It is finally time for me to share my story in the hopes that it can benefit parents who are trying to make the best decision possible for their baby boys with regard to the question of circumcision. Please note that I have my son’s permission to tell this story.
My son, Ben, was born back in 1989. The question of circumcision came up in a discussion with my husband only days before he was born. My husband was more in line with the idea of not circumcising because there was no compelling reason he could think of to do so.
My thinking was as follows:
1) I thought that a circumcision was the equivalent to the discomfort of an episiotomy. From everything I knew about it, it was a completely minor little snip that was supposed to benefit my child. I thought the pain was minimal and short-lived and the benefits were worth it. I thought I was doing the best thing for my son.
2) Everyone else did it, so it must be good (like when everyone else got drunk in college).
3) I thought it was healthier… cleaner… and that my son would be less susceptible to infection and disease.
4) I thought it prevented him from giving his sexual partners cervical cancer.
5) I thought it prevented the spread of HIV.
6) I thought it would bring no harm to him.
7) I had never seen an uncircumcised penis, so I had no idea what the procedure really entailed. I had no knowledge of what foreskin really was or how much of it would be taken from him, or that it had any benefit at all to him. In fact, I thought it was more in line with an appendix… and back then I didn’t think an appendix had any benefit to anyone either.
His circumcision was performed without consequence to him…. I thought. In fact, I believed that to be true until a year ago. The day of the circumcision, he was brought to me (likely several hours later… I honestly cannot say how long it was because I was recovering from a C-section.) He seemed “fine”… maybe a little cranky… kind of like when a baby has gas pains.
Since the nurses changed him, I had no idea there was any bleeding.
I kept him in my arms for hours after… and he slept peacefully.
Fast forward to a year ago….
I began receiving phone calls from my son who was 22 years of age and working full time in a prestigious company. The conversations began with him asking me why I had opted for him to be circumcised. I told him much of what I wrote above. During these phone calls I detected some discomfort in his mental state, but thought little of it – that he was simply learning about circumcision that he had never thought much about before.
The phone calls became more and more frequent, and over the ensuing days they became more panicked, more anxiety-filled… and quite honestly, I thought he was blowing things waaaay out of proportion. In my mind, it was just a snip and he was making a big deal about something that was not that big of a deal. (Today I regret my reaction deeply… but I had no idea what I was about to learn….)
I credit my son for continuing to call me… for persevering in sharing his thoughts and what he was discovering…. for not giving up in trying to help himself, and for working painstakingly to get me to understand. Though I still thought he was overplaying it, as a mother I never allowed my suspicions to get the better of my thinking in the off chance that I was wrong… I am glad I followed my gut on this. I offered him empathy for his feelings… but I still didn’t understand what was going on in his mind. I had no idea that this was NOT something that “suddenly occurred to him”. I had no idea that for several years prior he had been experiencing a secret hell.
I recall during one of our interactions, he told me that the foreskin has thousands of nerve endings, and that circumcision removes the foreskin, depriving men from sexual pleasure. In my stupid, ignorant thinking I said something that I will never forgive myself for… because it demonstrated the insensitivity I had for the subject and for his concerns… it demonstrated a callousness I had on the subject, which I have come to learn was a defensive move on my part because I could not at the time admit that maybe… just maybe… I had made a terrible mistake. What I said was, “Well maybe that’s not such a bad thing since men have such a huge sexual drive as it is! I cannot imagine what the demand for sex would be if all men had that additional sexual drive.”
Had I been in my son’s shoes hearing that, and knowing what he knew at the time, I’m not sure I would have been as forgiving. I now understand why circumcision has ruined so many relationships between sons and their parents… and this in itself is one of the many terrible things that happen to men going through this. I am grateful that my son and I had the tools to work through this. I am grateful for our ability to communicate and persevere – for my ability to remain open-minded, and for his ability to realize that he had a long way to go to get me to understand everything.
I don’t know how many phone calls I received from him over the next few months, but I can safely say it was well over 40 calls, and I can safely say that each call averaged 1-2 hours – some only 45 minutes – some as long as 3-4 hours. At the time I thought I was helping him by being there for him. In retrospect I see that his goal was to get ME to a place of understanding that would benefit him. I am so glad that every time that call came in – even though my heart would sink and my stomach would turn and at times I wanted to run… I picked up that call on the first ring. And I closed my eyes and said to myself… “I’m going to stay on this call for as long as it takes to get him through this day, this hour, this minute.”
