Mon 23 Jul 2007
In order to make sense of my feelings on the issue of circumcision, I wrote this history which
helps me to understand how my thoughts developed.
3–6 years old:
My earliest clear memories (3–4 years old) is the recollection of sneaking around the locker room every chance I could to try to see as many penises as possible. I was always very pleased when I saw someone with foreskin, but it was ALWAYS on an “old man”, NEVER on another kid. My logic told me that for some reason, I also had an old man’s penis. I knew I was a kid and wanted to look like the other kids including my two older brothers. My father was intact (I only saw him a few times in my life), but I NEVER wanted to look like him. Eventually I realized that some “old men” were circumcised and some were not. I was then more confused about the different types of penises, but figured that all old men would look intact—the process just took more time with some people than with others. I can’t say that I recall thinking that there was something drastically wrong with me, but simply that I had an old man’s penis (though, without pubic hair, etc.).
Having watched my nieces and nephews trying to sneak around when they were little (there is nothing subtle about it), I now understand why people sometimes seemed to give me strange looks and cover themselves as I was trying so hard to “innocently” look at their genitals. Clearly, I knew even then that looking at someone’s penis was wrong and that the topic of penises was something that was taboo and could not be talked about—with anyone. I have no memory of ever asking my parents why I was different when I was a young child so I cannot say how I first realized that sexual issues were so “unmentionable”.
6–7 years old:
This is the “defining moment” of my life and is therefore the most difficult for me to write about. My father (a physician) took my next older brother and me to a pediatrician for school physical exams. Normally my father took care of whatever medical problems we might have. We sat in the examination room wearing only our underpants. My brother was examined first and I watched as the pediatrician pulled down his underpants and VERY briefly examined his genitals. My exam was quite different. The doctor immediately grabbed my penis and pushed the skin back. It HURT and I nearly jumped off the table. I had never seen my glans before—I can’t even say that I knew that intact men had a glans. He grabbed my glans, which was extremely sensitive, and I immediately got an erection. I was shaking—scared, horrified, humiliated. Instead of my father or the pediatrician saying anything to me about how my erection was normal, etc. the two of them just stood there and LAUGHED. NOTHING was said to me. The pediatrician masturbated me for a while (moving my skin up and down repeatedly). I cannot adequately describe how absolutely mortified and petrified I felt. It is inconceivable to me that both the doctor and my father could not have noticed my distress. It was not an enjoyable sexual experience. Eventually the pediatrician asked my father a question that I did not understand. My father’s response was “Yes, but the doctor didn’t do a very good job of it.” Today, I am sure that the pediatrician was asking if I had been circumcised.
This was the first time that I realized that I didn’t simply have an old man’s penis, but that something was wrong with me. I did not know what and because nothing was said to me at the time or later, I eventually tried to convince myself that I just did not understand the whole exam. However, well into my adulthood, I continually agonized, back and forth, between whether or not I was intact or defective as the result of some doctor’s actions. I suspect that I just would not allow myself to accept the notion that there was something really wrong with me.
My father was serving in the Army when I was born and he did not see me until I was 5 months old. I never remember having a good relationship with my father, though I do remember desperately wanting my father to pay attention to me. After this experience I never really wanted to be around him (which was quite easy to do since he was a workaholic and seldom at home). I learned from this experience that my father would simply stand by and let someone hurt me – and laugh about it, too! It was a complete betrayal of all the trust I had in him. It made me think that he did not love me and that the reason he never played with me (I remember him playing card games with my siblings) was that I was defective.
If I wasn’t obsessed about penises/foreskin before, I certainly was now and have been obsessed ever since. What I do know now is that while there was no intent to sexually abuse me, that examination was sexual abuse in effect.
8 years old:
Shortly before my 8th birthday, we moved to Taiwan for almost a year. In 1960/61 it was common for little children to use the gutters as a toilet, so I saw many little Chinese boys’ penises. I was quite pleased to see that ALL these kids looked like me. Despite the fact that I am of northern European descent, my logic told me that since my parents could speak a little Chinese and I had a Chinese penis, then obviously I was a “little bit Chinese!”
OK, maybe I was not a very bright 8 year-old. However, the point is that much of my identity was defined by the appearance of my penis. For a while I did not feel as “defective” as before.
