When I write a piece on circumcision in any forum, including here on Everything Birth Blog, inevitably, someone will explain that if circumcision were such a big deal, men would be speaking up, not just “crazy moms.” I know men in real life that wish they hadn’t been circumcised, but speaking out about it can be embarrassing, humiliating or just plain difficult. Sure, some men don’t realize the impact their circumcision has had on their lives. Others, like my husband, do understand but choose not to discuss it. As my friend, Jon Stevenson, from Michigan said, “I wish I was uncut, but don’t feel like there’s much else I can say about that…”
Yet, there are other circumcised men who are as vocal as the Intactivist women I know. There are men who are able to tell their stories. It took me all of a few hours and a single “internet shout-out” to find them.
I will warn all of you in advance, this article has been emotionally difficult to write and also that what these men have to say may be hard to read, but I urge you to hear them. They have a moral right to be heard.
I ask for your sensitivity in this issue towards me and towards the participants that I have interviewed because this is an extremely emotional topic. This post is not to hurt anyone’s feelings. It is not to make anyone feel guilty because of anything that has been done in the past. I wrote it so that people can consider the full implications of what they may be about to do.
While preparing this article, a song kept coming to mine, humming in the background of my awareness. The song “Daughters” by John Mayer has always touched me. It exposes the lasting implications of a girl’s hurt during her youth on her adult relationship. Though many parents have commented on this blog that they feel it is disgusting to worry about their sons future sexuality, they must concede that it is every parent’s hope that our infant sons will one day become adult men. Like it or not, one’s sexuality is a significant part of adulthood. Always, while listening to this song, I’ve wished there was a similar song for our sons:
Learning They Were Circumcised.
Men expressed a variety of reactions to learning they were cut. Generally, they had to figure it out on their own, which saddens me even more, that boys seem to not even be entitled to an explanation that they were born with protective skin and nerve endings that they no longer have. I wonder how strange it must be to feel that you know your body only to discover it had been altered shortly after birth. Jeff Hodapp from California discovered he was circumcised when he was about 8 or 9 years old. He recalled his initial confusion, “I was looking at an anatomy book and it showed an intact penis and a circumcised penis. I immediately identified with the circumcised one. I didn’t read the page, I put the book down and walked away thinking that there were two types of penises.” I learned that often, men realized what was done to them in school. Imagine learning something so profound about such a significant part of yourself, while surrounded by peers in a classroom…
There ARE Long Term Negative Consequences of Circumcision
We already know that there are certain risks from infant circumcision, including a risk of death and infection. We have even come to understand that, as with my son, adhesions in the weeks and months following circumcision are not rare. But there are other long term physical consequences. Some are merely an irritating physical reminder of what was taken from these men, some are much more painful.
Jeff Hodapp explained, “When I was entering puberty, erections were extremely painful, to the point where it just seemed like something was not right. I asked my friends about it and heard similar stories, so I thought it was normal. I never associated it with circumcision because nobody ever talked about it. We really didn’t understand what had happened to us. I remember a joke my friend would tell every now and again” Q. ‘whats grosser than gross?’ A. ‘getting a boner and running out of skin.’” See, when a man has been circumcised, it is common for him to not have enough foreskin to accommodate the erection. At times, there is so very little skin left that the penis is unable to even extend out fully. This often causes pain, in addition to limiting its length.
One man I interviewed explained that as he got older, his lack of sensation increased so much that he started reading about erectile dysfunction (ED) and wondered if it was happening to him. If men begin to lose sensation, they often get anxious, and a cycle of doubt and insecurity is created. It is not uncommon for circumcision and the lack of sensation that can accompany decades of chaffing and callousing to be at the root of ED.
“Restoring” the Foreskin
Because of these long term consequences, many men have chosen to try to “restore” their foreskin. Restoring foreskin is a process more and more men are undergoing to increase the amount of skin on their penis. The nerve endings can never be replaced, but it does offer protection to the sensitive tip of the penis and helps to provide the intended gliding mechanics that the foreskin would normally provide during intercourse. It is a very long and arduous process, but many feel the end result is worth it.
David Runyan, of Illinois, told me, “For as long as I can remember I have had a pain in my glans when walking around clothed when my penis shifts and the exposed glans of my penis rub against the harsh fabric of my underwear; this sensation has diminished since I have restored enough foreskin that when flaccid my glans are almost completely covered.” Runyan explained to me the significant improvement, restoring the skin has had on his relationship, “I’ve also noticed an increased stamina and vigor, I am able to retain an erection longer, hold off climax longer, and maintain my erection after climax and be able to continue intercourse. In short, since I’ve regrown my foreskin, my love making has become more intense, intimate, passionate, and satisfying, our relationship has improved, and after eight years we feel like newlyweds again.”
Kris Bullock, of Arizona, who is in the also process of “restoring” explains, “[B]efore I began restoring, my penis would regularly become chafed after sex, no matter how much lubrication was used. Sometimes it would take 2 or 3 days to fully heal.” He went on to say, “Now that I have been restoring for 8 months, I experience much less chafing, if any at all.”
While it’s wonderful that men have the option to try to grow more skin, it saddens me that they must chose to regrow skin to “substitute” something that they were born with. I also became acutely aware that they will never regrow the nerve endings that were permanently removed as Runyan remarked to me, “I love the benefits of restoration, however I am irritated that I have to go through a tedious lengthy physical therapy in order to restore my body to as whole as possible, there is no way to get the 20,000 nerve endings that were ripped from my body, there is no real substitute for the way natural foreskin tightens at the tip to keep the skin in place. The best I can hope for is ‘close enough.’”
