Our Bodies, Our Choices – Part I


“My body, my choice.”

I like this phrase, even with its reductionist simplicity. All argument seems pointless in contrast.

In America we may do anything we want with our bodies, barring suicide (a topic for a separate essay) and using illegal substances. There are piercings, tattoos, collagen, sex changes & hormones, breast augmentation…  The list goes on and on, and that’s not counting the non-invasive procedures like diets, beauty regimens, waxing, sugaring, hair styling, the classic cut & color, and even (heavens!) exercise. We may paint ourselves blue, wear nose rings, ear gauges, dress in rubber clothing or use mountains of silicon in an effort to satisfy our need to feel beautiful, unique or to fit in. We fight for the right.

Todd Akin’s recent remarks about abortion (and his bizarre ignorance about rape) only highlight the ongoing debate over the phrase: “My body, my choice.” The subject of reproductive rights and battles to overturn two pro-choice decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 20th Century come around again every election cycle. And even though the 2010 mid-terms were supposed to be a referendum on jobs and economic growth, they resulted in attacks on Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive choices.

In the pro-choice movement, the most important argument has been a woman’s right to choose. That right to choose involves the whole body and sexual rights are inevitably tied to it. The inability of half our nation to recognize a woman’s right to her own body abuts another issue tied up with that powerful phrase:

“My body, my choice.”


A decade ago I was walking a Manhattan street with my ex when I spotted a fellow (I assumed this person was a man, though I couldn’t tell for certain!) with neon-blue hair, a studded wardrobe and ear gauges – something I had never seen before. I turned to my ex and snidely remarked that he should remind me to pierce my eyelids when we next visited the mall. He shook his head and said, “I think people can do whatever they want with their bodies.”

With that plain declaration, he unwittingly asked me to look at myself. Why was I so threatened by this person’s self-expression? Why need I be? His choices had no effect on me except to irritate something I preferred to keep hidden: my insecurity. Ever since then, I have been a firm believer in privacy. What you do with your own body and how you do it, so long as it does not interfere with my rights, is perfectly acceptable. Sure, someone may cause a disturbance if he walks down the street with a skull tattooed on his face, but if it disturbs me that’s my problem, not his.

“Suggestive clothing” or “flirtatious behavior” are often used against rape victims — as if either justifies a perpetrator’s violence. If I don’t have the self-control to keep from raping a woman because her short skirt makes me feel a need to dominate her, there’s something wrong with me, not her. She is free to dress and behave as she chooses. Just like a man.

Self-sovereignty is the touchstone of American culture but  is often opposed by those who feel threatened. To the small-minded, independence and the assertion of self somehow diminish their rights. To feel superior, they must fight back. Rape and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are just two in the panoply of attacks which either aggressively or suggestively attempt to crush a woman’s right to self-hood.

In the fight for male dominion over his sexual self, the foreskin has gotten short shrift.


Now that’s you’ve stopped laughing long enough to pay attention (because let’s face it, circumcision is almost always treated as a joke, as is any form of violence against male genitals), think for a moment about your instant reaction:

“Eww, foreskin is gross.”
“That’s the parent’s choice.”
“It’s healthier without it.”
“What about religious reasons?”
“There is no comparison to Female Genital Mutilation.
“What difference does it make?”

For me, it all comes down to one point:

“My body, my choice.”

The foreskin is the only body part we routinely amputate in the absence of an immediate health threat. There are perhaps a dozen reasons cited as to why circumcision is a “benefit,” but none is an immediate threat and all can all be traced back to one of these:
1. Appearance
2. Religion
3. Possibility of medical problems.

Let’s address #3 first, since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement this month reversing its previously neutral stance on circumcision. The AAP’s endorsement of circumcision cites several medical issues which are, debatably, 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. None are a direct threat and all are contingent on possibility, not probability. In addition, counter-studies have suggested otherwise.

Dr. Douglas Diekema, a member of the AAP’s circumcision task force, states in a recent  Huffington Post article on the subject, “What remains unchanged is that the AAP still holds that the health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all newborn males.” Nevertheless, the AAP’s statement leans sharply toward cutting. This new stance, coupled with the World Health Organization’s embrace of experiments involving the circumcision of African men in order to reduce HIV transmission risk, has caused more than a bit of controversy.

“Intactivists,” believe that routine infant circumcision is violence — mutilation. The stress on the phrase “routine infant” is notable because while infant circumcision is decried, Intactivists remain dedicated to the grown man’s right to choose.