8–14 years old:
I eagerly awaited the arrival of TIME magazine and the occasional National Geographic magazine. The Art section of TIME sometimes had a picture of a painting or statue with a naked male. I always wanted to see if the guy had a foreskin. Often the picture in the magazine was too small to really be able to determine the status, but I was intent on trying to figure it out. National Geographic, on the other hand, was sometimes a bonanza of pictures with naked men. However, these magazines probably did a lot to help reinforce the idea that primitive people, long dead Romans and Greeks, and cherubs had foreskins. Medical books (mostly of my father’s) and heath/medical books I searched out in the school libraries mostly showed pictures or sketches of circumcised penises. If anything was mentioned about foreskin, it was to say something negative. Many books seemed to give the impression that the foreskin did not even exist! The message was loud and clear: foreskin is useless, dirty, unhealthy, and disgusting. It was a FACT!
9–10 years old:
A Jewish boy in my class came up to me in the locker room and very proudly showed me his penis. I had seen him before and had thought that he was circumcised. He wanted to tell me that he was now “in the boy’s club”. During a recent vacation period he had been circumcised, AGAIN! Apparently, he (and/or his parents??) thought that not enough skin had been taken during the first circumcision. This was quite a surprise to me. He explained that the doctor had cut off the rest of his “extra” skin and now he was really a “boy”. This was the first time that I realized that the difference in penises was the result of cutting off the foreskin.
Obviously, this Jewish boy must have been quite concerned about his appearance also. He had specifically sought me out to show off his “normal” penis. He thought I should “join the club”. His penis looked very scarred and ugly to me. I was horrified. As much as I wanted to look circumcised, I was not about to let anyone cut me up! However, for the first time, my fear was verbalized to me: I was not REALLY a boy!
11–12 years old:
The school swim classes for boys were conducted in the nude. Of about 40 boys in the class, I was the only one with foreskin when I was 11. I can honestly say that no one ever made any verbal comments to me about my foreskin, though I was well aware that others were looking at me (I was looking at them, also). It was particularly embarrassing to be unanimously elected the “best back floater” in the class even though it was true. There I was, floating on my back with the entire class looking at me.
When I was 12, there was a boy from India in the class who was intact. (I should note that by this age, I did NOT think that I was a “little bit Indian”). While I was pleased not to be the only boy in the swim class with a foreskin, I was very aware that I was not like any of the other American kids—mostly white, some black, a few Asian.
Around this time (11–12 years old), my father gave me a school physical. The exam was done in my parents’ bedroom and I was petrified. I associated a physical exam with someone playing with my penis. I still was quite ignorant about sex (neither of my parents ever told me the facts of life), but I “knew” by now that getting an erection was definitely a mortal sin. I don’t think my father had seen me naked for several years and he seemed surprised when I pulled down my underpants for him. As he examined my penis, he began to seem upset. He manipulated my foreskin back and forth, (fortunately for me, I was so petrified that I did not get an erection this time), but he was clearly acting as though something was really wrong with me. He did not say a word to me and I “knew” that no comments/questions were expected from me. My mother suddenly came into the room and my father angrily asked her why she hadn’t told him about my penis. My mother’s response was that I had been old enough to wash and dress myself for years and she wasn’t aware that anything was wrong. A big argument began between my parents and I was immediately sent from the room. I was quite relieved as I was old enough to be very embarrassed to be naked in front of my mother, especially while my penis was being talked about. That was the end of the exam and NOTHING was ever said to me about it.
As with the previous exam, I don’t believe that my father intended any sexual abuse. However, the effect was sexual abuse. Who could I tell? It was my own father this time “playing” with my penis and not just a bystander. I knew that I just had to stand there and let him do anything to me without the slightest explanation. To make matters worse, it was clear that he was upset about my genitals. Something was DEFINITELY “wrong” with my penis AND apparently my testicles now, also!
By this time, my relationship with my father was almost nonexistent anyway, but this just reinforced to me that my father was not my protector. I felt he ignored me because I was defective and it was simply not acceptable for one of his children to be less than the best.
