Adventures Of An American Aardvark
I am an American Baby Boomer who is intact because I am the son of a European mother, who gave birth to me in a European hospital. I long felt paranoid about having a foreskin. One could argue that that paranoia lost all rational basis once I finished high school, and so became frankly comical. If Simon Baron Cohen were to learn my life story, he would have another hit movie! I've even given this kink in my personality a name: the Aardvark Complex. (Have you hugged your aardvark today?) The Aardvark Complex is not incredibly exotic. Decades ago, one turned up in Ann Landers’s newspaper column. A case I knew personally was a Chicano lad I knew in college. He would clown around with Jewish girls, saying something like "Girl, let me offer you a taste of uncir***cised flesh." I can’t speak to their reactions, if any. A decade later he told me, with his Anglo girl friend grinning sheepishly at his side, that he had had himself circumcised after college.
The word “circumcision” was in no way alien to me, because until 1970, Roman Catholics honored the Jewish cir***cision of Christ on January 1. But I did not learn what it meant until I was 13, when I chanced on an article by that name in an adult encyclopedia. I suspect that that was also my first encounter with the word “foreskin.” I was astounded to discover that I was normal, that all boys were born looking like me, and that nearly all men around me looked as they did because they had been surgically altered very soon after birth. Honest, until then I had thought that American boys were born helmets, while European boys were somehow born anteaters.
This discovery brought no relief but only changed the focus of my worry, because everything I read in my teens asserted that the foreskin was unsanitary. I resolved to get myself cut as soon as I could order and pay for medical care on my own. When I was a college sophomore, I read in a newspaper medical advice column that circumcision was medically unnecessary, and that pulling back the foreskin in the shower (which I had long done and was no big deal at all) sufficed. Only then did I finally see that one could be intact and healthy. But I remained deeply confused until 1983, when I read Wallerstein's book which explained in great detail why RIC was unnecessary surgery. Shortly thereafter, I discovered the work of Marilyn Milos and Rosemary Romberg, and the movement to stop routine infant circumcision in American maternity wards. It is thanks to Romberg and Milos that I took on board that RIC was very painful. Hence only in my 30s did I come to understand that I was perfectly healthy and that American medical practice is simply dead wrong.
But understanding that I was normal and healthy, and had been spared serious pain, did not banish the fear of ridicule in sexual intimacy. I still believed that the foreskin had no important sexual function, wrongly believing that an erect penis was an erect penis, cut or not. I did not see the light about the possible sexual importance of the foreskin until I was over 40, after years of sexual experience and after reading summaries of Taylor’s work. Incidentally, because nearly every penis I have seen in the flesh has been circumcised, the cut penises I see on the web strike me as normal and natural, and I can't bring myself to describe them as “mutilated.”
One of the universals of human nature is that boys are prurient creatures. Yet I can recall almost no joking about the foreskin or its amputation before college. (Exceptions: “X wears braces. He can circumcise with his teeth!” Then there’s the old saw about a father giving his intact son numbered instructions on how to pee. Soon the boy is caught ************, panting “3-5!, 3-5!, 3-5!” etc.) I never heard a boy say anything like “Man, the doc cuts some skin off your **** right after you’re born.” The first time I heard an adult talk about this fact was in 9th grade, when an old curmudgeon of a religious, blushing beet red, told us what cir***cision meant in the Bible, adding that we had all undergone the procedure at birth. We were much too embarrassed to ask any questions. 12th grade health spoke to it for 1-2 minutes. The football coach boomed about how only "hillbillies from the sticks" retained their foreskins. Both times, there was a lot of blushing around the room, despite no girls being present.
Circumcision was a bit talked and joked about in college, where I began to detect a note of sadness and loss in the way some guys talked about it. The banter seemed to assume, very curiously. that present company was not circumcised. Decades later I read that some men resent having had something profoundly sexual trimmed at an age when they are unable to refuse consent or to protest. I observed that Jewish boys could make jolly fun of it, as long as no Gentile within earshot criticized the practice.
