Sunday, 5 February 2012

Paradigm Shift: My Journey From Pro-Circumcision to Intactivism

I have a memory of being a teenager and thinking to myself; "I hope I marry a circumcised man, because foreskin seems so complicated and unclean".

I couldn't tell you specifically how or why that idea formed in my head, but it did. And that's all there was to it; foreskin was a useless flap of skin and without it, penises looked better and were cleaner. If I were to have boys of my own someday, they would be circumcised, no question.

When I thought about what penises looked like, I always thought of them in their adult form. I had no memory really of changing any baby boys' diapers when I was younger and I didn't know what actually happened during a circumcision. No clue. I had also almost never heard anyone talk about it in my life and had really never given it much thought. I was very naive and ignorant, to say the least.

When I became pregnant I read all about pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding. I ate healthy, exercised regularly, got plenty of rest. I wanted my baby to be healthy and I wanted to birth naturally. I read countless books and watched all kinds of videos preparing for the big day.

Not once did I read anything about circumcision. I didn't even Google it.

I thought it was a 'personal' choice and each couple just needed to decide what was 'right for them'. My husband and I discussed it a few times but couldn't really decide either way. 

I actually sometimes secretly wished my baby would be a girl so we wouldn't have to make the decision. 

By the end of my pregnancy, I was almost positive that I wanted to leave our son intact if we were to have a boy. It just seemed like the right thing for 'us' and my husband agreed.

We did end up having a boy, and not even 24 hours after his birth, my doctor very casually asked, "so are we circumcising?" I answered no and felt fairly confident with this decision, but in my postpartum emotional fog, I can't say for sure that I couldn't have been talked into it.  But no one tried.

We went home and as time went by I felt like we had made the right decision and thought my son was perfect the way he was born.

A few months later, the topic came up with some other moms (who had circumcised their babies) and they spoke very casually about it: "He handled it so well" "He slept through the whole thing" "It's better to do it when they won't remember" "We wanted him to look like his dad" "It's so much worse if they have to have it done when they're older".

I left the conversation thinking, 'maybe it's really not a big deal'. It tweaked my curiosity and I wanted to learn more.

I googled 'circumcision' and found a website called Peaceful Parenting. They had some information and even videos to watch of a circumcision being done. I hesitantly clicked on the link to the video and braced myself. However, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see.


This poor infant was naked and alone, arms and legs strapped down, crying hysterically while a physician inserted a probe underneath his foreskin and forcibly separated it from the glans, to which it was fused. 

I was horrified. 

Then the doctor took scissors and cut down the foreskin and proceeded to cut and crush the skin until all that was left of his penis was this tiny, raw, bleeding nub. 


I will never be the same after seeing that. I thought circumcision was just a 'little snip'? How naive was I? 

I thought to myself, 'could it be that the majority of new parents and parents-to-be are just as naive to this as I was?' I could have done this to my child.

I started digging deeper trying to learn more and found more videos, more articles, and countless blogs of parents who had circumcised and regretted it; men, young and old, who were sad, disappointed and downright angry about what had been taken from them when they were circumcised as infants; and child's right groups dedicated to the cause; Doctors Opposing Circumcision, Mothers Against Circumcision, The Whole Network, and NOCIRC to name just a few. 

Could it be that I wasn't the only one who was deeply disturbed by this whole thing? 

I just couldn't believe that I didn't know about all of this. 

✂I did not know that the foreskin was more than 'just a flap of skin'. It is actually about 15 square inches  on a grown man (the size of a 3x5" index card). It is highly sensitized, containing over 20,000 nerves and serves a multitude of purposes.

✂I did not know that the foreskin is fused to the head of the penis at birth (to protect the underlying glans), similar to the way our fingernails are fused to our fingers. During a circumcision the foreskin must be forcibly separated from the head of the penis before the skin is removed, leaving a raw glans, which must then develop layers of callous in order to protect itself from urine, feces, and the constant friction from diapers and clothing.

✂I did not know that circumcision was affecting my sex life. An absence of foreskin significantly affects sexual function for a man and his partner. I always thought that the need for artificial lubricant and often feeling 'sore' or 'raw' after sex was normal. Now I know that it is not normal, as the circumcised penis functions very differently than an intact one, resulting in increased friction for the woman on her sensitive vaginal wall and a decrease in lubrication. It all made sense to me after viewing this article & video.

✂I did not know that each year approx. 117 babies die in the United States each year, and likely many more, but whose cause of death is listed as 'hemorrhage' or something that happened as a result of the circumcision, instead of the circumcision itself. One hundred percent of these deaths are preventable.

✂I did not know that less than 1% of intact males will ever choose or require circumcision later in life. Less than 1%!

