The subject of male circumcision is highly taboo in
America. Most men-and this includes doctors-
would prefer not to think about circumcision, and can become
defensive when the subject is brought up. Most American men have
never even seen an intact human penis.
Circumcision is not a benign surgery. Besides destroying a significant
segment of the male's sexual equipment, it has a significant complication
rate. According to an important medical study, one serious complication-severe
hemorrhage, infection, loss of entire penis, or death-occurs in
every 500 circumcisions (approximately 3,700 in 1993).1 According
to another study, "Death as a complication from newborn circumcision
has been estimated to occur in from 1 in 24,000 to 1 in approximately
500,000 [cases]. Some investigators have actively sought out
complications by interview and have recorded rates of 55%."2
These figures suggest that, with 1.2 million circumcisions performed
in this country each year, at least 3 boys die each year, and
for no other reason than that they were born in the United States.
Prospective parents are not given these facts.
The U.S. is the only Western nation that surgically alters its
males in this manner. In Europe and in most of the world, [non-religious]
circumcision is unknown, and intact males do not suffer from any
of the diseases and discomforts claimed by American proponents
of circumcision. Genitally-intact Europeans are often very amused
to hear the notions circumcised Americans have about the normal
human penis. Notions about improved hygiene after circumcision
appear ludicrous to intact men. The European medical community
condemns the U.S. for a practice they call a barbaric violation
of human rights.3 Europeans believe that males have a basic human
right to an intact penis, a right to keep the body they were born
with, and a right to body ownership and autonomy. For them it
is a question of respect and dignity.
The foreskin is one of the most erotically sensitive parts of
the penis. It represents 50% to 80% of the skin system of the
penis, depending on the length of the penile shaft. It is a unique
and highly complex organ. The average foreskin has over three
feet of veins, arteries, and capillaries, 240 feet of nerve fibers,
and over 1,000 nerve endings. If unfolded, the adult foreskin
would measure 20 to 30 square inches.
The foreskin plays a large role in sexual function. When sexually
aroused, its lips expand and unroll over the glans. The glans
stimulates the foreskin, and the foreskin stimulates the glans.
The foreskin functions much like the eyelid. The inside of the
foreskin and the glans of the normal penis are glistening and
red, just like the inside of the mouth. The foreskin has glands
that produce a natural moisturizer and lubricant called smegma.
Smegma serves the same purpose as tears do in the eye: it keeps
everything moist, clean, and lubricated.
In the U.S. there is a myth that the natural human penis is a
self-destructing time-bomb, ready to go off at any time in an
explosion of disease, filth, and horrible stenches, an inevitable
disaster which only immediate surgery at birth can prevent. Can
this be true? Why and how did this practice of routine infant
circumcision begin in the United States?
Non-religious circumcision was introduced into this country on
a very small scale in the 1860s for a single purpose-to stop masturbation.
Circumcision was used as a deliberate surgical intervention to
debilitate and desensitize the penis.
During the Victorian era, physicians began to believe that all
sexual activity was dangerous to physical and emotional health.
Masturbation was viewed as the most dangerous form of sexuality
and was named as the cause of every known disease, from blindness
to nervousness, insanity, venereal disease, tuberculosis, and
death. With every credible American doctor and medical association
issuing dire warnings about masturbation, any step taken towards
its eradication and prevention was deemed justified.
In cases of masturbation we must, I believe, break the habit
by inducing such a condition of the parts as will cause too much
local suffering to allow the practice being continued. For this
purpose, if the prepuce is long, we may circumcise the male patient
with present and probably with future advantages; the operation,
too, should not be performed under chloroform, so that the pain
experienced may be associated with the habit we wish to eradicate.4
A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful
in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed
by a surgeon without administering an anaesthetic as the pain
attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind,
especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment.5
Clarence B. was addicted to the secret vice practiced among
boys. I performed
circumcision. He needed the rightful
punishment of cutting pains after his illicit pleasures.6
By the turn of the century, circumcision had become a panacea.
Amputation of the foreskin was "scientifically proven"
to cure and prevent diseases ranging from insanity to epilepsy,
malnutrition, hip-joint disease, paralysis, eczema, tuberculosis,
headache, hysteria, alcoholism, criminality, and heart disease.