The sleeve-like structure that is the male foreskin (which, unsheathed, amounts to approximately 12 square inches in the adult male) serves a sexual function. Among those cultures that practice circumcision, medical reasons are heaped onto existing societal and religious custom, even though religious and medical practices have no relationship. American women rarely give a thought to the foreskin unless they are expecting a baby boy OR encounter an intact man during sex. For American men it is the same; there’s no occasion to speak of it unless they are dealing with an infant, have same-sex partners, or joke about it in the locker room. It is largely addressed as a nuisance by the American medical community even though the last 15 years has seen a reduction in the US practice.

The message is, “Cut it off. It’s easier.”

Maligned in the U.S., the foreskin is accepted for what it is by the majority of the world population: a functional part of male sexual anatomy.

When we think about infants, we do not like to think about the sexual beings they will become. We think only of their safety and their protection. But our infant boys do grow up to be men. All adults, men and women alike, deserve their full spectrums of sexual function and pleasure. They are also entitled to make choices for themselves.

Can a man experience sexual pleasure without his foreskin? Well, duh! Millions 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. Not only that – it feels better!) Since the male anatomy can function (and has for centuries) without the foreskin, little thought is given by the general population to the long-term effects of its removal. 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 issues.

According to Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., executive director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, “Medical studies have shown that the foreskin protects the penile head, enhances sexual pleasure, and facilitates intercourse.” Additionally, a study released in the April 2007 British Journal of Urology (BJU) International concluded that the “five locations on the uncircumcised penis that are routinely removed at circumcision had lower pressure thresholds.” Let me translate: The parts that are removed in circumcision are more sensitive than the parts that are left.

The study also notes that “The glans [head] of the uncircumcised men had significantly lower mean pressure thresholds than that of the circumcised men,” which amounts to the same thing. The head of the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive than the head of a cut male.

The study also found that in the circumcised male the circumcision scar is typically the most sensitive spot on the penis.

That’s completely fucked up.

A flicker of logic will draw the same conclusion that led to the above experiment: if the penis is engineered around the biological need to orgasm, and if the orgasm is produced by nervous stimulation, wouldn’t amputation of a part of this complex web of nerves and vascular tissue have some effect? This is no numb, useless flap of skin, though the population of content but naive circumcised men (and repulsed women) may argue otherwise. Whose right is it to tell me that it should be removed at birth? Infants in our care are meant to be protected from harm. But what of the adults they grow up to be?

Parallels to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), seem offensive when a parallel is mistaken for comparison. But let me be clear: I do not compare the two. I draw a parallel related to genital integrity.

Women’s sexual needs have been vilified for centuries. The violence done on women through FGM is done to subjugate women to male desire. By removing pleasure, the male who has been taught to possess, dominate and rule is placated. Her sexual power over him is diminished if he feels that he is dominant. Her pleasure must be secondary – or entirely eliminated.

Genital mutilation, like rape, is an act of violence. Unlike rape, however, FGM represents a bizarre marriage of patriarchal domination and female complicity in the cycle of abuse. Perpetrated and perpetuated by women on women at the behest of men, FGM stifles a woman’s sexual health and pleasure to keep her part of the tribe. No one must step outside the circle – power must be equal among the subjugated. If I suffer, so should you. If a woman does escape this ritual, her pleasure reminds the tribe of the millennia of horror men have forced upon women, and that women have allowed to be done to their daughters: what does it say about women who have, for centuries, perpetuated male dominion by taking on the role of circumciser? There can be no rebellion in these societies. And where there is no rebellion, there is no fear and no self-examination.

If you re-read the above paragraphs with a few substitutions, it is equally ghastly:

Circumcision represents a bizarre marriage of patriarchal domination and female complicity in the cycle of abuse. Perpetrated and perpetuated by men upon men, with the complicity of women, circumcision mutes a man’s sexual health to keep him part of the tribe. No one must step outside the circle – power must be equal among the subjugated. If I suffer, so should you. If a man does escape this ritual, his experience of greater pleasure than his father calls to mind the millennia of horror men have done upon men, and women have allowed to be done to their sons.

Circumcision rituals are performed on males in cultures that include Judaism, Islam and various African tribes like the Kikuyu and Maasai at ages ranging from infancy to adolescence. Unlike modern American circumcision, which is done under medical supervision in private, tribal and religious customs involve public settings in which the child or teenager is on display during this ritual.

Sexual subjugation is about power.

What power, then, do we wield over our boys when the first thing we do to them after birth is to take a knife to the most delicate and sensitive part of their anatomies? What happens to the mother/child bond when she gives him into the arms of a stranger to experience the most excruciating pain of his newborn life, before being returned to her?


