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Why is circumcision harmful?

gaultieri circumcisionby Tom Gualtieri for Intaction

The foreskin is the only part of the human body Americans routinely amputate in the absence of an immediate health threat. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued their 2012 statement reversing its previously neutral stance on circumcision, Intactivists have had to step up the education about the harm done by this unnecessary procedure. The AAP’s endorsement of circumcision cites medical issues which may be more prevalent by a few percentage points (sometimes fractions thereof) in the intact male: urinary tract infections, increased chances of STDs including HPV, HIV and others, as well as reduction in penile cancer. And even these are hotly debated. None are a direct threat and all are contingent on possibility, not probability.

What expectant parents must do is weigh the danger in these (mostly) adult threats against the safety of their newborn and his adult sexual health. Expectant parents must also consider the side effects of circumcision, and consider the idea that circumcision is harmful to babies.

When we think about infants, we do not like to think about the sexual beings they will become. Instead, we think of their safety, protection and innocence. But infant boys grow up to be men. All adults, men and women alike, deserve their full spectrums of sexual function and pleasure. The sleeve-like structure that is the male foreskin serves a sexual function so its removal, whether or not it is done in a safe environment, is a permanent alteration of the male sexual anatomy.

Since the penis can function (and has for centuries) without the foreskin, little thought is given to the long-term effects of its removal. Can a man experience sexual pleasure without his foreskin? Millions of men have but it is the quality of the sexual experience that serves both psychological and biological functions. (Prolonged periods of heightened sexual pleasure produce stronger orgasms in both men and women, making conception more likely.) If the plumbing works from infancy through the teen years, what problems could possibly exist? But it is often later in life that cut men start to experience problems.

Circumcision affects function

A study released in the April 2007 British Journal of Urology International (Volume 99, Issue 4, pp. 864–869, Morris L. Sorrells, et. al.) concluded that the “five locations on the uncircumcised [intact] penis that are routinely removed at circumcision had lower pressure thresholds.” In other words, the parts removed in circumcision are more sensitive than the parts which remain. The study also notes that the head [the glans] of the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive than the head of a cut male.

A Belgian study released this year reached conclusions similar to the Sorrells study; a circumcised penis is less sensitive than an intact one. (Bronselaer GA, Schober JM, Meyer-Bahlburg HF, T’sjoen G, Vlietinck R, Hoebeke PB., Department of Urology, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium.)

The removal of the specialized mucosal tissue which protects the glans penis also causes, over time, keratinization, a process through which skin cells lose moisture, making them tougher and less sensitive.

A loss of sensitivity may not seem important – to some – but the question of how that loss affects sexual function is the subject of a Danish study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in October 2011 (Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M.) In that study, circumcised men reported various types of sexual dysfunction 3x more often than intact men. According to Morten Frisch, who led the study, “there were differences… the circumcised men reported orgasm difficulties much more frequently than [intact] men.” The most common problem was unnaturally delayed ejaculation and even anorgasmia (inability to achieve orgasm.) Female sexual partners of those men were 10% more likely to report incomplete sexual fulfillment.

Christopher Guest, M.D, co-founder of the Children’s Health & Human Rights Partnership (CHHRP) calls the AAP’s statement “seriously flawed.” In a press release picked up by Reuters and other online publications, Guest states: “‘Circumcision alters the structure of the penis, which inevitably alters function. Long term harm to men from infant circumcision has never been studied.’ He referred to a growing body of anecdotal evidence collected by the Canadian-based Global Survey of Circumcision Harm. Guest said that in the past 12 months over 900 men have answered the online survey to document their harm.”

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I was damaged by my circumcision. I learned as an adult that I came home from the hospital with stitches in my penis. Upon examination, it is clear that a major vein was severed and the cut was too deep. Basically, too much flesh was removed from one side. The surgery left me with scarring and extreme sensitivity which causes irritation during certain sexual activities. This sensitivity has grown worse as I get older. My personal issue can be looked at as a combination of the two main arguments against circumcision: immediate danger to the infant and long-term symptoms experienced by the adult.

My complaint may seem an ungrateful one in relation to the grotesque damage on view in images of severely deformed penises resulting from botched circumcisions. Some of these are unbearable to look at it. My own sex life has been basically normal. The damage caused by my cut, because Americans are so accustomed to the circumcised penis, wouldn’t register unless you looked closely. I’ve even been asked to pose nude and appear naked onstage. I don’t know anything other than the sex life I’ve had, yet I can’t help but wonder what my sex life could be like had I been allowed to keep the body nature designed.

