Intact in America (When Circ Was All the Rage)

January 10th, 2011 by Dionna | 20 Comments
Posted in Circumcision/Intactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Guest Posts, Healthy Living, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Pregnancy and Birth

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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.
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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.
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How do you think the experiences of men and boys were different 10, 20 years ago? How will be different today?

  1. You can see more posts on Code Name: Mama on this topic by looking through the Circumcision and Intactivism archives.
  2. Only my mother, wife, a half dozen close friends, and a handful of former friends know that I am intact.
  3. Until now, because newborn circumcision has become the minority.

20 Responses to:
"Intact in America (When Circ Was All the Rage)"

  1. anonymous

    My husband (30) is intact and so are my two brothers (25, 22) and they said that all people used to joke about was whether they were in the “touque” or “helmet” group..and that is all. Never any ridicule, and it never came up. I recently asked them because I thought that it was interesting.
    (I am only posting anonymous because my husband does not like it when I post anything on the internet to do with his “junk”.
    :)

  2. Laurie

    My son is circumcised because his daddy wanted it that way. I am currently pregnant with baby #3 and if this one is a boy (we are not finding out) I will fight to keep him intact. I thought it was wrong when I let them circ my son and I have regretted it ever since. I just didn’t know enough at the time to way in on the “discussion” we had about whether to circ or not before he was born.

  3. If it was your face, or any other part of your body, someone would have talked to you about it.

    Talking to our kids about their genitals is not taboo anymore. In fact, it’s something we know we have to do to help them be sexually healthy people. Because now we have a concept of sexual health. Which is excellent.

    I think it’s precisely the disappearance of those taboos that have made circumsion decline so sharply as the norm.

    My husband laments his circumcision and while we’ve never talked about circumcision specifically with his mom, I’ve heard her say many times how powerless she felt when she was a young mom to make any decisions contrary to her doctor’s advice. It must of taken your mom so much courage to save you from the scalpel!

    For us to leave our son intact just seemed like such a non-issue. No one tried to convince us otherwise. Why would we specifically seek out a medical professional to cut our babies penis? Seems entirely bizarre.

    I want my children to be empowered to talk about their bodies and sexuality in a healthy way with correct terminology and correct information. It can only be helpful.

    Silence is hurtful. In your narrative I see silence as not only responsible for your discomfort about being different but also for the fact that every boy in your community was sliced.

  4. Kate

    I had to laugh at this

    “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.”

    because my 20 month old son has a habit of pulling on his foreskin until it stretches way out and every time I cringe.

  5. Amber   AmberStrocel

    I don’t really know how things have changed or will change – as a woman I feel somewhat unqualified to comment. Except to say that, as the demographics shift (and they already are doing that), I expect that being uncircumcised will not be noteworthy.

    Which is a good thing, in my view.

  6. Ashley   ashleympoland

    “In the locker rooms of tomorrow, it is possible that the intact boys won’t be ridiculed, but envied and admired as sexually superior.”

    This comment bothers me, because I have a son who is circumcised; it was a decision we weighed, and made based on the information we had on both options at the time. While I will not say I regret it — because regret simply will not change his penis, and I do not consider his penis broken — I do question if it was as medically necessary as we thought.

    But I don’t think that my son should be considered at all inferior because of the state of his penis, any more than I think an intact boy should be ridiculed for the state of his.

    • Ashley   ashleympoland

      Which, for the record, I’m not trying to argue against intactivism at all — just that I do find the “superiority” aspect of it unsettling.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        I can understand how you would take that away from it, although I’m not sure whether that’s exactly what the author wanted to convey. Thank you for commenting in a respectful way.
        And for future commenters – please, I want Code Name: Mama to be a safe place, regardless of our different parenting choices. We are all still learning and growing, and there is so much we can share with each other.

      • Bryce

        You are right, regret will not change his penis, but the truth is, a normal (not circumcised) penis is superior to a circumcised one. A normal penis has 100% of normal sexual function. A circumcised penis has 10-30%. The best part of the male genitals is removed during circumcision. Your son’s penis is not broken, he will still be able to have sex and make babies like millions of other men who are circumcised. But he won’t be having sex the way nature intended.

        The truth is, infant circumcision is only medically necessary in very rare cases. A healthy baby boy born with normal male anatomy has no reason to be circumcised.

        I am a circumcised father and I wish my parents had not made this choice for me. I would like my foreskin knowing how valuable it is. Before I knew enough about it, I chose to circumcise my first son and I regret that decision. Will my regret change anything, no it won’t, but I do recognize that I made a mistake.

    • Restoring Tally   RestoringTally

      Ashley, I was circumcised at birth. Unfortunately, that means I do not have all of my penis and that I am missing erogenous tissue. There is no question in my mind that I am incomplete. I know this because I am restoring my foreskin to regain some of what I lost. I have gained a lot from restoring. I feel more whole with my new foreskin, even though it is restored. It makes me sad to think I spent many years of my life with less of a sex organ than I was born with.

