Intact in America (When Circ Was All the Rage)
A reader responded quite eloquently on a couple of my circumcision posts several months ago. I emailed and asked him if he would allow me to rework and publish his comments, and he graciously submitted a guest post. I hope his perspective as an intact male – from a generation in which the vast majority of boys were routinely circumcised – gives everyone something new to consider.
On Anteaters as Ugly Ducklings
Parents contemplating whether to circumcise their unborn sons inevitably wonder: will my child be ridiculed if his penis is different? Dionna shared her thoughts in the post entitled “The Locker Room Argument.”1 I want to offer my own experience and thoughts on the subject.
I am a male Baby Boomer who grew up intact in the Midwest, the only intact male in my family of origin. In Midwestern cities fifty years ago, every boy was circumcised. In many cases maternity wards cut boys without asking; the parents were not even involved in the decision.
In my place and time, men and boys often did not conceal their penises when they urinated in a public rest room. Thus the fact that they were all circumcised was evident. The urinals in the primary school I attended made no concessions whatsoever to male modesty. Hence I was a bit ridiculed in first and second grade. But I was never told “Ewww, you’re uncircumcised” simply because no boy knew the word! I was simply told my penis was weird. (I never heard “circumcised” until I was in college. I never heard “foreskin” spoken until I met my wife.) I eventually solved this problem by learning to retract my foreskin fully before extracting my penis from my pants. It is easy for an intact boy to appear cut; the converse is impossible. In any event, while I was very afraid I would be “outed” for being an “Anteater,” I never was.2
The vast majority of boys have no occasions to be naked around other boys except in locker rooms. Almost every time I used a locker room or had to undress for a group medical exam, I would see that I was the only intact boy in the room. Every man I saw in a locker room at a Y or a swimming pool was cut. By the time I started using locker rooms without my father being present, I knew how to hide my foreskin.
We boys never talked about this among ourselves. Believe it or not, I never heard a wisecrack about circumcision until I was in college (for that matter, once men are out of high school, they rarely comment on each other’s penises). I assume that the circ’ed boys of my youth all thought that what they had was what Mother Nature intended. I have concluded that the vast majority of parents did not speak to their boys about this tender subject, probably because they simply did not know what to say.
When boys eventually learned about the foreskin and its removal, it was in ways that made it very easy to convince themselves that the foreskin trapped pee in a disgusting way. That it was dysfunctional for sex and masturbation (we did not know how the foreskin nicely peels back during erection). That it was effeminate. That it repulsed the girls. Many internet posts I’ve read over the past thirteen years suggest to me that many American men have yet to move on from these adolescent prejudices.
And so when I was growing up, if any boy or girl were to chance on a natural pointed penis, it was seen as deeply weird. No one knew what a natural penis looked like, because sex ed (what there was of it, at any rate) didn’t talk about the long sleeve on the short arm. I never heard someone remark that the penises in fine art nudes looked different from what everyone else had until I was in my forties. I suspect that twenty-five years of intactivist agitation have done a lot to end this weird state of ignorance about what nature intends.
Although I belonged to a despised and misunderstood sexual minority,3 I was shielded from the adverse consequences of that fact by the decency of my place and time. I do not regret having grown up intact, but I do regret that in my youth there was ZERO support in print for leaving a child intact. Hence my mother could not explain her decision because nothing in print supported her decision. She now claims that my pediatrician supported her, but he never saw fit to share that opinion with me. Thus no one said anything to me about being intact until I was 19, when my mother suddenly broke down and cried about it. She did not really open up about this issue until I told her I was an intactivist, by which time my father was dead.
At any rate, it took me at least forty years to see myself as “normal,” and perhaps fifty years to appreciate how sexually fortunate I am. When it comes to being ashamed of having a foreskin, I’ve been there in spades.
All this took place in mid-20th century America. We should not, however, presume to know what boys will think and know ten to fifteen years from now. It is quite possible that in a few years, American popular sexual culture will come to accept the intact penis as fully normal. In the locker rooms of tomorrow, it is possible that the intact boys won’t be ridiculed, but envied and admired as sexually superior.
Whether or not that happens, parents of intact boys can still tell them that they are healthy and normal, and that the moving sheath of skin covering the tip of the penis will have important uses when they are grown. I have read many anecdotes from amused parents sharing how their prepubescent son let them know that he is aware that that sheath is the most sensitive part of his body. If parents simply tell their boys that that sensitivity is a fine thing, and that’s why they did not let a doctor cut the sheath off, that might suffice to help them to laugh off any ridicule they may face because their penises are pointed.
How do you think the experiences of men and boys were different 10, 20 years ago? How will be different today?
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"Intact in America (When Circ Was All the Rage)"
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