I was born and raised on an isolated farm in East Africa, a descendant of a Boer War veteran who settled there in the early 20th century. My younger brother and I seldom saw other children. At the age of six, I was sent to boarding school. I can still remember the feeling of abandonment, knowing that it would be months before I would see my parents again, and the confusion of being with 150 other children in an atmosphere of military organization and discipline. But worse was to come. The first night, our whole dorm was marched into the communal shower room for our evening bath. I immediately saw that my penis did not resemble that of many of the other boys, and I was shocked and sickened to realize I was missing something. I intuitively knew it was something valuable. I wasn’t alone in my realization that something horrible had been done to me, for that night, I found myself and another boy standing in the dorm doorway in the light of the hall, pajama pants down, staring at our denuded penises and wondering why this had been done to us. There was absolutely no solace from the knowledge that there were other boys like us. Thereafter, every time I was in a library, I tried to find out more but in those days, there was no information to be had.
I remember at about age 9, my brother and I were in the tub, being watched by my mother and her cousin. I heard my mother say she thought the doctor had done a neater job on me than on my brother. I knew exactly what she was referring to (the doctor who circumcised me must have gotten paid by the square inch, or maybe the square millimeter!). Curiously, even though my mother was a very approachable and open person, I always felt too embarrassed to broach the topic of circumcision with her.
I was 13 and away at school when my youngest brother was born. I saw him for the first time when he was a month old. That evening, I was chatting to my Mum while she bathed him. She must have sensed that an explanation was in order and said that she’d had him…”oh, what ‘s it called?” “Circumcised?” I volunteered. “Yes, that’s it.” She went on to explain that her father, who had been born in Ireland, was circumcised at age 12 because “his foreskin got so tight that he couldn’t pee,” and he felt it better done in infancy “when there would be no memory” of the event. This explanation never made any sense to me. I wish my grandfather had said nothing, so that I might have remained whole. My dad was also circumcised, I surmise as a consequence of his mother’s upper-class English upbringing. I don’t blame my parents, though; they didn’t know anything. I place most of the blame on the doctor; had he told my mother it wasn’t necessary, I’m quite sure it would not have happened. Especially as Dr. Douglas Gairdner’s article “The Fate of the Foreskin” was published about the same time.
I frequently see both medical personnel and parents express the sentiment that boy’s penises should match those of their fathers. But how can any of them predict what the boy might want?
I believe that we all have the right to the body we were born with and that circumcision violates a child’s basic human rights from day one. As for religious circumcisions, these should wait until the child has reached an age to choose for himself.
It amazes me how many North American parents choose to circumcise their sons because they fear they’ll be teased in school. I have to say that in 12 years of grade school, I never witnessed a single case of teasing based on circumcision status, despite the fact that shower rooms were communal and everyone saw everyone else and knew their status. For a time in elementary school, games in off-time involved “armies”, with the “Roundheads” being the circumcised boys and the “Cavaliers” the intact boys.
When I finished high school, I moved to Canada to attend university. I was surprised at how many Canadian males were circumcised, and I began to resent my own circumcised status more and more. My feelings of violation and betrayal grew stronger, as did my desire to understand the history and rationale for this bizarre custom: the coerced amputation of the most sensitive part of a baby boy’s genitalia.
In the early ’80s, I came across an article by Kelly Servaas in The Saturday Evening Post. The piece confirmed my hunch that there was no good reason for circumcision. Some years later, I found Rosemary Romberg’s book “Circumcision, The Painful Dilemma,” and then the books by Thomas Ritter (Say No to Circumcision) and Jim Bigelow (“The Joy Of Uncircumcising”). I learned a whole lot about the form and function of a foreskin, what I was missing and how my sex life had been compromised.
I began working on restoring my foreskin. At least I would feel “whole”, even if I was still missing the specialized nerves. Unfortunately, my wife who had been ambivalent about circumcision, became opposed to my efforts, and between her extreme lack of support and the constraints of my work, I eventually gave up — something I resent to this day because I believe restoration might have mitigated the problems I now face. The fact that thousands of circumcised North American men are undertaking the arduous process of stretching what penile skin they have left and restoring some semblance of what was taken from them should be a glaring signal to the medical establishment.
When my father died, I flew overseas to be with my Mum for a few weeks. One night I got up the courage to ask her why she had had her sons circumcised. I got the exact same answer as the explanation a couple of decades earlier. Not wanting her to feel badly about her decision, I merely stated that it was falling out of favor. She asked if my son had been circumcised, and I said “no.” In hindsight, I wish I had pursued the conversation, because I would really like to know the history in my family. I’m guessing that my paternal grandfather was intact. I will forever wonder what my Dad’s views were. Did they really think that nature made a mistake? Did they not consider it weird that only one human body part was being amputated for prophylactic reasons?
I have always been terrified of doctors. I can’t even visit someone in a hospital without my blood pressure increasing by a factor of 50%. Because I could count my childhood doctor visits on one hand, this puzzled me until I learned there are two types of memory, and that explicit (recallable) memory does not develop until around 3 years of age. No wonder few children “remember” the horror of being circumcised. However, implicit memory begins in the mother’s womb, and everything the baby is exposed to leaves a trace on its brain. Too little research has been done on the psychological effects of neonatal circumcision; Dr. Ron Goldman’s illuminating work is an exception. I find it very sad that so few doctors will admit – let alone warn parents – that there may be psychological sequelae to cutting the genitals of babies.
Some years ago, I read an article by Dan Bollinger showing that circumcised boys are far more likely than their intact counterparts to suffer from Alexithymia – the inability to express feelings. That’s me. In fact, I think it goes further. Circumcision inhibits close relationships. It is well known that babies withdraw after being circumcised and many have difficulty breast feeding. This makes perfect sense: they have just endured what is probably be the most traumatic event of their lives and no one protected them. I don’t doubt that these feelings of helplessness and abandonment and the resulting sense of distrust all carry forward into adulthood.
As I reached my sixties, I began having sensitivity issues and achieving ejaculation was becoming more difficult. I won’t use the word orgasm because what I felt was far from the exquisite, almost out of body experience that I have observed in my female partners. I believe there is a marked difference between what an intact man experiences versus his circumcised counterpart. A few years later, I began having ED issues as well. I am fortunate that unlike my previous doctors, my current doctor – a lovely English woman – has tried very hard to find solutions for my issues and to refer me to others who may be better able to help.
I am not a true intactivist in that I can’t participate publicly. However, I speak to expectant parents privately when the opportunity presents itself, and I frequent parenting boards to provide information and encourage parents to leave their sons intact. I don’t want anybody to experience the same grief that I have, so when I can persuade a parent who is thinking of circumcising their son to leave him whole, it is positively uplifting. I also make my discontent known to medical personnel; when I have to fill in a form listing previous surgeries, I always start the list with “1949 – totally unwarranted circumcision.” And, when I visit a doctor and my blood pressure shoots up, I explain why I think that occurs.
To those who claim that they’ve never heard from a man who was unhappy about being circumcised: You have now!
On behalf of little boys in previous and future generations, I want to thank the people and organizations who have exposed the myths and misconceptions propagated by the medical community for 150 years. To name just a few in addition to those named above: Edward Wallerstein and his book “Circumcision, an American Health Fallacy”; Dr. John Taylor for his research into the structure of a foreskin; Marilyn Milos and NOCIRC (now Genital Autonomy – America); and of course, Georganne Chapin and Intact America.
— H Smith, Alberta Canada
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