I did not know that circumcision can have profound psychological effects that can last a lifetime. Psychologists have suggested for decades that what happens to us in the first 5 years of our lives, especially traumas, significantly impact who we will become. Circumcision is a trauma that will forever be engrained in a person's subconscious mind even though they will not remember it

I did not know that many babies appear to sleep or remain expressionless during a circumcision babies actually go into shock, as the body's way to cope with the trauma.

✂I did not know that circumcision can significantly compromise breastfeeding and bonding.

I did not know that there are thousands of men are trying to restore their foreskin to improve sexual function and sensation and regain at least some of what was lost.

✂I did not know that there are thousands of parents who chose to circumcise their sons who have went on to deeply regret the decision. These courageous parents are speaking out in record numbers in hopes of saving other parents from the same regret and from baby boys from having to endure this unnecessary traumatic surgery and having to live with an incomplete penis their entire lives.

I did not know any of these things, yet I had the power to make this decision for my newborn son. I am thankful every single day that no one tried to talk me into it. I am thankful that my circumcised husband was OK with being different from his son. I am thankful that my doctor also saw no benefit to being circumcised. Countless other parents, including some people very close to me did not become informed in time and now have to live with their decision for the rest of their lives. They (and their sons) have been failed by our medical system. 

This is why I speak out.

Intactivist: Someone who loves, honors, respects and protects the rights of the child to an intact body. Someone who sees genital mutilation -- of girls or boys -- as a contradiction to that fundamental human right. ~The Urban Dictionary

What is interesting to me is the taboo surrounding the subject. Why are people so afraid to talk about it or to question it? Is it for fear of being judged? Or is it because we are afraid of the truth? Perhaps it is just hard for our species to accept that something we have been doing for decades has now been disproven to have medical benefits and has robbed millions of babies, and thus men, of one of the most sensitive parts of their bodies, without their consent

The emotions that rose up in me on the day I watched that circumcision video were no different than the emotions I remember feeling as a teenager when I was watching a documentary film in which girls were having their genitals mutilated in Africa. I never, at that time, even considered that what we do to baby boys in our country might be just as violating and horrific. Now, I know that ethically, it is no different, but because of social custom, we often don't view it that way. 

"Being Ignorant is not so much of a shame as being unwilling to learn" ~Benjamin Franklin

What is really boils down to is this; it is not about who is right, but rather what is right. It is not about who's a 'good parent' or a 'bad parent' based on whether or not you circumcised your son(s). We really need to get past these judgments, so that we can see circumcision for what it really is.

It's time to have objective conversations about why this is still happening, even though it is not recommended by a single health organization in the world. 

It is also not an issue for only parents to consider, but for all people as it is about basic human rights.

I urge people on both sides of the debate to learn all they can, find the courage to question their current notions and beliefs about circumcision and really get to the root of all of those beliefs. We owe it to our baby boys, who are also our fellow human beings.

"I believe the time has come to acknowledge that the practice of routine circumcision rests on the absurd premise that the only mammal in creation born in the condition that requires immediate surgical correction is the human male." 
Thomas Szasz, M.D

With gratitude,


Circumcision discards the most sexual bits of the male body. Hence American routine circumcision, still very often performed without any pain reduction, is a blatant sexual violation of a neonate. And the part of the documentary film "Cut," showing a sobbing boy lying on his parents' dining room table after his bris, proves that circ hurts like hell.

Lori, you are shocked by how little thought you gave to circumcision until after having your son. On the contrary, I am surprised by how much thought you gave it! "I have a memory of being a teenager and thinking to myself; 'I hope I marry a circumcised man, because foreskin seems so complicated and unclean.' " But your thought is further evidence in support of my claim that intact men face prejudice in the USA.

I never heard the word "foreskin" spoken until I was 37, even though it is in the Old Testament. Before the 1980s, the USA was a strange society that circumcised millions of neonates every year, but could not bring itself to talk about it, beyond 2-3 very misleading paragraphs in baby care books. What you didn't know was not your fault but the fault of a sexually ignorant culture. Growing up intact in the USA means realisng that sex and genital talk in the USA is rife with unspoken false assumptions, urban myths, smug prejudices passed off as jovial common sense.

I suspect that a large majority of women of my generation never thought about circumcision until they took their first prenatal class. They never took care of an intact boy, never dated an intact man. One reason why many women of your generation are angry about this topic is because of the silence that surrounds it.

American doctors have been keen to circumcise for over 100 years. You'd think by now that there would be studies of the possible drawbacks and long run complications of circumcision. Yet only one long run complication of circumcision has been properly researched to date: meatal stenosis. In particular, how circumcision may adversely impact the aging penis and marital sex after 50 is known only from anecdotes. The absence of such studies renders RIC prima facie unethical.