Their Feelings Toward Their Parents
While some men felt that their parents’ consent to their circumcision has caused serious strains on their relationships with them, most of the men I interviewed had no lasting anger towards their parents for choosing to have them circumcised. I noticed that the anger was directly proportional to the amount of negative physical effects their circumcision caused them as well as how old they were when and the way in which they learned that they had been circumcised. All of the men though, expressed a sincere animosity towards the doctors that performed their surgeries and the establishment that perpetuates the practice. Jeff Hodapp told me, “I didn’t and still don’t hold them [his parents] completely responsible. I feel more violated by the Doctor who influenced my mother. The medical industry is to blame for perpetuating this barbarism.”
Grieving Over What Was Cut From Them
Kris Bullock has accepted his loss and told me that dwelling on the past wasn’t going to change anything. He, as I mentioned, decided to try to take back some of the control through his restoration process, but as he described his feelings of empowerment, one statement stuck out and I fought back tears as I read words that spoke of his grief. Bullock said, “I look forward to restoring the gliding action that is a result of the extra skin being in place. As well as the significantly reduced need for artificial lubrication. But I am still pretty bummed that I can’t restore the 20,000+ nerve endings that were removed forever. And every time I see an intact penis, I am envious of the nerve endings. I would love for one second to know what they feel like.”
Did you catch that? He said, “I would love for one second to know what they feel like.”
I suppose for the Establishment of Circumcision, it’s a good thing that these men will never know that feeling. I can only imagine the sheer rage that would come of men experiencing for ONE second what their birthright should have entitled them to, and then knowing that that was taken from them.
A man would have to physically feel the sensation to fully comprehend the loss of those nerve endings. Even without ever feeling what he has lost, James Stewart from Missouri, was 16 years old in his high school child development class when he learned what circumcision was. He explained that, upon realizing what happened to him, he was angrier than he had ever been. He felt disgusted and completely violated. He expressed to me that he felt resentment towards his parents that he has not been able to let go of to this day. He even explained, “I don’t think I would be able to control myself in the presence of the so called ‘doctor’ who is responsible. I fear I would become irrationally violent.” Stewart, who is also undergoing the long process of restoration, explained, “I didn’t lose my virginity until after I had begun restoring. My partner told me that I felt as comfortable inside her as an intact man. I imagine that I would have felt more if I had more to feel with.” I’m not sure I can even fathom how much more intensely this man’s anger would be felt if he was given one second to feel what he cannot.
I take for granted my nerve endings, because I got to keep mine. They are exactly as they are supposed to be. A basic understanding of fetal development tells me that I have a pretty good idea of the sensations these men will never feel. Mothers-to-be reading this: A moments’ reflection on your own nerve endings might give you a clearer understanding as well…
Right to Bodily Integrity?
Sometimes there is no pain, and only minor and occasional irritation, as is the case with Evan Sarver, a US native, now living in the Ukraine. Sarver says that his circumcision-inflicted irritation is usually only noticed “after especially active sex, sometimes from swim trunks.” Nevertheless, when asked if he felt his civil rights were violated when he was cut, Sarver told me, “I feel my human rights (not civil) were violated. I think bodily integrity is the base of all human rights.”
Eric Williamson, from Oregon, put it very simply and calmly, “It’s my body and should have been my choice. And personally, I would have never made that choice for myself.”
Jeff Hodapp said, “I think the under-educated doctors who perform the procedure and the medical establishment that supports are manipulating research data and releasing less than honest information should be held accountable for human rights, and ethics violations.” Hodapp emphasized, “I think that circumcision is a form of child abuse. A healthy, functional, and significant part of my body was taken from me.”
Garrett Wolfe, who resides in California, told me, “I was robbed of normal sexual function, normal sexual sensation and pleasure, normal appearance and lied to all my life about it. I was made to feel that I was the one with the problem, not the victim. It’s as if I was blinded with red hot poker in infancy, and then told blindness is normal and good for me, and that I must have a problem for not appreciating it.” He said that to say he felt violated is an understatement. “My basic human right to a whole body, my right to express my OWN religion, my right to choose how I experience sex for my entire life, my right choose how I protect myself from STDs, HIV, and UTIs, my right to control how I appear nude, my right to experience life the way I was built and meant to, my sense of trust, of being protected and loved, was all ripped away along with the flesh of my genitals, when all I could do in protest was scream. Yes, my civil rights were violated.”
David Runyan, on the other hand, passionately questioned why his rights were not considered: “I was given no consideration, I gave no consent, and I feel that I was abused and sexually assaulted by both my parents and the doctor who mutilated me. There was no one there to protect me, from a procedure that if successful would and did mutilate me for life, and if ‘botched’ could have ended my life before it began, or could have totally destroyed my penis before I even finished developing. People talk to me about parents’ rights, religious rights, where do my rights come into play? When does what I want for my body matter?”
And then, there’s my son. He’s not yet an adult, but he wanted to have his say as well, “No right,” he proclaimed. I heard the silent, “You had,” that prefaced his statement, but let’s face it, it’s hard to say something like that to your mom.
Mothers, be good to your sons.
Sons will love like you do.
Sons become lovers who turn into fathers.
So, fathers, be good to your sons too.
I’d like to extend extreme gratitude to the brave men who have helped me with this piece as well as to The WHOLE Network for their accommodations, dedication, and information.