      Based on conversations I’ve had with other men who are restoring, I hope that you have an honest talk with your circumcised son when he is older. Many young men wonder why their parents cut their sex organ, their most favorite body part. Many of these young men seek closure about being circumcised as a baby and want an apology from their parents. As an example of how some young men feel, here is a forum post: “I had a pretty crushing conversation with my dad.”
      http://www.foreskin-restoration.net/forum/showthread.php?t=3481

      • Ashley   ashleympoland

        I will have an honest conversation with my son when he comes to an age where it matters to him — if it does, because while I know there are scores of men who mourn their lack of foreskin (and rightly so, it was theirs), I’ve also known men to whom it was not a big deal.

        I’ll tell him that based on our reading, the men I’d talk to about their circumcision, and education when I was pregnant (we had a childbirth class that leaned slightly more pro-circ), we felt that it was the best medical decision for him. Perhaps we were wrong, but we didn’t do maliciously, lightly, or without consideration for his health. For one, I was genuinely concerned that I would be unable to care/clean for an uncirc’d penis, and I did worry about his genital health in that respect. I know better now, but this goes back to that not being able to change what’s been done.

        And I suspect if I have another son, he will not be circumcised, though I sincerely hope that it doesn’t come up. (Though, I once read an interesting account on that topic on another blog, if you don’t mind me sharing: On having one circumcised and one uncircumcised son.)

        I apologize if my comments come off as disrespectful or antagonistic — it’s not my intent at all. I do feel like parents who decide to circumcise their sons (either for reasons logical to them or religious) can get written off as barbaric, uncaring, or ignorant, and it’s simply not the case.

  7. Excellent post. I’ve yet to meet a man who grew up intact amidst cut peers who wishes his parents would have removed part of his penis at birth. More often than not, it is the other way around when those who are not intact discover what was taken from them. Glad to see yet another man speaking up about the myth of the ‘locker room argument’ and the turning tide in America that demonstrates parents today take their whole babies home.

  8. Summer

    If my daughter had been a boy she would have undeniably been cut. Thankfully she wasnt, and my second born, a boy, came after I was educated and fortunate enough to have an open minded husband, who even though he is circ’d didnt argue (too much) when I simply stated our baby would be left whole. As for the superior or inferior argument, it may not be the kindest of ways of saying it, but it’s true. I will never know what it is like to sleep with a whole man, and judging by the many posts and literature I have read, that puts me at a disadvatage. Circumcised men are sexually handicapped. They will never know the true pleasure that is sex, nor will their partners. We have to acknowledge that not only is circumcision not medically neccisary but it is mutilation, it is taking part of one of lifes biggest pleasures away. We cant pretend that if it was done that it is alright, its not. We all make mistakes as parents and some we cannot take back, but we at least have to acknowledge it as a mistake not just brush it under the rug as no harm no foul.

  9. Izzy

    @ Ashley –
    I don’t think that’s the point of this article. The circ’happy community is just as, if not more, into the superiority complex. It’s a touchy topic, so we’re all a bit intense with our opinions.

    • Ashley   ashleympoland

      Oh, I understand that it’s not what he was going for — I certainly didn’t mean to accuse him of anything — but to make note that the use of the language made me feel alienated, and I don’t even have a penis.

      If I were my son in 15 years, being told that the uncirc’d penis is superior, I’m pretty sure it’d make me feel pretty bad. It doesn’t strike me as any better an environment than those boys who were/are mocked for being intact.

      And I don’t mean to say that this is how it will be, just that I sincerely hope it’s not the case.

  10. Steph

    My husband, is a lucky intact fellow. He is 28 and went to a all boys high school. He remembers how everyone is the locker room was cut and how occasionally someone would make a dumb comment on his state. He also was forcibly retracted at about 11 ,the doctors were telling his parents to get him cut, luckily his parents let him decide and he decided against it. He still bears the scar down there from being forcibly retracted. He always felt growing up and well into adulthood that he was “unnatural” and weird. Even my mother upon finding out that he was intact, told him that was disgusting. So yeah he didn’t have it easy growing up in the Midwest! But I have never cared one way or the other about his penis intactness or not, and when we had our son, I originally decided he would not be circumcised because his dad wasn’t. Since then I have realized that honestly, deep down inside, after having “experienced” my husband’s intactness, that circumcision was a totally unnecessary and hurtful to a man’s sexual life.
    Since then I have been doing tons of research, and can now happily say that I am a TOTAL intactivist and now have the info besides my personal knowledge to back it up! I am so happy that I chose for my son to be whole. and I am also thankful to my husband’s parents for leaving him whole as well! (in fact I have told my MIL this!)
    I have been reminding my husband daily of how lucky we are that he is whole and we both can experience sex that way! I am one of the lucky few women my age that get that experience it this way with the one I love! He is a ton more confident in himself!
    I am so happy for my son too and hope my future Daughter in law will know the great gift I have given her! :)
    Recently, for the first time in years, someone in the bathroom said “why aren’t you circumcised?’ to my husband, and he responded “why do you care? My wife is happy” :)

  11. The Author

    @Anonymous: “touque” betrays your Canadianness! Canada is different, if only because Francophones, Newfoundlanders, First Nations, and perhaps the Ukrainians, never went in for the bald look.