Thank you for revealing that you suspect that your spouse's circumcision detracts from your marital sex life. You are far from alone.
Thank you for compiling this information and for your clear and concise perspective! Very powerful! I am also an intactivist, with one son who is intact and unvaxed. (There's another area where parents would benefit from doing some research ...!) He just turned 18 years old, and has always been very healthy ... and no problems with his intact penis ... except that you have to tell doctors NOT TO RETRACT their foreskin, before the doctor lays a hand on your son! My son had his foreskin retracted by a doctor who did not say what he was about to do or anything else! >:( Resulted in my son having to clean his glans and retract his (very tight, at that time) foreskin long before he should have had to. I am bookmarking this site for new parents!
Andrea von Schoening
I just recently starting writing about circumcision on my blog. Posts like this inspire me to keep going. What makes it hard at times, though, is the good parent vs. bad parent thing. I feel like I need to start every anti-circumcision comment with "I am against RIC, but that does not mean I think you are a bad mother for choosing it for your child." I mean, I have a wonderful mother, but I'm pretty sure my little brother is circumcised.
Very well written. Thank you so much for speaking up and inspiring other parents to dig a little deeper! Will be passing this along to others.
Someone who does not respect the human rights of another individual cannot be considered a "good person". Ignorance is no excuse.

Parents, even with the best of intentions, can still harm their children if they don't stop and think about how their actions are going to affect them.

"Children are people not property." - Frank Zappa

People.... not to be molded into any religious/sexual/or social mold. When you have plans for a child i.e. "he will be religious, he will go to MIT, he will not be gay" you are not 'loving' your child, you are loving the imagined person that you want them to be and are making decisions based on your own fantasies. Many children hide who they are or feel distanced from their parents because they know that the person they are is not who their parents want them to be.

Circ is a symptom of something greater happening in society today. Circ is sex crime, just as bad if not worse than rape. Ironically which, only recently are men recognized as being potential victims of rape.

You're rights end and begin with your own body. This is the most important thing for any human to be able to grasp and accept. This is the one unprejudiced moral law that you have the right to teach your child.
I wish I could say I don't love you for this. But I do. ; )
We had fully planned on circ'ing our son until I needed an unexpected c section (it really was necessary for my sons safety). My husband said there was no way he could watch two people he loves go through that and we opted out. Best decision we made. Like you, it wasn't until a few months later that's actually took time to research. I admit I was never able to watch the videos or see photos, but the ones you shared have me in tears. While a c section wasn't what I wanted, it saved my son from what I would consider torture of an innocent, helpless baby. Thank you so much for writing something so informative, heartfelt and honest
The only reason my son and I got circumcised is due to health concerns. But that does not mean I don't appreciate this article.
Lori, I LOVE how you've written this article. I think it will make more women think about circumcision and I'm sharing widely. I'm thankful that I never even considered circumcising my son. I was born and raised in the UK where it's much less common and never even knew much about it - all my partners have been deliciously intact :-) Like you I am horrified at what is being done to young babies - it's an outrageous crime that I pray will stop. I've written some pieces on my blog and elsewhere too Articles like these will help that vision be realised. Onelove
I still can't believe that something so barbaric is considered "normal." I can't watch those videos. It's just the most awful thing I've ever seen. Honestly, even if it WAS "dirtier," I still wouldn't do it to any sons I have. Because I will not put them through that as a baby. If they wanted to have it done later, they could. At least they use proper pain management when they do it to adults! It's just amazing that we think it's more reasonable to put a baby through that when a full grown man is afraid to do it!
This is my same journey. We kept our son intact because circumcision wasn't medically necessary and therefore wasn't something we would pay for since it's not covered by our insurance. After a few months, I saw a video on Facebook and I was horrified. I did more research, and more research, and more research, and the more I know the more I hate it. And it's so taboo. And it takes so much courage to pull back the curtain and speak up about it. But it DOES matter, and it DOES make a difference, and we WILL see a cultural shift away from this horrifying practice. Thank you, and all Intactivists everywhere, for having the courage to speak up. Our sons (and their wives) will thank all of us for our courage someday.
Thank you for posting this. My husband and 2 year old son are intact. I am an extreme inactivist! My best friend is prego with a boy right now, and my husband to told me that she told him she was thinking of circing... and she didn't want me to be mad with her. I haven't talked to her about it... didn't know what to say. My hubbie said not to tell her she told him. I'm so frustrated though! I REALLY hope she chooses to leave him intact. I posted this article on her facebook page just now... really hope it makes a difference.
Thank you for posting this! That's so awesome you decided to leave your son whole without even researching! I do think a lot of moms are naive about what actually happens and out it negatively affects their son for the rest of his life. Hopefully the US will follow in the rest of the worlds footsteps soon and being natural is the norm not cut up. My son is also intact but my husband was cut, and even now at 30 is upset at his mom for having it done against his fathers wishes at the time and also for refusing to apologize. More moms need to know it can be done at ANY point in a mans life but it can never be fully reversed. Men SHOULD have the option to choose.
Your quote by Thomas Szasz MD (1920-2012) is a great one. Feel the biting sarcasm. Szasz was a secular Jew, and a man who was utterly fearless behind the typewriter.