I was about 40 when I told my mother that her silence about my foreskin left me ashamed and confused until well after I came of age. Her reaction was little more than a verbal shrug. I then asked whether she knew that the millions of infant circumcisions in the USA had been done without local anesthesia. She muttered no and shrugged again. Here’s my best guess as to her silence. One day when I was 19, out of the blue, she suddenly broke down and cried, then told me the following story. When she immigrated to the USA with two month old infant me in her arms, her American mother-in-law met us at the dock and took us to a hotel. My grandmother immediately undressed me and criticized my mother for not having had me circumcised. You can imagine how excruciatingly embarrassing this was for her, a newlywed young mother with an imperfect command of English. I was intact simply because at that time, no maternity ward in continental Europe would have agreed to circumcise me. Thus my foreskin was the cause of my mother's first humiliating American experience. My mother’s tone and manner when she related this incident to me spoke volumes about the trauma and violation she had experienced.
After my father was dead, she told me that before I was born, he had asked her to have me circed at birth. My mother reluctantly raised this matter with her European obgyn, who flatly refused. A few months later, my American grandmother told my pediatrician (who was not the Dr. X mentioned below) that she deplored that I was not circumcised, but my mother declined to do anything. When my grandmother threatened to have me circumcised against my mother's wishes, she replied saying that if I were done, she would return to Europe for good, and that that would be the end of her marriage. So in order to save my foreskin, my mother threatened to divorce my father.
Curiously, my father never raised the subject again. I am also confident that he never changed my diaper! My grandmother never raised the matter with me; in fact, I was very much her favorite grandchild. If adults ever discussed intactness in my presence, they did so at times when I lacked the vocabulary to understand. I am still a bit surprised my mother reports no further attempts to have me go under the knife. Fact: I have seen a number of posts stating that the author was intact because he was born premature in the 1940s or 50s. I wonder if at that time in the USA, routine circ was seen as something done in the first few days of life. If that window of opportunity was missed, the medical profession lost interest in the matter, unless there was a problem in later life. Routine circ was deemed not worth doing unless it were quick and simple, and quick and simple required dispensing with anesthesia. Nobody dared do this after a child was 6-12 months old.
My younger brother was not so lucky. My mother speaks very highly of the American obgyn who delivered my younger siblings. But she cannot recall ever being asked whether she wanted her American-born children circumcised. I suspect that urban USA hospitals of that time (the 1950s) circumcised all baby boys unless parents took the initiative to ob
I suspect that my mother was torn between her European distaste for circumcision (she would chide me gently when I would pull my foreskin back in the bath to look like my younger brother) and her great respect for American medicine. During the '50s and '60s, the prevailing American misconception was that the foreskin should be removed because it was unsanitary (to which my mother had no counterargument other than the fact that Europeans don't see this as a hygiene problem). She also believes that routine infant circumcision (RIC) is a Jewish ritual that somehow spread to the entire American population. Finally, the whole matter was tied up with her sexual feelings. I still remember her staring hypnotically at my groin when she saw me naked as a child. The upshot must have been that the whole topic had become intensely emotional, and linked to other powerful dilemmas in her life, so that she simply could not stomach trying to unravel this whole ball of wax. When a problem becomes too intense, we tend to do nothing about it.
My mother spent her college years in occupied France. She has told me that one of the horrors of the Holocaust was that the Gestapo would cruise the streets asking men at gunpoint to show them their penises, and arresting those who were circumcised. (This horror is confirmed in Roman Polanski's autobiography and in articles written about the Klaus Barbie trial.) Circumcision may thus be linked to her nightmarish memories of WWII.
A very secular Jewess who had the hots for me in the 70s was disappointed when I told her that circ was unnecessary and she guessed my condition, but it certainly not did lead her to lose interest in me. She talked freely about it, thinking that it was legally required as a public health measure. I retorted "Is there a law requiring us to brush our teeth?" Ironically, she later married a European man, who was almost surely intact. The very few women to whom I have disclosed my intactness have never expressed puzzlement or disgust at this fact, much less ever made fun of my foreskin. However I drew little comfort from this fact, because I believed that most American women of our generation were not even aware that boys come with foreskins. Rosemary Romberg writes that she was almost totally unaware of the matter until she gave birth to her third son.
I was very embarrassed by (and very curious about) matters sexual as far back as I can remember. Ditto for feeling horny; puberty was not a “switching on” but only a “heating up.” Having unusual genitalia only made things hotter. Reader, please understand that I experienced puberty as nothing short of an unwelcome assault on my peace of mind. And it came early; I began sprouting body hair the summer I turned 11. By 8th grade, I would experience prolonged erections from simply looking at the backs of demurely clad girls quietly doing their school work. Fortunately, none of them were aware of my lust, because teachers invariable sat me near the back of the class, as I was a well-behaved boy and could be trusted to work on my own. A bikinied beauty in an ad, even a mere hemline above an otherwise demure girl’s knee, made me feel like a pot about to boil over.