13 years old:
My parents were very religious. They had originally planned to be medical missionaries in China (which is why they could speak Chinese, though not very well at all by this time). I was required to go to catechism classes although I really did not believe in a god. While reviewing some passages from Genesis with my mother, we read about the circumcision covenant. The bible seemed to make it clear that little boys were to be circumcised and I finally asked my mom why I had not been circumcised.
Her response was: “You ARE circumcised, but you were circumcised DIFFERENTLY than your brothers.”
I was dumbfounded. I was so shocked that I did not say anything more. My reaction was that she was WRONG. Clearly, I was NOT circumcised. The evidence was obvious since my glans was COMPLETELY covered by “foreskin.” After believing my whole life that I was intact, and now being told that I was circumcised contrary to the evidence, made no sense. I believed my mother was “stupid”. It was IMPOSSIBLE for me to be circumcised. My mom, being a girl, simply did not know anything about penises!!
I don’t know if my mom told my father that I had thought that I was not circumcised. He never talked to me and I never attempted to talk to either of them about the subject again.
15–16 years old:
During the last year in high school, I began to notice that a couple of the other boys seemed to have some skin bunched up behind their glans. Most guys had a very tight circumcision. One day after swimming (thankfully with swim suits the last few years) I saw that while one of these guys was drying off, his foreskin moved forward to cover most of his glans. He obviously sensed it and immediately pulled his skin back again. He looked around to make sure that nobody had noticed. I believe he realized that I had seen, but we never talked about it although we were sort of friends. I knew that he had been born in South America when his parents had worked there for a number of years. This gave me the idea that I too could probably try to pass as circumcised. However, pulling my foreskin back would give me an erection. That was clearly NOT an option for the locker room and, anyway, EVERYONE had already seen my foreskin.
16 years old:
I do NOT go to doctors. My sister is a physician and if I need medical care, I call her. I know that she is not going to ask me to drop my pants and then play with my penis. When my sister takes my blood pressure and pulse, I am fine. The few times that I have been forced to see a doctor for a school physical or employment physical have been very traumatic. I panic. My blood pressure goes through the roof (my sister refers to it as “white coat hypertension”). My pulse races. I hardly sleep for days before the exam. I am almost frozen with fear.
I needed a physical to enter college. The form was sent to me along with other college information. I read the physical exam form and it asked for various information about my genitals. It was clear that the doctor was going to handle my penis. At 16 it does not take much to get an erection. All the horror of the previous two physical exams came back to me. I “knew” that the doctor was going to see my defective penis and that when he touched it, I would get an erection and literally die of shame. As my father had recently died, my mom called a family friend who had worked with my father. He came to my home to do the physical so that we would not have to pay for a clinic visit. It was obvious to this doctor that I was very uncomfortable even before he began. I could see how far into the form he was getting and became more and more terrified as he came closer to the section about my genitals.
I do not know why he skipped the genital exam. I believe he realized that I was very nervous, but I’m sure he didn’t know how panicked I really was! He marked the form “OK, Normal” and said that we could skip the genital exam because “it MUST be OK or your FATHER would have taken care of it before”.
On the one hand, I felt as though I could breathe again and I know he noticed my relief. However, I was also too ashamed to tell him that my genitals were defective and that my father knew it and did nothing about it!
In retrospect, I wish that he had examined my genitals and had the sense to send me to someone who could explain my anatomy to me. It could have saved me 30 years of worry and frustration.
16–25 years old:
The summer before going away to college was spent “training” my foreskin to stay bunched up behind my glans so that I would fit in with the other kids in college. I was only 16½ and knew I would be different enough from the other freshmen just because of my age. I figured that no one would know me and I could get a fresh start in life. “Training” my foreskin to stay back was not easy. My foreskin would move forward at the most inopportune times and catch pubic hairs under my foreskin. It was quite painful sometimes to have my pubic hairs sometimes pulled out by their roots. Trying to get someplace where I could reach my hand inside my underwear and pull the skin back to release the pubic hairs sometimes took quite a while. However, by the end of summer, despite how uncomfortable it was to have my glans constantly exposed at first, I was ready to be “normal”.