In August of this year, the AAP said, in effect, that parents should be completely free to decide the fate of a son's foreskin, for any reason. And that the decisions of parents should not leave them out of pocket. Since when does the typical parent have the urological and sexual knowledge required to make an informed decision about how the tip of his penis should look and function? I myself am intact, and learned a great deal about my penis in my 40s and 50s, often by reading stuff by intactivist women!

* The America I grew up in a half century ago never spoke the word "foreskin." I was 37 when I first heard the word spoken, despite the fact that it is in the Bible. I never heard the word employed in a youthful lewd remark. I am confident that most American women of my generation have never understood what Nature Intended the penis to be like. Women of Lori's generation are more likely to view explicit imagery on the internet.

* the foreskin is not a "flap" but a sleeve. That sleeve retracts in an ingenious way that affords a man a lot of sexual sensitivity but without putting that sensitivity at risk from constant contact with underwear.

* Because the foreskin is fused to the glans at birth, because a newborn is not toilet trained, and because the foreskin usually shortens at puberty, to an unpredictable degree, shortly after birth is not a good time to circumcise. It is done at that time in order to dispense with anesthesia. Doing it without anesthesia is barbaric.

* American medicine has yet to research the possibility that circumcision can adversely impact normal adult sexuality. You are not the only American woman to discover that sex can be less than pleasant with a circumcised partner.

* I reserve judgement on Bollinger's estimate of 117 deaths per year. But I am confident that the number of deaths is at least 10-20 per decade. I strongly suspect that death certificate coding practices conceal more death from RIC.

* How often adult men require circ or opt for it very much depends on how comfortable a national culture is with circ. In 2000, it was discovered that as many as 4% of British boys are eventually circumcised for "phimosis." In Scandinavia, the medical circ rate is less than 0.1% The British used to circumcised before 1950. Scandinavia has a sexual culture that is very pro-foreskin.

* LLL and American medicine refuse to face that RIC can compromise breastfeeding and bonding.

* More and more American parents are moving away from circumcision, in good part because America is growing less embarrassed to face the truth about the most sexual part of the male body, the tip of the penis. To my surprise, YouTube and other sites do not censor videos depicting RIC.

* I am also surprised by the number of women who have taken advantage of internet anonymity to share their sexual experiences with cut and natural men. These women have all attested to how the moving foreskin makes intercourse less brutal and more satisfying.
I am mother baby nurse in a major NYC hospital, I am also a mother of 8 year old girl and 6
month old boy.
I am appalled how circumcision is offered to new mothers as if it is a haircut. There are no classes that would educate new parents about the procedure,you are pretty much on your own.
Here are 2 major reason parents want their son to be circumcised (and I am ready to start an anonymous survey)
• it is healthy/good for him
•so he "looks like" his
father(sometimes fathers are the one requesting it more often then mothers)

Most parents don't know what the procedure looks like( to tell you the truth, majority of them that decided to watch circ , walked out extremely upset)
but when it is done, they seem to be shocked when they change the diaper and see "raw penis".
What did you think? It is a haircut?How ignorant can you be?
As a parent,I still can't understand how parents can take away that basic human right away from their sons, chopping away part of their body. I was born and raised in Croatia, where circumcision is not practice that everybody blindly follows. My grandfather , my dad and my brother are not circumcised , no history of penile cancer, STD's or any other problems.My husband is circumcised , so before the baby was born we both agreed if it was a boy we would not do it( long story short- what surprised me, when I was waking up from general anesthesia after c section, they asked my husband if he wants his son to be circumcised.....what?)
There is no evidence or reason to do it, except if you are Muslim or Jewish( I can understand that)

Doctors (OB/GYNs)and nurse practitioners get $$$ for doing it( even more incentive to encourage mothers to sign the consent)
They do not educate parents what will happen if their son does not get circumcised.
If I am educating parents about not doing it( offering printed articles,pictures, what ever is needed to decide against it)
I am being singled out as weird, crazy, ignorant nurse who does not know health benefits.
Sometimes I worry about loosing my job.
What's is wrong with not mutilating your child, leaving it up to him to decide when he is able to?
Education is the key and
more attention should be brought to this topic in paenting classes.

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