Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma

Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma

How an American Cultural Practice Affects Infants and Ultimately Us All

Ronald Goldman, Ph.D.

Foreword by Ashley Montagu, Ph.D.
320 pages • 576 references • illustrated • bibliography • index • Vanguard Publications, trade paper ISBN 0964489538

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CIRCUMCISION: THE HIDDEN TRAUMA is the first intensive exploration of the unrecognized psychological and social aspects of this increasingly controversial American cultural practice. The book has been endorsed by dozens of professionals in psychology, psychiatry, child development, pediatrics, obstetrics, childbirth education, sociology, and anthropology.

Without much knowledge, the American public generally assumes that our cultural practice of circumcision is a trivial and benign procedure. As discussed in CIRCUMCISION: THE HIDDEN TRAUMA, plain facts and recent research results conflict with these beliefs and raise questions. Dr. Goldman’s application of psychological and social research coherently explains both the tenacity of the practice and the contradictory information and beliefs about it.

After a review of the surprising abilities of infants and their responses to circumcision pain, the long-term psychological effects of circumcision are examined from the perspectives of both traditional and more recent, innovative psychological theories. We learn that circumcision has potential effects not only on men and sexuality, but also on mother-child relationships, male-female relationships, and societal traits and problems. The text is supported with clinical reports, interviews, surveys, and thorough documentation.

CIRCUMCISION: THE HIDDEN TRAUMA identifies an overlooked source of early pain and simultaneously points us in the direction of both healing and preventing this pain. It is of particular interest to men who seek to explore their sexuality and deepen self-awareness; women who want to understand men better; parents and children’s advocates; childbirth educators and allied workers; and mental health, medical, and academic professionals. The book has wide appeal because, more generally, it is about trusting our instincts, questioning some of our cultural values and assumptions, and reflecting on who we are and who we can be as individuals and as a society.

Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., is a psychological researcher, educator, and executive director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, a nonprofit educational organization. He gives lectures and seminars on the psychological and social aspects of circumcision and provides consultation to expectant parents and circumcised men. Dr. Goldman has been a featured guest on local and national radio and television shows and has been cited in numerous newspapers and periodicals.

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Foreword by Ashley Montagu, Ph.D. xiii


Preface xv


Introduction: Controversial Questions 1


1. Infant Development and Response to Circumcision 6


Changing Views of Infants; Sensory Response; Other Abilities and Qualities; Pain
Response During Circumcision; Behavioral Response Following Circumcision;
Comments from Professionals

2. Why Parents and Physicians Choose to Circumcise Infants 29


Mental Factors; Emotional Factors; Male Attitudes Toward Choosing Circumcision;
Behavioral Factors; Communication Factors; Language Factors; Defense Mechanisms

3. Social and Cultural Factors Perpetuating Circumcision in America 57


Historical Context; Circumcision in Other Countries; Sexuality, Denial, and Normality;
Conformity; Female Genital Mutilation; Science, Medicine, and Cultural Values

4. Long-Term Psychological Effects of Circumcision: 82


I. Early Trauma and Memory
Reasons for Lack of Investigation; Birth as Trauma in Psychoanalysis; Infant
Neurological Development and Memory Capability; Clinical Experience with
Body-Oriented Therapies and Research on Birth Impact; More Reports of Perinatal
Memories; Circumcision Memories; Circumcision as Trauma; Circumcision of Older

5. Long-Term Psychological Effects of Circumcision: 103


II. Adult Emotional Impact
Men’s Attitudes Toward Their Own Circumcision; Psychological Impact of Circumcision
on Men; Body Image, Self-Esteem, and Shame; Neurological Effects; Discovering
Circumcision; Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Related to Circumcision;
Sex-Related Effects of Circumcision

6. Circumcision and the Mother-Child Relationship 124


Maternal Anxiety; Mother-Infant Interaction; Loss of Trust; Mothers Who Observed

7. The Impact of Circumcision on American Society 139


Effects of Low Male Self-Esteem; Avoidance of Intimacy in Male-Female
Relationships; Unnecessary Surgery; Control of Female Sexuality; Attitudes Toward
Pain and Stimulation; Passivity; Reduced Empathy; Antisocial Behaviors;
Interrelationships of Social Problems; Warfare

8. The Lessons of Circumcision 176


Infants Are Real People; Circumcision Trauma and Effects on Adults; Circumcision
and Disrupted Bonding; American Motivation to Circumcise; Science and Medicine;
Ethics and Medicine; Cultural and Social Perspectives; Hope for Healing


Appendix A Sample Hospital Circumcision Information 205


Appendix B Questionnaire 215


Appendix C Personal Account of FGM 216


Appendix D Jews and Circumcision 220


Appendix E Research Considerations 222


Glossary 227


Resources 229


Notes 231


Bibliography 267


Index 295


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