Circumcision to Look Like Others

It is the circumcised father who may feel uncomfortable if he looks different from his son


Circumcision is often chosen by parents so that their son will not “look different” from his father or peers. The belief is that an intact (uncircumcised) boy will feel uncomfortable if he does not “match” others. In fact there is no published evidence whatsoever to support this belief.

This assumption may be the product of a psychological defense mechanism called projection, the process of attributing feelings to others that belong to oneself. It is the circumcised father who may feel uncomfortable if he looks different from his son. The fear of confronting these feelings in themselves motivates circumcised men to cling to the myth that intact sons will have such feelings. Furthermore, when the first generation of American boys was circumcised, they looked different from their intact fathers. This belief was not prevalent then because intact men had no repressed feelings about how their penis looked.

Investigation of the literature, interviews with intact men, and other pertinent information lead to the following inferences regarding the decision to circumcise for social or “matching” reasons:

  1. The circumcision status of the father is not necessarily known or important to a male child.
  2. A circumcised boy who “matches” others may nevertheless have negative feelings about being circumcised. These feelings can last a lifetime.
  3. It is not possible to predict prior to circumcision how a boy will feel about it later.
  4. If a boy gets teased because he looks different, that indicates an emotional problem in the perpetrator. The solution is appropriate communication to address this behavior and associated problem directly.
  5. Even though intact men are in the minority, there is some indication that most intact men are happy to be that way.
  6. An intact man who is unhappy about it can choose to be circumcised, but this is rarely done. The estimated rate of adult circumcision in the United States is 3 in 1000.
  7. An intact man who is unhappy about his status may feel different after learning more about circumcision and the important functions of the foreskin.
  8. The social factor is much less of an issue for boys born today because of the lower circumcision rate (approximately 32 percent nationally, under 25 percent in some states).

These two accounts from mothers of intact sons add another perspective to the discussion of choosing circumcision for social reasons.

“My youngest son [seven years old] is completely content at being ‘different’ from his father and [three] older brothers. When I explained circumcision to him, his face took on a frightened expression as he cupped his hands over his genitals and loudly declared, ‘That is never going to happen to me!!’ “

“When my eight-year-old son was five, he noticed a difference in the appearance of the other boys’ penises. I told him that’s because they had their foreskins cut off. He said, ‘That’s horrible.’ He’s very adamant about it.”

One eight-year old boy who is the only boy in his class who is not circumcised reported he is glad he is not circumcised. Concerning the other boys, he feels “kind of sad because they had it cut off.” If any boys comment about his penis, he tells them “why there is still skin over mine and not over theirs.” Then they do not bother him.

This boy’s mother told him about circumcision when he was younger. It appears that if an intact boy is given proper information, it is possible to prevent a negative impact even from extreme minority status in a group of circumcised boys.

See also If Your Son is Intact and A Mother’s Story: My Son Cried, “I Want My Foreskin Back!”