A couple of years before our 35-year-old son’s accidental death, he challenged me with the question of why he was circumcised at birth. I was a bit taken aback but apologized profusely, while stammering something about how we thought we were doing what was best for him and that infant circumcision was at that time considered routine. He didn’t pursue the topic, but I sensed my response did not totally satisfy him. I suspect he never fully forgave us.
The truth is that I was a cocky, ill-informed 25-year-old when I made that decision. (His mom left the decision to me.) I focused on such things as his potential acceptance in the locker rooms of his life rather than honoring and respecting him as a beautifully formed, embodied being.
Ironically, I am intact. I was never teased about it in locker rooms and am very pleased with my foreskin. However, growing up I felt somewhat self-conscious about not being like “all the other guys.” I somehow made the assumptions that others regarded being intact as suggesting an unsophisticated family background and that an uncircumcised penis was less attractive to women.
I was obviously uncomfortable about my decision because, while my son was a young lad, I kept my foreskin retracted—pretty uncomfortable—for a few years, so that when he saw me naked it would not be as obvious that he and I were different. (Then I could avoid actually having to talk with him about why he was circumcised.) I never told him all this and suspect he assumed I was circumcised too.
What possible ethical justification was there for me to commit to permanently surgically removing healthy tissue from another person’s body without his permission? Being born with a functional foreskin is not a medical emergency, and therefore is not justification for surgical intervention initiated by me as a parent, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies or anyone else.
I have reflected on his disappointment over the loss of his foreskin many times over the years. My shame was that my first official act as a parent had been deep disrespect of our first-born child. I had totally taken away his right to make an informed decision about an important part of his body.
Over time I did come to forgive myself. I have also become more informed about the fabulous foreskin, its lack of respect by the medical community and, sadly, that genital pleasure sensors are removed with circumcision. I offer my sincere posthumous apology to you, my son, and my compassion goes out to all the other men and boys who have been cut without their consent.
I am committed to being an intactivist, and I hope my story will inspire others to defend the right of all males to remain intact until they are of an age to make informed decisions about their own bodies.
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