Now bear with me as I practice some mental archeology. Incidents that fueled my Aardvark Complex include the following:
- While living in Brazil at the start of their marriage, my parents purchased an illustrated coffee table book about an Indian tribe in Amazonia. The adult Indian men were photographed wearing loincloths, but prepubescent boys were naked and sported tapered foreskins. I remember leafing through that book before I could read and being deeply puzzled by what I much later learned was the foreskin. I thought to myself: why did I look like an Amazon indian, but my father and brother did not?
- Unlike most boys, I dutifully looked at classic painting and sculpture, with its many male nudes sporting the tapered look. Why did I look like the little boys in the Amazon jungle, like Michaelangelo’s David, like the infant Jesus in Renaissance depictions of the Madonna and Child? Why was I embarrassingly different from the flesh and blood males around me, my father and brothers, my schoolmates and playmates around me? Why did I encounter a tiny number of exceptions? My parents were silent. I was too embarrassed to ask them or a doctor, and no doctor who examined me volunteered any information.
- Throughout elementary school, the only boy I knew to be intact other than myself was the one with the lowest test scores. Teachers allowed him to go into the boys room by himself, after the rest of us. I believe this was done purely at his mother’s request. In grades 1 and 2, I was made fun of by the older boys at the school urinal, which was a zero privacy zone. Not until 4th grade did I discover that I could look cir***cised by retracting my foreskin. All whispering about my peculiar penis instantly ceased. In 6th and 7th grades, I was confident enough of my ability to conceal my foreskin that I would let other boys watch me urinate while erect. In junior high, the only classmate whom I knew to be intact once said to me in a voice tinged with malice "I know yours is covered with skin." I was deeply afraid that he would tell the other boys. At the time, I had no idea he and I were normal.
- The following incident is the only instance of genital play I recall from my childhood. Sometime before age 10, my regular playmate of the day showed me his penis and then asked to see mine. I screwed up my courage and complied. He shouted "Eew! It looks like a worm!" I laughed and put my tool back in my pants, but felt very much confirmed in my deviance. My impressionable younger brother witnessed this brief episode and reported a garbled version thereof to our mother, saying that I had taken the initiative to expose myself (not true) and then let our playmate stroke my penis with a twig (I have no recollection of this). Our mother, deeply disturbed by what my brother had told her, called me on the carpet. She referred to her version of this incident many times subsequently, mainly to condemn the playmate involved, whose parents she considered white trash. She may have feared that I was straying into homosexuality, and later conversations revealed that she believed that homosexuality was, in some sense, “socially contagious.”—for her, homosexuals were made as well as born. I lacked the vocabulary to explain what had really happened, and even had I known it, I would have been much too embarrassed to employ it. I denied nothing of what she alleged simply in order to avoid talking about what I later learned was my foreskin and the deep embarrassment it caused me.
- When I was about 6, my pediatrician forcibly retracted my foreskin; it believe it was the first time, and I experienced some discomfort. I wonder if he did not like what he saw; I was not told what or why. He and my mother then had a discussion in my presence. The only part I understood was her emphasizing that I had been born in Europe. This incident was an excellent pretext for a frank mother-son talk that never took place. From that day until well into adolescence, my mother told me “to be sure to wash where Dr. X told you to” before every bath. Somehow, I knew what she meant, even though Dr. X in fact had spoken only to her.
- When I was 13, this same pediatrician examined me alone for the first time. He took a lot of interest in my penis. I knew full well how I differed from nearly all of his other patients. Even though he was the father of several children and I believe he was happily married, he gently manipulated my foreskin in a way that struck me as less than fully professional and innocent. Did he explain circumcision to me? Did he tell me about keeping clean? No on all counts. Instead, he nervously asked me if my schoolmates were circumcised (I had learned what that word meant only a few months prior); I ducked the humiliating truth by saying I didn't know. His only concern was that I might be in a minority. He was the only adult who ever made me feel that my penis was a problem. Otherwise decency prevailed throughout my upbringing. Even so, when I was 31, a gastroenterologist gasped loudly upon seeing my genitals for the first time. Incidentally, I agree that every boy should have the retractability of his foreskin checked starting around puberty, although we need to find nonsexual ways of carrying such checks out.