One day he called in tremendous emotional pain. He told me he could not work on his job, and that he had reached a decision that he needed quit his job. He was filled with pain and anxiety and loss of hope; that his life was in ruin and he literally could not think about his work. I could not believe that it had brought him to this point. I still wondered if he was putting this issue way out of proportion. We talked a long time that day. He was in pieces… unable to remain employable. I knew he had reached a precipice, and although I still didn’t get it, I knew I had to believe him. I’m so glad now that I did.
It was on his lunch hour and he had decided he was not returning to work that day. I was able to ‘talk him of the ledge’ a bit… I was able to convince him not to quit his job, but to ask for a leave of absence. However, to do this was not going to be easy… One cannot just go to one’s boss and say “I need to take a leave of absence because my parents cut off a huge chunk of my cock 22 years ago.” So I suggested he give them another line… that his mother was ill… (and she was)… I suggested he tell them he needed to get to her and help her. And in reality, he did.
Between that day and the time that he drove up to me, I recall being on one of the many calls we had… and yes whenever he called, I would stop whatever I was doing… at that time I had just pulled into a parking lot at CVS… and there I sat taking the call and listening… and suddenly it all hit me… I finally… got … it… It was an honest-to-God epiphany. I’ll never forget that moment.
To be honest, I don’t know what it was that he said that day that finally made me get it… perhaps it was just that one last puzzle piece that allowed me to finally see the whole picture.
From that point on I was on a mission to learn as much about the issue as I could. There are so many great videos out there but the two that were the most impacting to me were:
1) Penn & Teller’s: “Penn & Teller - Circumcision: Make the informed decision featuring Dr. Dean Edell“
And I don’t even like Penn & Teller, but this one is good. It shows an actual circumcision that absolutely MUST be witnessed at least once before taking a stand on this issue. I have only witnessed one circumcision and I don’t know if I will ever be able to watch another, but I am grateful to this video – I watched the entire video. It was my duty to do so.
2) Marilyn Milos’ “The Penis - Sex Education 101”
This video sent me into an hour-long cry because now I understood not only what I had done to my son, but how in addition to our sons being robbed of this amazing sexual experience, our women here in America are robbed of a sexual experience they will never have with a circumcised male. It’s very hard for me to say this when I know my son will be reading this. But the truth is, intercourse is NOT supposed to be rough and drying and painful as it is here in America. It is supposed to be slow and explosive and intimate. Women are robbed of this experience as well.
On this same subject, I came across a quote by a man that explains his experience:
“I can tell you first hand what it is like. I have a lack of sensitivity. I either need to try to climax quick and early or else I basically go numb after more than 5 minutes of intercourse. If I try to delay my orgasms, they just don't happen, this has led to many problems in my relationships, due to my partners always wondering what they are doing wrong, or if I am not attracted to them. Sex is not meant to end with your partner crying because they can not stimulate an orgasm from you.”
Circumcised men spend their lives chasing a feeling they will never be able to experience fully, and in chasing this feeling, they are forced to have rougher sex. As a country, we have the biggest lies facing us on this issue… and as difficult as it is to fight these lies, someone has to speak out and share their experience in order to convince others not to make the same mistake.
In closing, allow me to tell you what I have learned in the past year….
1) Believe your son when he comes to you about the emotional and physical pain he has suffered and will continue to suffer as a result of having been circumcised.
2) There is a reason why parents aren’t invited to witness their son’s circumcision.
3) Doctors sometimes drug a baby after the circumcision and before they are returned to the parents.
4) There was no way that my son didn’t suffer excruciating pain during his circumcision. There was no way he wasn’t permanently emotionally damaged at his core by what I now know is nothing but sick, barbaric forced mutilation on a tied down, helpless infant for no good reason. I learned that boys all over the United States are being brutally disfigured, and no one is realizing the truth.
5) I learned that male circumcisions are as bad or worse than some female circumcisions.
6) I learned that if circumcision were to be witnessed by the public, there is no way the ritual would continue.
7) I learned that if we did not currently perform circumcisions here in the US, there is no way it could be introduced here successfully, even for the same reasons doctors give now. Understanding what a circumcision entails is key to this issue.
8) I learned that my son experienced terrible pain early on when he first entered puberty. His erections are painful and he never said anything because he didn’t realize how wrong this was. He thought it was the way it is supposed to feel.
9) I learned that once in a locker room, my son talked to another young male who was intact. He told my son he could not imagine what it would be like not have his foreskin. He empathized with him… and that was his first realization that he was in fact violated…. And there began the moment of this painful road for him.
10) My son feels that his violation is comparable to that of having been raped. After all I have learned about this, he is correct.
11) I believe that there are likely a staggering number of suicides due to circumcision, and that they are not all sons… they are family members too.
12) My son experiences pain with intercourse… again, something he didn’t realize was not right.