In her August 12 op-ed in the LA Times (“Circumcision: It Was Good Enough For Jesus”) Charlotte Allen says, “Cmon on, guys, man up!”

Did she actually write “Come on guys, man up?!!?!”

My response is: How fucking dare you, madam?

I wonder, does she know anything of the men who are afraid to be called victim or less-than-men because they are not allowed to complain that their circumcisions have left them mutilated, partially damaged, impotent or having to live through a life-time of genital reconstructive surgeries? Men who have suffered from choices made for them in infancy suffer well into adulthood, often remaining silent on the issue, or silenced by other men and women, like Ms. Allen, who think they are “whiners.”

I was permanently damaged by my circumcision. A surgery, badly performed, left me with severe scarring and extreme sensitivity which actually causes unbearable irritation during certain sexual activities. This sensitivity has grown worse as I get older. Basically, too much flesh was removed from one side. 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.

Compared to the grotesque damage which can be seen in images in various forums and activist groups about circumcision(these images of adult men with severely deformed penises as a result of circumcision are almost unbearable to look at it), mine may be an ungrateful complaint; my sex life has been basically normal. The damage, 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.

Ms. Allen, not having a penis herself, really ought to shut up about my feelings about my genitals. She may have children, I don’t know, but whether or not she is a mother, her opinion on emotional life as a result of my circumcision is worth, as the Brits say, “f*ck all.” I was the one harmed by my circumcision, so perhaps Ms. Allen should “man-up” by keeping her opinion to herself. (Though there may be argument from the women’s health camp becasue studies have shown that circumcision reduces the threat of cervical cancer in women by reducing the possibility of HPV transmission. (Although counter studies say otherwise.))

So – just to clarify – you want to cut off a part of your infant son’s sex organ because there is a possibility that he might, as an adult, come in contact with HPV and, subsequently, might have sex with a woman who hasn’t had the HPV vaccine?

Sorry. No. I can’t get on board with a lifetime’s alteration of a man’s body any more than I can a woman being forced to undergo a 20-minute vaginal probe before an abortion.

The case of David Reimer, an example of a worst-case scenario taken to extremes (hyperbole intentional), remained largely unknown until an expose in Rolling Stone Magazine in December of 1997. Reimer and his twin brother were sent to be circumcised several weeks after birth due to phimosis (a tightening of the foreskin). When Reimer’s surgery went horribly wrong, his brother’s surgery was aborted. The brother’s phimosis, a condition often treated through surgery, cleared up on its own without surgical intervention. But Reimer’s penis turned black and fell off.

Reimer’s penis turned black and fell off.

The darkest irony, to me, is that the condition for which they were both being treated cleared up on its own in Reimer’s brother.

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 are available to those who will listen, told by horrified nurses, doctors and O.R. staff. 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. 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.”

And those are just two of her stories. And those stories are just the observations of one nurse. This week alone I have read three articles on botched circumcisions. One story reports the loss of the penises of twin infants after botched circumcisions. Another, the partial amputation of the glans penis (the head) during a bris. What will it be like for those boys, and the hundreds of boys whose cases go unreported in the media, to grow into adults?

When men say, “Hey, my dick is fine,” they have no reason to believe otherwise but there are men who can counter-point with a loss of sensitivity. The removal of healthy erogenous tissue, whether or not its loss is recognized, is at the core of this debate and silence on this issue speaks louder than, “My dick works.” Can you miss something you never had? I do.


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.”

The type of circumcision performed on Reimer was an unusual method and though there are various methods available today, they each bear a different set of risks. Stories of damage are not urban myths.

I came across a extraordinarily moving video on YouTube in which, Miriam Pollack,  founder/director of the Literacy & Language Center in Boulder, CO, who also happens to be a a devout, Jewish intellectual and mother-turned-activist, expresses her personal feelings about the ritual bris:

“…the trauma that I felt as a mother having witnessed this rite on my babies… I didn’t know how to even formulate the questions because they were in total contradiction with everything that I believed and trusted.  And it wasn’t until… many years later that I finally took a step to start learning about circumcision and I was devastated. And my heart has never been whole since.” – Miriam Pollack on Circumcision.

There is no empirical data to justify Ms. Pollack’s feelings so her emotional response can be easily dismissed. But Intactivist boards are filled with stories like this by women who listened to their child’s screams or who watched their boys go into shock and whose protective instincts caught fire in that instant of “too late.” What regret must a parent live with to know that she has subject her child to even the most momentary pain or, worse, to a lifetime of anger predicated by a decision in which her son had no part?