Circumcision leads to suicide – The story of David Reimer

In the annals of severe cases, David Reimer’s is one of the most extreme. Reimer’s horror story remained largely unknown until an expose in Rolling Stone Magazine in December of 1997. Reimer and his twin brother were scheduled for circumcision several weeks after birth due to phimosis (a

circumcision harm suicide

David Reimer

tightening of the foreskin which is often misdiagnosed in infancy and mistakenly treated through surgery). When Reimer’s surgery went horribly wrong, his brother’s surgery was aborted. The brother’s phimosis cleared up on its own without surgical intervention. But Reimer’s penis turned black and fell off.

The loss of Mr. Reimer’s penis resulted in a series of tragic decisions. First, his parents were convinced by a Johns Hopkins scientist to choose sexual reassignment for David. What followed was an orchiectomy (the complete removal of Reimer’s testicles) and an attempt to raise him as a girl via hormones and dozens of genital surgeries throughout his life. In his teen years, Reimer’s father disclosed what had happened and Reimer attempted to live his life as a man until his suicide in 2004.
Reimer’s story went unreported for three decades. Other stories like it, told by horrified nurses, doctors and O.R. staff, are available to those who will listen. Read more about David’s tragic story at Slate.

One nurse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me: “I had a baby who, shortly after his circ, his penis turned black and necrotic [Author’s Note: Just like David Reimer’s tragedy, above.] He was transferred to our hospital for evaluation and died within two weeks. Then several months ago, we had a partial amputation with urethral involvement. That baby had to be transferred to a tertiary care hospital for repair and will have lifetime urologic complications. The father was inconsolable.”

The damage and, in worst-case-scenarios, death are rarely attributed directly to circumcision itself but rather to complications which would not have arisen had the child been left intact. The associated complications of circumcision include infection, accidental amputation and sepsis. Death due to use of the wrong anesthesia and death from blood loss – whether or not a child is hemophiliac – are also risks.

Circumcision can lead to death

On March 9, 2013, an 11-day-old boy, whose parents posted about his surgical complications from circumcision, died as a result of blood loss due to his circumcision. He was a hemophiliac –a condition which would have been discovered with specialized testing – but had he not been circumcised, he would not have “bled out.” (The loss of a mere 2.3 ounces of blood is enough to kill an infant.)
http://intaction.org/baby-dies-from-circumcision-in-california/

Noted sex advice columnist Dan Savage (whose position on circumcision has changed since the adoption of his son in 1996), had no consolatory words for a young man who wrote to him in a 2004 column: (http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=19705 ), “I am 24 years old and lost my entire glans penis, the head of my dick, in a botched circumcision. Basically I have a shaft but there’s no head at the end…” Savage used this man’s example in response to a reader’s inquiry about circumcising her infant: “…even if the odds are low–even if they’re infinitesimal,” Savage said, “I would rather teach my son to wash under his foreskin than assume even the tiniest risk of him losing the head of his penis in a botched circumcision.”

Dr. M. David Gibbons, Associate Professor, Pediatric Urology at Georgetown University School of Medicine (who has an impressive list of affiliations in his field) says: “In my practice, as a pediatric urologist, I manage the complications of neonatal circumcision… in a two-year period, I was referred greater than 275 newborns and toddlers with complications of neonatal circumcision. Forty-five percent required corrective surgery – minor as well as major, especially for amputative injury. [With] 300 pediatric urologists in this country who have practices similar to mine… one can do the math.”
A case need not be extreme to cause sexual dysfunction (which does not always mean erectile difficulties but could include pain, irritation, anorgasmia and lack of sensitivity) or emotional trauma.

Circumcision harms men at all stages in life

Adam Z., a handsome 30-year-old in the computer industry, told me he became “enraged” when he learned that he had lost a part of his body. “No one feels sympathy when you tell them you were harmed by circumcision… We vehemently oppose the cutting of female genitals but men’s genitals are sent to the chopping block in infancy… the sexist double-standard regarding genital cutting in this society is absolutely staggering.”

Thirty-one-year-old Intactivist Jonathon Conte is open about his anger but finds it a difficult subject to revisit. He channels his feelings into “the human rights movement to abolish non-therapeutic, non-consensual genital cutting. I believe that all individuals – male, female and intersex – have a fundamental right to bodily integrity.” An events coordinator for Bay Area Intactivists, Conte wants people to understand that “circumcision negatively impacts a man and those around him throughout life.” With Americans in denial that the foreskin serves a necessary function, the job of activists like Conte becomes doubly difficult, struggling with their own resurfacing feelings while trying to educate.