No one in college ever saw my foreskin covering my glans. However, for the first time I saw a few other American guys in my age bracket who were intact and did NOT try to hide it in the showers. Intact guys were still definitely a small minority. One of my two best friends from college is intact. The other friend once made a nasty joke to him about not being a “real man” because he was not circumcised. My intact friend defended himself very well, but I just stood there without the courage to add anything in his defense. I could not bring myself to admit that I had foreskin (I talked to this friend in 2001 and finally told him the truth about myself and apologized for my earlier silence).
After college, I was less concerned about keeping my skin back all the time. However, I was still determined to appear circumcised in front of others. It was certainly more comfortable to have my glans covered while wearing clothes.
20–24 years old:
I believe I would be gay no matter what my penis looked like. HOWEVER, I certainly have been obsessed with foreskin my entire life. I have never been attracted to women. Considering my parents’ religious beliefs and the few comments that I ever heard about homosexuals, I “knew” that if there was anything more dirty and disgusting than foreskin, it was homosexuals. There were a couple of adult movie theatres in Chicago and I went to see some adult movies. I wanted to know what sex was all about and what women looked like. The only things in the movies that had any interest for me were the penises. In the 1970’s, American porn makers employed circumcised men almost exclusively. If there was an intact man, his penis would only be shown with the foreskin forward for the briefest of moments—almost as if the editor had mistakenly missed editing it out entirely. Adult movies reinforced the idea that men should not have a foreskin. There was no way I could even seriously contemplate ever having sex with another person. Although I could only fantasize about other “intact” men, it was clear that no one could consider me desirable.
25 years old:
I remembered that the one thing I had ever heard my father say about dating was that he didn’t think people should date until they were 25 years old! (I have no idea if he was serious when he made that statement). I was determined that I would not allow my (dead) father the satisfaction of my being a 25 year old virgin. A couple months before my 25th birthday, I began going to a gay movie theater occasionally. I saw that some of the people at the gay movie theater were sitting together and obviously playing with each other. After a few visits to the theater, I allowed another man to sit by me. I hoped that he was intact. Unfortunately, he was not. His penis was a big disappointment. It may as well have just been a stick. It had no moving parts, which made trying to give him a hand job rather awkward.
After a few more visits to the theater an intact man came to sit next to me. At first, I was disappointed because I thought he was circumcised. He had assumed that I would be offended by a foreskin. He pulled his skin back, and held it back, before letting me see it. I can’t blame him for trying to hide his foreskin. I had done the same thing myself before letting him see my penis!
However, his penis was WONDERFUL! It was much more than just a “stick”. I went with him to a gay bathhouse and had an incredible time. He was not offended by my foreskin and knew what to do with it to really give me a fantastic experience.
As wonderful as his penis was, I was quite surprised by it. He had much more foreskin than I have. Everything I had ever read about intact penises was quite specific about how the foreskin ALWAYS retracted behind the glans when the penis is erect. While his foreskin could be pulled back to completely uncover his glans, his foreskin could also completely cover his erection with overhang! When I had an erection, my foreskin could only be pushed up to cover about two-thirds of my glans. It also required a great deal more effort (pressure) to move my foreskin than was required with his penis.
Though it was not explicitly stated in all the medical/health books that I had ever seen, the statement that the erect penis ALWAYS had a completely exposed glans gave the implication was that a foreskin had no use in sex. The erect intact penis was essentially described as equivalent in both appearance and function to a circumcised penis. I was beginning to doubt all the information I had read about intact penises, especially about how horrible they were. Over the next few years, I discovered that most of the information about foreskin in books was inaccurate. Today, I don’t even consider a circumcised penis to be a “real” penis unless it is restored.
25–46 years old:
I realized that I seemed to have a short foreskin which did not move as easily as other intact men’s foreskins. I began to suspect that the abrupt change in color on my foreskin when I retracted it might actually be a scar. Other intact men had a color change where the inner and outer foreskin seemed to meet, but it did not seem to be quite such a sharp line. It was clear that some intact men have lots of foreskin and some do not. Some have a loose foreskin, some a tight foreskin. Although I had previously felt that my penis was intact, it didn’t seem to work quite as well as other men’s intact penises.
I began to wonder about my mother’s statement that I had been “circumcised DIFFERENTLY than my brothers”. I LOOK as though I am intact. No sexual partner has ever told me that I had a long foreskin for a circumcised man. I have been told that I have a short foreskin. From what I assumed about how circumcisions were performed, the only explanation that could even begin to make sense was that the doctor had performed what I now know as the equivalent of “brit milah”. If I was circumcised at all, they must have taken off ONLY the very TIP of my foreskin.
