You wouldn’t remember me, but we met many years ago at a conference. I’m an intactivist. I donate my time and money to the cause as much as I can. I am writing to ask you how you have managed to keep going for so long. You see, I am very angry at having been cut. I blame everyone involved for not standing up to protect me when I was just days old. Some days the pain is unbearable. And then there are good days when someone listens to what have I to say when I comment on Facebook. I have lost friends and family from my stance. I am struggling to stay involved in the movement. How do you do it? How do you stay sane amidst this insanity?
—Struggling in Colorado
I truly understand the anger you feel for not having been protected from circumcision. The difficulty is, who exactly do we blame? I’m a regret mother because my culture and my doctor lied to me. I didn’t even know what the word circumcision meant, and my doctor didn’t explain. Instead, he said, “it doesn’t hurt, only takes a minute, and will protect your son throughout life.” I’m pretty sure your parents were pressured and lied to like I was, too. They surely had no way of knowing the pain it was going to cause you.
I will always feel terrible for not protecting my sons. What has driven my intactivism over the decades is working to stop circumcision so that other mothers and their sons won’t experience such pain. I encourage you to continue to speak out, too, about your experience. If some people don’t want to listen, it’s probably because they are defensive or in denial about what happened to them. But while they might reject your arguments, they cannot reject your experience, your truth.
I think a lot about friendship these days. Becoming an intactivist eight years ago really changed how I interact with the world—not because I fear rejection, but because I know what I believe is sound and resolute—and this has had a profound impact on my friendships.
First, a little background. I became an intactivist after my first son, Paxton, was born. Despite knowing in my gut I didn’t want to have him circumcised, I let the advice and opinions of those around me convince me that it was the right thing to do. But right from the start Paxton was in a lot of pain from wounds that wouldn’t heal. He developed a painful ulcer, adhesions and other complications in the first few years of his life. It broke my heart that he shrank from any touch.
I was full of guilt and regret. I sank into a depression so deep I thought about killing myself. I pulled away from everyone. At the same time, even my husband wasn’t hearing me. In those days he didn’t understand the intensity of my grief, and I was really low.
It wasn’t until I joined a Facebook group for moms with similar experiences that I started channeling my grief into action to help other babies and their families. I attended rallies and met my Facebook community in real life. We formed a bond of support while speaking out and shining a spotlight on this atrocity.
I noticed that some moms would join the cause for a while and then drop off, eager to get back to a more normal life rhythm. It was a little sad to see those friendships drop off one by one, but I pressed on. Fighting to end circumcision was just a hill I was willing to die on. That’s when I started sharing what I had learned about circumcision with friends on Facebook. I had to be heard, so I was posting pretty regularly. Every time I came across new information, I’d put it up there. Some of my long-time friends were there for me and supported me all the way.
But staying with the cause dropped a bomb on my friendships. Right away, friends I had known for years pushed back. Some shot off angry replies. Others complained I was pushing my views on them or posting inappropriate material. Many unfriended me or stopped responding to calls and texts.
I used to think I didn’t care what others around me thought, and then I climbed on that hill and stood on it. It hurt for a while. Sharing what I knew was part of my healing and my journey, and my whole village around me was walking away. It took a very long time to allow myself not to be individually invested and angry.
I can see now that fear drives anger; my posts probably made them question their own decisions, and there was nothing they could do about it. I’ve also come to realize that there are people who just don’t want to understand. When it comes to friendship, it’s more important than ever to nurture mutual respect with folks who don’t agree with us.
To move through regret and grief, we don’t ever get over it. We learn to grow a life around it. If we don’t, we’ll sit in the pain forever. I’m still as passionate as ever to save baby boys from mutilation, but I’m learning to let go of the outcome. I offer my best and keep going.
— Elise Wicklund
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This may fall into the category of TMI, but we are a sex-positive household, and no topic is taboo. My 14-year-old son is going through puberty and is worried that his foreskin pulls back only about half-way. He told me that it sometimes hurts if he “goes too fast” when he masturbates. Is this something we should be concerned about? Is it time to visit a urologist?
—Sonia, Grand Rapids, MI
I am happy that you and your son can talk candidly about sex. You can explain to him that, just as you cautioned him not to forcibly retract his foreskin, he needs to be careful with his foreskin when he masturbates. Here’s why: One or two millimeters under the penile skin is a smooth muscle sheath called the dartos fascia. The dartos fascia covers the shaft of the penis and extends to the tip. The dartos fascia muscle fibers near the tip of the foreskin form a sphincter-like structure—or a ring—that acts like a one-way valve and shields the urinary opening.
The muscle fibers of the ring will become elastic over time as your son’s foreskin loosens with the hormones of puberty and eventually fully retracts. Until then, tell your son to masturbate gently to slowly widen the opening. If he masturbates too vigorously, he can force the head of the penis through the opening and tear the ring, causing bleeding as well as pain. Gentleness is always important when the genitals are involved.
Since Intact America’s founding in 2008, our organization’s stated goal has been to “change the way America thinks about circumcision.”
Our Vision statement says:
Intact America envisions a world where children are free
from medically unnecessary surgeries carried out on them without their consent
in the name of culture, religion, profit, parental preference, or false benefit.