Whether or not you believe that the foreskin has any function; whether or not you have researched its function; whether or not you believe an infant is traumatized by this bizarre custom, the fact remains: the man your son will grow to be is left without a choice when you choose for him.

Hugh Young, the founder of www.circumstitions.com, speaking at a debate on religious circumcision, said,

“No matter how ancient, no matter how beautiful the ceremony … no matter how much it is perceived as binding people to their ancestors, no matter how divinely commanded – what is happening at the centre of this is that a baby is held down and part of his or her genitals are cut off, and they stay cut off for the rest of that person’s life…”


The revised statement by the American Association of Pediatrics fails to address both the sexual function of our children’s genitals and statements by the medical organizations of other civilized nations which oppose routine infant circumcision on the basis of its barbarity and uselessness. The problem we step into with all matters sexual is the embarrassment caused by having to think about sexual pleasure and, more specifically, the quality of that pleasure. It tears at our puritanical scabs to consider that our infant sons will grow up to be sexual beings, yet the foreskin must serve a man in adulthood, for the most refined sexual pleasure possible. Not just for sexual pleasure that is “good enough.” So how can we avoid talking about it? It may be easier to “cut it off” — but easier for whom?

Even if circumcision were not violence, and even if the foreskin were not a functional part of the male sexual anatomy, why would it be anyone else’s right to decide to remove it? When we make a permanent choice that affects the adult sexuality of our infant boys, how do we justify the phrase “My body, my choice?”

About Tom Gualtieri

Tom Gualtieri (@TomGGualtieri)is a theatre artist with his hand in many disciplines: lyricist, playwright, performer, director, knitter. He maintains an ongoing collaboration with composer David Sisco. His solo play, That Play: A Solo Macbeth, was nominated for a 2013 Drama Desk Award.
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65 Responses to Our Bodies, Our Choices – Part I

  1. Pen15 says:

    Thank you for your thought provoking article. I hope that more people will realize just how inhumane FGM and MGM really are. I am just curious as to why there is no mention of the financial incentives the AAP and similar organizations have when it comes to circumcision. They do NOT discard the amputated tissues. The foreskins of males and females fetch up to $100,000 each and are used in everything from collagen, to skin grafts. This is a business. It is in the industry’s best (financial) interest to circumcise. There is much naivety in society about this fact, and people NEED to be enlightened.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read this.

      As to the financial matters surrounding the circumcision (and thus, the medical) industry, you’ll note the essay is “PART I.” With the complexity of this subject and so many components, I felt it most effective to focus on one thing at a time. First chapter: choice, which covers the personal aspect of the subject. Future essays on the subject will be devoted to other aspects, including profiteering.

  2. Michelle says:

    Nice article. Keep writing and speaking out. However, I still think, as the mother of intact sons and as a physician who said no to circumcising, I have important things to say against circumcision. So I don’t intend to SHUT UP. People often just don’t get it when I tell them circumcision is a bad thing. It is so ubiquitous in our society, so “normal”. And this is exactly what the AAP wants: circumcision to be normal, intactness to be abnormal and abhorred. It’s all about the money and the control. Things are changing though, and the AAP may not be ready for the onslaught.

    • LOL – Thank you for that, Michelle! Nor would we want an advocate for choice to keep his (or her) mouth shut. Thank you for your eloquent comment. Your support of men’s rights is a vital part of the Intactivist movement – it is on a person-to-person basis that we make great change. Thank you for standing up for your sons and for the sons of future parents.


      • Rebecca says:

        I think the chart should be revised. I’m also a woman who is the reason our son is not cut. I don’t have a penis, and was told I should have left it up to my husband since he had a penis. it’s often cut men who perpetuate the cycle on their own sons.

        So many intactivists are mothers who will speak up loudly when pro-cutters are sounding off ignorantly. We are told the same thing by pro-cutters, you don’t have a penis, shut up. The heart of a mother is to protect her children fiercely even if the protection is from their own fathers.

        I respectfully ask you to update the chart.

        • Katie says:

          This is true in my case as well, if it had been up to his father our son would have been circumcised.

        • I think, Rebecca and Katie have missed an essential leg (and therefore, the main point) of the chart which indicates that if it isn’t one’s penis, one should stay out of it. In other words – the choice should be left to the individual – which often means that the infant needs an advocate to say just that. What the chart DOESN’T say is that women are not equipped or that men are somehow better-equipped to make choices for their sons. Individual choice is paramount when it comes to a person’s physical autonomy so we champion you for sticking up for your son.

          No where in the article does it state that women should “stand down” when it comes to standing up for their sons.

