“The shock and surprise of my life came when I was in junior high school.”
The overwhelming majority of circumcised men were circumcised as newborn infants. The memory of this event is not in their conscious awareness. Consequently, the connection between present feelings and circumcision may not be clear. For example, a circumcised man wondering about its effects said,
It seems to me that there’s got to be a connection between circumcision and how I feel about my genitals and my sexuality. It just isn’t reasonable to me that there wouldn’t be a connection there. I think it’s something that’s so deeply buried that it’s going to take more exploration on my part for me to get in touch with it. It’s pretty disturbing that circumcision was the first sexual experience that I ever had.
Yet the men quoted in “Psychological Impact of Circumcision on Men” attribute many negative feelings to their circumcision. Is this attribution accurate, and how did it originate? We explored this question by interviewing men who contacted the Circumcision Resource Center and asking them when and how they first recognized their feelings. Based on their responses, the answer is in the impact of discovering one’s circumcision as a child. If a child grows up in a community that has children of differing circumcision status, it is probable that the day will come when a circumcised boy will notice the difference. Under certain circumstances, this realization can have traumalike consequences such as recurrent unwelcome thoughts and images.
One man told of an indelible scene when he was four. He was with an intact boy who showed him his penis and explained circumcision to him. He was shocked and ashamed at what had been done to him and thought, “Why would somebody want to do that to me? They just chopped it off. It didn’t make any sense to me.” As an adult he thinks about it “every time I take a shower or urinate.”
Joanne Dion told of an incident with her three-year-old circumcised son. While she was showing him his baby pictures, he noticed one with his penis intact and asked about it. After his mother explained what had happened, he expressed his displeasure by saying, “Doctors shouldn’t have scissors.”
The man who stated near the beginning of this chapter that circumcision was “the single most traumatic event of my life” related this experience:
My initial awareness came when I was about five years old and playing with the boy who lived down the street. I discovered that he had that skin and I didn’t. I don’t remember anything in terms of verbal exchange. It’s now sixty years later, and the memory is still very vivid, the two of us sitting on his bathroom floor. It had a profound effect, an imprinting on my mind. Then, when I was about thirteen, I went swimming with a friend at one of the local lakes. When we were changing into bathing suits, I realized that he was uncircumcised. That, again, was a strong imprint. Probably those two early experiences were enough to be a very strong picture in my mind and cause a realization of my loss. I had no idea at the time of how traumatic it was. I only knew that there was something different, and I was thinking about it so much every day.
Another man remembered his childhood discovery:
I’ve been angry about being circumcised since I was six years old. I was taking a hike in the woods with my older brother and his friend. We all had to use the tree. My brother said to his friend, “What’s wrong with you?” His friend said, “It’s not what’s wrong with me. It’s you guys.” His mother was a nurse, and she knew better than to do it to him. We didn’t know the terminology. We didn’t understand it, but he told us that we were born the way he was, and then someone cut part of us off. I haven’t talked to my brother about it over the years, but all my life I’ve been just dying for my chance to get my hands on that doctor that did it to me.
A typical case of discovering the difference is the following story:
The shock and surprise of my life came when I was in junior high school, and I was in the showers after gym. . . . I wondered what was wrong with those penises that looked different than mine. . . . I soon realized I had part of me removed. I felt incomplete and very frustrated when I realized that I could never be like I was when I was born—intact. That frustration is with me to this day. Throughout life I have regretted my circumcision. Daily I wish I were whole.
A man who first recognized his dissatisfaction with circumcision as an adult reported:
What changed my feeling about circumcision was recognizing that this was done to me without my consent at a time when I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I don’t see anything wrong with having the option. I just don’t like the idea that someone made this decision for me. I’ll never know how it feels to be uncircumcised.