“I don’t believe that people want to hurt babies. If it sunk in that
circumcision hurts babies, people wouldn’t do it.” —Lisa Pacot, L.M.P.
By Cat Saunders
Infant male circumcision is not only a men’s issue. Mothers betray their protective maternal instincts by allowing their sons’ genitals to be cut. As long as women have relationships—of any kind—with men whose first sexual experience was violent, circumcision is of paramount importance to women. Therefore, women have a responsibility to act in partnership with men to protect all babies.
Americans are generally horrified by female genital mutilation. Yet most are still in denial about the physical, psychological, sexual, and social ramifications of involuntary male circumcision.
Unfortunately, many Americans have been conditioned to accept male circumcision as normal and beneficial. In point of fact, with rare medical exception, it is unnecessary and detrimental. Even now, many people don’t realize that the American Medical Association recommends against circumcision.
It’s a rare American who knows what happens during so-called “routine” circumcisions. Helpless baby boys are taken from their mothers and strapped spread-eagle to a plastic board in four-point restraints. Then, while these babies are fully conscious and unaesthetized, their foreskins are crushed, sliced open, amputated, and discarded.
During ritual (religious) circumcision, some of the details are different, depending on the religion. However, the end result of circumcision is always the same. Circumcision destroys the natural integrity of the human genitalia.
The male foreskin—which would become 15 square inches of tissue in an erect adult penis—is the most sensitive (most highly enervated) part of the male body. This erogenous tissue has extremely important protective and immunological functions. The foreskin also has sexual functions that enhance pleasure for men and their partners during sex.
The good news is, America’s circumcision rate has dropped dramatically in the last two decades. In 1978, 85% of American boys were circumcised. At the time of this interview in 2002, less than 57% of males in the United States were circumcised.
Even more wonderful is the news that circumcision in the western United States has now decreased to less than 35%. This means that west of the Mississippi, more than 65% of American boys are left intact. The minority has become the majority!
In the following brief interviews, two mothers speak movingly against circumcision. One is the mother of a circumcised son, and the other left her son intact. Both women speak straight from the heart about this unnecessary and inhumane practice.
Lisa Pacot, L.M.P., is a 40-year-old massage practitioner and the mother of an intact 5-year-old son.
Cat: When did you first start thinking about circumcision?
Lisa: In my college years in the early 1980s, when I was 18 or 19. I read an article in college which disproved the belief that circumcision was necessary to prevent infection. It explained that uncircumcised boys don’t get infections, and that circumcision is really unnecessary. Fortunately for my son, I stumbled upon this information in college. Since then, I wouldn’t think of circumcising a child.
Cat: When you were pregnant, did anyone in your circle try to tell you that you should circumcise, if you had a boy?
Lisa: No. My friends are very aware, and his father was not circumcised.
Cat: On the flip side, have you ever felt moved to talk about circumcision with pregnant friends?
Lisa: I didn’t need to. No one I know circumcised their son.
Cat: Just for the record, how many infections has your intact son had?
Cat: What do you think about the idea that circumcised penises “look better” than intact genitals?
Lisa: I’ve heard that some women favor the “look” of circumcised penises, but that reminds me of the argument that I hate most about circumcision: when fathers who are circumcised want their sons’ penises to look like theirs. I think that’s the most egocentric, selfish attitude that any human being could take.
Because of this selfishness, a father has his baby boy strapped to a board—and without anesthesia, allows the tip of his son’s penis to be cut off! By the way, this selfish attitude about children’s genitals needing to look like their parents’ is one of the main arguments people use for female genital mutilation, too.
Cat: What do you think it will take to stop circumcision?
Lisa: I think it’s important for people to keep talking about circumcision, and for people like you to keep writing about it. I don’t believe that people want to hurt babies. If it sunk in that circumcision hurts babies, people wouldn’t do it.
Leanne Garn, M.A., is a counselor, a doctoral student, and a fine paper merchandiser. She is 60 and the mother of a 38-year-old circumcised son.
Cat: Do you recall when you first considered the issue of circumcision?
Leanne: I remember thinking about it and reading different books when I was pregnant. I read that it was the best thing to do for boy babies, so they’d be healthy and clean. It didn’t occur to me to question what I read.
Since my son’s father was circumcised, I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. I hadn’t grown up with brothers, so I didn’t know some boys were circumcised and others were not.
Cat: Were you present during your son’s circumcision?
Leanne: They wouldn’t let me in the room. They took him in there alone. I guess they wanted to distract me, because later they said that my son cried harder when they took off his clothes than when they did the operation.
Cat: Most babies scream during circumcision, but some babies don’t make noise during the operation because they pass out from shock.
Leanne: I didn’t know that. I was too far away to hear him. The nurse’s comment distracted me from my horror at hurting him. I remember feeling heartbroken that I’d done something that hurt him.
Cat: You realized that the circumcision hurt him?
Leanne: Oh, yes. Physically, it hurt.
Cat: How did you know it hurt?
Leanne: It looked like it hurt, because his penis was bloody, and it had Vaseline and some gauze wrapped around it. I didn’t want that baby that I loved so much to be wounded.
Cat: Beforehand, you didn’t realize that circumcision would wound him?
Leanne: No. I didn’t think about it like that, not until I saw it.
Cat: When you heard the word “circumcise,” it didn’t come together with the word “cut”?
Leanne: It did, and it didn’t.
Cat: Did you ever talk to your son about his circumcision later in life?
Leanne: It wasn’t really a conversation, but I did once tell him that if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have made the same decision.
Cat: Have you ever had occasion to speak with friends about circumcision?
Leanne: Yes. I don’t go into any long explanations, because it’s not my business to interfere, but I do ask them if they’ve thought about their decision.
Cat: That reminds me of one last question. It’s scary to ask, even for a longtime anti-circumcision activist like me, because I know it will inflame a lot of people. That is, if your friends were beating their children, would you think it’s not your business to interfere?
Leanne: No. I would think it’s my business.
Cat: I think circumcision is everyone’s business, too, for the same reason: because children are helpless to defend themselves. It’s scary to question prevailing attitudes, but someone has to stand up against the outdated notion that children are the legal property of parents to do with as they please.
Leanne: Yes. I’ve let personal fears interfere with the rights of babies. I can make amends for the harm I’ve done to my son by speaking for the children now.
This interview was originally published in Verve (January 2002) and updated in June 2017.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).