- I dreaded hernia checks in scout camp, fearing that an adult would comment on my foreskin and the other boys would ridicule me. Some boys would boast in my presence of mutual ********, exhibitionist ************, and other nighttime sex play. I was never invited to participate, a fact which led to deeply mixed feelings. On one hand, I was disappointed that the other boys did not like or trust me enough to ask me to join in. On the other hand, homosexual acts did not interest me at all, my sexual curiosity being wholly for the other sex. Most of all, I was terrified of how other boys would react to my foreskin.
- The prospect of having to shower in the presence of other boys in summer camp and in gym filled me with dread. On the first dozen-odd days I had gym, I kept my foreskin retracted using a rubber band. It was hard to find the Goldilocks rubber band--tight enough to do the job, yet not so tight as to result in discomfort. I soon discovered that I could very quickly pull my foreskin back before slipping out of my underwear, and that it would stay back while I showered. I noted that other intact boys (who were very rare) did not betray any evident embarrassment. But I simply could not bring myself to imitate their example. In any event, nobody in high school or college ever commented on my being uncircumcised.
- I did factory work in my youth. At the end of every shift, 60-odd of us would ***** and shower, and our bodies held no secrets. My coworkers were in two age groups: those hired just before WWII or the Korean War, and Baby Boomers like myself. The former were all intact, while the latter were the opposite. Every day, the older men would scrub their penises down with the foreskin pulled back, without any embarrassment whatsoever. Even so, while undressing I always pulled my foreskin back, because I wanted to look like the other young guys. My embarrassment simply made no sense because, over a period of 13 months, I recall not even the mildest good-natured ribbing of one group by the other. Mind you, most of the older men were devoted family men and churchgoers, whose own sons were almost certainly circumcised. Meanwhile, we young guys were not inclined make fun of men far more senior than we. This whole business taught me that circumcision did not become an American “universal” until the 1940s; before then it marked one as having been born in an urban hospital to middle-class native-born parents.
- When I was about 30, I admitted to a younger friend that I was intact. He was disgusted, telling me of his horror as a teen Candy Striper at having to clean under the foreskin of an elderly man bedridden in a nursing home. He did admit that a British friend he very much admired was also intact. Soon thereafter my friend and I vacationed together on a Mediterranean island; he would go to nude beaches (yours truly the unbearably horny virgin declined to join him), indulge in one night stands with northern European women he met there, then boast to me the next day of how his cut penis fascinated them.
Other incidents did not make me paranoid but marked my impressionable spirit in other ways:
- 2-3x a year, I played with the son of an American friend of my mother’s. He was kind and not oversexed. When we would pee in the woods, he would begin with his foreskin fully extended, then glance at my retracted foreskin (from age 9 to 45, I always peed with my foreskin fully retracted), assume I was cut, blush, and try to pull his foreskin back, without complete success. We never talked about it.
- I will now explain how I discovered that European boys looked like me, while having no idea what to make of the fact. I spent three boyhood summers in Europe. A European aunt proudly showed us color slides of her children in babyhood, many of them revealing my cousins in their full intact glory. My aunt and cousins were perfectly matter-of-fact about it all; I was quiet and cool, trying to conceal my embarrassment at the genital display; my prepubescent sister did a lot of nervous laughing. When I was 10, I was taken to an art museum, and saw that classical male nudes looked like me. Although I was very puzzled, I was far too ashamed to ask why I seemed to have a Renaissance penis!
- I once went on a 10 day scout camping trip in Europe. Because intact prepubescent boys typically do not retract their foreskins when urinating (I was an exception) and because the foreskin has a marked effect on the urine stream, one does not need to see the penis to determine that it is uncut. One of the boys had been circumcised at age 9 because of a chronic rash. The other boys were fascinated about this fact and he talked about it happily and freely. No one made fun of him. Thus I learned that circumcision after infancy was not especially painful, but that the recovery required about 10 days of down time. No boy knew the word "circumcision," or the operation's religious significance, until I enlightened them (my own knowledge was quite new at the time). One boy claimed that his father had told him that RIC was then the case in France; I could not make sense of that then or now. A boy interjected “Cutting it off makes no sense; I wash myself carefully down there every time I take a bath.” Much of their childish phallic humor, by the way, from the way an intact penis resembles a banana. The boys were curious about how I looked; while I evaded their questions, my habit of peeing with my foreskin retracted convinced them that I was circumcised. I did not disabuse them and they made no fun me of me whatsoever. I was so uptight I could not admit to having a foreskin even to friendly intact boys.