13) My son now lives with a reality he can never change entirely. He will never be able to have his foreskin in the way it should have been. This is a tremendous emotional pain for him (and, therefore, me). He is not wrong to expect this will affect his future relationships.
14) I had to apologize in the most heartfelt way to my son, and I was lucky to have a son who could find it in himself to forgive me. I am grateful he accepted my apology and that he never showed anger toward me personally, even though he could have been justified. He never showed it, but he must have felt it. Forgiveness is so important for him… and to the parents who need to hear this… it’s hard to forgive a parent who doesn’t ‘get it’ and who does not ask for that forgiveness.
15) If my son had not had me to talk to about this over hundreds of hours, I honestly don’t know what would have become of him. Men have nowhere to turn with this issue. There are no groups that I know of that truly help a man through this pain. I have started a group on Facebook to connect men to each other (and parents to each other) for this purpose. Please pass the word along. It is difficult to find these men because it is such a taboo thing to talk about. That has GOT to change. I believe if we talk about it enough, people will finally ‘get it’… and while we are talking about it… and before they ‘get it’, we will seem obnoxious to them. And that’s okay.
16) It is my belief that a significant number of circumcised men do not know what they are missing. How lucky they are. It is the inquisitive man who is unafraid to know truths that comes to the realization of what was done to him; and once this occurs, there is no going back. That most men do not know is why it is so painfully difficult for those who do to speak out. They are ridiculed and called babies or worse… when in fact they are the bravest men I know. Think about it… if you had this done to you, wouldn’t there be a part of you that didn’t want to “go there”?
17) These men cannot heal simply by becoming activists on this issue. It is a mistake for a man in emotional recovery from this to assume that all he need do is become an activist. He has to find someone who will listen to him and work through this pain… and it is not something that will ever go away. He needs to confront his parents, but many men do not have that ability or luxury. For anyone to think otherwise is as ignorant as a person who thinks losing a limb is a temporary emotional process. In fact, my guess is that if given the choice of losing a limb or being circumcised, many or most of these men would choose to lose the limb over the circumcision.
18) The idea that mutilating a penis is the answer to cervical cancer is as outrageous as suggesting that all females have their cervix removed at birth, or removing a female infant’s breasts to avoid breast cancer.
19) There are only two things a person can do to prevent HIV... abstain or use a condom. The form of the penis has nothing to do with the spread of this disease.
20) Boys are born perfectly. America mutilates their boys.
21) Male circumcision is NOT a small snip. Watch the video.
22) Circumcision is excruciating. Watch the video. There is no one who can honestly say otherwise.
23) Circumcision is BIG BUSINESS. A 6-minute mutilation for a few hundred bucks a pop… not a bad business to be in if you’re a cruel bastard… But the after market for human foreskin is where the real money is made. Foreskins are sold to biomedical companies, which use them in the manufacture of insulin. They're also sold to middlemen, who package them for sale to research companies that in turn use them for biochemical analysis. Large corporations are taking cells from amputated foreskins and experimenting with artificial skin. Some products sells for about $3,000 per square foot, are grown from the cells in infant foreskins and used as a temporary wound covering for burn patients. One foreskin contains enough genetic material to grow 250,000 square feet of skin.
24) I will never again trust something because “everyone else does it, so it must be right”.
25) It is tremendously difficult to forgive yourself as a parent after realizing what happened to your son. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stop agonizing over the worst decision I have ever made and that I regret terribly… so many evenings I wish I could send a telepathic message to myself back in time. Truth is, it never occurred to me to question it… and that brings a whole myriad of other questions to my way of thinking altogether.
26) If a man takes a bath or a shower every day, he has a clean penis. The whole argument about intact men having dirty penises is not applicable in the United States of America where we have clean, running water.
27) I’ve come to learn that if you tell the general public the same lies over and over and over… eventually it will become their unquestioned truth, sadly.
28) I’ve learned that we need to organize groups for men to feel comfortable talking to one another, and perhaps doctors who understand (there are so few) without having to pay money for a mental health counselor who has little to no knowledge on this subject. I’ve learned I must reach out to other sons who may not have anyone to talk to. If you are one of them, feel free to email me at email@example.com
One final opinion... If your spouse does not agree with you... don't give up... don't give in... and don't sell out your son for the sake of the marriage. This is not an issue that should end in divorce, and if it does, this issue was likely not the real problem. Your son's life is not a pawn to play in the marriage - this decision is not a bargaining chip for your spouse to get something in return. Imagine your son... a man... 30 years old, looking you squarely in the face, and asking you why you backed down. It is your duty once you 'get it' to stand by him.
Blessings to all the parents, sons, girlfriends, wives, and siblings who are all victims of circumcision.