Another Intactivist, here referred to as “Leo” asks, “Why do you think the foreskin covers the head of the penis? Why does it exist? Why does it move the way it does? One moment of scientific thought should get you thinking.” Leo tries to get people to understand that there are no mistakes in nature’s design. “Why?” Leo says, is one of the first things a child learns to ask but they are quickly taught to stop asking because there are some things parents and society don’t want to acknowledge. “I kept asking ‘why’ about my circumcision and when I found out the answer, I was disgusted that something so delicate would be cut from a baby’s body. It was mine. What right did anyone have to take a part of my sex organ!?”

Peter C., a Filipino man residing in New Zealand after being raised in the Philippines, was circumcised in adolescence. “Getting cut,” he maintains, “didn’t really stop me from [masturbating.] It only made it less enjoyable.”

Jonathan Friedman was circumcised in a bris, the Jewish religious ceremony which is performed on the eighth day after birth. As he matured, he realized that his “shaft skin was very tight. I always injured myself and had to stop masturbating or having sex,” because of it. “I don’t feel anything when I have penetrative sex,” he says, “and I orgasm unexpectedly or not at all.”

Some men have no feelings at all about their circumcision. Others live with rage. The long-term, psychological effects of circumcision can only be examined, at present, through anecdotal evidence, since no high-profile studies have been published. But columnist Dan Savage had a remarkably erudite and direct way of addressing the question of whether or not to circumcise an infant:
“…most cut men are happy with their dicks… and most uncut men are happy with theirs. The thing about the unhappy cut men, though, is that they can’t get uncut, you know what I’m saying?”

After all, shouldn’t it be a man’s choice? A choice made for him is no choice at all.

This article is combined version of two essays originally published at www.theweeklings.com . Read more articles from Tom Gualtieri at theweeklings.com . The full text of both articles can be read here:

OUR BODIES OUR CHOICES: PART I – http://www.theweeklings.com/tgualtieri/2012/08/31/our-bodies-our-choices-part-i/
OUR BODIES OUR CHOICES: PART II – http://www.theweeklings.com/tgualtieri/2013/02/22/our-bodies-our-choices-part-ii-men-and-their-members/

24 Responses to "Why is circumcision harmful?"

  • Naomi Molaletsi
    May 5, 2017 - 7:46 pm Reply

    I am a mother of a three year old baby who has gone through a bad procedure of SMC. Too much skin was cut of resulting in complications that affect my child’s health. The procedure was done at a government hospital, of which have no doctors in all the hospitals within the country to actually do a correction surgery. Any advice of which measures one should take in this situation?

  • Naomi Molaletsi
    May 5, 2017 - 7:19 pm Reply

    I am a mother

  • Andy
    June 15, 2016 - 4:32 pm Reply

    This site kicks ass. Anthony for President.

    Good work on this. I back up everything on here. I will never be able to forgive my parents, or the people who did this to me.

    My sons, however, are both intact. Onward.

    • scott chermside
      May 23, 2016 - 12:59 am Reply

      Are these unetical circ doctors getting massive kick backs for performing this grotesaue and disfiguring surgery?

  • Muse
    September 15, 2015 - 2:26 am Reply

    Hi i got one question after circumcision what happens with your foreskin which has been removed

    • Intaction
      September 15, 2015 - 9:40 am Reply

      Infant foreskin is very valuable and it can be sold without patient consent by hospitals to bio-tech companies for many uses including manufacture of cosmetic skin cremes.

  • Nikkie
    July 13, 2015 - 2:42 am Reply

    The human body is evolved by nature in millions of years, so it is perfect in all respects and does not require to modify.

  • Kimberlee
    April 6, 2015 - 11:43 pm Reply

    I am extremely scared for my son he is six years old and is uncut as of right now. I never got him circumcised at birth. I told myself that is his choice not mine to make. I was worried about the fact that his foreskin never really went down pass the head of his penis. So I ask his doctor about it and they say it happens to 1% of uncircumcised males that the skin is to tight to slide down pass the head of his penis and that circumcision is the only option to fix this problem. He said this to me like it was no big deal it’s only the foreskin that will be cut off. I am horrified by all of this. Is this the truth? Is this really my only option? Has this happened to anyone else? Please let me know because I don’t want my son to go through this surgery but if it is really the only option I have what other choice do I really have?