Eventually I was almost convinced that I had been circumcised. I thought that most of my frenulum was missing as it is certainly much less prominent than some I have seen.
In my mid 30’s I saw Bud Berkeley’s book, Foreskin, and a few years later, Jim Bigelow’s The Joy of Uncircumcising! Along with the FQ and UNCUT magazines, I realized that many other people are fascinated by foreskin and angry about being circumcised. I didn’t feel so totally alone, but I still had no one I could talk to. I made some very brief attempts to “restore” my foreskin, but the tape method seemed too inconvenient considering that I already had as much “foreskin” as these men were trying to attain for themselves. I was about 33 years old before I saw anything positive written about foreskin.
46–48 years old:
I finally found the courage to attend a NORM meeting in Chicago in February, 1999. The attendees did not seem crazy and did not seem to think I was crazy. NOCIRC was planning a conference in Chicago to coincide with a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in April, 1999. In a space of just 2 months, I went from being totally silent on the issue of circumcision to being an open intactivist. I am eternally grateful to all the people I have met through NORM and NOCIRC for making me feel like a human being.
I have tried to get my medical records concerning my circumcision, but the state of Maryland has a 29 year statute of limitations and the county hospital where I was born decided that it was too expensive to store (or microfilm/fiche) old medical records. The only record they have of me is that I was born there and was discharged. I have spoken to the doctor who delivered me (my aunt remembers the doctor). I contacted him to ask about my circumcision. He acknowledged that intercourse is better with a foreskin, but said that back in the 1950’s they did circumcisions if the parents requested it. He doesn’t remember me in particular (not surprising, he must be 75) but says that without the medical records he really could not tell me anything. He did say that he worked with at least 3 other doctors and I could have been circumcised by any of the doctors in the group who had the time before my discharge. I told him my situation and asked him if he had realized that foreskins were useful and thus had performed minimal circumcisions. However, he thought it most unlikely that he would have done a circumcision back then which retained any foreskin.
He seemed sincere in my conversation with him and in his follow-up letter. He is lucky that I cannot blame him specifically for actually performing my circumcision. If I knew for sure who did it, I would feel quite justified in doing him/her serious harm. I doubt that I would actually do anything to the doctor, and it is very difficult to admit that I would like to harm someone, but it would be dishonest of me not to say this.
48 years old—the truth finally revealed:
As I said before, I do NOT go to doctors. However, since the guys in my NORM group could not say for sure what had happened to me, I decided to seek out a doctor who might be able to tell me the truth but not think I was crazy or ridicule me. I have heard too many accounts of doctors who think men who want a foreskin back must be crazy. NOCIRC recommended a physician and he agreed to examine me. Eventually, three doctors looked at me. I was a surprise to each of them. Although they had each heard me say that I have always looked as though I am intact, all were quite surprised when they first saw my penis. All three doctors said that they have never seen an adult, unrestored man who looks as intact as I do. One doctor even said “you’re not circumcised” until he took a closer look. Here is their assessment:
I was circumcised with a Gomco clamp. Probably as much skin was removed from me as from a “usual” Gomco clamp circumcision. However, the doctor was incompetent and managed to pull up the skin from closer to the middle of my penis into the clamp before cutting. I have about ¼ of my ridged band, though none of it goes completely around my penis. I also have my entire frenulum. None of the doctors had ever seen a circumcised penis with as much of the ridged band left as I do.
Everyone has a “pubic fat pad”. I have a very thick pubic fat pad. I have been fat most of my life, but even at those times that I have been “skinny”, I have a very significant pubic fat pad. This means that in order for my penis to be visible, it must be long enough to extend past the pubic fat pad. The skin that was left on my penis cannot retract into the body as the glans can, so it folds forward in front of my glans. When the penile skin covers the glans, it is referred to as “hidden”, “concealed”, or “buried” penis in the medical literature. When I am totally flaccid, my penis practically disappears into my pubic fat pad. There is enough dartos muscle for my “foreskin” to contract around and close up in front of my glans. In addition, there is a large skin tag on the raphe which is located just at the tip of my “foreskin”. When flaccid this gives an appearance similar to the “lip of the preputial orifice”.
