in this recent article by experts Adrienne Carmack, MD and Marilyn Milos,RN.
  • Absent other symptoms (smelly, bloody or cloudy urine; pain while urinating), suspecting a urinary tract infection (UTI) simply because a boy is intact and has a fever makes no sense. And even if the child has symptoms of a UTI, various methods exist to obtain a clean urine sample without inserting a catheter.
  • Finally, if catheterization is truly called for, it is NOT necessary to retract a boy’s attached foreskin to accomplish the insertion. (Again, see this article by Carmack and Milos detailing gentle methods for inserting a catheter without retracting the foreskin.)

You have the right as your child’s parent to refuse to allow a doctor, nurse or – of course – anybody else to forcibly retract your intact son’s foreskin. If you believe that your child is at risk of forcible retraction, state calmly and clearly that you do NOT give the clinician permission to handle your son’s penis and foreskin. Make a point of telling your pediatrician this up-front, and providing this information in his medical chart. If you do have to take your intact boy to an emergency room, let the provider(s) know that foreskin retraction is off-limits.

If your son’s foreskin has been forcibly retracted by a health care professional, here is what you can do.

For your baby: If his penis is swollen and sore, it is likely this will resolve on its own. Watchful waiting, and bathing him in plain warm water (no soap or bubble baths), are your best recourse for healing. If it does not improve, or if you see pus or smelly discharge, seek medical help – preferably from a foreskin-knowledgeable physician. At a minimum, let the new doctor know that you will not tolerate further tampering with his intact foreskin.

Official actions: You are entitled (and we encourage you) to complain in writing to the doctor who performed the retraction and the facility where this took place. At a minimum, you should provide them with factual information, such as the article by Carmack and Milos and this information sheet. You can also file a complaint with your state’s medical board or office of professional discipline.