Riled Readers and a Feisty Cat
By Cat Saunders
This article was prompted by numerous calls, letters, and e-mails following
The New Times' October 2001 publication of "Circumcision
in America: The First Cut Is the Deepest." Most responses were positive.
However, there were also voices of confusion and self-admitted ignorance,
along with indignation, disgust, and denial.
From this array of comments,
I selected five common objections I call them myths that I've heard
repeatedly since 1988, when I first started writing publicly against circumcision.
My responses to these myths are intended
to complement "Circumcision in America," which included
facts about the debunked hygiene argument, the American Medical
Association's anti-circumcision position, male and female circumcision
comparisons, infant pain perception, the foreskin and male sexual
function, the question of genital mutilation, and issues related
to circumcision and human rights.
"That little hangy fleshy thing is gross!"
This one came from a dear woman friend
who, like me, was socialized to accept "naked" (circumcised)
penises as normal. Fortunately, when I suggested that
she could change her prejudice with conscious effort, she agreed
that it was the result of social conditioning.
Although social conditioning can be overcome,
this doesn't mean that she or anyone should stop
liking circumcised men. I'm merely suggesting that those of us
who were conditioned in this way can consciously expand our repertoire
to include the enjoyment of intact male genitalia.
As a counselor, I've helped hundreds of
people learn to soften harsh judgments against themselves and
others, no matter how these judgments originated. Believe it
or not, it's even possible to like what once repelled
you. This kind of personal work seems particularly worthwhile
in a world that desperately needs more respect for the human
Myth: "It's just a little
snip, so what's the big deal?"
If one picture is worth a thousand words,
then a video must be worth a million. If you think involuntary
circumcision is okay, but you've never actually witnessed a baby being
circumcised, I encourage you to watch Dr. Dean Edell's 20-minute educational video, which includes a few brief segments of a live "routine" circumcision.
When you watch these segments, please be sure to listen to the baby as he undergoes the surgery, so you can get a true sense of his feeling-level experience. Dr. Edell's video is available for free through NOCIRC.org's website by clicking here.
If you can sit through the surgical segments of that video with
your eyes and ears open, and still believe afterward that circumcision
is "just a little snip" and "no big deal,"
then your eyes and ears may have been open, but I doubt that
your heart was.
If this happens for you, and you'd like
to do something about it, a qualified professional may
be able to help you connect with your compassion. Generally speaking,
only those who are unable or unwilling to feel their own pain can witness the infliction of pain on others without experiencing
the desire to somehow alleviate the pain and do what they can to prevent it from happening to others.
On the flip side, if you view the circumcision
video, think it's fine, and don't want to do anything about your
lack of empathy, then I hope you're never in a position of power
in relation to an infant or anyone else.
If you think
it's okay to pin down a helpless baby in four-point restraints
so his foreskin can be crushed, sliced open, and amputated, there's
no telling what lesser injustices you might commit
however obliviously against those who are younger, smaller,
weaker, poorer, or otherwise less powerful than you.
Myth: "Foreskins are irrelevant to good sex."
One anonymous e-mailer wrote: "I wish
for any woman that when she is making love with her man that
they both are truly present in the moment with each other ...
and that the love/connection and emotion transcends them ...
and then, square inches of a penis become irrelevant."
In a sense, he's right that true lovemaking
is not about square inches of foreskin or anything else.
In fact, true lovemaking requires no sexual contact at all! But
let's be clear: circumcised sex is not the way nature intended
sex to be.
If this upsets you, please don't waste
time trying to "kill the messenger" (whether it's me
or someone else), and please don't dig yourself deeper into denial.
Instead, I encourage you to go ahead and be upset!
It's healthy to be upset when you
find out that you've been brainwashed, that no one ever told
you how sex is supposed to be, and worst of all, that you cannot
change what happened to you or someone you love. I know it's
difficult, but if you can courageously face the full consequences
of circumcision, then you can grieve the past and help to heal
the denial that allows this inhumane practice to continue.
What follows is a medically accurate description
of the effects of circumcision on male sexual function and heterosexual
intercourse. The words are those of my longtime colleague and
friend, Marilyn Milos, R.N., founder of NOCIRC (see end of article
The foreskin of an intact penis has
a ridged band just inside and encircling its opening. This ridged
band contains Meissner's corpuscles, which are like nerve receptors
in the fingertips.
During sexual stimulation of the penis,
the foreskin's exquisitely sensitive interior band of nerve receptors
glides back and forth across the corona of the glans (the head
of the penis), which itself has a high concentration of neurovascular
end organs. Thus, the foreskin and the glans stimulate each other.
The loss of this foreskin-glans stimulation is probably why men
who are circumcised as adults say the difference is like seeing
in black and white, rather than seeing in color.
During heterosexual sex, the intact
penis is stimulated both by the vagina and this foreskin-glans
action. Therefore, the movements an intact man needs for stimulation
are small. Circumcised men, however, must stimulate whatever
is left of the frenulum (diagram information follows) in order
to reach orgasm. The long strokes necessary to stimulate the
remaining frenulum take the man's body away from the woman's
mons pubis (pubic mound), so her clitoris isn't stimulated.