    • Intaction
      April 19, 2015 - 9:58 pm Reply

      Kimberlee,

      The condition your physician describes is known as phimosis – IN AN ADULT. The age children obtain the ability to retract their foreskin varies between the age of 5 to adolescence, so your son is normal. A small minority of adult males never retract their foreskin and that is normal for them. If your son is not experiencing discomfort then he is probably fine. It is vitally important not to forcibly retract a child’s foreskin as this can cause scarring of the delicate mucosal tissues underneath the foreskin. Formation of such scar tissue is a leading cause for phimosis later in life. Ignorant caregivers, including some pediatricians, may attempt to retract the foreskin to inspect or clean the penis, causing such scarring. Anyone caring for your child should be warned not to attempt to retract. Only the child should retract himself when he feels his body is ready to do that. In the event an adult has phimosis, it can be treated with a minimally invasive option by applying 0.05% betamethasone cream and doing gentle stretching exercises to loosen the skin and break down the scar tissue over time. This may take a few months to complete. Such treatment will allow the foreskin to regain its mobility. There are low cost non-prescription devices available that make the task of stretching the foreskin easy and convenient.

  • Unknown
    January 15, 2015 - 5:34 pm Reply

    Circumcision is bad. It’s just not needed.

  • Mohammed
    August 27, 2014 - 3:48 pm Reply

    Just like the female genital mutilation, it is male mutilation. Why God has not created man circumcised? Wasn’t able? or he had not thought about? based on documentary hundreds years ago tribes cut female clitoris just to make them isolated and captive or may be for punishment. So don’t you think same story for male?
    am a muslim but I hate this part and I never forgive my parents for mutilating me

    • Ali
      July 9, 2015 - 10:10 pm Reply

      Hi,
      You understand the truth. But how many people think like you? I personally think that circumcision is a white lie. Nor Muhammad (SM) recommended it. Even we see few verses in the Quran that indicate circumcision is a sin as it is alteration. How I can contact with you? Its time to get togather and call for ban. We should act to save our children from this horrible and cruel cultural phenomenon.

      • Yusra
        February 4, 2016 - 2:54 am Reply

        I m 6 months pregnant with a baby boy.can u plz tell me the verses of the Quran that indicate circumcision to b a sin?after documenting myself on circumcision, I don’t want my son to undergo this genital mutilation just for the sake that everyone else is doing it n it is a sunnah.i don’t have the heart to let a surgeon use a scalpel on my son s private part without it being medically necessary n without his consent.May Allah guide us

  • Jason
    July 16, 2014 - 7:47 pm Reply

    I had a tight frenular band, I went for advice and potentially the removal of 1cm off the tip of my foreskin. I realise now, had he been a doctor with any duty of care (dr Zarifa customs house london) he would have suggested steroid cream as the option. Instead he bullied me into being cut. He didn’t remove just the tip, he removed everything. My shaft now consists of 3 inches of scrotum skin, he left me 2cm of shaft skin and 2.5 inner. Erect I was at least 7, now I am lucky if I get 5.5. I have lost all sensation and a will to live. This is a barbaric procedure that must be stopped. Legally in England Any person can perform it. I just want to die, my life was destroyed in 30 minutes because he was late for my appointment and I had paid up front. My only help is that the project FOREGEN is attempting comes to fruition. If possible look up the site and spread awareness. We need all the help we can get.

  • Taran
    April 18, 2014 - 4:02 pm Reply

    I chose not to have my baby circumcised and I was horribly offended by Dr.’s who basically made me feel like my choice wasn’t really a choice at all and that I was somehow doing wrong by my child. I researched it while pregnant and I simy couldn’t come up with one good reason why not to leave my child’s foreskin intact. The only “good” reason the Doctors could give me was that it’d be a little harder to clean and care for.. Big deal! I am happy to report that my son has never had an issues with it so far and seems to be a happy and healthy child. But what really bothers me is the way the doctors and society, including friends family and peers made me feel like I was a horrible parent for opting out. I feel that if my son decides when he is older that he would like to be circumcised than he has every right to make that choice for HIMSELF! I don’t feel it should be made for him. I am appalled by news I heard the other day suggesting that medicL professionals are trying to make circumcisions mandatory.

    • Danielle
      January 2, 2017 - 7:46 am Reply

      I know your comment is old but I have to say THANK YOU for doing the research and not mutilating your PERFECTLY perfect child!! Going against the norm, which is there for no other reason than a sadistic mans whims, is difficult but a must if we are ever to change this barbaric practice.
      To those who believe in gods/goddesses, why would you destroy something you claim was made in their image?!??

  • JOHN Blagg
    March 19, 2014 - 1:45 pm Reply

    I would almost bet that if the hospitals and Dr.s had to pay the child the money they get from the foreskin sales they would stop supporting it.

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