A convergence of history, religion, medical misinformation, and perceived cultural norms has transformed the foreskin, a natural anatomical feature, into a battleground of controversy. In this article, we will look into the narrative of how the intact penis—meaning a penis with a foreskin versus a cut or circumcised penis—has been systematically subjected to shame and the profound implications that hold for generations of men.
Prepare to be enlightened as we shed light on this important issue and advocate for a cause that deserves our attention and understanding: ending circumcision in this country and others.
The Function of the Foreskin
The first step in eliminating foreskin phobia is understanding the importance and function of the foreskin—a natural feature of male babies since the dawn of human life. Georganne Chapin, CEO and director of Intact America discusses this in her book This Penis Business.
The foreskin functions throughout a male’s life to protect the glans (head of the penis) from abrasion and other damage. Once the foreskin becomes retractable, its loose skin provides mobility and stretches to accommodate a full erection. Furthermore, the foreskin keeps the glans soft, pink, and moist, while the glans of a circumcised man develop a gray tinge and become keratinized, and toughened, over time due to abrasion and chafing. — Georganne Chapin, “This Penis Business” (Lucid House Publishing, 2024)
Marilyn Milos, IA board member and author of “Please Don’t Cut the Baby! A Nurse’s Memoir” (Lucid House Publishing, 2024) writes in her book that when Ed Wallerstein, author of “Circumcision: An American Fallacy,” one of the earliest books on the subject (1980), provided a requested copy on the function of the foreskin for a 1984 American Academy of Pediatrics brochure on care of the uncircumcised penis, the passage was deleted from the AAP’s 1986 brochure. When Milos questioned AAP about the omission, she was told via letter by the doctor, who revised that “there was no information available about the function of the foreskin.” Patently false, as anyone who read the 1984 brochure would know.
From Wallerstein’s 1984 “The Function of the Foreskin” article in the AAP brochure:
The glans at birth is delicate and easily irritated by urine and feces. The foreskin shields the glans; with circumcision, this protection is lost. In such cases, the glans and especially the urinary opening (meatus) may become irritated or infected, causing ulcers, meatitis (inflammation of the meatus), and meatal stenosis (a narrowing of the urinary opening). Such problems virtually never occur in uncircumcised penises. The foreskin protects the glans throughout life.
Does foreskin phobia stem from the unknown nature of the foreskin? There may be some part of the human body for which there is no function, for which no physician or medical researcher has found a reason to be, but it is not the foreskin.
The Systematic Shaming of Intact Men
Historical Prejudices Against Foreskin
Throughout history, the foreskin has been the subject of profound biases, influenced by a blend of societal, religious, and pseudoscientific beliefs. Ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, held contrasting perspectives on circumcision. While the Egyptians considered it a rite of passage into adulthood, the Greeks revered the intact penis, viewing circumcision as a disfigurement of the male body. Religious doctrines further complicated perceptions: Abrahamic faiths, particularly Judaism and later Islam, regarded circumcision as a divine decree, symbolizing a covenant with God (although there are doctrine-based counter-perspectives opposing circumcision even within these religious communities).
Later, but prior to what we think of as modern science, various medical justifications emerged from misconceptions. From the misguided notion that circumcision could curb masturbation and its perceived negative effects during the Victorian era to unfounded associations with hygiene and disease prevention, the foreskin has been unjustly stigmatized for centuries due to inaccurate perceptions of how the body functions and what causes disease and illness and deeply-rooted cultural values.
Societal Stigmas Against Foreskin in Modern Times
In our modern era, there are still prevailing stigmas surrounding the intact penis. While circumcision was widely practiced in English-speaking cultures, especially in the United States, in the 20th century, all but the U.S. significantly reduced circumcision post-WWII when research showed there was no medical reason to justify circumcision, or in the case of the UK, circumcision was no longer covered by health insurance. European and South American cultures never embrace circumcision to the same extent, resulting in a more neutral or positive view of the intact penis.
The media has played a significant role in perpetuating stereotypes and narratives about the foreskin. Television shows, movies, and magazines often promote certain ideals of “normalcy,” which can contribute to feelings of inadequacy or embarrassment among intact men. The personal testimonies of men from different parts of the world highlight the weight of these societal pressures. Many share stories of feeling compelled to undergo circumcision due to the fear of being ostracized or the desire to conform to perceived norms, rather than any medical necessity. These narratives underscore the profound psychological impact that societal expectations can have, influencing deeply personal decisions and shaping individual experiences of body image and self-esteem.
Medical Misinformation on Circumcision
Throughout history, the medical justification for circumcision has been plagued with myths and half-truths. One of the most prevalent misconceptions is the belief that an intact penis is inherently unhygienic. However, the truth is that proper cleaning is simple and effective.
Over the years, the medical community’s perspective on circumcision has undergone significant change. In the past, unsupported claims ranging from circumcision being a cure for epilepsy to it being a deterrent for masturbation were made. However, today, leading medical organizations worldwide, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, concur that it is not medically ethical to advocate for the procedure as routine for all newborns. This shift emphasizes the importance of distinguishing longstanding cultural practices from genuine medical necessities.
Psychological Impacts of Foreskin Shame
The societal biases surrounding the intact penis have had a profound impact on the psychological well-being of many men, leading to struggles with self-esteem and body image. In cultures where circumcision has unfortunately been normalized, being uncircumcised can cause embarrassment and feelings of being ‘different’ or ‘inferior.’ These negative emotions often extend to the bedroom, where anxieties about cleanliness, attractiveness, and partner preference can arise. Some individuals, burdened by societal expectations, may even choose to undergo circumcision in adulthood, not out of personal choice but due to societal pressure. Such decisions made under duress can have long-lasting mental health consequences, including regret, loss, and resentment.
Circumcision as a Cultural Norm
We know—because results from Intact America’s surveys of parents who were solicited in the hospital or by their pediatricians to circumcise their babies show this to be true—that narratives crafted by the medical establishment and other complicit parties have shaped parental decisions to circumcise their babies more than the distribution of accurate medical knowledge about circumcision., Thus, the choice to circumcise transcends personal preference based on knowledge of the value of the foreskin and the pain and trauma of surgery, especially for an infant.
The Push for Foreskin Acceptance and Education
In recent years, there has been a remarkable movement towards embracing bodily autonomy and challenging deep-seated biases surrounding circumcision. Grassroots organizations and advocacy groups like Intact America have taken the lead in driving this change, emphasizing the importance of personal choice, questioning cultural and societal norms that may impede it, and taking the lead in educating the public about the lack of medical necessity for circumcision and the benefits of an intact penis Simultaneously, the medical and psychological communities are increasingly advocating for a more balanced perspective, highlighting the significance of informed consent and recognizing both the potential benefits and drawbacks of circumcision. These professionals are shifting from outdated, one-sided viewpoints to a more nuanced approach that considers the physical, psychological, and cultural implications across the spectrum. Consequently, an array of resources, including literature and workshops, is now available to parents and individuals, providing comprehensive information. These collective efforts signify a transformative shift towards a world where decisions about circumcision are based on knowledge, understanding, and personal conviction rather than societal pressure or unquestioned tradition.