Thus, the movement necessary for a circumcised
man to reach orgasm is not compatible with the movement a woman
needs to reach orgasm. No one talks about this potential cause
for deep tension in relationships. However, it's important to
understand that the natural mechanics of sex are disturbed when
men are circumcised.
Myth: "Circumcision is a only
As long as mothers betray their protective
maternal instincts by allowing their sons to be circumcised,
and as long as women have relationships of any kind
with men whose first sexual experience was violent, it's absurd
to say that circumcision is only a men's issue.
Circumcision is also an issue of child
abuse, so men and women should both be involved in stopping
it. Besides, even if circumcision was "only a men's issue,"
any humanitarian would want to prevent something that
hurts people of either sex.
Myth: "Religious circumcision is okay."
Many anti-circumcision organizations are
afraid to touch the hot-button issue of ritual (religious) circumcision.
I'm scared, too, but I'm doing it anyway. What kind of human
rights activist would I be if I only wanted to protect some babies,
but not others? Besides, history notwithstanding, religious groups
should be leaders, not offenders, in the area of human
Many excellent articles, religious treatises,
and medical papers have been written against circumcision by
doctors and others who belong to religions that still practice
this ancient blood ritual. Since I'm not Jewish, Muslim, or animist
(as in certain African tribes that practice ritual circumcision),
those of you who are may prefer to read writings by people of
your own faith (see end of article for resources).
If you're open to the perspective of a
spiritual eclectic, I'll describe a few of my many objections
to ritual circumcision. First, involuntary circumcision of any
form violates the basic human right to preserve the integrity
of one's own body. Basic human rights must supersede religious
rights. After all, if your body isn't safe from violence, how
can you safely practice the religion of your choice?
Secondly, it's hypocritical for defenders
of ritual circumcision to claim their "right of religious
freedom" while denying the religious freedom of those they
subject to this involuntary and inhumane practice. It's particularly
appalling that anyone who remembers the Holocaust could perpetuate
a blood ritual based on the inability of its victims to resist.
In point of fact, parents who circumcise
their babies are forcing their religious beliefs on their
children. Obviously, these children cannot "uncircumcise"
themselves, so they are forever marked as members of a
particular group, even if they want to practice another religion
later in life.
Therefore, circumcision is an act of coercion,
not freedom, and it can only happen within religions and
in countries that still regard children as the legal
property of their parents.
Please understand that involuntary
circumcision would be considered assault if it occurred
in any situation other than on a newborn baby by parental request.
This is one reason anti-circumcision workers believe that male
babies should be included in the 1995 U.S. legislative bill that
outlaws genital mutilation for girls.
Ultimately, the persistence of blood rituals
in otherwise enlightened religions boils down to the need
to belong and its flip side, the fear of being
different. Since this is the case, I think it's more helpful
to work with this fear, rather than against it. In the
words of Dr. Jenny Goodman (a Jewish physician): "Most of
all, we need to reassure people that their child will not be
alone, will not be the only one, will not be exiled."
Thus, if you're a parent struggling with
religious loyalty vs. loyalty to your child, please choose both.
Your child can grow up intact and still be a valued member
of your community. Even in America, where male babies continue
to be subjected to circumcision (for whatever reason), 43% of
male babies are now left intact. This percentage is increasing
every year, so the minority will soon be the majority.
I don't know what percentage of intact
babies are Jewish, Muslim, or animist, but I can assure you that
your intact baby will not be alone. Therefore, if you're ever
subjected to ridicule by others in your religious group for choosing
to protect your baby, please hold your head high and have compassion
for those people's fear. Not everyone has the courage to challenge
religious traditions, even traditions that are cruel.
Ironically, if you're brave enough to protect
your children by refusing circumcision, you'll also be protecting
your religion. Why? Because only those religions that evolve
Circumcision itself won't survive much longer in
a world increasingly committed to human rights for all, children
included. Thus, it will be the people who are not afraid
to be different who refuse to perpetuate the ancient blood
rituals who will ensure the survival of the truly beautiful
and nonviolent core of their religions.
This article was originally published by The New Times
in December 2001.
www.cirp.org, and www.noharmm.org,
all have extensively researched sites to answer all your questions about
To see a video of an actual circumcision, please
The home page of this site has an overwhelming array of links, so be
ready! Scroll down until you see a highlighted box that includes links
for several different videos of live circumcisions, which are all viewable
For detailed descriptions, diagrams, and photographs
of foreskins, including a moving picture of a real foreskin in action,
please visit noharmm.org/anatomy.htm.
For a startling comparison between female genital mutilation
and male circumcision, please visit fgmnetwork.org/intro/mgmfgm.htm.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor and consultant, death doula, and nonsectarian
minister in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Dr.
Cat's Helping Handbook (available at Amazon.com).
Click here to contact Cat or learn more about
her work by returning to the home page. To schedule
in-person or telephone consultations,
please email Cat or call her 24-hour confidential voice mail at (206) 329-0125.