The genital cutting of any child in the absence of life-threatening or seriously health-threatening pathology violates not only that child’s body, but also his/her/their autonomy over their own sexual future. This position is immutable. No parent or guardian has the right to waive a child’s right to be protected from any type of tortious interference, or physical or sexual assault, with regard to genital cutting. The right that governs is that of the child.
Intact America was founded in 2008 by a coalition of individuals and intactivist organizations who wished to see the intactivist movement grow into a mainstream human rights cause. The new organization, as well as its founders, were guided by widely-accepted secular bioethical principles adopted in Western human rights and political discourse in response to atrocities committed against persons of many religions, races, and cultures during World War II. Our position is also supported by common law and the objective fact that having normal genitals, including a foreskin, is not a condition requiring surgical intervention. Furthermore, intactivism places no inherent value in following a particular common or traditional practice nor in capitulating to the current (but always-evolving) status quo, if those traditions and practices compromise the physical integrity and sexual wellbeing of children and the adults they will become.
Thus, neither religion nor “culture” should ever be invoked to support child genital cutting. At the same time, opposition to child genital cutting is not rooted in anti-religious sentiments. To tie ourselves up in such accusations is to lose focus on the true intent of the intactivist movement, as expressed in the fundamental goal and vision of Intact America, restated from above: a world where children are free from medically unnecessary surgeries carried out on them without their consent.
As a human rights organization that respects all persons regardless of their race, religious or cultural affiliation, it is also our duty to refute expressions of bigotry when expressed by people outside or within the intactivist movement. To leave no doubt, in 2022 Intact America’s adopted a new position statement against bigotry and hate speech:
Intact America rejects all forms of ethnic, racial, and religious stereotypes and bigotry. We condemn any form of hate speech based on ethnicity, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or irreligion. The incorporation of anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim expressions into criticism of male (or female) circumcision only serves to undermine our movement and potentially derail our work to protect all children from genital cutting.
I fervently believe that adherence to the logic and principles outlined above will ensure our success in protecting future children and the adults they will become.
Everything about my son’s birth was great. Except for one thing that keeps bugging me. Even though we knew early on that we’d keep him intact, people kept asking us if we wanted to circumcise him. I told my OB/GYN we didn’t want to, but on the next visit she asked. In the hospital, just about every nurse asked me even though our choice was written on my chart. This happened over and over before and after the birth. I was so angry I wanted to scream. Why do they keep asking? It made me begin to question our decision. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we didn’t, but geez, why weren’t they listening?
—Alice, Fort Myers, FL
Congratulations for having the strength to protect your son’s right to his own body and withstanding the pressure of those who tried to coerced you to cut off the most sensitive part of his genitals. Circumcision is BIG business—a $2 billion-dollar-a-year industry for an unnecessary and harmful amputation, which is why doctors and nurses “sell” it so hard.
Doctors and nurses won’t admit it, but they know that circumcision is excruciatingly painful and traumatic. That’s why they do their genital cutting behind closed doors and prevent parents from hearing the screams or watching their babies suffer.
By keeping parents in the dark, health professionals can convince vulnerable and exhausted parents, right after their child is born, to circumcise their baby. If more parents knew what circumcision involves, they could stand strong and resist the pressure.
For example, a colleague and I videotaped a circumcision at the hospital where we worked. A childbirth educator showed the circumcision video to her class, and not one of the mothers circumcised their sons as a result. The educator showed it again to a second class of mothers. They didn’t circumcise their babies either—except for one doctor who was taking the class. Even worse, the doctor insisted that our video be censored. That’s how much doctors dread letting the truth slip out.
Fortunately, several anti-circumcision movies are available now that include actual circumcisions. I suggest watching The Circumcision Movie. Not only will you see that you and your husband were correct to protect your son, you’ll also learn that you are not alone in denouncing this anachronistic blood ritual.
Some of my friends tell me they are bitter because they were circumcised as babies. They say they feel like they were robbed of ever experiencing full sexual pleasure. I don’t understand them. I am circumcised and enjoy sex very much. Honestly, I can’t imagine it being any better. Am I missing something?
—Samuel in Greenville, South Carolina
You are not the only cut man who feels this way. If your foreskin is missing, it’s hard to imagine how it would feel to have sex with an intact penis. But the truth is that sex is better—yes, more complete—when your genitals are intact.
The foreskin is the most erogenous part of the male genitalia. It has tens of thousands of nerve endings that respond to the lightest touch. When the penis is erect, the foreskin slips back from the glans (the head of the penis) and folds into ridged band that is ultrasensitive. During intercourse, the ridged band of foreskin works to stimulate both partners as the glans glides smoothly in and out. Here’s how it works.
Although many cut men are willing to publicly talk about how circumcision has affected them emotionally, physically, and sexually, far more cut men find it hard to acknowledge that their genitals aren’t complete. They also are reluctant to admit that their parents—who were supposed to protect them—allowed a doctor to amputate healthy, normal tissue from their genitals.
I’m glad you are enjoying good sex. However, without a foreskin to protect it, your penis will likely lose sensitivity as you get older. Also, sadly, circumcised men are three to four times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than intact men.
I hope this helps you to understand what your friends are saying, and that you will join with us at Intact America to end the cycle of circumcision that has caused so much harm to American men.