- In college I once joked that student nurses struck me as unusually horny. A future biology professor shot back, "That's because they see so many circumcisions." That bit of repartee has always made emotional sense to me; the act of circumcision, much more than the circumcised condition, has always struck me as laden with sadistic sexual significance. There are accounts on the web of young men taking money to be circumcised in someone’s residence with a number of adult women looking on. While these narratives could well be gratuitous sado-masochistic fantasies, they do not strike me as implausible.
- A fellow who studied in Italy in the 1970s once told me that Italian young men were incredulous when he told them that Americans are all circumcised. A tall, buxom Sicilian-American engineering student, girdle showing under her jeans, once told me that her saying “let’s talk about circumcision” to a tableful of fellow women students in a college cafeteria was met with stares and silence. I changed the subject.
- The first time I read that American RIC was under a cloud was in 1979, when I read a newspaper article saying that RIC was unnecessary and had no support from the trade associations of American pediatricians and obstetricians. (I read Wallerstein’s book in 1983.) Soon thereafter, a petite woman medical student shyly described to me how she helped out with the weekly batch of RICs at a teaching hospital. In answer to my question, she said that some mothers opted not to have it done (this was the 70s). Her Jewish fiancee waxed sarcastic when I claimed that the medical respectability of the procedure was in decline, citing the newspaper article just mentioned.
- Late one summer night, I was eating in a Mexican restaurant with an Indian friend. Ten feet from us was a table full of young nurses yacking about their on-the-job experiences with circumcision. One nurse described a boy born without a foreskin as “being born circumcised,” and the doctor's trouble in explaining to the mother that no circumcision was "necessary." Another nurse described her excitement and curiousity the first time she witnessed a RIC. Yet another said that she was all for RIC after having seen an adult man hospitalized for “problems down there.” I cannot recall hearing the word “foreskin” once. It is curious how many of us can talk about its removal, but not about what is removed! Overhearing this conversation made me shiver in a very embarrassing way. Some years later, my Indian friend who witnessed this conversation converted to Judaism so as to marry an Orthodox Jew.
- Shortly after he immigrated to the USA, my uncle was circumcised while under anesthesia for a tonsillectomy. The surgeon had recommended it because he was unable to retract completely at 26 years of age. My uncle told me about this experience 60 years later. He joked about bleeding like a pig, but otherwise thoroughly approved of circumcision for hygienic reasons, saying “Infections down there can be a real problem.” When I told him I was uncut, he was quite surprised, then asked whether I had any difficulty with retraction. I assured him I did not. This conversation took place while both of us were drinking heavily, which made me shiver uncontrollably despite the hot weather.
- I used to be very attracted to Jewish women, an attraction complicated but not dampened by my belief that a Jewish woman would have difficulty admitting a foreskin into her sex life. One of my hottest sexual fantasies was imagining a Jewish woman's reaction the first time she saw me naked. I finally met a young Jewish woman from the Middle East who, while declining to be my lover, was willing to talk frankly with me about matters sexual. She told me that she had had several intact gentile lovers, and was adamant that this was not an issue with her. (She was no Jewish chauvinist for several reasons: her family belonged to a Jewish sect many Jews do not recognize. Her mother tongue was Arabic, she looked Arab. Worse yet, she was no intellectual and had not been a good student. Nearly all Jewish young men did not find her attractive.) After talking to me, she asked her closest woman friend what she thought about intimacy with an intact man, and her friend reportedly said that that it had never crossed her mind to think of that as a defect in a lover. Jews, of course, grow up knowing that there is such a thing as the foreskin, because removing it is a defining Jewish ritual. I wonder if some well-educated secular Jewish women are more likely to accept an intact lover than many American gentile women.
In no way did any of this dent my Aardvark Complex, because I believed that it was hard for a Jewish women to appreciate the effect of quasi-universal cir***cision on the expectations of American women of my generation. 30 years ago, tens of million of American women simply had no idea what a foreskin was. The only place they encountered it was in prenatal class. Even now, I bet most women cannot distinguish erect intact from erect cut just by sight or intercourse. The only easy way to distinguish the two is to manipulate the penis by hand or by mouth.