In other words, I really do look as though I am intact. There is enough natural variety in the size and shape of intact genitals, that my APPEARANCE is what I now call “NORMAL” as opposed to the usual circumcised penis which looks “ABNORMAL”.
However, appearance is not the same as sensitivity and functionality. While I do have my entire frenulum, (though it is not as prominent as some frenulums I have seen—which is why I used to think that some of my frenulum had been cut off as is common in circumcision), I believe that I have essentially NO feeling in that area. It is definitely not the highly erogenous tissue that many others have. On the other hand, the movement of my “foreskin” (I believe the ridged band specifically) up and down across my corona is most pleasurable to me. It makes me EXTREMELY ANGRY that the other three-quarters of my ridged band is gone.
I was born on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. As it was common to wait about a week before circumcising in 1952, it is quite possible that some junior, inexperienced doctor performed my circumcision while the senior staff was on holiday or busy doing “important” tasks. The three doctors all say that whoever did my circumcision was “incompetent”, but probably “incompetent in my favor.” Their opinion is that my physical damage is much less than most circumcised men. That may well be true. However, if you have read this far, I am sure you would agree that I have had very significant psychological damage.
A friend asked why I wanted to restore when I already seem to have a foreskin. Well, my skin does not move as smoothly and easily as intact men’s foreskin. When I am erect, the skin will not move without a lot of effort. When trying to move the “foreskin” over my glans, I am pulling the skin from my abdomen onto the base of my penis. It looks as though I am raising a tent on a pole. Partners do not feel comfortable using as much force as is necessary to move my ridged band over my corona. If there was more “foreskin”, I believe the gliding motion would be much better. I am currently holding off on restoration in order to participate in a penile sensitivity study out in California. The researchers think it might be interesting to see what sensitivity I have before any significant restoration is attempted.
49–50 years old
At the 2001 NOCIRC conference in Washington, DC, I volunteered to have the penile sensitivity test demonstrated on me. I was anxious to start some serious restoration efforts and although the formal study had not started, we would at least have an idea of where I stand compared to other circumcised men.
The testing was not done under ideal conditions (i.e., more than 8 people in the room, people talking causing distractions, etc.). Several minutes were spent trying to decide whether they should use the intact or circumcised form for my test. They eventually decided to use the intact form since I have my entire frenulum, frenular delta, and a substantial part of my ridged band. The results were pretty much what they expected EXCEPT that my frenular delta was remarkably LESS sensitive than those of even most circumcised men! This is very upsetting to me.
I assume that the nerve pathways to that area of my penis have been cut, crushed, or whatever. In other words, the most sensitive part of the penis is not functioning as such for me. The nerve pathways have been damaged and/or destroyed. Obviously, even if you preserve the nerve endings, you still have to have the nerve pathways for those nerve endings to be of much use. I now believe that it may be the nerve endings in my corona that are being stimulated by my foreskin which provide sexual pleasure instead of the nerve endings in the remainder of my ridged band.
Serious “fauxskin” restoration is now underway. I am using a tapeless tugging device (called a “pul-man”) invented by a NORM-UK member in England. After just a few weeks of tugging, the ease of foreskin movement while erect was dramatically improved and seems to get better and better. I can’t say that I notice extra foreskin length yet while flaccid (except immediately after removing the tugging device), but I can cover more of my glans while erect.
I am quite delighted in the improvement in gliding movement which helps me mentally cope with the knowledge of how insensitive my penis actually is.
Feelings about my own circumcision: RAGE, HATE, BETRAYAL, SEXUAL ASSAULT, MUTILATION.
On an INTELLECTUAL level, I can understand that child circumcision is a complicated issue buried in both ancient and modern mythology. There is no one particular person I can blame for my circumcision. We are the products of our past. I know that I can be just as oblivious to injustices that I don’t feel affect me directly.
However, on an EMOTIONAL level, I can place LOTS of blame. The ARROGANCE of our societies and, in particular, the medical communities which continue to circumcise children, fills me with rage. Human rights apparently mean nothing unless they coincide with one’s cultural, traditional, or religious beliefs. Human rights, by definition, are supposed to override other considerations.