The first intensive exploration of the unrecognized psychological and social aspects of this increasingly controversial American cultural practice. Endorsed by dozens of professionals in psychology, psychiatry, child development, pediatrics, obstetrics, childbirth education, sociology and anthropology.
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"What's done to children, they will do to society."
"Parents do not know what they are choosing, and physicians do not feel what they are doing."
"In response to circumcision, the baby cries a helpless, panicky, breathless, high-pitched cry!...[or] lapses into a semi-coma. Both of these states...are abnormal states in the newborn."
"Doctors who circumcise are the most resistant to change. They will not admit that they made a critical mistake by amputating an important part of the penis."
"In this case, the old dictum 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' seems to make good sense."
"A whole life can be shaped by an old trauma, remembered or not."
"If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children."
"We are interconnected. When a baby boy's sexuality is not safe, no one's sexuality is safe."
Confessions of a Circumcised Man
"This is winter wheat weíre sowing, and other hands will harvest."
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American Universal Suffrage Leader
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved sunsets and impressionist oil paintings. The subtle interplay of color and light has always struck me as beautiful, even sublime. I couldn’t imagine anything being more lovely.
So much so, that I was dumbstruck to learn at the age of 18 that I was color blind. "It canít be," I insisted to the eye doctor. He matter-of-factly explained that I had failed the full Ishihara color-vision test. Out of a series of 38 polka-dotted circles, I could only see the embedded numbers in four of them. There was no doubt. I was color-blind.
My denial was complete. I didnít believe him. "I can see colors," I insisted. "My jeans are blue. My shirt is light blue. Your slacks are dark grey." He tonelessly explained that yes, I could see some colors. But what I saw was not nearly as vivid or as complete as seen by people with "normal color vision." My color vision was radically muted.
I still didnít believe him. I showed the test to my sisters. They both passed, easily.
It took me a while to process this discovery and accept that I was one among the 20% of men who are color-blind because of a genetic defect. It was nobodyís fault. Nothing to be embarrassed about. Just bad luck.
But this discovery and my experience with overcoming denial enabled me to finally confront something else. I was able to confront another area where my perception of the world is significantly diminished. This area is diminished in a way that I never imagined possible. It is another place where my perception of the world is not nearly as vivid or as complete as "normal people."
The area Iím talking about is my sexual perception Ė my physical appreciation of normal sexual contact. My sexual perception is radically muted, too. But this time, it is not a blameless, unlucky genetic defect. This was done to me by other people. My sexual perception was taken from me.
It was taken intentionally. It was taken by doctors. It was taken without my knowledge or consent. It was taken when I was a defenseless baby. And, perhaps most shockingly, it was taken with my parentsí approval.
This time the denial was harder to overcome. This time the denial didnít just protect my self-image of being fully "normal." This time the denial protected me from knowing that the people who I have trusted the most, who I loved the most Ė had betrayed me. The denial guarded me from fully knowing and feeling the painful discovery that I had been hurt badly, and forever, in the most intimate and personal part of my life. I was permanently sexually maimed. Intentionally. By the people who claim to love me the most Ė my parents.
This has been a very hard path of self-discovery to follow.
But, in confronting all of the feelings that were waiting for me behind my curtain of denial, I found more than just pain and anger and depression. They were there, certainly, in large amounts. But, I also found understanding and personal growth and some hope.
I understand now why I sometimes have difficulty maintaining an erection or achieving orgasm. This isnít a shameful failure of my masculinity. This isnít evidence of my physical and emotional disinterest in a sexual partner. This isnít proof of my shortcomings as a man. Iíve learned that this is proof of the operationís success. Erectile dysfunction and diminished sexual pleasure are THE desired surgical outcomes of circumcision. My operation was a success!
Many people believe that sex is wrong. They believe masturbation and recreational sex are immoral. Sometimes these beliefs are religiously motivated, sometimes not. Genital cutting is the intervention that directly addresses the evil of human sexuality. Medical textbooks used to be very specific about the effectiveness of male and female circumcision in preventing masturbation. That is what genital cutting is designed to achieve Ė undermining human sexuality by dramatically reducing sexual pleasure. I understand that now. I also understand that this intention was never explained to my parents.