· The Italian-American wife of an Indian doctor lovingly described a bris to a group of Indian friends of her husband (I was the only gringo present). That the same thing was done to most American gentiles was never mentioned. Someone mentioned female genital mutilation, and I took over the conversation (I have read extensively about this as well). I remember all too well the woman's disgust and indignation, so soon after she had extolled the ritual significance and beauty of slicing off an infant boy's foreskin, when I got her to understand that some cultures slice off a girl's inner labia (I did not mention a greater horror-the excision of the clitoris). Why are so many of us complacent about removing the foreskin, yet strongly (and rightly) disgusted by all forms of FGM? Were women the circumcised sex, feminist outrage would be deafening. In her book Intercourse, Andrea Dworkin says that circumcision is part of a general pattern of violence to sexual anatomy and of a wider hatred of sexuality.
· There is a remarkable scene in the 1967 (released in 1987) Soviet film ”The Commissar”, filmed through the wheels of a moving cannon carriage, of three naked Jewish boys taking an outdoor bath in an Ukranian shtetl sometime in the early '20s. The two older boys were circumcised (I bet the child actors had merely pulled back their foreskins; circumcision not being an option in the Soviet Union), while the youngest one, purportedly born after the Revolution, was not. The point was to impress upon the viewer how the Revolution had suppressed Judaism. I saw this film with my sister but dared not discuss this detail with her.
It was much easier to talk circumcision with my Indian friends than my American ones. They are intact, proud of their sexual sophistication, and quite aware of the subject because of the large Moslem minority in their country. While somewhat surprised to learn that almost all American men born in urban hospitals between 1940 and 1980 were routinely circumcised, they have always discussed circ with me in a very matter-of-fact way, never giggling or smirking. My closest Indian friend had some sexual experience with American woman, and he told me that no American woman has ever commented in any way on his being intact, including those who performed long and expert ******** on him. He further asserted that any adult woman worth knowing should be sophisticated enough to deal with both kinds of men.
The raunchy men's magazines don't say much about circumcision. I do remember reading about a young single Swedish woman who had immigrated to the USA only to discover via foreplay, to her dismay, that her American partners were all circumcised. I read an intact American college student describe how two woman students showed him a Playgirl layout of an intact man. They then said that they could not conceive of making love to a man whose penis “looked like that” (they did not know that the fellow they were speaking to was intact).
All articles the Reader’s Guide indexes under “circumcision” strike me as superficial. To my surprise, Cosmopolitan does not appear to have written about it, even though in recent years it has even printed articles on the styling of women’s pubic hair. The discussion of RIC in books for expecting parents varies widely in quality, and is often weak. A fundamental problem is that the American mainstream media cannot bring themselves to admit that the foreskin and the frenulum may play an important role in foreplay and vaginal intercouse.
Very recently, I chanced on a webpage, put together by a pro-circ group, that included a number of testimonials by men and medics who had been in the Service in their youth. These testimonials made clear that many Army docs during the Cold War were blatantly hostile to the foreskin. The page reproduced an extract from a medical journal article, written by Army docs, claiming that inflamation under the foreskin was rampant among soldiers, especially under combat conditions. The authors were of the opinion that their experience fully supported making infant circ routine. This could explain why it indeed became routine in the 1940s and 50s, when the prestige of the US military was much higher than it was post-Vietnam. But I also have trouble making sense of this claim. If a soldier has a canteen with drinking water, he can wash under his foreskin 1-2 times a day, easy as pie. To unzip a fly, pull the tool out, skin it back, and rinse off the end in clean water is really no big deal at all. (For a woman to rinse off her vulva requires that she undress below the waist and towel off afterwards.) Also, I know of no other national military that concluded that the foreskin reduced one’s effectiveness as a soldier.