          The chart is not being revised since it is intended to inject some humor into this otherwise contentious subject and is a mild parody of a similar chart in reference to women’s reproductive choices. I respectfully ask you to look again at the chart – reading all threads of it – with that in mind.

  3. roger desmoulins says:

    You deserve a long standing ovation for having had the courage to write this, and for the eloquence of your rage. That you are a professional writer shines through your words.

    The AAP, the WHO, the American professors pushing for prophylactic circumcision — Tobian, Gray, Halperin, and Bailey — and the Australian Brian Morris, all deny that what circumcision ablates matters for sexual pleasure and functionality. Their rank arrogance is a moral abomination. They simply don’t know what they are talking about. And I am very confident of one thing: they have never talked to a woman or a gay man. In 2009, str8 male yours truly resolved that henceforth he shall read the writings of women and gay men in order to learn about the sexual virtues of the penis and its tender moving bits.

    I am a great admirer of Miriam Pollack. She is a Biblical prophet for our time. And Charlotte Allen’s op-ed views are a patronising horror.

    • Michelle says:

      Charlotte Allen’s piece was absolutely sexist and horrible.

      • Unequivocally, Michelle. I was frankly stunned by her lack of compassion and more by her lack of introspection.

        • Kimbriel says:

          Oh yeah – Charlotte Allen was the one who blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on there being too many female employees at the school. She’s a victim-blamer, and she needs to be ignored into obscurity.

          Author: Great piece. I’m so frustrated that this practice continues. It is so clearly a violation – unnecessary at best, often downright harmful.

  4. Tom, I disagree with your over-focus on women as victims. Men and boys have been victims of sexual tortures, mutilations, rapes, sexual assaults and every form of psychological and physical battery since the dawn of agriculture at the hands of both women and men. It is a myth that women suffer primarily. It is actually boys and men who have suffered the most violence in history. Women commit the most child abuse, boys suffer the most child abuse over all and in the USA boys suffer slightly more than half of all sexual assault. Men are 51% of all domestic violence victims. In the USA, Male Genital Mutilation is fully legal. Add that to the definition of rape and sexual assault (as it should be added) and the sexual violence against males is overwhelming. What have been the implications to society? I hope you take a moment to read my blog post:”Male Genital Mutilation: The American Academy of Pediatrics Says OK!”

    • Laurie, your excellent piece should be widely read. It’s chock full of excellent facts: clear and direct. Thank you for sharing it. It’s also helpful to hear a woman’s voice supporting men’s issues. We must stand for each other in these issues because they cross gender boundaries.

      But it’s important for me to note that this essay bears a different focus than your own. I clearly state that I am drawing a parallel not making a comparison. It’s not a competition about who is the most victimized. It is a call to recognize choice for BOTH men and women as being the same.

      • Mom of intact sons says:

        I absolutely agree that MGM is an issue without gender. As a straight woman, I too have been victimized by MGM. I have never had an intact partner, and it makes me angry and sad that my sexual experience has been repressed and diminished. There was a time when I felt ashamed, like there was something wrong with *me*, when I couldn’t reach orgasm through intercourse. I didn’t know that a circumcised man has to pound and pound to feel anything, and that this violent thrusting takes the place of a normal stroke that maintains better contact with the partner’s clitoris. I didn’t know that a cut head is more keratinized and that is basically sucks the moisture from the woman’s vagina – I always thought that there was something wrong with my body, that I wasn’t wet enough, responsive enough. There was a long time when I wondered, in the 1950s, would I have been labeled as “frigid”?? My husband isn’t interested in restoring his foreskin – he’s angry that it was ripped from him, but not angry enough to try to restore or use Senslip… so I tend to feel sometimes as though he’s denying me the sex life I had stolen from me years before I was ever even born.

        Also, my first sexual experience was with a darker-skinned man, and I remember being sort of grossed out by his penis, as it was basically two-toned – dark skin at the base, and then from his circ scar up, very light. It was a long time before I could stand to look at it. Teenage sex is weird enough without wondering if your partner is part raccoon or something. Why it’s labeled as “cosmetic” surgery I don’t understand – a cut penis is ugly to me.

        MGM won’t end until women are angry enough, informed enough, to stop seeking it for their sons. We need to understand the value of the foreskin as well as the right of people to make their own choices.

        • jeff says:

          “Mom”, I am glad you had the intelligence to keep your son safe. I fully understand the problems you mention. I have a difficult time feeling anything during sex, so my wife and I use our hands on each other to compensate. Perhaps you can give this a try.

          I also wear a condom most of the time to protect the head, and this has helped in regaining some feeling. I don’t know if restoration really helps, because it cannot replace the lost nerves. But skin lotion and the condom have helped.