In 1928, the American Medical Association published an editorial
in its journal calling for the routine circumcision of all male
infants at birth. The primary justification for routine circumcision
was the prevention of masturbation.7
I suggest all male children be circumcised. I am convinced
that masturbation is much less common in the circumcised.8
During World Wars I and II, many soldiers were forcibly circumcised
by military doctors under threat of court martial. Returning
WWII veterans were now conditioned to believe that circumcision
was the correct thing to do. They were told it was hygienic,
that it prevented disease, and that conformity was necessary.
Young parents did not object when their newborn boys were automatically
circumcised after being delivered in hospitals, though in reality
they had no choice. Hospitals did not require anyone's consent
to perform this surgery.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this abusive situation was
reformed. Hospitals and doctors were required to obtain informed
consent from patients for any medical or surgical procedure.
Circumcision now required consent before a doctor was legally
allowed to amputate, but since a baby is unable to give his consent,
parents were assumed to have the power to give consent on behalf
of the baby.
By the early 1970s, over 90% of newborn boys were automatically
circumcised. In 1971, the American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed
the medical literature on circumcision and determined that circumcision,
after all, was not medically valid. The circumcision rate began
to fall dramatically. New medical excuses continue to be invented
for the surgery, but all have been disproved by European studies.
In the 1980s, an awakening began in the psyches of American men.
Many began to realize that they had been alienated from their
bodies. Many began to question the myths which told them that
their genitals were inherently "dirty" and in need
of surgical reduction. Today, American men in increasing numbers
are becoming aware that they had a right to all of their reproductive
organs and that no one had the right to remove part of their body.
Men are now demanding the right to control their own sexual organs.
Marilyn Fayre Milos, a registered California nurse, founded the
National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers
(NOCIRC) in 1986. NOCIRC is now the nation's leading human rights
organization for body ownership rights. The National Organization
to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NOHARMM) was
founded by Tim Hammond in 1992 in San Francisco, and has awakened
millions of men to this men's movement issue. One recent NOHARMM
survey of hundreds of victims of circumcision proves the lifelong
negative consequences of this sexual alteration.
Founded respectively by Wayne Griffiths and Dr. James Bigelow,
the National Organization for Restoring Men (NORM) and the UNCircumcising
Information and Resources Center (UNCIRC) have given hope to thousands
of American victims of circumcision wishing to restore their foreskin.
Dr. Bigelow's revolutionary book, The Joy of Uncircumcising!,
shows men how they can gently stretch their remaining penile shaft
skin to cover their glans. Restoration cannot give back the erotogenic
nerves amputated at birth, but can create a more natural-looking
penis. The restored foreskin functions as the original might
have; it enables the glans to heal, soften, and return to a much
higher and normal level of sensitivity. Restoration has been
very therapeutic for men. It improves body image, improves self-esteem,
dispels feelings of victimization, and empowers men to make choices
about their own sexuality.
American men are beginning to realize the truth that nature knows
more about designing the penis than do American doctors. Parents
do not have the right to force circumcision on their sons. The
only person who has the right to consent to the amputation of
a normal, healthy, functioning body part is the person who must
live with the consequences. Many circumcised American males unnecessarily
feel uneasy and threatened by the men's pro-choice movement. The
movement against infant circumcision is no threat to circumcised
men. The men's pro-choice movement is fighting for the freedom
of American males to keep the sexual organs nature intended them
to have. Parents have nothing to lose and everything to gain by
leaving their sons intact. Permitting their offspring the dignity
of an intact body and protecting the basic human right to self-autonomy
is both good and noble. Everyone has the right to an intact body.
In the spirit of brotherhood, American men are now empowering
themselves to fight the taboos which for decades have prevented
them from speaking out against the violation of their basic human
right to control their own reproductive organs. The men's pro-choice
movement empowers men to fight to protect the rights of future
generations. By saying "no" to circumcision, American
men are saying "yes" to men's rights. We are wrenching
the stainless-steel scalpels from the hands of the circumcisers
and beating them into silver spoons for our sons. History will
forever thank us if we act now.