I understand now that my radically muted sexual sensations arenít the result of a botched, or extraordinarily aggressive, circumcision. They are greatly dulled because my circumcision went the way it was supposed to. I am more numb than a normal man, an intact man. The most sensitive parts of my penis are gone. The "lips" of my prepuce were taken. My Ridged Band was taken. My Frenulum was taken. My Outer Foreskin was taken. And lastly, my Glans and Inner Foreskin are desensitized from constant chaffing from contact with the outside world. I also understand that these exquisitely sensitive parts of my anatomy and their functions were never explained to my parents.
Effectively, the "eyes and ears" of my system of sexual perception are gone. I can still have sex and I can still conceive a child, but most of the fun and much of the frequency are gone. I know about the reduced frequency from my experience with failed efforts Ė and fear of failed efforts. The loss of pleasure, the fun, is something I can only try to understand about by reading.
But, I know about numbness and loss. The memories of being unable to maintain an erection with women who I loved, who I was deeply attracted to both physically and emotionally, are still very sharp. So too, are the memories of my feelings of inadequacy and their feelings of being undesirable to me. As are the memories of those relationships drifting apart and inexplicably ending. Now, I understand why. I also understand that these predictable results of my circumcision were never explained to my parents.
I know about numbness and disease. I was taught about safe sex and I understand how important it is. But I also know that when Iíve tried to use condoms, I become totally numb. For me, condoms equal abstinence. With a condom, I am rarely able to maintain an erection and Iím never able to achieve orgasm. I understand why that is now. But faced with the choice of unsafe intercourse or no intercourse, I chose to be unsafe. And I paid the price. Circumcision isnít the only thing that lasts forever. Some diseases last forever. So too, do the memories and anguish of an unwanted pregnancy. Iíll carry both of these for the rest of my life. Now I understand why. I also understand that my parents never knew that circumcision would put me in a situation where Iíd need to take those risks in order to share intimacy with a loved one.
Iíve undergone a lot of personal growth throughout this process of dealing with my circumcision. Iíve researched about my body Ė what I was born with and how it functions. Iíve researched about how the medical community has deceived generations of parents about the practice of circumcision. Iíve researched about the difficulty of overcoming denial and breaking the cycle of ritual abuse that can exist within families. And Iíve researched the changing trends in choices that families are making for their sons Ė and this gives me hope.
Hope isnít a word that easily comes into my heart and mind when I think about genital cutting. I am a survivor of an abusive sexual assault that I donít rememberÖbut can never forget. I will never know what sex is supposed to be like for a man. I will never look in the mirror and see a complete male form. But, I have learned that I can forgive my parents for letting strangers hurt me so badly. I have learned that I can love them still, in spite of my pain and anger. And that gives me hope.I have hope because I know that I can love and forgive. I can love and forgive because my parents were misled and they didnít know any better. They had no easy access to research through the internet. They heard no voices of child advocacy pleading on my behalf. They had no reassurance from a large and growing group of parents who were challenging and rejecting the horrifying violation of routine infant genital mutilation.
My parents werenít unwilling to learn Ė unwilling to protect me. They were deceived. And I forgive them.
I have hope because I can channel my negative feelings of betrayal, anger, pain and depression into something positive. I can advocate protecting the newborns of today who will become a generation of men tomorrow. I can help in a small way to educate todayís parents and be the voice for them that I wish was available to my parents. I can help break the cycle of violence against baby boys in the same way that it has been broken for baby girls.
Hope wonít return to me what was taken so long ago. But if I can help even a few parents choose to courageously challenge their doctors and their families in defense of their sons, it will be worth enduring all of the pain that I found hiding behind my own curtain of denial.
A million baby boys a year are crying out for someone to help them. I cannot remain silent. I cannot collude through inaction. I must try to do my part to help them however I can. Please join me in this effort. Our generation can protect the next generation.
"This is winter wheat weíre sowing, other hands will harvest." ~ ECS
In deep and sincere solidarity with my newborn brothers,