          It makes me feel good that there are women like you out there who actually give a damn. I wish you were my mom. Thanks.

        • Jack says:

          You lost me at the second sentence itself. When will women stop making every issue about them ? Do you revel in victimhood so much that you are pathologically compelled to hijack every subject and make it about how victimized you are as a woman ?

          This is like men complaining about not getting enough sex because she’s having trouble with periods. No, it’s way worse than that , because you’re robbing the men who are the aggrieved ones – whose genitals have been mutilated, and you have the damn audacity to barge in claim how bad it is for you !

          That would like men complaining how bad it is for them their wife got raped and now won’t have sex with him. Does that sound selfish – to be self-obsessed in the face another’s greater misfortune ? That is exactly what your whining is.

          • Mom of intact sons says:

            Wow, Jack, I’m sorry to have offended you so deeply with my comments. The point I was trying to make is that MGM affects both men and women, and that for MGM to end, women must be part of the drive for change. In my experience working with expectant mothers and fathers in L&D, it’s usually the mother who makes 80% of the choices for the baby. If mothers become angry enough, protective enough, passionate enough, there will be no more MGM.

            In no way do I think MGM is a woman’s issue. But it’s unfair to hush up the fact that MGM does have a very real impact on a man’s appearance and sexual performance. If that knowledge makes a man question the “necessity” of MGM for his son, if parents realize that their baby will someday grow up to be a sexually active male, and they realize the need to protect that future man, I’m all for spreading the word.

            Additionally I think MGM is so entrenched in our culture that often men haven’t thought about it enough to clarify their feelings on the subject. If it takes a female partner’s outrage to make a man feel like, yes, he was robbed of something necessary, so that he can take steps to make peace/restore/whatever he has to do to move forward – how is that wrong?

            And no, I don’t feel the need to pathologically wallow in my own victimhood. I think there’s quite enough suffering associated with circumcision as it is. I just want to stop the problem by whatever means necessary. There is no value in fighting over this. Of course men are the primary victims! But change isn’t going to happen unless women speak up for their sons. That’s just the fact of the matter.

            Again, I apologize for causing you further pain. Your anger and hurt are evident in your words, and while I realize this is because of what was done to you, I assure you that I’m not trying to “barge in” or make this all about women. I protected my sons because I care about *them* (infinitely more than I care about their future partners) and I’m sorry that your own parents didn’t do the same.

          • Rebecca says:

            In the same way that a man would be affected and enraged that his partner was a victim of FGM so is an informed female partner enraged and affected by the mutilation of her partner.

            Obviously the mutilated partner is MORE affected than the one who is not, but both are affected, and have the right and responsibility to be enraged. MGM does affect women, it causes painful sex, and often leads doctors to think there is something wrong with the female partner, (vaginal dryness, etc.) when in fact if her partner was whole there would be no problem at all.

            The effects of any Genital Mutilation are far reaching, far beyond the person mutilated. This is not to diminish the experience of the person who is most affected, but to say this is wrong for so many reasons.

    • Jack says:


      You missed posting the URL to your blog, or this site’s bloggin software probably filtered the URL.

      Thanks for acknowledging men’s suffering being a lot more common yet more unacknowledged, something most men deny, let alone women , and when it is, it’s dismissed as being “men doing bad things to men, why should women care”. FGM is also “women doing bad things to women” but that is conveniently blamed on patriarchy , the usual whipping boy.

      It disgusts me that feminists, led by Hillary Clinton, oppose FGM regardless of religion/custom (and rightly so) – but spend taxpayer funds to promote MGM in Asia and Africa. When thousands of boys were mutilated in Philippines last year under a mass circumcision program, outdoors in the open by inexperienced (female) nurses on unwilling boys , it really told me which really is the oppressed gender. Sure enough women do suffer some forms of discrimination and crimes – like groping/molestation which men usually don’t , or acid attacks of which women:men victim ratio is 68:32 or so , but men suffer worse forms of discrimination and violence which women don’t. If these crimes against humanity were recognized and acknowledged, it would completely negate the very premise of feminism – female suffrage. That’s why every feminist and feminist-leaning woman goes out of their way to deny men’s suffering.

      Thank you for being that rare exception, we need more like you.

  5. Brooke Moonan says:

    Thank you so much for your article. I think that the damage and fatality connected with circumcision is one of the most ignored topics when speaking about choices made for our children. I am lucky that I became involved with a group of women who gave me the resources to educate myself before my son was born and I thank God everyday that my first child was a girl because I did not know then what I know now. I am appalled at the lack of information about the risks of circumcisiosn and your article was informative and moving. Thank you for sharing your own experiences and having the courage to stand up for those who cannot speak forthemselves.