After decades of living in shame, I began reading about people of both sexes who would be downright envious of me! Anticircumcision activists who target their writings mainly at expecting parents, report receiving many thousands of letters from American men expressing rage and sorrow at having been deprived of a normal part of their sexual anatomy. (I suspect that RICs performed decades ago were often too radical; the skin on a flaccid cut penis should be quite loose, even wrinkled; otherwise there is not enough skin to accommodate an erection.) I am aware of the book by O’Hara and O’Hara, although I find their research methods naïve. I have even read a statement by a California woman, happily married to a circumcised man by whom she has had 6 children, declaring her passionate desire to be intimate with an intact man. I have found the following telling quote from Lara Loewenstein’s (?!?) column in the UCLA student paper:
“And while I'll be the first to admit that body image plays a large role in our society, when it comes to sex, as one girl put it, 'I've never really noticed.' Many did not even know how to tell the difference. I delightedly enlightened quite a few with the aid of a Google image search. Those who had noticed the physical aspects of their snake-like friends didn't express any strong preference for one or the other. The most helpful response I got was from a girl who enthusiastically told me that ‘uncircumcised penises are much more fun to play with.’ ”
Reader beware: just about all web sites devoted to the intact penis cater to gay men. If you agree with me that Wikimedia Commons is educational and not pornographic, then an ample selection of intact penises can be found at:
The second item on this page is an especially informative 30 second video about how the foreskin moves, something no still image can convey.
This narrative is entirely archaeological. My powerful interest in the opposite sex has been little reciprocated, and now that I am bald and gray, that is true with a vengeance. I live in a society that used to circumcise (but no longer does so) so that many men my age are cut, but nobody ever remarks on my foreskin. When I use a public urinal, I no longer hide my foreskin by pulling it back At my age, the only people who see my foreskin are my immediate family and my GP. A female urologist recently examined me for suspected prostate cancer; she did not comment on my foreskin. My spouse had extensive experience with intact lovers before meeting me, and emphatically does not believe that “if doctors do it it must be a good thing.” We would never have a child circumcised unless absolutely necessary.
Closer to home, it ties into strange parts of my mother's libido and sexual shame, and her struggles with her mother-in-law. It explains how this a straight white male has felt marginal and deviant, and why I feel that I belong to a sexual minority. It powerfully contributed to my having sat out the sexual revolution (no regrets in this quarter; had I taken part, it is very likely that I would be divorced or the father of a lovechild), and has colored my entire thinking about human sexuality.
Why are some Americans so angry about routine infant circ, to the point of losing all civility and of seeming like foreskin fetishists? Bear with me as I conjecture. Circumcision was introduced to make ************ more difficult. When ************ came to be tolerated, routine circumcision became cosmetic surgery fueled by a desire to have all boys with genitals that look alike. Hence last century, 100M+ adult American men were circumcised even though when it was done, there was no credible medical research supporting it. Generations of Americans were led to believe that the foreskin is disgustingly unsanitary. Routine circumcision was popular in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the UK, but nowhere else. With the exception of Korea, these nations have all pretty much given it up.
Even though Novocaine and related local anesthetics have been available for about a century, and have been widely used in dentistry, doctors performed those 100M circs without pain management. The possibility that the foreskin influences the quality of one's sex life, or that of one's partner, was a question not posed before the 1990s. I submit that all in all, the American medical profession has behaved very badly here, has failed in its duty to lead, and has breached the trust we naturally place in it.
And why do Americans continue to circumcise infant boys even now? Again, forgive me as I conjecture:
1. Most fathers cannot face having their sons ask them in the bath or locker room "Daddy, how come your willy doesn't look like mine?"
2. Most American men and women of reproductive age have never seen an intact penis in the flesh. They do not want to be reminded of the foreskin every time they change a son's diaper or give him a bath.
3. Many American mothers do not want to talk about foreskin hygiene with their sons at bath time. They do not want to check his progress towards full retractability. They don't want to be hands on with a boy's foreskin when their spouse doesn't have one. This might give rise to thoughts that hubby is missing something.
4. The foreskin cuddles the place where urine emerges from the male body. This is especially true before puberty. Urine is gross, therefore the foreskin is gross. Parents have visions of urine permeating the preputial sack, and making that space stinky and gross.
5. Many American women find the foreskin highly unsanitary, and assume that it chronically offends violates the First Taboo of American Social Life: Thou shalt not emit body odor. To which I reply:
- Civilized men and women rinse off their genitals before undertaking sexual activity (and it is a fine thing to begin foreplay by showering together);
- Responsible casual sex requires a condom;
- Our genitalia, and the acts passion impels us to carry out with them, all have a reproductive teleology. If a woman finds oral sex with a foreskin disgusting, that is Mother Nature's way of reminding her that she wants ***** to go into the vagina and not the stomach.
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