New Survey Finds That 4 Out of 10 Uncircumcised Boys Have Had Their Foreskins Forcibly Retracted by the Age of 7
Medical Literature Says Forced Retraction Is Never Indicated, but Doctors, Nurses, and Parents Persist in This Painful and Damaging Practice
Intact America Releases the Survey Today at the 15th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights in San Francisco
Tarrytown, NY—May 6, 2018
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explicitly states that a baby’s or young boy’s foreskin should never be forcibly detached from the glans, a new survey shows that doctors, nurses, and parents routinely ignore this warning because they do not understand the anatomy and development of the normal penis in babies and young boys.
The groundbreaking survey will be released today by Intact America, the nation’s largest anti-circumcision advocacy group, which conducted the study. The survey found that a staggering 43.4 percent of intact (uncircumcised) boys have had their foreskins forcibly retracted by the age of seven.
According to the AAP, “Forcing the foreskin to retract before it is ready can cause severe pain, bleeding, and tears in the skin.”
“We have heard many anecdotal stories about little boys suffering pain, bleeding, and scarring because a doctor, nurse, or parent forcibly separated the boy’s foreskin from his glans,” explains Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. “But when we analyzed the survey results, we were shocked to see how prevalent this practice really is.”
The Intact America survey found that close to 50 percent of forced retractions were done by physicians, and nine percent of them were performed by nurses. More than 25 percent of parents said either they or their spouse had forced their son’s foreskin back.
Foreskins Retract Naturally
Ms. Chapin explains that at birth, a boy’s foreskin is attached to the glans (or head of the penis) by a membrane that dissolves gradually as the boy approaches puberty. The age at which the foreskin naturally detaches from the glans varies. According to the British Medical Journal, only 25 percent of five-year-old boys can comfortably pull back their foreskins. The Intact America survey discovered, however, that 70 percent of retractions occurred before boys reached the age of three, leading Ms. Chapin to ask, “so why are doctors and nurses tearing the membrane to retract the foreskin in one-year-old and two-year-old boys?”
The answer, she says, is that circumcision is so ingrained in American culture that health professionals know little about caring for intact boys. “They think you have to clean under the foreskin, but the foreskin actually protects the baby boy’s penis from bacteria and irritants because it tightly adheres to the glans. Germs and dirt can’t find a way in,” she says.
In addition to the pain it inflicts on the child, forced foreskin retraction can permanently damage the boy’s genitals. The Pediatric Urology Department at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles advises parents of intact sons that “The foreskin should be left alone until it can be pulled back easily. The head of the penis does not need to be cleaned until this occurs. Trying to pull the foreskin back too soon may result in tearing it from the head of the penis, with scarring, bleeding, and phimosis.”
“It has become quite common in the United States for doctors, nurses, and other parents to tell mommies that they need to retract their son’s foreskin when he bathes,” writes Adrienne Carmack, MD, a board-certified urological surgeon and author of The Good Mommy’s Guide to Her Little Boy’s Penis. Dr. Carmack warns parents, “Do not retract your son’s foreskin, and do not allow anyone else to do so…Pulling on this sensitive tissue can cause tearing and lead to infections and scarring. Many boys who need emergency care and even circumcision (removal of the foreskin) do so because of premature retraction of the foreskin by parents or caregivers.”
Parents Take Legal Action
In January, Cassie. N. Parks sued Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and two staff for allegedly forcibly retracting her two-month-old baby’s foreskin, causing the boy severe physical and mental pain and suffering, according to the complaint. Ms. Parks had taken the boy to the emergency room because he was vomiting. The complaint states that the nurse “without warning” tore back the boy’s foreskin to insert a catheter to collect a urine sample.
In conversations with Ms. Chapin, Ms. Parks has described what happened next. “[My son] cried like I had never heard before. It pierced straight to my core, and I knew he was in pain.” She added, “For days after I would sit him in the sink filled with water to dilute his urine, because he would cry from the pain every time he urinated. I avoided leaving the house because the car seat buckle put pressure on his penis, and he would cry.” The complaint states that the boy’s foreskin has a permanent tear in it.
Ms. Chapin says, “Not a week goes by that Intact America doesn’t get a call or email from a parent who has seen his or her child suffer needlessly because his foreskin was torn from his glans.” She adds that falling circumcision rates are putting more intact boys are at risk. “It is ironic that our successes in preventing medically unnecessary circumcision have resulted in another problem—forced foreskin retraction,” she says. “Our survey illustrates the need to take action. Our next step is to launch a Foreskin Protection Campaign. We must educate the medical community and parents to stop hurting intact baby boys.”
About the Survey
Intact America surveyed U.S. parents of 401 intact boys under the age of seven. Of this group, 173 boys, or 43.3 percent, had had their foreskins forcibly retracted. The survey, which was conducted under the auspices of Qualtrics Research Services in Provo, Utah, has a five percent margin of error. Intact America released the survey results today at the International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights in San Francisco.
About Intact America
Intact America is the largest national advocacy group working to end involuntary circumcision in America, and to ensure a healthy sexual future for all people. Intact America is based in Tarrytown, New York. For more information, visit Intact America at www.intactamerica.org, on Facebook, and on Twitter.