  6. Pingback: Our Bodies, Our Choices: Circumcision is Not a Joke — The Good Men Project

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  8. Bart says:

    As a father, and as a man, I’m interested in this topic. But you completely lost me when you started using heavily loaded language like “violence against male genitals”, “mutilation” etc etc

    I’ve been reading about this both pro and con. Can’t we please just have a rational discussion without both sides turning it into a linguistic arms race? Let the facts speak for themselves.

    • The arguments presented seem rational from this end. The definitions of mutilation and violence do not represent any hyperbole but the words are chosen for precision: Mutilation: to “disfigure by damaging irreparably” or ” to make imperfect by excising or altering parts.” and Violence: undue alteration. I’m aware that it may make some people uneasy – the use of language which identifies acts in an accurate way is uncomfortable when we have been taught to believe that those acts are inconsequential. But in giving the argument proper weight, we can come to a conclusion. Unnecessary acts which result in pain, shock and damage must be identified for what they are: violent and unnatural.

  9. Ronlyn says:

    “Ms. Allen, not having a penis herself, should shut up.” Yes. Exactly.

    When I was active in reproductive rights politics in the early 1990s, there was no discussion that I can recall about men’s rights to their bodies. However, I remember thinking about what boys suffered through circumcision, the VIOLENCE they endured, through no choice of their own when they were at their most vulnerable. I believe the body carries memory, and there are probably billions of boys and men on this earth who hold a primal rage of what was done.

    Thanks for this remarkable piece, Tom.

  10. Heather says:

    I agree with you, and I find the “man up” comment to be abhorrent. When we were researching circumcision prior to the birth of our oldest child, I was surprised by the arguments in favor of circumcision that seemed to imply that men are lazy morons who will not bother to clean their bodies properly or make responsible choices about sex and the health of their bodies or be able to understand differences between their bodies and those of their peers or family members. The fact that most Americans still prefer amputation for their sons rather than teaching them basic hygiene and talking to them about their bodies and sex is embarrassing. We now have 3 intact sons, and they are perfectly capable of taking care of all of their healthy, normal body parts.

  11. Richard Scalper says:

    They brand men like a herd of cows. American men are such wimps to let their sons be subjected to this absurd surgery. If it were women tied down & cut, the Feminists would be howling all over the world. The male genitals are a cheap commodity. There is no argument too absurd for the circumcisers. They insult the appearance of the intact penis, claim that circumcision heals everything from body warts to HIV, and draw an illogical distinction between female & male genitals. Circumcision is the mark of a slave, not a free man.

    Top Ten Tortures Less Painful Than Circumcision

    10. Get waterboarded.
    9. Pull out your fingernails.
    8. Eat a pile of steaming bear crap.
    7. Skin yourself alive.
    6. Fall into a vat of molten iron.
    5. Get run over by a train.
    4. Go through a sausage grinder.
    3. Saw off your legs.
    2. Poke out your eyes.
    1. Go To Hell


  12. Johanna Shanir says:

    Kol hakavod, as we say in Hebrew! Well done!
    This piece is definitely worth referring to!
    I am eagerly waiting for more parts!

  13. A friend forwarded me the link to this post. Thank you for taking so much time and writing so thoroughly about this subject. I’m grateful for both the post and the comments. Michelle — I am finishing up a book that will be published by Scribner in 2013 and includes a chapter on circumcision (sorry Tom, no penis but I am writing about it anyway as a journalist). I would love to talk to you as a mom of two intact sons and a physician against circumcision! The book uncovers how for-profit medicine harms pregnant women, new moms, and newborns. More about it here (this is the Kindle edition but the hard copy does not have a product description): http://www.amazon.com/The-Business-of-Baby-ebook/dp/B008J4KZH2/ref=kinw_dp_ke

    Please be in touch if you are willing to be interviewed!

  14. Dick Scalper says:

    The pro-circ lobby/industry is fighting back with all their dire insinuations about health & conformity. Thank you, Tom, and all others for keeping the faith … that enough decent people exist to stop this brutal practice in its tracks… in our lifetimes.
    ~Dick Scalper

  15. Mom 2 Boys says:

    Great article!