    @Betsy: I agree that the persistence of mass circumcision outside of Judaism and Islam requires a prudish silence. If a society talks about it, and does not censor images of the natural and altered penis, that will give rise to emotional conflict and dilemmas. Or simple embarrassment. I wonder if American hospitals did not adopt automatic circ policies 50-60 years ago precisely hoping to avoid such conflicts and dilemmas. Circumcision is also incompatible with young women being free to try out a number of sex partners before settling down with one. Almost no one in my mother’s generation could say they had slept with both kinds of men. Nowadays, a lot of North American women of childbearing age can say this.

    My mother is a continental European, not Jewish and not Moslem. For her, circed looks weird just like intact looks weird to midwesterners. These feelings were so strong that she threatened to divorce my father if he did not shut up about the “need” to have me cut. This in 1949. She reluctantly asked the doctor who delivered me to circumcise me. He flatly refused, because he had never performed a circumcision in his entire career. In this respect, he resembled all other obgyns of his place and time.

    @Ashley: Recall the story of the Ugly Duckling.

    When I say something could “possibly” happen, that does not mean that it has to happen or that I wish it to happen. Over the course of my lifetime, sexual attitudes and behavior have changed a lot, and the best bet is that they will continue to change, driven by medical and IT technology. The rise of intactivism over the past 30 years is one such change.

    That said, I have read a few intact young men post in recent years that they have received a compliment or two in the locker room.

    @Amber: the two biggest events in North American sexuality over the past 30 years, are the rise of AIDS and the comeback of the natural penis. Notice that there are American epidemiologists who wrongly argue that the latter will exacerbate the former.

    ************

    Would you agree to breast implants for your flat chested athletic daughter, so that she would look cooler in the locker room?

  12. Jayson

    Mothers: No matter what you decide for your son, he’s going to have an awkward discomfort in the locker room.

    Boys in puberty feel awkward getting naked in front of their peers. We were all acutely aware of every miniscule difference in the form and development of every boy around us, and all tried to pretend we didn’t notice. But at that age, no one possessed the confidence, the acceptance of puberty, or the bravado to actually tease someone openly.

    Sure, things are said, but in a fleeting way. Most of the damage is internal.

    MOST OF THE DAMAGE IS INTERNAL!

    The boys I knew who were terrified of ridicule in the locker room (and for a few, it was paralyzing), weren’t reacting to ridicule. They were reacting to the fear of being ridiculed – of teasing that hadn’t happened.

    You want to know what pubescent boys talk about in the locker rooms? Pubescent girls.

    Every 12-year-old boy is acutely aware of the breast development of every girl in his class. And the locker room is the perfect place to compare notes.

    If your son is concerned with his penis, don’t make a big deal out of it. If he can pee out of it, it works fine, what else does he want it to do? Sing a song? Dance a jig? Solve his math homework?

    There was belief in health issues. These are perfectly TRUE, but easily mitigated by good hygiene. (Most health issues like risk of infection, etc., are due to not cleaning thoroughly.)

    There’s some evidence the foreskin contains far more receptors that foster transmission of certain STDs, but this too is mitigated by safer sex practices and an understanding of sexual health.

    The only actual adverse effect that’s certain is that some women have hangups about uncircumcised men.

    But on the whole, I’d wager that the time it took you to read all this will be longer than the time your son will spend worrying about it.

    Unless you teach him to worry about it.

  13. The Author

    @Steph:

    “Why do you care? My wife is happy.” This is the Law; the rest is commentary.

    You and your DH appreciate that the moving bits on the end of his johnson are not eye candy. They are there to improve your mutual pleasure.

    @Jayson:

    I like your common sense. One sentence you wrote nicely distills the strongest sexual feeling of my entire youth: “He was reacting to the fear of being ridiculed – of teasing that hadn’t happened.”

    You revealed a secret of the male temple: high school and college boys talks trash about the bodies of girls around their age. Porn encourages this. Have girls grown more willing over time to talk trash about boy bodies? The curious want to know…

  14. Michael

    I was also left intact at the height of the circumcision wave (mid-1960s).

    I feared locker-room exposure only because my parents hadn’t adequately explained my situation. They still carried the Victorian mindset that if you didn’t talk about sexual matters, they wouldn’t … matter.

    I think the locker-room argument for circumcision is the other side of that coin: If we cut Junior so he’s like the rest of the boys, then we won’t ever have to talk with him about his penis.

    Today I wonder why the opinions of high-school boys mattered to me, or to anyone. I haven’t talked to any of them since graduation.

    Besides, conformity is what you do to make others comfortable, not yourself.

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