    Jennifer, I’m definitely interested in information on how for-profit medicine harms pregnant women, new moms, and newborns. Not sure what kind of information you have on the topic as I haven’t done a lot of researching but I have an experience with my OB who had changed my due date after 3 ultrasounds, so my 4th ultrasound to being due a week earlier than the 1st 3 measured. I now recall her manually entering it in but not really understanding why at the time or how my due date could change en entire week. It was a lot clearer when I approached my due date & her staff made comments about her upcoming vacation and the OB began pressuring me to induce!! I wasn’t about to encounter the risks so as hard as it was to have to plea with my husband that I was 100% sure I wasn’t due yet, as his stance is, well, I’m not a doctor, so he really didn’t know what to do, yet I had been tracking everything and I couldn’t have been due before I would have even hit 40 weeks. I just didn’t realize what she was doing until it all became so clear.

    Sad how many medical professionals will take advantage of their titles rather it be to circumcise a non-consenting helpless minor or to pressure an expecting mother into an unwanted induction. People need to stand up for their rights and healthcare!

    • Mom 2 Boys:

      That is terrible. I am so sorry. I actually have an ENTIRE chapter of my book about ultrasounds. Sadly, every time an u/s is done, a doc can charge more money. Some docs are cashing in even more by offering 4D u/s to patients that insurance doesn’t pay for. All of this would not be that remarkable but routine ultrasound for low-risk pregnancy is actually NOT explicitly recommended by ACOG (most people don’t realize this) and there is a growing body of scientific evidence that u/s causes harm. That a doc would want to induce you based on her vacation is not just bad medicine, it’s potentially fatal. A NICU stay for a premature baby whose lungs aren’t fully developed is just so terrifying, and premature birth often brings a host of future problems.

  16. Pingback: More from Narratively's "Skin Deep" week | Narratively

  17. I applaud your efforts Tom to gather so much authoritative information into one post. It was shared on Facebook by some high profile Toronto artists today, who are friends of mine, so it is a perspective that is shared and discussed by our circle. Awareness is key, and you are courageous to put yourself forward and feel the heat this topic generates. It is one of the toughest topics out there.

    What seems to be unavailable anywhere on the internet are any FREE psychological recovery mechanisms for circumcised men who are or become aware of what they have lost.

    Some may not choose to or be able to turn to religion, therapy, anti-depressants, and sadly, family, for spiritual support. How does one know when talking to a therapist if he is circumcised? Will talking about it affect that person’s sense of self too? How then can the discussion in a therapeutic setting move forward? How can an uncircumcised therapist address loss such as this? How can a female therapist address this kind of loss? So many questions that just lie there, perhaps answerable, but with the root challenge still being that missing 1/3rd pleasure centre of the penis, the foreskin.

    Ultimately it is a “live with it” scenario for those affected by genital mutilation. It could negatively impact the quality of one’s life, unless one chooses for it not to. It means understanding that what is missing will always be missing, and making peace with it. It is a process of spiritual acceptance.

    • Thanks for reading, Michael and for sharing this essay.

      As to your questions about therapy, I do believe that any sensitive, talented therapist can help one cope with a variety of issues since each person’s response to a harm is subjective. After all – this is what therapists are trained to do. The spiritual acceptance is what so many struggle with in everything from the smallest hurt to incredible violence but you are absolutely right about that.

      What a sensitive response! Thank you for posting.

  18. Siverly says:

    Thank you, Tom, for your candid and well-written post.
    Men will sometimes do anything and everything to keep their complications-when they recognise them- private. Tragically, that’s part of the problem. By revealing your own personal harm- and in such detail- you are helping the world know that yes, men and boys are harmed by the permanence and violence of genital mutilation. The more men share with the world how harmed they’ve been/are -the more society will understand the real sexual, emotional and intimate damage that many, many men have to live with- and indirectly their male and female partners too. A hartsikn dank.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response. I believe the same – that speaking candidly about the difficult issues is the only way to bring them to light. And thank you for reading THE WEEKLINGS!!!

  19. Kris says:

    This is one of the best anti-male genital cutting articles I’ve read. I have no children yet, I’m only 22, but my boyfriend and I plan on starting a family in the near future. He is cut and has no opinion on circumcision. I am a huge intactivist. I often find myself angry at his mother when I think that she knowingly let her son have a healthy and necessary part of his body removed. I find myself “mourning” his loss of a body part. He could not orgasm through sex for the first year of our relationship and I often wondered if it had to do with the fact he is cut. It is also much more painful when sex lasts longer than 15 minutes for myself because he is not adding any lubrication with his cut genitals. I never had this problem with other men I’d been with who were intact.
    I will never, ever let anyone make a life-altering, permanent, surgical decision about my (future) son’s penis. It is on his body, not mine, and once that surgery is done, it cannot be taken back.

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